In recent years “sustainability” has become the buzzword for environmentally responsible landscaping. School curricula are devoted to the training of it and national associations dedicated to developing standards for it. But cut to the chase and you’ve probably subscribed to sustainable practices, which are based on principles of recycling and tend to mimic nature’s landscapes where native plants grow, said to be the only ‘true’ sustainable landscapes. You can take your own practices to the next level of sustainability in easy steps as you maintain and further develop your landscape. To help promote the incorporation of sustainable practices throughout the year, I will provide some suggestions periodically.
SUSTAINABLE PRACTICES – SOIL TEST AND COMPOST: One important step is to get a soil test, which can in part tell you if you may have over fertilized your property, give you soil pH, and identify the kinds of bacteria and fungi (microorganisms, which are necessary for healthy gardens, lawns, and trees) are present in your soil. The soil test can tell you if adjustments are necessary to improve your soil. You can improve your soil by working good compost into your gardens to encourage microbial activity. It is most satisfying to recycle your own garden debris and make your own compost. After you’ve reworked your soil, you should retest it periodically to monitor how the soil health has improved and if further adjustments are needed. In this way, you will naturally improve your gardens, which not only helps you, but benefits the environment.
SUSTAINABLE PRACTICES – NATIVE PLANTS. Conceptually, people generally like the idea of using plants native to our area. Native plants that thrive in the region have adapted to the peculiar local growing conditions and do not need the extra water and nutrients required by non-natives. Their natural resistance to insects and disease makes them a true asset to your garden. A variety of native species in your garden will attract a diversity of beneficial insects to promote the health of all of your plants. They also provide food and shelter for birds, butterflies, and other wildlife. Every plant is ‘native’ to somewhere; your goal should be to use plants native to the general region, and there are guides available to identify plants native to Maryland that thrive in various soil and light conditions. While many native plants are naturalistic in form, such as those in woodlands and meadows, there are a variety of types. Make it a point to strive to incorporate natives into your landscape as you add new plantings.