Landscaping do’s and don’ts


During the cold months of winter, many people stare longingly out of the window dreaming of spring and time spent outdoors. For those with green thumbs, images of tending to the garden and other aspects of their landscapes no doubt dominate such daydreams.

Before starting a landscaping project, make sure you know exactly what you want, said Tony Elmore, President of Elmore Enterprise.

“Really make sure you have a good plan before you stick a shovel in the ground and start digging,” Elmore said.

It’s happened before that clients find that when it’s all said and done, they want to make more changes because they didn’t have a solid plan before. Now, they have to pay twice. It’s like designing a house, Elmore said, you have to know where the kitchen is going to go before you start construction. He recommends using a landscape designer to help map out your project.
While it may be tempting to take a prematurely warm day as a sign that spring is in full force and purchase a bunch of annuals, it’s better to know the last of the possible frost dates otherwise, you may waste time and money planting flowers or vegetables only to have them zapped by another frosty day.
It’s also important to make sure they’re healthy, Elmore said.

“Take your time choosing those plants because they get expensive if you have to replace them year after year,” he said.

He also recommends keeping in mind the kinds of animals and plants that live in your neighborhood. Some plants are very attractive to deer and if not properly protected, won’t last.

Amend the soil so that it is the right consistency, just crumbling when lifting it. Soil that is too muddy after spring thaw can harden, making it difficult for plants to flourish later on. Speak with representatives at a local lawn and garden center about which types of amendments you can add to the soil in your particular area to enrich it. Before planting, know what kind of soil you have, said Jean Gerow, facilities manager for the Ithaca Children’s garden.

“It’s a big mistake for people when they plant things that they don’t understand what kind of soil they have, what the water patterns are like, whether they’re in the shade, how the sun moves,” she explained.

Think about any annuals you might want to plant in the landscape this year that will complement any existing shrubbery or perennials. Come up with a theme so that the entire yard is cohesive. But remember, just because plants go together doesn’t mean they will work for your yard.

“The biggest mistakes people make involve buying the wrong plant,” she said. “Whether it’s the wrong plant for our zone or the wrong plant for that spot.”

Gerow suggests looking to nature while making changes to your garden.

“Think about how you can mimic the relationship between nature and yourself and your garden and things like that,” she said. “Nature is a cycle, a lot of things work really well together, you don’t want to try and disrupt that you want to try and make it work that way. In that regard, take a look at your property… Spend time imagining how you move through your environment.”

Both Gerow and Elmore warn against “mulch volcanoes” piled up around the base of trees. This can be suffocating for a tree and might ultimately kill it. They both also suggest keeping in mind that your plants will be taking up a certain amount of space, so make sure that they have it. Don’t plant trees that grow outward next to your door! Don’t place plants that need 1 foot by 1 foot of space 6 inches apart.

Going green
Spring is a season of rejuvenation. Green is certainly a color that’s synonymous with spring. Gardening enthusiasts can find a way to make spring even more green by embracing several eco-friendly gardening practices as they bring their lawns and gardens back to life in the months to come.

Create a compost pile. Composting is an eco-friendly way to enrich lawns and gardens. Composting helps to conserve water because compost promotes moisture retention in soil, reducing homeowners’ need to water their lawns and gardens while also helping them to save money on their water bills.

Composting also helps homeowners avoid the need to use potentially harmful chemical fertilizers because compost is a natural, slow release fertilizer. In addition, according to Canada’s Green Action Centre, compostable materials make up 40 percent of residential waste. So, composting can dramatically reduce the amount of waste homeowners ultimately send to landfills.

Be careful how you use your bug spray, or don’t use it at all! Gerow suggests a more natural approach using integrative pest management.

“People tend to go out and just spray, spray, spray, spray, spray, and that takes out a lot of your beneficial bugs as well as your bad bugs,” she said. “If you work with nature by encouraging beneficial bugs, encouraging a more balanced ecosystem, you won’t have problems with bugs.”

Replace gas-powered mowers with reel lawn mowers. Reel mowers may seem like relics from simpler times, but today’s reel mowers, while just as eco-friendly as their predecessors, are unlike those of yesteryear. According to the Planet Natural Research Center, an online resource for organic gardeners, gas-powered engines emit more than 10 times the hydrocarbons per amount of gas burned than auto engines. But reel mowers are fuel-free and less expensive than gas-powered mowers. Planet Natural also notes that reel mowers snip grass like scissors, leaving finer trimmings that can serve as nourishing, weed-deterring mulch for yards.

Water at the right times of day. Homeowners who water their lawns and gardens at the right time of day can help the planet and reduce their energy bills. As spring gradually gives way to summer, temperatures typically rise.

Watering during the coolest times of the day means less water will be lost to evaporation, ensuring water-needy soil will get all it needs to help lawns and gardens thrive. Early morning watering before the sun reaches its midday peak and/or evening watering as the sun is setting are typically great times to water lawns and gardens, rather than when temperatures are at their hottest.

Use a rain barrel. Rain barrels provide another great way to conserve water while tending to lawns and gardens. Rain barrels collect and store rain water from roofs and downspouts, keeping water from washing into sewage systems where it can’t be put to good use. Water collected in rain barrels can be used in various ways. Many homeowners can use water from rain barrels to water their lawns, gardens and houseplants, saving money on their water bills along the way.

Spring gardening season provides a great opportunity for lawn and garden enthusiasts to embrace a variety of eco-friendly practices that can save them money and protect the planet.


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