Beneficial Landscaping - Soil Health | Region 10 | US EPA

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Beneficial Landscaping - Soil Health

It Begins With Healthy Soil!
Beneficial landscaping is the adoption of natural landscaping practices that yield many economic, environmental, and aesthetic benefits. One of those economic and environmental benefits is the control of stormwater runoff. Plants, particularly undisturbed native vegetation with multi-layered canopies, are invaluable in intercepting, storing, and releasing precipitation from rain or snow. But did you know that the soil plays a very important role as well?

Undisturbed forest soil--that light, fluffy, duff and humus layer at and just below the soil surface-- acts as a sponge by absorbing water, retaining it, and slowly releasing it to enable decomposition, ground water recharge, stream flow regulation, and cleansing of water supplies. To maintain these functions, disturbance to this valuable soil layer must be prevented or minimized. Over much of the human-altered landscape, however, this is now a foregone opportunity.

If you, like so many individuals and businesses, now hold land that has been cleared, the topsoil scraped away, and the soil compacted by heavy machinery, you will be hard-pressed to grow healthy plants and if your mineral soil is hardpan clay or compacted glacial till, it will do little to absorb, retain, and cleanse water. However, it is possible to amend disturbed, compacted soils by adding organic matter and compost (decomposed organic matter) so that they function more like native, vegetated soils and less like an impervious surface. The benefits of doing so--water conservation, reduced water runoff, increased nutrient retention, reduced need for chemicals, erosion and sediment control, improved vegetation, cost savings to property owners, and the resulting benefits to salmon and their habitat--are well worth the effort.

On March 31, 2000, the Washington Organic and Recycling Council (WORC) held a seminar on this very topic, entitled "Soils for Salmon." The WORC is pointing to the City of Redmond, Washington's "Guidelines for Landscaping with Compost-Amended Soils" as a good place to start for techniques and application rates. There are no hard and fast rules, though; for turf and other landscaping they advise establishing a soil organic content goal of between 8 and 13%. But you won't go wrong by amending your soil to a depth of 8 to 12 inches with 20 to 30% organic matter. By adding compost to our soils, we also make beneficial use of yard and farm wastes and conserve landfill space.

There is no better time to begin--for the sake of salmon and a flourishing, healthy landscape. For more information on this subject, contact the WORC at 360/754-5162, or

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