The latest thinking on ecological landscapes. Useful tips to improve our environment

Kim Eierman

Kim Eierman

Founder of EcoBeneficial!

Available for virtual and in-person landscape consulting, talks and classes.

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Anise Hysop and pollinators

5 Ecological Landscape Resolutions Worth Making

Losing weight and curbing bad habits don’t have to be the only resolutions you make for the New Year. How about adopting some resolutions that will have a positive impact on the environment around you?  Here are 5 ecological landscape resolutions worth making:

Resolution#1: Become a Climate Change Steward – Plant More Trees

Using Trees to Reduce Climate Change

The efforts of nations are critical to stemming climate change, but so are individual actions. Why not help trap carbon emissions, clean the air, cool the environment and decrease the impact of flooding in your own landscape. It’s easy – plant more plants, especially plants with extensive root systems, like trees.

Here are some of the ways in which trees improve environmental health:

  • Trees absorb carbon dioxide as well as other noxious gasses. Fifteen mature trees can offset the emissions from a family car driven 10,000 miles at 20 miles per gallon.
  • Trees clean the air. One mature tree can provide 4 people with a day’s worth of oxygen.
  • Trees are Mother Nature’s air conditioners. In a single summer day, the evaporation from one tree can equal the cooling effect of 8 room-sized air conditioners.
  • Trees intercept rainfall, slow stormwater runoff, help prevent soil erosion, and recharge groundwater. A single tree can store as much as 100 gallons of water.

Resolution#2: Loosen Up in Your Landscape

Fallen Leaves

Fight the urge to treat your landscape like the interior of a neat and tidy house. Nature suffers from our compulsion to keep our landscapes neat.  Here are some tips to get you started:

  • No more pruning shrubs into meatballs – it’s lousy habitat for birds, and can deprive pollinators of the flowers that might have been.
  • Skip the tree-topping to constrain tree height or width – it’s a great way to weaken and eventually kill a tree.
  • Leave those flowering perennials and native grasses standing through winter – they provide food sources and overwintering habitat for some of nature’s creatures.
  • Keep your fallen leaves in place (other than on the lawn) – that leaf litter is a complex system of nutrient cycling and also provides habitat – including a home for insects which, in turn, will be a welcome meal for migrating birds when they return in the spring.
  • Reduce or replace your lawn – it may provide a neat and tidy look, but it is an ecological wasteland for wildlife. Your lawn is also a “resource hog” – requiring copious amounts of water, fertilizer, and labor. The carbon emissions from gas mowers and blowers only add to problems of climate change for our challenged planet.
  • Plant a meadow or a meadow-like garden – the random patterns of flowering perennials and grasses offer a looser beauty, emulating nature in the wild. After establishment, meadows require much less effort than formal landscapes, while providing the biodiversity so critical to a healthy ecosystem.

Resolution #3: Bypass the Big Box Store

Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 11.01.12 AM

It’s so tempting to pick up a plant at the nearby big box store, while buying a box of nails or a can of paint. Really? For many people, the convenience and low prices of big box stores is to hard to resist and the fun of plant shopping has been relegated to a cheap impulse purchase.

Break out of the “big box experience” this year and drive on over to your local native nursery for a much better, and much more ecological result.   If you care about how and where your food is grown, then it’s time to think about how and where your plants are grown.

It’s time to demand plants that are pesticide-free, grown in real soil, without chemical fertilizers – plants that will help the environment, not contribute to its problems. Most native nurseries embrace these methods and unlike the big box stores, have a terrific inventory of regional native plants that are suited for your landscape.

Make your plant shopping a fun, educational outing with your family and friends, while supporting these hard-working local business owners who really care about their environment and their customers.

Resolution #4: Plant for a Succession of Bloom

Asclepias purpurascens blossom

Challenged pollinators need our help, and it’s not just about bees. We have a broad spectrum of pollinators from native bees to wasps, beetles, flies, and others, that not only deliver valuable pollination services but are part of a larger food web. Does your landscape offer these pollinators habitat and food throughout the growing season?

Take an inventory of the flowering plants in your landscape and note the time of year that they flower (skip the double-flowered and sterile ones). Include flowering trees, shrubs and perennials. Do you have at least 3 plants in bloom at one time that are valuable to pollinators? Chances are there are gaps in bloom times.  Plan to fill those gaps by planting regional, site-appropriate plants this spring.

To learn which plants are your best choices, visit these useful websites:

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center database has several lists of native plants that are of special value to bees.

The Xerces Society provides regional pollinator-friendly plant lists.

The Pollinator Partnership offers pollinator-friendly EcoRegional Planting Guides

Resolution #5: Inspire Friends, Family and Neighbors

habitatsignfullMost Americans maintain their traditional landscapes with a big lawn and limited ecological value – simply because that’s what other people do. They may never have even contemplated the difference between planting a sterile hybrid perennial, devoid of nectar, pollen or seed, or planting an ecological powerhouse like a native milkweed.

Friends and neighbors may have no idea how harmful a big green, chemically-fuelled, pesticide-laden, gas-mower maintained turf lawn really is. Help them evolve their thinking by educating and inspiring them. Like they say at Apple, it’s time to “think different.”

Start by getting a sign for your own yard that explains your landscape philosophy. Perhaps a “Wildlife Habitat” sign from the National Wildlife Federation, or a “Pollinator Habitat” sign from the Xerces Society, or maybe a bird habitat sign from your local Audubon Society.   Help others to “connect the ecological dots.”

Pick up a few native plants for your neighbor and offer to plant them in their yard. Even better, offer to help them plant a small butterfly garden. Everyone loves butterflies – you can broach the topic of pollinators later!

Have any ecological landscape resolutions that you’d like to share?  The first 5 people who send in their resolutions will receive a free EcoBeneficial tip sheet.

Happy 2016!

From Kim Eierman at EcoBeneficial

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