Real Estate

On being Earth friendly

Conserve water, plant natives, ditch the lawn, attract the right bugs

by Laxmi Natarajan, APLD

Looking around me, I find roses still flowering, oleanders looking spectacular and bottle brush still a bright red with its delicate flowers adorning the verdant tree. We are fortunate to have such extended gardening weather in the Bay Area.

It is time though to transition into cool-weather gardening and focus on things to do for fall weather. It is time to be reflective and start amending the soil, finish harvesting all the leftover tomatoes, plant cool-season vegetables like cauliflower and spinach.

A natural extension of being a gardener is the aspect of being earth-friendly. "Home is where one starts from," said T.S. Eliot, and if you are a gardener, your home garden is a wonderful place to start. Here are some suggestions to start being green in the garden.

The approach to sustainable gardening mimics nature where everything is recycled (water, debris, nutrients) endlessly. Water conservation, energy conservation, building healthy soil, reducing garden waste, creating a wildlife habitat for birds and insects are some of the keystones in a green garden.

Plant California native plants or a mix of plants that are locally adapted. This helps conserve water and requires less maintenance in terms of fertilizers and pesticides. Another benefit is that native birds, insects and other wildlife have evolved with native-plant species and are able to use the fruits, nectars and habitat these plants and trees provide. Select disease-resistant plants and include plants that attract beneficial insects in the landscape.

Grow an organic garden. Organic means gardening without using chemical pesticides, herbicides and inorganic fertilizers that pollute our soil and water. It relies on the use of beneficial insects, diversity of plants and compost to supply the soil with nutrients.

Eliminate/minimize lawns. Lawns are beautiful and a visual treat when maintained well but they are also one of the serious offenders of the green philosophy. Lawns use up to 10 times more toxic chemicals per acre than commercial farming. The average 2,000-square-foot lawn requires 10,000 gallons of water per month to maintain, the same amount of water in an average swimming pool. So, if you need to have a lawn (maybe for children to play), consider green-alternatives -- make a smaller lawn or consider low, hardy groundcovers and playground bark/redwood bark.

Group your plants in the landscape by their water needs. Install efficient irrigation systems (drip system, timers etc). Use mulch in the garden to retain moisture. If possible install rainwater collections or a gray-water system.

Build a healthy soil in your garden by amending it with compost and adding mulch to reduce weeds. Reduce kitchen and garden waste by investing in a compost bin and creating an active compost pile and add that to create a fertile and living soil. Vermicomposting is a great way to reduce your garbage and reap rich benefits all around. The worm castings are a great fertilizer for plants. The book "Worms Eat My Garbage" by Mary Applehof is a wonderful resource to understand vermicomposting.

Integrated Pest Management, which resolves pest problems by using natural resources, avoiding chemical pesticides and a multi-level approach of using natural controls to stop the pests in the garden, is a great way to be earth-friendly. The techniques can be as simple as planting companion plants to attract beneficial insects, introducing beneficial insects to your garden or making your own pesticides from home ingredients such as borax, ammonia and beer.

Reuse pots, landscape materials like pavers, soil, lumber, concrete (broken concrete blocks from driveway can be reused to build dry walls). Explore the latest green concepts such as permeable pavers and pervious concrete (to reduce water runoff). Contact your local tree trimming company to see if they provide free mulch (chipped wood from trimming the trees).

Save energy by placing deciduous trees on the west side of the house to provide shade during the summer and allow sunlight to warm the house in winter. Use hand or electric tools as opposed to tools powered with gas. Use outdoor lights that are energy-efficient or solar-powered. Spend a little planning time to green your garden this fall, adopt a few ideas and incorporating them into your garden one at a time.

Go green and stay warm!

Sites to visit for more information

Composters

Vermicomposting

Integrated pest management

California native plants

Laxmi Natarajan, a member of Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD), is a landscape and interiorscape designer in the Bay Area (Bagicha). She can be contacted at 650-703-9756.

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