Beneficial Landscaping - Gardening Tips
Get to Know Your Native Flora
Retaining native vegetation and planting native plants in our yards and landscapes is a key aspect of Beneficial Landscaping. Using native plants is key because, by doing so, we reap a broad spectrum of environmental, economic, and aesthetic benefits—more so than with any other beneficial landscaping practice. Those practicing and those aspiring to practice native landscaping are likely to increase their success and satisfaction in this pursuit by developing a basic working knowledge of the plants native to their geographic area.
Spring is the best time to do this! In the Pacific Northwest states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, the peak flowering period for most natives in the lowland areas is April through June (but later in Alaska due to its northerly latitude). The flowers are important because, while all plant features are fair game for use in identification, most plant guides and identification keys emphasize floral characteristics to identify a species. So how does one begin?
There are several ways. In the spring, universities and some local colleges may offer a course in plant identification. Check with the botany or biology departments. If academia is not for you, try the naturescaping workshops that are offered in some areas (e.g., Puget Sound Basin, WA; Willamette Valley, OR); volunteer for plant salvage activities if your county or conservation organization has such a program (e.g., King, Snohomish, Pierce, and Thurston Counties in Washington); attend seminars, lectures, and nature walks by local naturalists; visit local nature trails, native plant gardens, and native plant nurseries; become a Native Plant Steward (a program of the Washington Native Plant Society in the Puget Sound area); or obtain a plant guide book that is pertinent to your area and take a walk in the woods.
One of the most effective and enjoyable ways to learn about native plants is to contact the local chapter of your state’s Native Plant Society (see information below). These non-profit organizations are open to everyone and are dedicated to the enjoyment, appreciation, conservation, and study of native vegetation. They offer periodic meetings, field trips, study sessions, lectures, and more, and may also offer a selection of the best plant guide books for your area.
Those seeking a shortcut to choosing and buying appropriate native plants for landscaping in each state can visit the National Wildlife Federation website at http://eNature.com, and click on the Native Gardening and Invasive Plants Guide.
Gardening Don’ts Protect the Environment
Believe it or not, there are gardening activities you can avoid that will benefit water and air quality and bring more wildlife to your yard, while allowing you more time for quiet enjoyment of the natural world. Elaine Somers, EPA’s Regional Landscaping Coordinator, suggests following Flora Skelly’s “Don’t Do” list for gardens (Fall 1997 Northwest Garden News):
Don’t use pesticides. Allow the natural balance of beneficial insects and birds to reestablish itself.
Don’t rake leaves. Birds feed on the insects that live under leaves, and the leaf compost nourishes the soil for next year’s growth.
Don’t chop down dead or dying trees, unless they pose a hazard. These “snags” provide insect food and nesting sites for birds.
Don’t mow all your lawn. If allowed to grow tall and interspersed with weeds, your lawn can be a haven for butterfly caterpillars, small mammals, and birds.
Don‘t remove old flower heads. The seeds provide food for overwintering birds.
Don’t seek a perfect and utterly tidy garden. A half-wild place is preferred by wildlife because it offers more food and shelter.
A “Greener” Cut for Your Lawn
‘Tis the season for lawn mowing, so here are a few notes to consider while you’re pushing (or riding) “la machine”. A perfect lawn usually means a not-so-perfect environment both on and off site because:
Washington Native Plant Society
6310 NE 74th St., Suite 215E
Seattle, WA 98115
1-888-288-8022 toll-free in Washington State
Go “green” by
- Weed killers are toxic. Consider whether your treated lawn is the best play area for your children!
- Surface runoff containing pesticides and fertilizers pollute streams and degrade the habitat and health of fish and other aquatic life.
- Gas powered mowers emit noise and air pollution. Almost 600 million gallons of gas are used in the U.S. for lawn mowers, and because car emission standards don’t apply to them, mowers emit as much pollution in one hour as 40 late model cars or one new car driving 350 miles.
- Gas vapors from spills and leaky gas cans contribute to smog. Annually, Americans spill over 9 million gallons of gas – as much as an oil supertanker!
Clopyralid Herbicide: A Word to the Wise
Clopyralid was previously registered for use on residential lawns. In the western U.S., centralized programs collect lawn clippings and put them through an accelerated 90-day composting process, after which the material is sold as compost. Crops treated with this compost were being damaged. To address this problem, Dow voluntarily canceled the residential turf uses of clopyralid in September 2002. This cancellation applies to the entire U.S. Our understanding is that incidents of clopyralid-contaminated compost are declining, as a result.
The agricultural uses of clopyralid are not affected by these restrictions, because wheat growers in particular would like to maintain their option to use Clopyralid for managing weeds. Consequently, it is important to be aware that the use of straw and the management of straw waste may require additional limitations and/or actions to prevent it from directly affecting sensitive plants and from entering composting facilities. Gardeners who are interested in composting soiled animal bedding and applying the compost to their gardens will want to be aware of this situation.
Lessons learned? It is not likely that we will ever know all of the ramifications of using chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. Fostering healthy soil conditions and having diverse plantings, which enable a host of beneficial organisms to work for you, is a safer alternative, and it is fundamental to beneficial landscaping and gardening.
- Kicking the weed killer habit.
- Using a push-powered mower, an electric mower, or a mulching mower, which cuts very fine clippings and blows them into the turf where they fertilize the lawn naturally and retain moisture.
- Composting grass clippings that are removed from the lawn for future re-use.
- Avoiding cutting on hot summer days when the air quality is poor.
- Conserving water when irrigating.
- If it’s bigger than it needs to be, replacing a portion of your lawn each year with native plants that provide wildlife habitat and that, once re-established, require no supplemental water or fertilizer.
Try a few of these – you’ll breathe more easily.