Past Articles Library | Earth-Kind Landscaping
Earth-kind landscaping works to have the best garden you can have while using as few resources as you can. To do this, earth-kind gardening combines the best of organic and conventional gardening to grow a beautiful landscape and a productive vegetable garden. There are four major tenants of earth-kind landscaping:
- Landscape water conservation
- Reduction of fertilizer and pesticide use
- Landscaping for energy conservation
- Reduction of landscape waste entering landfills
Using this four principles, it is possible to produce beautiful, productive gardens that have use a minimum of resources and produce a maximum return for the gardener.
Landscape water conservation
In urban areas in Texas, at least twenty-five percent of water used is used on landscaping. In many places, thirty to fifty percent of water use is for irrigating lawns and other water intensive landscape features. The figures for other states are similar. As lakes and rivers dry up, and the water table lowers due to excessive use of the aquifers, we cannot afford to use that much of our water on our landscape. Look at California and its predicament for an example of everyone’s future if conservation measures are not implemented throughout North America.
Low volume irrigation can help lower the amount of water used on landscaping. This is usually called drip irrigation. Instead of sprinkler heads, it uses small bore flexible hose with holes in it every so often. The holes have emitters in them that dribble out the water slowly exactly to the root zone of the plants being watered. Very little water is lost to evaporation. This is the most efficient way of watering plants. The low water irrigation system comes with a timer that you can set to turn the water on and off without having to manually start the system, so you can water in the early morning when the water can really soak into the root zones of the plants.
Irrigation systems audit can find broken sprinkler heads, sprinkler heads that are pointed the wrong way, and places where the system is depositing water on the driveway, sidewalk, or street. Fixing these problems improves the efficiency of your irrigation system and can lower water use and save money.
Mulch provides many useful functions. It lowers water use by protecting the soil from the sun, which lowers the evaporation of water. It protects against weeds that compete with landscape plants for needed water and nutrients. Mulch serves as a reservoir of water that is slowly feed back to the soil and plants around it as they dry out.
Rainwater harvesting takes some of the pressure off of municipal water systems and wells that would otherwise be used for irrigation. Even in places where it only rains twelve inches a year, rainwater harvesting can help free water for other uses.
Raised beds help conserve water by providing ideal soil conditions and good drainage. Clay soils do not drain well and sandy soils drain too well. Raised beds can be constructed of sandy loam, which holds onto water the best while not leaving the soil so soggy that the roots of plants rot.
Reduction of fertilizer and pesticide use
The over use of pesticides and fertilizer is higher in urban landscapes than in any other usage category. Much of the fertilizer put out runs into the water system when it rains, contaminating the water we drink and causing blooms of algae and other undesirable plants.
Beneficial insects can help keep pesticide usage down. Ninty-seven percent of the insects encountered in the landscape are either beneficial or do not harm the landscape. Spraying pesticides indiscriminately will kill these insects, leaving the way open for pests to colonize your landscape.
Fertilization is important to have healthy plants. However, as mentioned above, many people fertilize too much and the excess runs into lakes and streams or goes into the aquifers that provide drinking water for humans. The use of just enough fertilizer, in concert with other usage practices such as using compost to fertilize plants, can reduce water contamination a great deal.
Integrated pest management (IPM) is a system that uses beneficial insects, plants that are adapted for the region, and targeted pesticide use to keep the plants in a landscape healthy. Used properly, it also saves money by reducing the use of expensive pesticides.
Pesticides do have their place in the garden, but they should be used in a targeted manner. Identifying the pest and using the least toxic pesticide that will kill the pest is important. It is also important to apply pesticides in the evening when beneficial insects are through feeding for the day. This allows the pesticide to dry overnight before the beneficial insects are around the plants. Spot treating only those pests will also help prevent the wholesale destruction of beneficial insects in the landscape.
Native habitat provides cover for beneficial insects and can lure pests away from desirable plants. Planting things that are adapted to the amount of rainfall in your area conserves water, as well.
Natural nutrients such as compost and other organic products can reduce the use of synthetic fertilizers. These nutrients tend to stay in place even during rain events so water contamination is reduced a great deal.
Landscaping for energy conservation
Proper landscaping can reduce your cooking and heating bills by quite a lot. For example, planting deciduous trees around your house can provide shade in the summer, reducing the need for the air conditioner, yet does not prevent the sun from reaching the house in the winter, when the sun reduces the use of the heater.
Landscape design is important to maximize enjoyment of the landscape while minimizing the inputs needed to keep the landscape in good shape. Remembering to incorporate the other principles of earth-kind landscaping when planning your landscape will significantly lower and negative issues with the landscape.
Plant selection is crucial when landscaping for energy conservation. Choose plants that are adapted to the area so they will not need as much irrigation but can live off of the rain your landscape receives. Reduce the turf areas in your landscape since turf requires a lot of water to grow well.
Soil improvement is a key to reducing the amount of fertilizer and water you must use. Compost, when added to the soil, adds organic matter that will hold water better. It also loosens the amount of clay in the soil so that water can drain properly. Compost added to sandy soil slows the drainage of water through the soil, keeping it moist longer and reducing the need for watering.
Reduction of yard wastes entering landfills
Each year, millions of grass clippings, leaves, and other organic materials are sent to landfills. In Texas, this costs $250 million and produces twenty percent of the materials that fill scarce space in landfills.
Composting can save space in landfills and provide you with a rich, organic fertilizer for your landscape. You can add kitchen waste as well as leaves, grass clippings, dead vegetable plants, and other organic material to your compost heap and reduce the amount of organic wastes going to landfills. You also get nice, rich compost to spread on your flower beds and vegetable gardens, reducing synthetic fertilizer use.
You can find out more about earth-kind gardening by visiting the Earth-kind Gardening website.