Jan 4, 2013 1:00 PM  PST

GreenPointers: Gardening and Landscaping

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Gardening and Landscaping

Our series of GreenPointers provides helpful tips for a healthier, greener home in a variety of topics. Today's topic is Gardening and Landscaping.

Green Pointers

We tend to think of gardens and yards as healthy places where we can enjoy nature. But the truth is, many conventional gardening and landscaping practices aren't all that healthy or natural. They typically involve a lot of irrigation water, chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, as well as fossil fuels for mowing and trimming. They also produce a lot of plant waste from pruning and can be invasive to native habitats in the area.

Whether you are planning a major landscaping project or just planting a few beds, here are a few easy tips which will help ensure your property looks beautiful and does a world of good.
Step 1


  Before replanting an area of your yard or garden, have the soil quality tested. You can send soil samples to a soil lab that will analyze it for texture, nutrients, organic matter content and pH. If the lab advises soil amendments, ask for their recommendations for organic or environmentally friendly amendments.

Choose plants that require little or no water and that are appropriate for your site's soil and microclimates. In general, these will be California natives and Mediterranean species. Plant a variety of trees, shrubs and other perennials, limit annuals, and don't plant invasives. See the California Invasive Plant Council website at www.Cal-IPC.org for a list of species considered invasive in your area.

Give plants plenty of room to mature. This will result in healthy plants and reduce the need for pruning and shearing.

Step 2


  Lawns are nice for recreation and relaxation. But keeping them looking good during California's long dry season requires a lot of time, money and resources. To reduce water use, eliminate the use of lawn chemicals, and cut down on maintenance, consider replacing all or some of your lawn with water-conserving California native groundcovers or perennial grasses, shrubs and trees. If you want some lawn, keep it small and locate it in a spot where it's most likely to be used for play and relaxation.

For those small lawn areas you retain, choose plant species that are native or regionally appropriate and don't need a lot of summertime water. Avoid planting grass on slopes greater than 10% or in irregularly shaped areas that cannot be irrigated efficiently. To avoid overspray from sprinklers, don't plant grass in isolated areas such as driveway strips or other areas less than 8 feet wide, unless they are irrigated with subsurface irrigation or micro spray heads.

Step 3


  Augment the existing tree cover on your property, particularly to the west of the home, by planting California native or other Mediterranean tree species that are drought tolerant and appropriate for the site's soil and microclimates. Plant trees to shade walls, windows and paved areas. If the home's design includes passive solar heating (see our Major Remodeling and Additions Overview), do not plant trees too close to the home's south side, or choose deciduous species that won't block the sun's warmth in the fall. Avoid planting trees too close to utilities or where they might shade solar panels. Plant a variety of trees and give them plenty of room to mature, reducing the need for pruning and shearing.

Step 3


  Some municipal water suppliers in California offer substantial rebates to homeowners who replace their lawns with water-efficient plants. Check with your water supplier before beginning a lawn conversion project. Also ask about rebates for water-saving products like weather-based irrigation controllers.


Read more tips on sustainable gardening and landscaping

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