ecoscapes blog

Top Tips for Sustainable Gardeners

Happy Earth Week! Besides Earth Day, we have National Arbor Day to celebrate on Friday, May 26.

In the spirit of the ‘Three R’s’ (Reuse, Reduce and Recycle) I’m Reusing and Recycling information from past blog posts. Doing this Reduces the amount of time spent writing this blog. After all, it is the busy season!

Consider adopting some of these practices:

Plant more natives

· Peruse native plant sale announcements—A number of organizations have already announced their native plant sales and some are taking pre-orders. Chicago Living Corridors provides a comprehensive list of native plant sales and nurseries that sell natives.

· Think about bloom times. Different insects arrive in your yard at different times of the year. So ideally, you’ll plant to have blooms from late March-early April (ephemerals like Woodland Phlox) to October (Black-eyed Susan's and Asters). Birds depend on a steady diet of insects during the growing season, but especially in the spring to feed their young.

· Avoid onesies or twosies. For most people it’s more aesthetically pleasing to see perennials planted in drifts or blocks of plants (3, 5, 7, 9). Make single purchases of plants for places you want a focal point in your garden bed; a multi-stem tree or large vase-shaped grass, for example.

Reduce Waste

· Don't let food scraps go to waste. In the U.S. we throw away nearly 40 million tons of food each year—more than any other country in the world. Composting your fruit and vegetable scraps is a simple way to be part of the solution to help stop this wastefulness. When you compost your food scraps and yard waste, it magically breaks down into rich organic material you can use to feed your plants. Here’s a beginner’s guide to composting.

· Reuse and repurpose. Have a variety of wood leftover from previous projects? Make a raised vegetable garden bed. Maybe a neighbor is getting rid of river rock that covered her beds. That could be used to make a path or a base for things you tuck away in the corner of the yard. Take an old wooden chair, paint it and then cut a hole in the seat. Put a container in it and place your ’new’ planter in one of your beds. Get creative—the possibilities are endless.

Water smart

· Water on the cheap. Water from your hose tap is becoming increasingly expensive. Besides installing a rain barrel, there are other simple ways to avoiding turning the tap on so often. For example, if you have a dehumidifier running in your house, you have a ready-made source of water for your garden. Boiling water when cooking? Let it cool off and then give your plants a drink.

· Group plants with like-watering needs together. You need to consider more than sun exposure when placing plants. Whether a plant prefers wet, evenly moist or dry soil is a factor, as well. So make sure you group plants with similar moisture needs--it will make any watering you do more accurate and time-efficient. Keep in mind that some plants can handle multiple types of soil moisture. These are a good bet to mix in with plants that have one type of moisture requirement.

· Plant your thirstiest plants closest to your home (and water source). If you love annuals or other ornamental plants that require regular watering, no sweat. Just make sure you plant them closer to where you can keep an eye on them and give them a regular drink. Several years ago, I planted Astilbe near our screened porch. Astilbe like soil that is consistently moist. Fortunately, our bird bath is nearby. When I change the bird bath water (using water from our rain barrel), I dump the old water on the Astilbes. Easy-peasy.

Care for feather-winged friends

· Build a bird house—Increasing development and a dearth of shrubs and trees in many yards leaves birds with fewer places to raise their young. Why not lend a hand by building a bird house or two? Check out this video on how to build a simple bird house. If you’d like to build bird houses to attract certain species, visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website and click on the ‘Learn’ tab.

· Locate your feeders near shrubs and trees. Birds like to flit in and out of shrubs and trees--particularly densely branched shrubs and evergreens--to avoid predators.

· Plant berry producing shrubs. If you don’t like the fuss and muss of feeders, consider shrubs that retain berries during winter. Some options include Aronia arbutifolia ‘Brilliantissima’ (Red Chokeberry), Aronia melanocarpa (Black Chokeberry) Ilex verlicillata ‘Red Sprite’ (Winterberry), Rhus typhina (Staghorn Sumac) and Viburnum trilobum ‘Redwing’ (American Cranberrybush).

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