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Plan now to reduce impact on resources
MISSISSIPPI STATE – Gardeners may be getting ready to put away their gloves for the year, but now is the perfect time to get a head start on environmentally friendly landscaping projects.
Planning ahead can make yard maintenance easier, save money and conserve natural resources.
“There are a lot of things people can do to have a sustainable landscape,” said Bob Brzuszek, an associate professor in Mississippi State University’s Department of Landscape Architecture. “It’s about taking a holistic look at the property and making smarter choices about the installation and management of plants, the habitats they create and the water that runs off of it. There are a lot of easy things people can do around their houses to reduce their impact on natural resources, and they do not have to cost a lot.”
Now is the perfect time to start a compost pile, design a rain garden, construct a rain barrel or install a patio.
“A compost pile is a great way to reduce the load in our landfills,” said Brian Templeton, Extension associate with MSU’s Department of Landscape Architecture. “Yard waste is a key component to the proper breakdown of the pile. Organic matter, such as grass clippings, leaves and branches, helps to create a nutrient-rich, loamy compost that can be added to a planting bed or potting soil mix.”
Composting can be done by simply piling up yard debris and turning it over with a shovel or pitchfork, but commercial products can make the process more convenient.
“Compost bins can be elevated and have handles, which can make it a little easier to turn the pile over,” Templeton said.
Rain gardens and rain barrels can reduce erosion, flooding and pollution. Rain gardens allow water to pool for a short time in the landscape until it can be absorbed into the ground, irrigating nearby plants instead of running into the community storm drain or causing flooding.
“Controlling the direction and speed of rainwater runoff from properties, especially in residential areas, is extremely important because it helps keep fertilizers, oils and other pollutants out of nearby streams and creeks,” Brzuszek said.
Rain water is much better for watering plants and eases the demand on tap water.
“Water treated with chlorine can burn the tips and roots of plants and cause imbalances in their nutrients,” Brzuszek said. “Using drinking water for irrigating the landscape and washing vehicles is not really a good use of our community and natural resources.”
Porous pavement and permeable pavers are new materials that can help manage runoff. Porous pavement includes coarse materials that result in areas that allow water through. It is suitable for driveways and patios. Permeable pavers are intended for patios.
“Porous pavement and the joints between the pavers allow rainwater to permeate the surface and infiltrate the ground underneath,” said Brian Templeton. “Water that would otherwise collect pollutants and deposit them in the water supply can be used by nearby plants and to recharge the aquifers instead.”
Planting mostly drought-resistant plants reduces maintenance and expense and results in healthier plants.
“Annual plants, such as impatiens and begonias, need to be replanted every year and have high water demands,” Brzuszek said. “Perennial plants that are adapted to our climate, such as lantana, wild petunia and purple coneflower, need much less attention once established. This translates into saved time and money, whether homeowners tend their own landscapes or hire someone to do it.”
Mulch is also an important component to landscape design. Mulch enhances the soil’s ability to retain moisture and suppresses weeds.
“I always recommend shredded hardwood mulch because of its high nutrient content and appearance,” Templeton said. “Once it breaks down, the soil will be much healthier. It is a more expensive mulch, but it can last up to three years. Its high nutrient content can also reduce the need for additional fertilizers.”
The MSU Extension Service website offers more information about sustainable landscaping in publications such as publication 1782, “Composting for the Mississippi Gardener.”