Landscape your yard, neighborhood and business efficiently and economically to help conserve water — an expensive and limited resource – as well as, reduce pollution and increase habitat.
Landscaping for Water Quality
Water is an important resource for our health, economy, and ecosystem. Landscaping practices can impact the quality of our water systems. Traditionally, a lush green carpet of turf grass has been the ultimate goal. We sow a tight field of grass that is difficult to coax into growing. Then we fertilize it, spray it with pesticides and water it. Just when the turf is at its best we cut off the top third. This process is expensive, time-consuming and costly to the environment. Creating a landscape that doesn’t require fertilizing, watering or mowing is easier on the homeowner and benefits the ecosystem.
The above paragraph comes from “Landscaping for Water Quality: Concepts and Garden Designs for Homeowners, Adapted for Maryland” created by the Howard County Master Gardeners. It is full of local information and specific techniques to make your yard beautiful and beneficial to the larger environment.
The use of native plants in landscaping, sometimes called “Bayscaping” or “xeriscaping”, is important within the region to minimize invasive species, the need for watering, and the use of fertilizers, pesticides. Native plants require little or no additional watering or fertilizing, once established, and can aid in soil retention, erosion control, and water filtration. Also, native plants provide valuable habitat for many native insect, bird, and mammal species in the region, as well as migrating species. Consider creating a backyard habitat garden at home, school, or work using native plants to attract these species. Here is a link to the Howard County Master Gardeners’ list of Maryland Native Plant Sources. Also check plantbutterflies.org for native plant pocket cards, lists, planting guidance and the Monarch Sister Schools Program for help in setting up a butterfly garden at your school.
Fertilizer Use Act of 2011 and YOU
The Fertilizer Use Act of 2011 will be fully implemented by Oct 1, 2013. However there is a lot to learn for anyone applying fertilizer in the state from lawn companies to residents so find out the details now. Start by with the MDA Fact Sheet.
Environmentally friendly landscaping is all about quality … of the soil that is. Since healthy soil equals healthy plants, green landscapers are constantly on the lookout for ways to boost soil fertility. When you hire a company focused on sustainable results for the long term, they will provide you with native plants and healthy soil, rich in organic matter. This reduces maintenance and watering requirements and increases the life of your plants.
How do you know how your soil is doing? Soil testing is easy and inexpensive. It makes sense to find out if there is anything needed, before applying remedies like fertilizers and lime. Especially when they are going to run off into our waterways. If you hire a lawn maintenance service, make sure that they provide a soil test.
Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center website is also loaded with great gardening information that is specific to our region.
Irrigation Techniques and Moisture Retention
Selecting native plants nearly eliminates the need for watering and is a great way to save resources and money. Another great watering option is installing a rain barrel (link to rain barrel page) to retain water for use during dry periods. Rain Barrels can also be connected to a soaker hose to water newly planted landscapes slowly.
Drip irrigation, also called trickle irrigation, directs a slow release of water to the soil surface or directly onto root systems. Spray irrigation, the most common alternative, wastes a substantial amount of water by evaporation and is not suitable for most perennials, as the plants grow up and block the sprayers. If you’re going to irrigate, choose drip irrigation for a greener selection, but consider irrigating and watering only newly planted lawns and plants. Remember, the more you water your lawn, the more you’ll have to mow it.
Mulch is simply a blanket of organic matter placed on the soil to insulate and hold in moisture, and can include anything from wood chips to leaves to coffee grounds. Mulch is inexpensive and it may be the best investment you make in your green landscaping project because it keeps weeds at bay much longer than compost alone. The ideal mulch is a mixture of 50% compost and 50% woody material, often available at your local landscaping center.
If you don’t want to buy mulch, most coffee houses will give you their organic coffee grounds for free. These provide a rich source of nutrients and can be applied directly onto the soil as mulch. Other mulch materials include straw, sawdust, and lawn, yard clippings and other organic matter. Introduce things gradually—test it out and see what works. Start with 2 inches of compost and evaluate the progress. Remember not to choke your trees and shrubs by building the mulch layer to high along the trunk or main stem. Avoid creating a buildup of mulch around the base of trees that forces water to runoff back into the yard. Instead, try to keep mulch level so the mulch can also absorb water into the tree root system at the base.