The long-term benefits of organic landscaping often outweigh the initial costs of using natural products and native plants.
Going organic means going back to the basics for a simpler lifestyle and a safer environment. Landscaping provides plenty of opportunities for organic practices in implementation and design.
“It’s about working with the ecosystem that you have around you,” says Mill Nash, owner of Clean Air Lawn Care in Marin, Calif. “It’s trying to work with nature instead of just dumping chemicals on plants.”
Mark Epstein, past co-chair of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) Healthcare and Therapeutic Garden Design Professional Practice Network, says that by using products and practices that closely mimic natural processes, you’ll allow the plant to build up natural defenses and reduce the dependency cycle that chemical applications can foster. This will result in a stronger plant and more eco-friendly landscaping.
Here are tips on how to work with your environment to promote more organic practices:
Understand What You’re Planting
Nash says it’s important to make sure you know exactly how big plants are going to grow and to choose the right plant for the right space. This way you won’t spend a lot of time with unnecessary pruning, which means less maintenance on your end and less discarded materials in the landfill. Knowing the plants native to your climate zone will save you time and energy from having to help foreign plants adapt to an unfamiliar environment.
Lance Walheim, Bayer Advanced gardening expert and co-author of “Landscaping for Dummies,” says using native plants will reduce the need for water, fertilizer and other gardening products because the plants are used to existing conditions.
Fine-tune Your Watering Process
Nash recommends watering in the morning more and watering infrequently but deeply; grass needs about only an inch of water per week.
“By watering only once or twice a week, but letting the water really sink in, you teach the roots to grow deeper, creating a healthier plant,” he says. “Watering in the morning is important because you eliminate wasting water due to evaporation and wind.”
Nash also suggests mulching heavily around your plants so the roots are protected and water is conserved.
If you water with a sprinkler system, Walheim recommends using one that has a smart controller so you don’t risk using more water than needed. Such controllers are often connected to an on-site weather station (sold with the controller) or connected wirelessly to online weather data. They measure rain, temperature, humidity and other site conditions and adjust watering accordingly. Although the system might be costly, there are often rebates available from local water departments for purchasing equipment that promotes water conservation.
Figure Out Which Products are Truly Organic
Rather than chemical applications, Walheim says there is a growing retailer and consumer interest in non-synthetic gardening products. Some of these products contain active ingredients such as canola oil or potassium salt of fatty acids that control insects for flowers, fruits and vegetables. In another product, a strain of harmless, naturally occurring bacteria is used to control black spot, powdery mildew, rust or other diseases.
But if you find the amount of products bearing the “organic” label to be overwhelming, Nash recommends looking for the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) seal.
“OMRI is a national nonprofit organization that determines which products are allowed for use in organic production and processing,” he says. “OMRI listed or approved products may be used on operations that are certified organic under the USDA National Organic Program.”
Selling Organic Landscaping to Your Clients
Although the term “organic” has positive connotations in terms of the environment, many people also associate it with costliness and time consumption. There is some truth to that argument, but it’s important to help clients see the long-term benefits.
Epstein says some organic practices emphasize using materials such as leaves, twigs and lawn clippings for compost to substitute paying for chemicals. According to Walheim, bio-natural products break down quickly and have little residual action, resulting in the need for more regular maintenance and applications. Although visits are more frequent, Epstein says, they’re less intensive, focusing more on monitoring measures rather than preventive pesticide application. This saves a lot of time.
There’s no question that switching to organic practices is a big undertaking that requires educating your clients. But reminding them of the benefits involved will help them see why organic landscaping is worthwhile. Nash recommends taking clients through their landscape and discussing exactly what will be needed and how organic landscaping can benefit their families by providing a safer environment for their children and pets. Plus, it will produce better air and water quality.
“It’s important to read the label on both synthetic and non-synthetic chemical products before you buy,” Walheim says. “[This will help ensure] you’re making the right choice for your lawn and garden needs, and will use the products properly.”
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