Saturday, April 22, 2017

Earth Day Thoughts for Lawn and Garden Savings

One lesson I learned from earning a Master Gardener certification is that many people waste money on lawn and garden care. By working with the environment instead of against it, homeowners could spare themselves endless frustration—not to mention saving cash.

Put the right plant in the right place. Don't fight nature. Plan!

I used to buy impatiens every spring to fill the clay pots on my patio with color. One year, the very next day after I'd planted my new purchases, the deer ate them all. I awoke the next morning to chewed-down stems. Now I grow onions and oregano in those pots. The deer don't seem to bother them... yet.

Many homeowners have a love affair with turf grass. A lush, green carpet. It looks so easy. But grass has to be fertilized so it will grow. If it doesn't rain enough, it has to be watered. Don't get it too wet, though, or it's susceptible to disease. When it grows too tall, it has to be mowed. All that work takes time, costs money.

You apply pre-emergent in the spring and fall to keep the weeds from taking over. Left unattended, your lawn will revert to its natural state: a meadow of weeds. And what is a weed? It's a plant in the wrong place. For some reason, we want grass covering the lawn, not the plants that thrive there naturally, like dandelions, clover, and henbit.

The type of grass you can grow will be dictated by where you live. When we moved to Georgia, we were appalled that our Bermuda grass went dormant and turned a sickly yellowish-brown in the winter, unlike the verdant fescue we enjoyed in Seattle. But Bermuda is the only grass suited for Atlanta's hot summer weather. So Bermuda it is.

And grass doesn't grow in the shade. We have an area on the side of our house shaded all day by a large cherry tree and three river birches. Every year the trees grew taller and the lawn grew thinner. No amount of water, fertilizer, overseeding, and re-sodding with shade-tolerant cultivars could bring it back. Bermuda needs sun; even the "shade-tolerant" varieties need at least four hours a day.

The area is currently covered with mulch. I'm trying to talk my husband into laying a stone path and planting a shade-loving ground cover around it. Giving up on the lawn idea. Beats feeding the turf grass money pit.

Many homeowners follow an annual ritual of automatically adding lime and 10-10-10 fertilizer to their lawns, spending money without knowing whether these additives are actually needed. We did it, too, when we first moved in, because that's what everyone told us to do.

Then we found out about soil tests. For a nominal fee, our county extension office could analyze our soil and tell us what nutrients were missing, what was the PH factor, and what needed to change for the type of plant we wanted to grow in the space. Turns out we didn't need lime for our lawn. A total waste of money. And extra work to go buy the stuff, schlep it home, and put it down.

Even better if you get a soil test before you start planting...

Having a beautiful yard doesn't have to be as hard as we make it. The more you can incorporate native species, the less maintenance required. Native plants don't require as much water as imports because they're already adapted to the climate. They attract pollinators, which help them propagate. They thrive in the type of soil we have, so they need fewer amendments and less fertilizer. They're not as susceptible to pests and disease—all things that cost money to fix.

This Earth Day, be kind to the environment—and, inadvertently, you may be kind to your pocketbook as well.

What tips do you have for saving money in the garden? I'd love to hear your comments.

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