In This Chapter
^ Knowing why sustainable maintenance is important ^ Giving up the power tools ^ Pruning plants the right way ^ Fertilizing with the chop and drop method ^ Keeping weeds at bay the sustainable way ^ Protecting your plants during the winter months
M n my many decades of creating and maintaining landscaping, no client has ever asked me for a high-maintenance garden. Never. It's safe to assume that few people see weeding, mowing, pest control, and pruning as "fun" lifestyle elements, yet people accept these chores as though they had no choice. Even avid gardeners grow weary of some of the maintenance tasks their gardens require.
Most everyone accepts the myth that a proper garden needs a lot of care and nurturing, but such high maintenance is unnecessary. Instead of playing God with your landscape — pruning things into submission, deciding what lives and what dies, and arranging your little world just the way you want — sustainable gardening recognizes that your garden is part of a larger, natural system.
In this chapter, you discover sustainable maintenance techniques that affect the environment and your pocketbook less, yet still deliver the beautiful landscape you're longing for.
Understanding the Importance of Sustainable Maintenance
A sustainable landscape, by contrast, exists in a peaceful state within its boundaries and causes no harm to others. The strongest smell escaping from it is the fragrance of the freesias; the loudest noise comes from the songbirds.
Natural ecosystems don't need maintenance. You don't see anybody out in the wilds pruning, fertilizing, or weeding nature; it takes care of itself! Nature's got that homeostatic edge — the natural balance of forces that keeps things from falling apart.
Compare that with what would happen if you left your landscaping unattended for a while. Suppose you were to put a chain link fence around your property, turn off the utilities, walk out, and lock the gate. What do you think the place would look like if you came back after one year without any care whatsoever: no watering, no fertilizing, no mowing, and no pruning? If you answered, "It would look like crap," you'd likely be right. Most landscapes need constant attention to prevent the forces of entropy from tearing them apart. Think about it. Without watering, plants would die. Without pruning, some plants would grow completely out of bounds and smother smaller ones. Without pest and disease control, weak plants would soon succumb.
What's different about landscaping that it needs so much attention? The answer is that most landscaping hasn't been set up according to the rules of nature. It's created without much thought for what's required to keep it in one piece. Flimsy structures, inefficient irrigation systems, plants that are too big for the spaces they're in or that are prone to diseases — all these factors add up to a battleground, with the hapless homeowner in the middle. More important, the system as a whole is dysfunctional because the interrelationships of elements aren't present or aren't working.
The poor, nonsustainable design of most landscapes increases the need for maintenance. That's a shame, because the following simple rules of sustainable design make life easier for the gardener as well as for the garden:
In a properly designed garden, maintenance is a steady series of small tweaks, not violent blitzes of hyperactivity. To tune up your maintenance routine, make a list with two columns. Put the gardening work you love in one column and the gardening work you hate in the other. Use the rules of sustainable landscaping to eliminate as many of the items in the second list as possible. Set up a smoothly functioning landscape system — an ecosystem. Then put the fate of the garden in the hands of nature, relegating yourself to the role of gentle nurturer — an assistant, not the boss. Your services will still be needed, but in smaller quantities. You can enjoy the garden instead of struggling with it. You'll save money, too! See Part II of this book to learn more about how to design a sustainable landscape that really works over the long haul.
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How would you like to save a ton of money and increase the value of your home by as much as thirty percent! If your homes landscape is designed properly it will be a source of enjoyment for your entire family, it will enhance your community and add to the resale value of your property. Landscape design involves much more than placing trees, shrubs and other plants on the property. It is an art which deals with conscious arrangement or organization of outdoor space for human satisfaction and enjoyment.