Eco-Friendly Gardening Tips
Scott Gutierrez - Penn Valley, CA

Hardwarian Scott Gutierrez

Penn Valley True Value Hardware

Penn Valley, CA

Eco-Friendly Gardening Tips

Level: Beginner

A healthy and vibrant yard or garden is a plus for any homeowner and the best way to have one is to do it the natural way. Greenscaping is a practice that improves the health and appearance of your landscape while preserving natural resources. It also saves time and money.

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    • Keep Soil Healthy
       
      PH testerwalk way with garden

      To maintain an eco-friendly lawn or garden, you need to start with healthy, fertile soil. Determine what kind of soil you have so you know what you’ll be working with. There are clay soils, loam soils and sand soils. Loam is usually ideal because of its moisture retention and efficient drainage. Clay contains a lot of nutrients, but doesn’t drain as quickly as loam. Sand drains quickly, but doesn’t retain as many nutrients or as much water.

      Pick up a handful of your soil and squeeze it. If it crumbles when you open your hand, you have loamy soil. If it doesn't crumble, you have clay soil. Sandy soil will fall apart immediately. Knowing what kind of soil you have will help you figure out how much organic fertilizer and soil amendments you'll need for a naturally successful crop. Someone at local True Value hardware store can help you determine what you need.

      Helpful Tip

      Do a pH test. Your soil's acidity plays a big part in the success of your plantings. For the most part, plants grow best in soil with a neutral pH. You can pick up a pH test kit at local True Value hardware store.

      Decaying organic matter is a must for fertile soil because it fights erosion and provides a favorable habitat for beneficial organisms like earthworms. It also creates carbon dioxide as it decays, which helps plants absorb minerals from the soil. Without this, the soil cannot support healthy, thriving plants. Synthetic fertilizers can help, but plants will not grow as well as if they were in naturally rich, nutrient-filled soil. Natural organic amendments like compost and manure are essential to create such a nutrient-rich environment. Compost is a key factor to healthy soil. When making new flower beds or seeding a lawn, add compost to strengthen the soil. Compost aids the growth of useful microbes, neutralizing soil pH and supplying nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Best of all, you can make it yourself. See Use a Compost Bin below.

      Mulch is a layer of organic material like chopped leaves, wood chips, compost or grass clippings that is spread to keep soil healthy in flower beds, gardens and lawns. It protects soil from the sun and holds in moisture. It also keeps out weeds and prevents erosion. You should add a thick layer (3" maximum) of mulch in flowerbeds and around trees every year.

      Another aspect of maintaining an eco-friendly lawn includes aerating your soil to cut down on thatch and improve drainage. Aerating your lawn in the fall will give you healthy grass in the spring. Aerating allows for greater movement of water, fertilizer and air. It also increases the speed of mulch decomposition and encourages deep root growth, so be sure to aerate before applying fertilizer. You can aerate your lawn with a hand cultivator or a mechanical aerator.

      For moderately compacted soil in a limited area, systematically dig holes in the soil with a spading or digging fork. Holes should be 2" to 3" apart and 1" to 2" deep. If you're dealing with a larger area or you want to make the task easier, there are several types of push spike aerators you can rent or purchase. Some models look like a manual push mower with spikes or star-shaped wheels instead of blades. Others are designed as attachments that fit behind a power mower. For medium-to-large areas, you'll want to rent a gas-powered spiking aerator.

    • Plant Native Plants
       

      Part of creating an eco-friendly lawn and garden includes planting trees, shrubs, flowers, grass or vegetable species that are native to your region. Plants that are accustomed to growing in your type of soil and in your area’s weather patterns will grow best naturally. And, because they are native plants, there is no need to use chemical fertilizers and enhancements. When overused, chemical plant products can be detrimental to the environment. Native plant species are also beneficial to local wildlife, as they provide a healthy, natural habitat. Local plants can attract birds, butterflies and other animals for your enjoyment.

      Helpful Tip

      Use plants that are pest- and disease-resistant, to save money and cut down on chemical insecticide use. An expert at local True Value hardware store can show you which plants would work best for you.

    • Plant Trees
       

      Trees improve our environment every day by moderating climate, improving air quality, conserving water and harboring wildlife. The more you can plant around your home, the more resilient your eco-friendly lawn will be. Not only do trees provide summer shade and shield against harsh winds, but they also improve air quality by releasing oxygen into the air and absorbing harmful pollutants such as carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide. Trees also reduce storm runoff and inhibit flooding.

      For more in-depth details on how to plant a tree, see the project, Plant a Tree for Earth Day.

      Build a Rain Garden

      Another aspect of supporting an eco-friendly lawn is by letting things happen naturally. Rain gardens are an instance of this. They are areas of ground planted with native grasses and wildflowers that self-irrigate by soaking up runoff from buildings and rooftops. These nontraditional gardens absorb 30% more water than the average lawn and are a beautiful addition to your yard. Additionally, rain gardens help provide an enticing habitat for birds and prevent pollutants from entering lakes and streams.

      To create a rain garden, determine what grasses and wildflowers are appropriate for your geographic area. Select an area that will catch the most runoff from your roof. Alternatively, place your rain garden in flat or low areas of your lawn so it absorbs the rainwater that normally settles there. Dig a ground space anywhere from 3" to 10" deep with a shovel. Build in a high sun area and make sure the base of the garden is kept perfectly level.

      Helpful Tip

      Place your rain garden away from the house to avoid leakage into the basement and at least 25' from existing septic systems.

    • Minimize Water Waste
       
      hose

      With typical foliage, only the top 8" to 10" of soil needs to be watered. To control the amount of water you use, install a seeper hose to produce a slow stream of water. You can also use cans for efficient water distribution. Punch holes in the bottoms of juice or coffee cans with a hammer and nail. Push the cans 6" to 12" into the soil (right side up) and fill them with water. The water will gradually seep from the bottom into the soil directly surrounding plant roots. This method will greatly reduce evaporation and unnecessary wetting of surrounding soil.

      Helpful Tips

      Watering deeply once a week conserves water and is more beneficial than lightly watering multiple times a week.

      Water your lawn early in the morning to minimize evaporation.

      Grow plants with low water needs; not all plants require constant watering. Perennials such as mums or trilliums require less water than annual bedding plants. Due to their self-maintaining properties, colorful native plants are a great choice as well.

      If you have many plants in containers outside, consider transplanting them to the ground where they'll demand less water. Add hydrophilic polymer crystals that absorb water and release it slowly to plants over several days. Additionally, buy drought-resistant turf grass instead of traditional sod or seed to save even more on watering.

      Installing a rainwater collection system at the end of your gutter downspouts controls excess surface water and collects it for irrigation of your lawn and garden. This is an eco-friendly gardening practice that allows you to cut down on excessive water use and save money. See Build a Rain Collection System.

    • Use a Compost Bin
       

      Composting is one of the most environmentally friendly gardening processes you can implement for your lawn and garden. The use of recycled organic waste is beneficial for many reasons. It improves soil texture, suppresses weed growth, injects rich nutrients, decreases erosion and increases soil’s ability to absorb air and water. Additionally, making and using your own compost can save money and reduce pollution by reducing the need for commercial soil additives.

      To create a compost bin in your yard, choose a level spot about 3 x 5 square feet in size near a water source, but away from direct sunlight. Clear the spot of sod and grass using a sod cutter and set up a compost bin with chicken wire or concrete blocks. Add compost material such as leaves, stalks, flowers, grass, vegetable scraps and coffee grounds from the kitchen (avoid using meat, dairy products or oils as they can attract pests). Turn your compost regularly with a pitchfork to distribute air and moisture and add water during dry spells. Typical composts are ready to use in three to six months. When the pile becomes dark, crumbly and uniform, spread it in garden beds, under shrubs, or use it as potting soil.For more detailed information, see Make a Compost Bin.

    • Use Eco-Friendly Products/Tools
       
      fertilizer

      Eco-friendly lawn care can also be established by using certain over the counter products. Check your local True Value hardware store for green products like organic pesticide, fungicide, fertilizer and plant food. Organic products aren't just safe for the environment; they can actually stimulate higher growth rates and enhanced root growth. Organic products also help suppress plant-borne diseases and keep helpful microbes in your soil healthy.

      Try to avoid using any chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Excessive use of these chemicals may lead to the contamination of runoff water that feeds sewers and drains. The same is true for overuse of weed-control herbicides. You can avoid the need for these chemicals by over-seeding your lawn. This helps keep weeds down and makes grass thicker. If you spot an occasional weed, dig it out at the root instead of applying chemicals.

      Helpful Tip

      The use of hand tools or electric tools when feasible is always more eco-friendly than using chemicals and gas-powered tools. Gas-powered tools consume fuel and can contaminate soil or water due to spills. For example, it’s greener to use a scythe instead of a gas-powered weed trimmer; or an electric or a manual reel mower instead of a gas mower.

      If you are not composting, collect clippings and yard debris in biodegradable lawn refuse bags instead of plastic trash bags.

    • Mow Right
       

      Let your lawn grow out a bit during the summer before cutting it each time. Try to cut it every two weeks instead of one. A lawn with taller grass keeps weed growth to a minimum and aids in drought resistance. Remember to keep the mower’s blade sharp and only mow when the grass is dry. Consider using a mulching mower that leaves chopped up grass on the lawn. These clippings can assist with your eco-friendly lawn care practices by supplying a natural mulch and fertilizer layer that keeps your lawn healthy.

    • Install Solar-Powered Landscape Lighting
       

      Installing solar lighting is an economical, energy-efficient way to highlight your home's exterior architectural features. No special skills or tools are needed; most systems can be installed in under an hour using only a screwdriver. There's no wiring to worry about and low voltage systems offer safety around children and pets, too. See Light Your Landscape with Energy Efficiency.

      Congratulations! These tips, will help you create an eco-friendly lawn and garden the natural way.

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