Is your garden a sustainable landscape? Ideally, it should be. By
“sustainable” I mean that it is in balance with the local climate and
requires minimal resource inputs such as fertilizer, pesticides and
Take pesticides for example. One survey indicates that homeowners use
ten times more pesticides per acre than farmers and two thirds of
household users dispose of excess pesticides in the trash or down the
drain. Detectable limits of pesticides have been found in 5% to 10% of
wells as a result.
When it comes to your pocketbook, a single acre of lawn will cost you
between $400 and $700 per year to maintain. And approximately 75,000
people require medical treatment every year for mower-related
Perhaps because of these factors, many homeowners are turning to a
more naturalistic garden design. A naturalistic landscape requires
less maintenance, reduces environmental harm, can benefit wildlife and
still provides seasonal interest.
One way to create a successful naturalistic garden is to focus on
native plants. Native plants are those that grow naturally in your
geographic area rather than plants that are introduced from other
parts of the country or from overseas.
Native plants are best adapted to local conditions and thrive with
minimal care. Generally, native plants won’t harm natural areas. In a
book titled “Wildflowers Across America,” Mrs. Lyndon Johnson wrote,
“Wherever I go in America, I like it when the land speaks its own
language in its own regional accent.”
A basic rule of thumb for a naturalistic sustainable garden is to
select the right plant for the right place. By that, I mean it’s
important to assess the site conditions, such as soil type, sun and
shade and rainfall, and then select plants that thrive under those
I often hear from readers who say they have a sloping area of land
that is experiencing soil erosion. The ideal solution is to plant some
native groundcover plants that require little or no maintenance. The
roots of groundcover plants hold the soil in place and also hold
water, creating a healthy environment that prevents soil erosion and
doesn’t need dangerous or risky mowing on a slope!
If you have a soil erosion issue or a hilly, sloping area that is hard
to mow, a groundcover plant would probably be you best solution. You
are welcome to send me an e-mail at email@example.com with some
brief details of your situation and your geographic area and I’ll be
happy to respond with some suggestions.
Meanwhile here are a couple of groundcover “idea starters.”
Sometimes known as Ajuga reptans or Carpet Bugle, this evergreen plant
produces crowns and spreads by horizontal above-ground stems called
stolens. It grows only to a height of 6” to 8” and produces spikes of
attractive purple-blue flowers each spring.
Grass Carex Pennsylvania Sedge
When readers ask me what they can plant beneath trees, I often
recommend Pennsylvania Sedge. It’s a native plant from West Virginia
to Georgia to Alabama and forms soft, grass-like, 15 inch clumps of
very narrow bright green leaves.
Heucheras Plum Pudding
This little guy won my heart! It grows well in shade and around trees.
It’s a tough, long-lasting perennial that requires little
Additionally, if heating and air conditioning costs are a concern,
remember that trees on your landscape can lower energy bills by about
Recently, I’ve been traveling to some East African nations to assist
in developing plans for sustainable agriculture that will boost their
economy while growing much needed plants for the world market.
While in Ghana, I saw people carrying sturdy, colorful baskets that
were so much better than the plastic or paper bags we use here to
bring home groceries from the supermarket. I found that they are
called Bolgatanga Market Baskets. They are hand-woven by Ghanaian
artisans to provide income during the dry season. I brought home
several baskets and now Cheryl and I use them constantly. If you’re
interested in owning one or two of these baskets, drop me an e-mail
and I’ll give you some shopping information.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs
and landscaping to firstname.lastname@example.org and for resources and
additional information, or to subscribe to Steve’s free e-mailed
newsletter, visit www.landsteward.org