Beautiful Native Plants

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Sunday, June 26, 2016

6 easy ways to save time & money in your landscape

As we approach each new year, many people will make resolutions that will probably not be kept for long, but changing to a more sustainable landscape regimen is one resolution that is easy to keep. While you are saving time and money, you’ll also be supporting a variety of wildlife.

Having more birds and butterflies in your yard is priceless!

Here’s a short list of money-saving landscaping resolutions: 

Let the predators in your landscape do the heavy lifting.
A potter wasp found a caterpillar to take back to its nest.
In ecosystem gardening, you cheer for the predators
and would never poison them.

1) Stop the landscape-wide poisons

You can save a lot of money and time when you stop trying to poison pests in your yard. After an adjustment period, the natural predators will get to work on those pests. As a bonus when you stop all landscape-wide pesticides, you’ll be creating a wildlife-friendly landscape that will be filled with butterflies and birds. (See #2 for poison-free lawns.)

See my post, A poison is a poison is a poison, for more details on the poison cycle and how to jump off.

Many types of plants grow in our freedom lawn;
even beautiful rain lilies (Zephyranthes atamasca).

2) Convert your lawn to a “freedom lawn”

In my neighborhood, the poison trucks make regular visits to spray lawns with expensive chemical cocktails to poison the weeds, poison the bugs, and poison the fungi. This practice also harms the soil, so the turf is totally dependent on the lawn service to also apply fertilizer. The turf is on life support and needs a lot of irrigation to keep it alive.

When this whole campaign to thwart Mother Nature’s abhorrence of monocultures fails, the homeowners start the whole process again by killing everything and re-sodding.

Isn’t this the definition of insanity–doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? 

And so it is with lawn care–trying to impede the tendency of species diversification is an expensive and uphill battle.

When we moved into our house in 2004, we did not continue the lawn treatments even though the company that worked for the former owner told us that the lawn would die without their “services.” Sure enough, the turfgrass died in a few areas, but most of it was fine. Now, 10 years later, there are some areas in our freedom lawn (free from all poisons and free from artificial fertilizers) where the St. Augustine grass has done very well, but where it didn’t, many other plants have come in to take its place. Our lawn goes dormant in the winter: so no mowing is necessary from November to March.

Also, there is much less lawn. I’ve covered this process in several articles: Less lawn, The never-ending story of a native landscape, and From lawn to woods: a retrospective.

Just think how much time & money we’ve saved on this one action…

3) Better manage the edges in your landscape

Arrange the edges of your lawn with gentle curves so the mower can easily cut those edges with one sweep and not have to backtrack with the mower or other power tool to catch un-mowable chunks of lawn. Also using mulches at the edges of the lawn will help keep them neat for longer, but be sure to tamp them down so they don’t get sucked up into the mower.

Read my post, Edging projects for more photos and ideas

The edge of my lawn is easy to mow because of its smooth, gentle curves.

Berries that last through the winter like wax myrtles
feed the birds. Each winter a flock of cedar waxwings
stops on their migration and cleans off all the berries. 

4) Use more native plants

Native plants provide a sense of place, so your landscape looks like it belongs in its own region instead of looking like Anywhere, U.S.A. As Doug Tallamy has proven, native plants support local birds and butterflies, while many exotics may go untouched.

This is nice, but how do native plants save time and money? 

a) The all too common practice of disposable seasonal plantings—pansies in the winter, thirsty impatiens in the summer, and mums in the fall—is expensive and wasteful. Replace the seasonal planting with a year-round display of natives.

b) Native plants will live to their full life expectancy if you plant them in the right places and water them enough to ensure their establishment. This way you won’t have to keep replacing them like those exotic plants that are grown to look pretty in the retail displays. Many garden centers display only plants that are in full bloom to entice you to buy them, but when you get them home they are likely to fail because they’ve been so over-fertilized to “pop” in the store they they are doomed to fail in your normal-care landscape.

c) Native plants have adapted to your local climate and weather patterns, so they are less likely to be shocked by a cold snap or a dry period. Here in Florida, we have a 7-month dry season and many exotic plants can’t wait that long for water. This means that you won’t need to cover plants with ugly tarps or blankets during cold weather and that you won’t need irrigate plants as much to help them through a drought.

d) People spend a lot of time and money on bird feeders, but once you provide enough natural food and shelter with your native landscape you can slowly cut back on the feeders. The bonus to the birds is that when the food supply is spread out across your landscape, they’ll be less likely to be attacked by predators.

Begin your native plant journey here: Getting started with native plants in Florida

This is why you need to rinse away ALL the soil
 from potted trees and shrubs. This winged elm
Ulmus alata) would have died in a few years
had I not corrected its coiling roots.

5) Use proven techniques for planting

As mentioned in #4, native plants will live to their full life expectancies, if you plant them properly and help them through the establishment phase. For decades, so-called expert gardeners have spread old gardeners’ tales about the right ways to install plants.  Now, scientifically proven planting methods can help our plants survive. So now when you plant your natives in the right place using these better methods, you won’t have to keep replacing them.

Container-grown woody plants (trees and shrubs) should have all the soil rinsed away for a number of reasons, but most important is to find the root flare and to untangle coiled roots before planting. (Note: trees that are started as cuttings will not have a real root flare.) The planting hole should be wider than deep and only deep enough that the root flare is an inch or so above the soil level. No amendments should be added to the planting hole. You want the roots to move out away from the root ball for both drought and wind tolerance, so after planting add a compost topdressing outside the planting hole to entice the roots outward. Also you’ll need to irrigate every day with 3 gallons per caliper inch (A young sapling’s caliper is the diameter at 6 inches above the root flare.) for at least a few weeks and longer for larger trees.

For more details on planting methods and other issues read my post, Native plants: the next step.

Pine needles are free in our neighborhood and
 make a terrific mulch.

6) Use leaves, pine needles, and other free mulches

Why pay for bagged mulches when in many neighborhoods free mulches fall from the trees? Some people even collect bagged leaves from their neighbors in the fall. Or when arborists take down a tree and chip the wood, you can ask for their loads. This way they don’t have to pay the dump fee, you don’t have to drive to the store, and energy is not used to package the mulches.

For more information on leaf and arborist’s wood chip mulches, read my post, Requiem for a hickory tree.

Have a Happy and Greener New Year!

I mean “greener” in both ways. First, your more sustainably managed yard will have a lighter footprint on the earth. Second, you’ll be spending less money on your landscape, so your wallet will also be greener.

See last year’s post for the New Year, 6 easy steps to support wildlife in 2014, for more resolutions you can keep.

© Ginny Stibolt