Landscaping and Lawn Care:
Homeowners tend an estimated 40 million acres of turf (Environmental Science and Technology, 2005). If classified as a crop, lawns would rank as the fifth largest in the country on the basis of area after corn, soybeans, wheat, and hay (USDA, 1992). Fertilizers applied to lawns are roughly equivalent to the application rates for row crops (Barth, 1995a). Urban lawns receive an estimated five to seven pounds of pesticides per acre annually (Schueler, 1995b).
Despite this, few residents consider lawn fertilizer a cause of water quality problems. Less than one-fourth of residents rated it a water quality concern (Syferd, 1995 and Assing, 1994), although that rate rose to 60 percent for residents living close to lakes (Morris and Traxler, 1996 and MCSR, 1997). In one Minnesota survey, only 21 percent of homeowners felt their lawn contributed to water quality problems. Interestingly, more than twice that many felt that their neighbors’ lawns did (MCSR,1997). Few suburban and rural landowners are aware of their lawn’s nutrient needs. Surveys indicate that only 10 to 20 percent of lawn owners take soil tests to determine if fertilization is even needed (CWP, 1999). Most lawn owners don’t know the phosphorus or nitrogen content of the fertilizer they apply (Morris and Traxler, 1996) or that mulching grass clippings into lawns reduces or eliminates the need to fertilize. Helping residents, municipalities, and a lawn care professionals learn methods to reduce fertilizer and pesticide application, water use, and land disturbance can help alleviate the effects of a major source of stormwater pollution in residential communities.
Alternative landscaping techniques such as nature-scaping and xeriscaping can also be used. Xeriscaping is a viable alternative to traditional landscaping. Xeriscaping conserves water and protects the environment by reducing water use (TAMU, 1996). It needn’t result in cactus and rock garden landscapes. Rather, cool, green landscapes can be achieved and maintained with water-efficient practices. Xeriscaping incorporates seven basic water-reducing principles (NYDEP, 1997):
- Planning and design. Consider sunlight, soil and drainage conditions; desired maintenance level; which existing plants will remain; plant and color preferences; and budget.
- Soil improvement. Mix peat moss or compost into soil before planting to help the soil retain water. Use terraces and retaining walls to reduce water run-off from sloped yards.
- Appropriate plant selection. Choose low-water-using flowers, trees, shrubs, and groundcovers. Many of these plants need watering only in the first year.
- Practical lawns. Limit the amount of grass area. Plant ground-covers, indigenous plants, or slow-growing, drought tolerant vegetation. If replanting lawns, use drought-tolerant grass seed mixes.
- Efficient irrigation. Install water-efficient drip or trickle irrigation systems.
- Effective use of mulches. Use a 3-inch deep layer of mulch, such as pine needles, shredded leaves, or bark. Mulch keeps soil moist, prevents erosion, and smothers weeds.
- Appropriate maintenance. Properly timed fertilizing, weeding, pest control, and pruning preserve a landscape’s beauty and water efficiency.
Naturescaping returns native plants and wildlife habitat to your yard or community. Naturescaping conserves water and energy, reduces water and soil pollution, and creates wildlife habitat. The practice is founded on the use of native plants that are naturally resistant to local pests and diseases. Once established, native plants can often survive on rainwater alone. Naturescaping areas can be created by replanting a section of lawn with a wildflower meadow, a hummingbird and butterfly garden, or plants and trees selected for seeds, fruit, and nectar, and nesting boxes.
When creating a naturescape, it is important to include four elements: food, water, shelter, and adequate space. Keep the following steps in mind when creating a naturescape in your yard or community:
- Visit “wild” places and naturescaped sites and imagine how these landscapes would fit in your yard or community.
- Educate yourself and your community. Learn about native plants and basic design and care concepts. Attend workshops, and read plant and design books.
- When you are ready to develop a site plan, choose a small, viewable site. When planning, consider maintenance, water, gardening, and feeder access. Know the existing conditions of the area shade/sun, wet/dry, wind patterns, drainage, existing plants and animals. Once you develop a plan and you have obtained any necessary permits, you are ready to gather your material and begin.