Green Gardening this Spring

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Simple, earth ­friendly practices will beautify your yard — naturally


As concerns over global warming, chemical pesticides, and water shortages grow, many gardeners are looking to implement more environmentally friendly practices here in the heart of the Chesapeake Bay region. Fortunately, some of the highest ­impact changes experts recommend to “green­up” your garden are not only easy and inexpensive — but they can actually save you time and money.

Putting the right plants in the right place is a critical first step. For example, hosta is a shade plant, but many people put it in the sun where it will require more water. However, in the right place, it will survive naturally even during a typical water shortage. In a prolonged drought, though, it will go dormant. Watch your planting area for a few weeks before you settle your plants in to determine the light situation, whether it be full sun or part shade. Also take into account the condition of the soil. Is it dry or wet on a regular basis? Does it need to be tilled, or is loose enough as it is?

Particularly adaptable are plants that are native to our area, such as coneflower, Blackeyed Susan, and Joe­Pye weed, as they will be the easiest to grow and will require the least from your natural resources. They also are naturally attractive to the insects, birds, and other wildlife that are beneficial to an organic garden. Fill your garden with a variety of plants to provide seasonal interest throughout the year. Choose from perennials and shrubs as well as large trees and understory trees that will thrive in the shaded areas beneath. Wherever possible, try to cut back on the area reserved for lawn. Grass is demanding and requires a lot of maintenance and resources without providing the benefits that trees and flowers offer.

Helping the environment can also be a great excuse to take a more relaxed approach to lawn and garden maintenance. The current fashion in landscaping is to obsessively rake up and bag every stray leaf, keeping the lawn at putting­green perfection. But Mother Nature favors recycling, and grooming the garden too neatly deprives it of some great natural fertilizers. As plants die off at the end of the growing season, the decomposing leaves and plant matter break down to nourish the soil throughout the winter. The resulting humus attracts worms and beneficial insects that will help get your garden in peak health for the following year. And when it comes to lawns, you can cut down on the need for chemical additives by investing in a mulching mower and keeping your grass at three and a half inches. This type of mower mulches the grass blades back into the lawn as a nitrogen feeder and when the grass is kept longer, you don’t have to water it as often as the roots are shaded. Plus, the density of the lawn will naturally crowd out weeds.

Composting is one of the easiest ways to feed your soil with organic waste that you already have available. Vegetable and fruit peelings, apple cores, eggshells, tea bags, coffee grounds and filters, shredded newspaper, and dryer lint are all great for composting, as is yard waste like leaves, pine needles, and grass clippings. You can create a traditional open-­air compost pile or pick up a compost bin here in the store. Just make sure that your pile is easily accessible from the house for adding scraps. The real key is to make sure that you aerate the pile by turning it over each time you add to it — that helps the microorganisms break down the materials. It may take a couple of months for your pile to get going, but your patience will be rewarded.

Compost is often referred to as “black gold” by expert gardeners since nothing else in the garden matters until you nourish your soil. Add a fresh layer of compost over your beds every year. Not only will this produce a richer soil and healthier plants, it will also cut down on what your household sends to the landfill.

Many people think that going organic will require learning a completely new approach to gardening, but it’s really nothing more than a return to the past, before gardeners had so many chemicals at their disposal. Environmentally­aware gardening isn’t an all­-or-nothing proposition. It’s important to realize that whatever you choose to do with your own patch of green, every step you take to make it even greener will help.

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Guest December 7, 2019