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Steps to a greener garden

For those of us who enjoy gardening and spending time outdoors, it’s especially important to recognize the impact we have on this whole concept of environmental stewardship as well as the opportunity to make a difference.

We’re a large force, all right, but not as green as you might think when it comes to creating all that beauty as we plant and maintain our gardens and landscapes.

To start, much of the water used to irrigate our lawns and plants runs off our property into nearby watersheds, taking with it sediments and chemicals. Some of those chemicals we use to fertilize our plants and kill pests and weeds are impacting a lot more than we ever intended. Even as we mow our lawns, trim our hedges, whack our weeds and blow our leaves, the equipment we’re using is polluting the air.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

We can still have beautiful outdoor spaces while being more responsible in our choices of how we make them so. Indeed, there are many ways to be greener, but to get you started, let’s revisit three simple things you can do right now, starting in your own backyard.

Put right plant in right place. When plants (including lawns) are growing in their ideal environment, they thrive. And when plants thrive, they are naturally more resistant to pests and diseases. That means fewer chemicals going onto the plants and into the soil. Conversely, when plants are improperly placed, they become stressed and prone to attack from those same adversaries. We instinctively respond to these visible signs of trouble by pouring on the fertilizer and chemicals, when simply moving the plant to a more appropriate location is all that is needed. Growing the right plant in the right place can dramatically reduce or even eliminate the amount of chemicals needed to keep plants looking their best.

Make, use compost. There is simply no better amendment for your lawn or garden than compost. It is loaded with organic nutrients and has something no manmade fertilizer can offer: beneficial fungi and good bacteria; microorganisms that work wonders to improve the overall health and structure of ordinary garden soil. Compost helps retain moisture in sandy soil and improves drainage in heavy or compact soil. It’s also known to suppress numerous soil-borne plant diseases and buffer soil pH.

Bottom line: Healthier soil leads to healthier plants that don’t require extra chemicals to thrive. By using compost, you create soil that’s rich in nutrients and plants that are healthier and more pest- and disease-resistant. You also reduce the amount of waste going into landfills because the ingredients used to make compost comes from yard and household debris you would otherwise be throwing away.

Use mulch. Mulch is an important tool in so many ways. It helps keep soil temperatures cooler in summer and warmer in winter, helps retain vital moisture in the ground, helps suppress weed growth and helps prevent many soil-borne diseases from splashing onto leaf surfaces.

As mulch breaks down, it adds back valuable organic matter. A 3-inch-thick layer around plants and trees will help reduce the need for water, fertilizer, herbicides and other pesticides, and help keep soil sediments and chemicals and precious topsoil from washing away.

– Joe Lamp’l, Scripps Howard News Service