Story: Green Greening — Earth-positive ways to grow a sustainable yard
By K. Shawn Edgar
Green is the new Green in terms of diversifying your yard while lowering its negative impact on the environment. It is a color and attitude that leads to a healthy, sustained relationship with the natural world just outside our houses.
This positive, sought-after coexistence between our immediate open spaces and us can be achieved through the use of several easy alternative methods to create a less wasteful and more interactive yard.
First thing to consider: Grass — although green — is not the only player in town.
Organic vegetable gardening or herb gardening is an alternative to grass-only yards. The benefits of fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs grown without pesticides will easily outweigh the work of gardening. When food is grown locally — especially in your own yard — the costs of transporting and storing are lessened, even sometimes cut out all together, while greatly reducing the carbon trail.
“Reduce the turf grass area of a yard to one-third,” says the owner of Livingscape Nursery, Steve Adamson. “And use the remaining space for native plants, shrubs and trees.” He terms this a “casual lawn.”
Adamson suggests using “edible landscapes” like clover, which fix nitrogen in the soil and act as a self-fertilizer. This can reduce the need for chemical fertilizers.
Rock gardens accented with small flowering trees will give an exotic look and feel while providing an area to enjoy during the rainy season when the grass is too wet to walk or sit on. And for yards that reach a sidewalk or busy street, there’s almost nothing better than a natural barrier of native flowering shrubs like the rhododendron.
A line of ecology seed mixes or “dwarf grass,” offered at Livingscape Nursery, can be a practical replacement for traditional turf lawns. They are self-fertilizing and drought tolerant. The mixes “work well in areas were low maintenance is the goal,” says Adamson.
Herniaria glabra (or Green Carpet as it is called in the nursery industry) and Laurentia fluvilatilis (Blue Star Creeper) grow into a thick mat and help block weeds. They work well as filler around large stepping-stones in a walkway or as Adamson suggests “in low foot traffic areas and surrounding shrubs and trees.”
Define the space: Find the matrix of your yard — the elements in which everything else is contained, or that which holds the rest together.
Try laying out the yard in nebulous regions, placing plants and trees that have similar needs together with types that will compliment or enhance one another. For example, to conserve water and reduce mowing time use smaller areas of grass edged by perennials such as the Goldstorm Coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida). This native North American wildflower displays its golden hued daisies from midsummer to fall.
Stone, brick or gravel pathways, weaving loosely through a sensible “combination” yard of trees, gardens and grass, will invite interaction with the space. Why spend time and money on a large span of grass that for the most part will only be enjoyed from afar and necessitate the use of excessive amounts of water and fertilizer when you can plant a multitude of species that will help protect and grow each other.
Straight paths are predictable. If there is a tree or bolder in the way, curve your path to avoid the obstacle. Nothing stimulates like the mystery of what’s around the next bend. Even in a small space, intriguing areas framed by a walk through trellis covered with Oregon grape will create an inviting and cool spot to sit and chat.
For garden borders, Oregon Stonecrop (Sedum oreganum), and Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis) are excellent native groundcover plants with attributes to fit different needs. Stonecrop thrives in areas with poor soil quality and dry, sunny conditions. Feather Reed, however, does best in large groupings toward the back of a border and survives well in colder weather.
As for medicinal plants used as garden borders try the Western Coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia). It grows in medium to tall clusters with rough, dark green leaves and large daisy-like flowers that attract butterflies and are said to be deer resistant. Always check with a family doctor or other health care provider before using medicinal plants.
Most pesticides — insecticides, fungicides and herbicides — can also kill beneficial organisms such as insects, earthworms and birds. So avoid there use whenever possible.
To prevent the negative effects of toxic pesticides and chemical fertilizers, build healthy soil with the proper pH value before the problems like weeds and pests start. Soil pH is a measure of soil acidity and alkalinity. The availability of nutrients in the soil is directly affected by pH value level.
According to the Web site savvygardener.com some plants, like blueberries and rhododendrons, thrive in acid soils, which are indicated by a pH value of five to five-point-five. Where as most ornamentals, vegetables and grasses do well in less acidic soils between five-point-eight and six-point-five.
When necessary, you should use only organic plant foods or slow-release fertilizer. Be precise about the amount, too much affects not only the quality of your lawn but also the environment. The excess fertilizer can leach through the soil and eventually enter waterways. Organic, composted fertilizers are the lowest impact and can be made in a compost pile by “reusing” your household plant and food waste like banana peels and coffee grounds — meat scraps and fat are not recommended for composting.