There is a growing recognition, that the expanding suburban landscape is having a negative environmental impact. Suburban development often includes vast energy dependant monocultures (perfect, grass lawns). They consume a significant amount of natural resources, (water to keep them green and gasoline to keep them trimmed), and they reduce the amount of habitat available for native wildlife. Over use of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides can leach into water supplies and be harmful to children and pets. Trends toward ecological landscaping and organic lawn care are lessening the detrimental effects of these designs. Many landscape designers are recommending native plant species, and even golf course managers are moving toward organic methods.
In practical terms our goal should be to move away from designs that depend on an extensive use of energy, without asking people to give up their lawns entirely. There are a number of options:
* Buffer zones and open space requirements in subdivisions allow for wildlife corridors and bird habitats.
* Leaving a portion of each lot in a natural state will invite birds and beneficial insects into the yard, while reducing the amount of grass to water and mow.
* The use of native plants in the design will greatly reduce the amount of care needed for the plants to thrive.
We should stop worrying about whether our lawns looks like the eighteenth fairway of the local country club. Many of the "weeds" that appear in our lawns are considered to be medicinal, by herbalists, and others attract beneficial insects.
We should stop over watering our lawns. Don't worry about your grass dying. Grass will turn green when it rains. Trust me.
If you must have an all grass lawn, there are organic methods that claim to do as well as chemicals will. It's probably a good idea to test any remedy before applying it to your entire yard. Spot treating problem areas will often be all that is needed.
Ecological Landscaping Considerations
The first and most important thing to consider in an ecological landscape design is an environmental assessment of the site. Is it more like a sunny meadow or shady woodland? Is it wet and marshy or dry and well drained?
Secondly, find out which native plants thrive in your particular environment. This can be easily done by taking a closer look at what is growing in undeveloped areas around you. Look at areas that most closely resemble your site. Species that are flourishing in the wild in similar ecosystems nearby are more likely to do well, with little or no care, than species growing in different ecosystems, not to mention different regions of the country or world.
Some purists would argue that only native species be considered, but I personally feel that non-invasive species from other parts of the world are acceptable if used in the proper environmental setting. Whenever possible choose species that are propagated locally and select varieties that are disease, pest and drought resistant. This will preclude the need for intensive care and excessive watering.
Many native plants are often found growing as part of a larger community of plants. For reasons we don't thoroughly understand, plants appear to form symbiotic relationships with each other. This may be for shade, nutrient contribution or protection from pests to name a few. When studying the local landscape, pay attention to plant relationships. In the wild, vegetation occurs in layers from groundcovers to taller plants and shrubs and often to a tree canopy above. These layers provide a diverse habitat for a variety of wildlife. Recreating these conditions in even a small part of your site will help to enhance the overall health of the environment around you.
In many instances homeowners will wish to deter certain wildlife species, while attracting others. While it may be possible to discern which plants attract different species in the wild, it may not be as easy to determine which plants will deter them. Local landscapers and plant nurseries will often be able to advise you about this.
Wherever you live and whatever your landscape consists of, a little thought about working with the natural environment and a commitment to organic lawn care practices, will save on maintenance cost and benefit the larger community landscape.
Chip Phelan, a contributing editor for Organic Gardening Review, is an organic gardener living in Rhode Island. He has been gardening organically for 30 years while working as a sculptor and photo imager. He has recently created a research garden to experiment with organic and small scale sustainable gardening techniques.
Organic Gardening Review is a resource center for organic gardening enthusiasts and features his efforts and interests in all aspects of organic gardening. Find us on the web: http://www.organicgardening-review.com
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