Lifestyle » Vol. 33

Five easy steps to a low maintenance, eco-friendly landscape

By Melinda Myers

It’s possible to create a beautiful landscape and be kind to the environment, even with a busy schedule and while staying within budget. All it takes is a bit of planning and a few low-maintenance strategies.

Be wise about water

Save water, money on the water bill and time spent watering. Start by growing drought-tolerant plants suited to your growing environment. Once established, they will only need watering during extended dry spells. Mulch with shredded leaves, evergreen needles, woodchips or other organic matter, which conserves moisture, reduces weeds and improves the soil.

Fertilize with a low-nitrogen fertilizer like Milorganite, which promotes slow, steady growth instead of excessive greenery that requires more water.

Put rainwater to work all season long by using rain barrels to capture rainwater off your roof or directly from the sky.

Recycle yard waste in the landscape

Minimize the amount of yard waste produced, reuse what can be used in other areas of the landscape and recycle the rest as compost. These are just a few strategies that will save time bagging, hauling and disposing of yard debris. And better yet, implementing this strategy will save money and time spent buying and transporting soil amendments, since it will be created right in the backyard.

Start by leaving grass clippings on the lawn. The short clippings break down quickly, adding organic matter, nutrients and moisture to the soil. Grow trees suited to local growing conditions and available space. That means less pruning and fewer trimmings that will need to be managed.

Make compost at home

Recycle yard waste into compost. Put plant waste into a heap and let it rot. Yes, it really is that simple. The more effort put into the process, the quicker the results.

Do not add insect-infested or diseased plant material or perennial weeds like quack grass, annual weeds gone to seed or invasive plants. Most compost piles are not hot enough to kill these pests. Also, do not add meat, dairy or bones that can attract rodents.

Manage pests in harmony with nature

A healthy plant is the best defense against insects and disease. Select the most pest-resistant plants suited to the growing conditions and provide proper care.
Check plants regularly throughout the growing season. It is easier to control a few insects than the hundreds that can develop in a week or two. And when problems arise, look for the most eco-friendly control. Start by removing small infestations by hand. Consider traps, barriers and natural products if further control is needed. And, as always, be sure to read and follow label directions carefully.

Energize landscape design

Use landscape plantings to keep homes warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. Homes will have a more comfortable temperature throughout the seasons, and energy costs will be reduced.

Plant trees on the east and west side of a house to shade windows in the summer and let the sun shine in and warm it up through the south-facing windows in winter.

Shade air conditioners, so they run more efficiently, and be sure to collect and use any water they produce for container gardens
Incorporate these changes into gardening routines and habits over time. Soon, these and many more strategies that help save time and money while being kind to the environment will seem to occur automatically.

Nationally known gardening expert, TV/radio host, author and columnist Melinda Myers has more than 30 years of horticulture experience and has written more than 20 gardening books, including Can’t Miss Small Space Gardening. She hosts the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment segments, which air on more than 115 TV and radio stations throughout the U.S. She is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and writes the twice monthly “Gardeners’ Questions” newspaper column. Melinda also has a column in Gardening How-to magazine. Myers hosted The Plant Doctor radio program for more than 20 years, as well as seven seasons of Great Lakes Gardener on PBS. She has written articles for Better Homes and Gardens and Fine Gardening and was a columnist and contributing editor for Backyard Living magazine. Myers has a master’s degree in horticulture, is a certified arborist and was a horticulture instructor with tenure. Her website is

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