Hopefully spring will be here soon, as I am sick of winter. Cannot wait to get working on my garden. Do you have any advice for gardeners, on things to focus on which might make my yard more environmentally sound?
– Greening My Yard in Ridgewood
Dear Greening My Yard,
There are a many things that you can focus on to make your yard more environmentally sound. Many of them are rewarding, and make your yard more enjoyable. My yard is even like a sanctuary, where I can go outside to read, take calls for work, enjoy wildlife (yes, even here in Ridgewood!), and even watch movies on my re-purposed billboard which is now a movie screen.
First is to reduce your lawn or grass coverage. Lawns take much time and effort, use much water, chemicals, and much fertilizer. Ever see those little warning signs after a lawn is chemically treated? Yet our pets and kids play on them and are exposed to these chemicals. Some solutions are to plant ground covers. These come in many forms, from less than an inch high to plants that grow up to a foot high. They can be flowering, provide additional color, and be relatively low maintenance.
- Planting flowerbeds or vegetable gardens can also add some variety to a yard to break up the green expanse. The colors, textures and edible options are endless! This also keeps your yard interesting throughout spring and summer. When there is always something new to see, it makes enjoying your yard something to look forward to! There is also a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction to seeing these progress over the summer months.
- You can grow plants that attract the kind of things you want in your yard. Whether you like birds, bees, hummingbirds, bunnies, etc, you can cultivate plants that attract them. One of my quests is to attract hummingbirds. I hadn’t seen them in this area, but I have been told that “if you build it, they will come.” By the end of the season last year, I saw my first hummingbirds in my yard! Or on the other hand, if there are animals that you do not want, you can plant species that deter those animals, such as deer.
Start a Composting Bin or Composting Area. Composting is nature’s way of breaking down organic matter into soil nutrients. It reduces solid waste, provides fertilizer and soil amendment that helps your plants grow better, and it is easy to do! Why use chemical fertilizers when you could do it nature’s way? All leaves, grass clippings, and some kitchen scraps are perfect supplies for composting. As a general rule of thumb, it is very desirable to limit the chemicals and fertilizers that you bring on to your property. While you may want to amend your soil and provide specific fertilizers in certain situations, limiting their use is desirable.
- Be aware of water – it is a precious resource. It should be protected and you can easily go towards plants that are drought-tolerant and do not require much water in times of little rain. To capture and re-use water for your plants, you can install rain barrels off of downspouts. To reduce storm water runoff, you can build a rain garden or increase the permeable surfaces in your yard, so that water can percolate back into the ground, into our aquifers that provide our municipal water.
- Repurpose items are yard decorations. This one may seem odd, but actually can be a lot of fun. You can get really creative with arts and crafts, or use non-traditional items in a fun and classy way that can add interesting points of interest to your yard. Whether it’s an old metal bed frame that can be used as a trellis for climbing vines, making planters from other containers, or old windows or frames for focal points, you can find another life for old materials.
- If you do not tend your yard personally, you may want to find a landscaper who shares your concern for the environment. They typically take the easy path, use hazardous chemicals and fertilizers, and may not provide the creativity you desire. If you find one who shares your passion, they can be wonderful at implementing your desires.