Environmentally Friendly Landscaping

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environmentally friendly landscape

Rapid suburbanization often leads to environmental problems. The rapid growth that we are experiencing here in western North Carolina is no different. Tree loss, increased stormwater runoff, erosion and loss of green space are just some of the issues we face. Luckily there are some things that we as home gardeners can address. We can plant more trees, protect wildlife and use environmentally friendly  landscaping methods to mitigate some of these negative environmental repercussions.

heavily graded lot mountains

Environmentally Friendly Lawn Care

Lawns are great. Green expanses of lush grass are beautiful areas for kids and adults to play and relax. Grass roots retain soil and grass leaves produce oxygen while capturing carbon.

child in lawn

Unfortunately some lawn care practices can have negative effects on the environment. Large industrial-sized gas-powered mowers produce exhaust that pollutes. The heavy machines compact soil which is bad for plant roots, especially trees. The over-powered mowers can cause soil loss by loosening soil and blowing the particles away. Misused lawn care products such as fertilizers and pesticides can wash away into streams. Irrigation systems can waste valuable water when used improperly.

The good news is that home lawns can be managed in an environmentally friendly way. Home gardeners can use electric mowers, blowers and weed trimmers. They can use organic fertilizers to improve soil health. Gardeners can reduce their reliance on lawn chemicals by growing healthier lawns through proper turf management practices such as managing grass at the proper mowing height (not too short!), maintaining proper soil pH, alleviating soil compaction through aeration and reducing shade. A healthy lawn doesn’t need much management!

Plant Native Plants

Natural areas leave behind a positive environmental legacy in the landscape. Native trees and shrubs can live for decades or even centuries. The natural landscapes we plant today become the woodlands and parks of the future. An oak may take 25 years before it starts casting any real shade but it can go on cooling our environment, stabilizing soil, and capturing pollutants long after we are all gone.

reducing turf areas can lower inputs

The best source for information on native plants in North Carolina is the NC Native Plant Society website. The website has a very useful list of native plants for the state. Their well-organized chart divides plants by their use and size in the landscape.

Leave the Leaves

Leaves represent soil nutrients that have been mined from the soil by trees. Each year they fall to the ground, rot and replenish the soil. If we remove leaves from landscapes we interrupt this cycle. Soils eventually become depleted of nutrients.

leave the leaves

One of the easiest things you can do to make your landscape more environmentally friendly is to leave the leaves each fall. Many kinds of insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals depend on the fallen leaves and seeds for shelter, food and habitat.

The removal of leaves also destroys habitat for insects, reptiles and amphibians. Have you ever heard of a ‘blue ghost firefly‘? This rare insect is only found in our area. The females live in the leaves on the forest floor. The males float just above the forest floor barely visible to the naked eye. Removing leaves from yards destroys the blue ghost firely’s habitat.

Promote Beneficial and Pollinating Insects

Most insects are benign, neither helping or hurting humans. Only about 3% of insects are harmful. The rest of the insects benefit humans through either managing pest insects (lady bugs eating aphids for example) or as pollinators who move pollen from plant to plant allowing plants to reproduce (bees pollinate our vegetables and fruits).

bee on cosmo flower

Misused pesticides can negatively affect beneficial insects including pollinators. Rarely is it necessary for us to need pesticides in home gardens. There are many biorational ways to control pests such as hand picking off insects and biorational pesticides derived from natural sources.

Controlling Invasive Plants

Non-native landscape plants can escape cultivation and become invasive and destroy sensitive habitats. Invasive plants are currently taking over sensitive areas displacing native plants and animals. The invasive plant problem is growing and will continue to get worse unless we all do our part to control their spread. So remove invasive plants when you can and plant native plants.

English ivy takes over woodlands

English ivy is highly invasive, invading woodlands and choking out native plants.

Environmentally Friendly Gardening Outreach

Henderson County Agent Steve Pettis created the ‘The Environmentally Friendly Landscaping Program’. Using classes, consultations and his ‘Gardening in the Mountains Radio Show and Podcast’  Steve teaches and encourages people to manage landscapes in the most environmentally friendly way possible. Topics covered in the program include ‘landscapes can be home to wildlife’, ‘organic lawn care methods’, ‘turning lawns into pollinator habitat instead of mowing’, ‘leaving the leaves’, ‘planting for beneficial insects and pollinators’, ‘leaving snags and stumps for wildlife’, ‘using electric mowers, blowers and other tools, lawn alternatives such as moss lawns, protecting trees, planting trees properly’, ‘avoiding over-mulching’, ‘protecting streams’, ‘using native plants’ and ‘reducing pesticide use in landscapes’.

In 2023, the ‘Environmentally Friendly Landscaping Program’ reached 222 people through 8 classes hosted by Bullington Gardens. 98.2% of attendees who responded to a survey indicated that after attending the class they will be more likely to consider the consequences of their landscaping choices and use environmentally friendly landscaping methods including reducing pesticide and fertilizer use, avoiding invasive plants, planting for pollinators and avoiding damaging trees. The Agent also gave some form of the presentation to 9 outside groups attended by 202 people. The Gardening in the Mountains Radio Show and Podcast aired 52 times and the topic of ‘Environmentally Friendly Landscaping’ was included during most episodes.

Written By

Steve Pettis, N.C. Cooperative ExtensionSteve Pettis, Jr.Extension Agent, Agriculture - Consumer and Commercial Horticulture Call Steve Email Steve N.C. Cooperative Extension, Henderson County Center
Posted on Jan 31, 2024
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