We can choose to “go green” in almost all facets of our lives and daily activities. As gardeners, here are some ways we can care for our lawn and property with environmental and resource conservation in mind:
Water Carefully: Don’t water just to water! Check first. Visually inspect soil for dryness. Also, stick your finger into the soil at the base of a plant (approximately 2”). If your finger comes out clean, you need to water. Or if the soil is so dry that it is too hard to insert your finger 2” then you need to water. But water deep. The best way to get water down deep into soil is to water for a short period of time and let it sink in before you go back and deep water (about 30 minutes later). This lessens runoff in your garden and allows the water to be more deeply absorbed. Many properties in our area have inclines where water can easily run off onto the streets or to other properties if the soil is too dry. Another water conservation tip is not to water during the heat of the day during the summer when you can loose a good portion of your water to evaporation.
Plant Natives: Consider native plants when selecting new plantings. They will require less water than non-native species and will require less care and attention due to their lower occurrence of disease. Remember, these plants survive in the wilderness with only the water Mother Nature supplies. Avoid invasives. Invasives are non-native species whose introduction may cause or is likely to cause economic harm, environmental harm, or harm to human health. Here’s an excellent article on invasives, by the National Arboretum: invasives.
For a listing of NJ Natives, try the the Native Plant Society of New Jersey (this website also has great links to topics such as how to attract butterflies and hummingbirds, collecting wildflower seeds, and a listing of deer-resistant plants):
The National Park Service has a good list of non-native invasive plants (this is a useful website because it features many pictures as well as suggestions for replacing specific invasives).
Mulch, mulch, mulch: Place 2 – 3 inches of your favorite organic matter (compost, untreated wood chips, pine needles, and/or leaf mold, for example) around your plants and in your beds. For trees and shrubs, place mulch around the base, but pull the mulch a few inches away from the trunk (the pile should resemble a doughnut, not a volcano!). Proper mulching can cut water loss by 20% and save you money on your water bill. In addition, it can lower the temperature of the top four inches of soil by up to 10°, which will reduce stress on your plants during hot summer days. Finally, much helps to reduce weed populations. Did you know that Maplewood Township provides free untreated woodchips at the Maplewood Recycling Center?
But remember, this is a case where more isn’t better! Mulch piled too deep can restrict air flow to roots and suffocate the plants. Excessive mulch also makes it harder for water to reach the soil. If you are applying new mulch over last year’s, much sure the total depth doesn’t go over 2 – 3 inches. If the old mulch has formed a crusty layer, break it up before applying fresh mulch.
Compost: By starting a compost process at your home you will create soil that you can add to your garden instead of buying soil from your local garden center as well as reduce your household garbage output. By adding organic matter to your soil, you naturally add nutrients and help maintain healthy biological activity, reducing the need for added fertilizer, pest controls, and other chemicals. Also, organic nutrients stay in the soil longer than water soluble synthetics. For additional information on composting, check out the Maplewood is Green website.