Conservation Landscaping for Water Quality


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Conservation Landscaping for Water Quality

  1. 1. Clean Waters Starting in Your Home and Yard Conservation Landscaping for Water Quality Most gardeners want to be good “citi- species in the remaining natural areas and rebuild zens of the Earth” but also want great-look- ecosystems requires restoring the ecology of indi- ing gardens that don’t take full-time help or a fortune vidual back yards. Conservation landscaping tech- to maintain. Can they have it both ways? Conservation niques and practices are systems of gardening thatClean Waters is acollaboration of the Landscaping promotes landscape management tech- use many of the same principles that naturalConnecticut Sea niques and philosophies that work with nature to ecosystems follow. Conservation landscaping isGrant Extension reduce pollution and encourage wildlife habitat. It about reducing waste, energy use and materials. ItProgram and the is about observation of nature at work. Its purpose encourages yard care practices that include usingUniversity ofConnecticut less fertilizers and pesticides, reducing lawn areas, is to design and create systems that imitate natureCooperative and utilizing native plants. The results are less overall and turn problems into solutions.Extension maintenance and less water use in the suburban land-SystemÕs NEMO scape. This fact sheet suggests practical techniques LAYING THE GROUNDWORKProject, educatingindividuals about to assist in evaluating your landscape and mainte-the impacts of nance practices. Simple changes may be all that is Conservation landscaping begins with under-everyday activities needed to help your landscape contribute to the standing the soil. Soil quality affects nearly every-on water quality health of our environment and the protection of water thing that is part of the landscape – trees, flowers,and simple tech-niques that help quality. shrubs and lawn areas. Creating and maintainingprotect water good soil quality through thoughtful management isresources from the WHY IS CONSERVATION LANDSCAPING the key tohome well to Long conserva-Island Sound. IMPORTANT? tion land- A great majority of plant culture or gardening in the scaping. United States is devoted to growing ornamental plants Good, and turf. More than 90 million households in the healthy soil United States are involved in some form of gardening. is full of Judy Ricketts-White Every gardener is a landscape manager, even if they earth- never knew it. On a cumulative basis, the landscaping worms, practices of these home landscape managers can microor-5 pose a huge threat to naturally functioning ecosys- ganisms, tems. The excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides, bacteria and other forms of life. This life feeds on and irrigation practices that wash these and other organic matter, which it decomposes into humus, a chemicals, as well as pathogens (bacteria and virus- rich, dark material that holds both moisture and es) from animal waste and eroded soil from the home nutrients in the soil. Soil pH (acidity/alkalinity levels) landscape to local waters, create polluted runoff or and fertility (nutrient availability) can be evaluated by Fact Sheet non-point source pollution. analyzing soil samples from different soil locations June 2000 Traditional landscaping and gardening practices, throughout the landscape. Together they determine along with suburban land development in the United what plants will thrive in a particular landscape. Soil States, have increasingly impacted the remaining nat- pH can be adjusted by the addition of limestone or ural ecosystems. To reconnect plant and animal gypsum (to raise pH) or iron sulfate (to lower pH for ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥
  2. 2. acid-loving plants). Soil fertility can be improved by scape beds helps decrease the size of the lawn incorporating organic matter such as grass clippings (and the need to mow, rake, fertilize, or water). or leaves into the soil. Applications of compost, which These beds can be planted with groundcovers includes all the organic nutrients to keep soil life that add landscape interest but still require less healthy, also helps plants thrive. As a natural fertilizer, maintenance than grass or true gardens. compost has its own time release feature – nutrients are dispensed slowly, feeding the soil and plants PREVENT BARE SOILS gradually and preventing water pollution from nutrient runoff. An important part of protecting the soil and the environment is maintaining a healthy vegetative ON-SITE ORGANIC RECYCLING cover on the land surface. Bare, unvegetated land areas are often eroded by wind and water, leading Most gardeners know the value of recycling their to soil and nutrient loss and water pollution prob- grass clippings, plant prunings and leaves by com- lems down slope. Vegetative covers can consist of posting, but many grasses, vines, groundcovers, mulches, or vegeta- people still buy bles and herbs, as long as the soil surface is com- commercial fertil- pletely covered. izers because they don’t have LAWN ALTERNATIVES enough compost. Other people give In many landscape situations, grass may not be their leaves away the best choice as a vegetative cover. It may have in the fall by tak- a hard time growing successfully or it may be hardJudy Ricketts-White ing advantage of to mow and maintain, so a different ground cover municipal leaf may be more suitable. Excellent locations for alter- pick-ups or pay- native ground covers include areas with steep ing landscaping slopes, wet or shady areas and sites with easily companies to clean off their lawns because they think erodible soils. When carefully selected and plant- they have no room for a leaf compost pile. Then they ed, ground covers can improve infiltration of water pay for bags of bark mulch to into the soil, slow spread under shrubs and trees stormwater runoff and in garden beds. Instead, and reduce land- they could chop the leaves with scape maintenance a mulching mower and rake needs. Ground cov- them into the landscaping beds ers come in a vari- to use as mulch. Natural forest ety of textures and Judy Ricketts-White ecosystems function this way. colors, many with They were the first “organic gar- beautiful blooms. In deners”, recycling their own addition to ground leaves and fallen twigs or covers, other land- branches. scaping techniques help reduce total lawn area, Another way to recycle organic matter, eliminate including: large compost piles and save yourself a lot of time is • Plant a wildflower meadow to provide a colorful, Fact Sheet #5 to create beds or areas in your landscape where low-maintenance alternative to lawns while creat- materials can be recycled right where you are mow- ing habitat for birds, butterflies and small animals. ing or raking. Increasing the size and number of land- • Wood decks and brick-on-sand patios offer ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ 2
  3. 3. cozy outdoor seating while allowing water to filter Many varieties of native or non-invasive non-native through to the underlying soil. ornamental plants are adaptable to dry landscapes • Flowing water features introduce sound and tex- – sedums ture into the landscape and attract wildlife. and poten- tillas, for TREE AND SHRUB SELECTION instance. Many Selecting proper trees and shrubs for the home grasses landscape can seem a daunting task, but it can be and herbs simplified with a little research and some time spent also have walking through nurseries, garden centers or low water arboretums. Traditionally, trees and shrubs were needs. Judy Ricketts-White chosen for such characteristics as seasonal bloom Other intensity, bloom duration, or fall leaf color. While sites have these characteristics are still important, today’s an abun- environmentally sound, or conservation, land- dance of scapes include trees and shrubs selected for water, or problems with excessive stormwater runoff drought tolerance, disease resistance, ease of causing flooding or erosion, and almost every home maintenance, and wildlife benefits, in addition to has gutters or some other system to direct roof year-round appearance. runoff away from the foundation. Many of these situ- Conservation landscapes should incorporate ations can be changed from problems to benefits or plantings of native species – those that have thrived attractive landscape features. Roof runoff can be under local conditions without human help for thou- stored in rain barrels for later use in watering nearby sands of years. Properly situated native plants lawns and gardens. A larger conservation landscap- require little in the way of water, fertilizers or pesti- ing project would be changing landscape contours cides to provide a beautiful, natural-looking land- to create infiltration swales or rain gardens. These scape. Even when using native plant species, shallow basins or channels are planted with mois- choose those that are best adapted to your particu- ture-loving plants and roof or driveway runoff is lar landscape. Dwarf conifers are a better choice in directed into them so the water will filter into the a dry, windy site, for example, than roses, while ground rather than running off the property into the plants from the sand plains should not be planted in nearest storm drain or water body, creating new moist, highly organic soils. Another advantage to habitat areas and preventing water pollution prob- selecting native species is that they attract and pro- lems. vide habitat for beneficial insects, birds and animals Swales and rain gardens should be no more than that in turn help control problem pests, reducing the twelve inches deep so that storm water will soak into need for pesticide use in landscape maintenance. the ground within a day or two (preventing mosquito breeding problems), and they should be sized to CONSERVE WATER contain the runoff from a fairly large storm. For example, to create a rain garden using the runoff Water has become a limiting factor in many com- from a roof gutter, first determine the area of the munities, especially during hot, dry spells. roof that drains to that gutter by measuring the Landscaping to minimize watering, also referred to roof’s length and width in feet. Then multiply the Fact Sheet #5 as “xeriscaping” (“xeri” is the Greek prefix meaning length by the width to determine the area and multi- “dry”) includes careful planning, using drought- ply that result by 0.05. This calculation determines resistant plant varieties, and improving soils or the approximate volume (cubic feet) of water that will using mulches to help retain moisture in the soil. come down the gutter in a large storm. So, if the roof¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ 3
  4. 4. is 30 feet long and 15 feet wide, the calculation is 15 x eat. As deer will browse on any shrub or low- 30 x 0.05 = 22.5, so the rain garden needs to have a growing tree if the conditions are bad enough, no volume of list of plants can have an absolute guarantee for 22.5 cubic being “deer-proof”. However, deer do tend to feet. avoid plants with thorny stems or prickly leaves Rounding and those with strong aromas, making plants like that up to bayberry, boxwood, potentilla, roses, and hollies 24 cubic good choices. feet, the rain garden RESTORE THE BALANCE would need to be 4 feet Tending to one small piece of Earth with all of by 6 feet nature in mind has benefits that go well beyond and one reducing the time, labor and money spent long-Judy Ricketts-White foot deep. term on landscape management. Natural forest Beyond and meadow ecosystems have been around for conserving thousands of years. Their plants have experi- water and enced and survived a host of environmental native habitats, conservation landscaping can help changes. By making some changes in our own conserve energy. Careful placement of selected trees backyards, it is possible to work with the natural and shrubs around a home can provide shade from systems rather than imposing an artificial system summer sun and shielding from winter winds, reduc- that requires constant maintenance and inputs of ing cooling and heating costs for years to come. water, fertilizer and pesticides. One small plot ofThe ConnecticutSea Grant College Smaller lawn areas require less mowing, and the land may not seem significant, but as more homeProgram, based at associated burning of fossil fuels that cost money and landscape managers choose to make these sortthe University of create air pollution. of changes, the overall effect will have a very pos-Connecticut, is itive effect, both in the local neighborhood andpart of a nationalnetwork of univer- “BAMBI-PROOF” LANDSCAPING? the environment as a whole.sity-based pro-grams sponsoring With the spread of the suburban landscape into for- Written by —coastal and mer woodlands and fields, and the extensive use of Carl A. Salsedo,marine-relatedresearch, outreach highly edible plant species in traditional landscaping Extension Educator - Horticulture,and education. plans, white-tailed deer have become a major prob- University of Connecticut lem for homeowners in many areas. Some have Cooperative Extension System resorted to physical (streamers, flashy objects or noisemakers) or chemical (soap, predator urine or Heather M. Crawford, other strong scents) repellents. Others wrap plants in Coastal Resources Educator, mesh or erect fences, even electrical ones. Most of CT Sea Grant Extension Program these control measures are at least partially success- ful, but many are expensive or time-consuming to maintain, and some only work for short periods until the deer becomes acclimated to the sight or smell of the repellent. Fact Sheet #5 For more information contact: Connecticut Sea Grant, An alternative approach is to reduce the landscape 1084 Shennecossett Rd., Groton, CT 06340 “edibility rating” by selecting plants deer prefer not to ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ ¥ 4