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10 Eco-Friendly Gardening Tips

Taking care of your lawn and garden is just as important as taking care of your roof. An attractive landscape can increase the value of your home and add curb appeal. Maintaining your lawn and garden properly can save money and time. Eco-friendly or “green,” landscaping habits can help the environment and decrease the amount of hazardous chemicals around your home. Did you know that the average suburban lawn uses six times the hazardous chemicals per acre as conventional farming does? Learn how to avoid chemical use below.

Tip 1: Water Efficiently: Water during strategically planned times only. The best time to water is between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. Watering in the afternoon is inefficient since water is lost due to evaporation and wind. The second-best time to water is between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Running an irrigation system excessively can waste a lot of water. Just one hour can use up to 250 gallons of water.

Tip 2: Install an Irrigation System: Consider the installation of a sprinkler or irrigation system for your lawn. Irrigation systems work well at targeting only the specific areas of your lawn that need to be watered, thus cutting back on unnecessary watering of uplanted areas. Irrigation systems are available with a timer option, which helps homeowners avoid overwatering by turning off the system at predetermined times. Make sure to check the weather forecast and turn off the timer when rain is predicted.

Tip 3: Go Organic: Say goodbye to chemical fertilizers and pesticides. There are many top-quality organic and natural weed killers. Additionally, organic compost can be used.

Tip 4: Make Your Own Compost: Make your own compost to use in your garden. Compost can be used as a fertilizer, serving as an excellent alternative to chemical-based fertilizers. Making your own compost involves mixing browns (such as dead leaves, branches or twigs, greens (such as grass clippings, vegetable waste, fruit scraps and coffee grounds) and water in a compost bin.

Tip 5: Mulch: Garden mulch can enhance the look of your garden and help keep it healthy. Spreading mulch in your garden can also save time by decreasing the need for watering, applying herbicides and pulling weeds.

Tip 6: Drought-Tolerant Plants: The technique of using drought-tolerant plants, known as xeriscaping will significantly help reduce water usage in your garden.

Tip 7: Native Plants: Planting native plants will cut down on the need for water and fertilizer. For example, if you live in Arizona, don’t plant high water plants such as bluegrass or clover.

Tip 8: Make Your Own Planters: Making your own planters is a great way to reuse empty containers. Rinse out plastic containers (cottage cheese, yogurt and dessert whip containers are just the right size), fill them with dirt, add a plant and you have a great new planter. Not only is this eco-friendly, it’s also inexpensive.

Tip 9: Harvest Rainwater: Harvesting rainwater means collecting and storing rainwater to be used for your lawn or garden. This is a simple way to conserve water and help your garden bloom.

Tip 10: Hang Birdfeeders and Nesting Boxes: Birdfeeders and nesting boxes attract birds to your garden. Birds are a great benefit to gardens as they eat unwanted pests, such as snails and slugs. Instead of using pesticide against these little bugs, simply invite the birds in and they’ll take care of the pests naturally.

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The Best Mulches

Mulch is great for the garden. Use this guide to help you find the best type for your landscape.

Why Mulch

Spreading mulch over your garden soil is the best way to save time and energy in your yard. Mulch helps the soil hold moisture so you don’t have to water as often. It also suppresses weeds. And over time, mulches made from organic materials break down and increase your soil’s structure and fertility.

Shredded Bark

Shredded bark is one of the most common and least expensive mulches. It comes from a variety of sources, including cedar trees. Shredded bark is one of the best mulch types to use on slopes and it breaks down relatively slowly. Some shredded-bark products are byproducts from other industries; they’re considered environmentally friendly. Check the mulch packaging for more information.

Here’s a hint: Shredded bark can take up some nitrogen from the soil as it decomposes. If you have poor soil, adding some organic fertilizer to the soil can help keep your plants healthy.

Leaves

Save money by shredding fallen leaves in your yard and using them to cover the soil. Fallen leaves break down quickly (often in less than a year), but should be shredded before use to prevent them from matting down. Fallen leaves are commonly used as mulch in winter.

Grass Clippings

Another mulch you can make for free, grass clippings break down fast but add nitrogen to the soil as they do. It’s best to use grass clippings in thin layers or to let the grass dry before spreading it as a mulch — otherwise it starts to stink and rot as it decomposes.

Here’s a hint: Avoid using grass clippings if your lawn is chemically treated, especially if you use it in vegetable gardens. The chemicals may harm your desirable garden plants.

Straw

Straw has a beautiful golden color that looks great in the garden. It’s also a bit slower to break down than leaves or grass clippings. But you do need to make sure the straw is free of weed seeds, otherwise it can cause more weeds than it prevents. (Oat straw is often particularly weedy.)

Compost

Compost looks like soil, except it’s darker, so it really sets off plants well. This mulch material breaks down quickly but adds to your soil structure the fastest. Plus, it’s inexpensive; you can create your own rich compost for free. Many municipalities give away compost, as well.

Pine Needles

Pine needles add a delicate, fine texture to plantings. They hold in place well, making them useful on slopes, and they’re relatively slow to break down. If you continuously use pine needles as mulch, they may increase the acidity of your soil. This makes them ideal for use with acid-loving plants such as azaleas, rhododendrons, blueberries, and some types of conifers.

Pine Bark Nuggets

Pine bark nuggets are slower to break down than shredded bark, but they don’t stay in place as well. They’re not a good choice for slopes or other areas where they may be washed away by heavy rain. Pine bark nuggets are available in a variety of sizes; the bigger the nugget, the longer it lasts.

Wood Chips

You can often get wood chips for free from local tree trimmers, though the trimmers will usually ask you to haul the chips yourself. Wood chips, especially when they’re freshly made, can take up a fair amount of nitrogen from the soil. They can be acidic and lower your soil’s pH, as well.

Here’s a hint: If you get wood chips from a local source, check if the tree had poison ivy on it. Working with wood chips that contain poison ivy can cause skin irritation. Also: Wood chips from walnut trees may contain natural chemicals that inhibit the growth of many garden plants.

Cocoa Hull Mulch

Cocoa hull mulch is one of the most beautiful, thanks to its fine texture and rich color. And many gardeners appreciate its delightful chocolate fragrance. Cocoa hull mulch is one of the most expensive mulch types, though. It decomposes slowly, and unlike most mulch types, it doesn’t fade with time. It’s a great mulch for small-leafed plants such as herbs where the shells are easy to work around. In areas with hot, humid weather, mold may grow on its surface. Cocoa hull mulch is poisonous to dogs and cats if they eat it.

Here’s a hint: Because cocoa hulls are light, they can blow away unless you spray them down well with water after you first spread them.

Gravel or River Rock

Because they’re inorganic materials, gravel and river rock don’t break down in the landscape, so they don’t need to be reapplied every year. However, it also means they don’t improve your soil over time.

Here’s a hint: It can be very difficult to remove gravel or river rock mulch if you ever change your mind. They can make it more difficult to plant in or divide perennials.

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