Healthy Lawn and Garden Principles
When soils and plants are healthy, they naturally resist disease and pests, allowing gardeners and lawn owners to reduce (or avoid) the use of pesticides and quick-release fertilizers. Healthy lawn and garden practices often save homeowners time and effort in the long-run and promote a beautiful landscape.
Healthy lawn and garden principles were developed by professionals familiar with excellent horticulture practices, knowledge of Southeast Michigan soils and growing conditions. The principles apply to all types of plants. More specific practices have been identified for lawns, gardens, trees, and other landscape areas. Lawn care tips and gardening tips are presented in this section.
Six Healthy Lawn and Garden Principles:
Principle #1 Build fertile soils with organic matter.
- Nature recycles its nutrients. Fallen leaves carry 50-80 percent of the nutrients a tree extracts from the soil and air, including carbon, potassium, phosphorus and other elements. These nutrients and elements are essential for plant growth. Microorganisms break down dead plants into materials that are needed for the growth of new plants. This natural decay process is easily duplicated in backyard compost piles. Composting yard waste such as leaves, grass clippings, and dead garden plants produces a rich, dark, crumbly product called humus.
- When used in the garden or on the lawn, compost builds soil structure, holds moisture, allows drainage, slowly releases nutrients, moderates soil temperature, encourages beneficial earthworms and suppresses soil-borne disease.
- Compost piles can be stored in simple bins made out of chicken wire and wood pallets, or a commercial plastic structure can be purchased. A good size for a backyard compost pile is three to four feet high by four feet wide and as long as possible. This size is large enough to hold heat and small enough for good air flow.
Principle #2 Select plants suited for the site and climate conditions
Expand your understanding of “Right Plant in the Right Place.” Native plants are flora that have grown in Southeast Michigan for many years and are adapted to this area of the world. These include everything from large trees that grow in the Michigan forest, prairie flowers and grasses and wetland shrubs. The Township has compiled a list of native plants and business that specialize in cultivating and distributing them.
Principle #3 Plant for diversity — to encourage beneficial insects and pest resistance. Planting a diverse array of native flowers attracts an array of native insects, many of them butterflies, by providing a welcoming habitat and food supply. Planting a garden with plants that grow well together creates a well-balanced ecosystem that brings life and beauty to your yard.
Principle #4 Provide nutrients and water to sustain healthy plants.
- All lawns in Michigan require 0.5 to 1.5 inches of water per week. That means only a 10-15 minute watering during dry weather for many home sprinkling systems.
- Water lightly and frequently. Grass roots are short (often less than 4″ long) and can’t absorb the excess water. Light, frequent watering also reduces the stress to the grass plant, which reduces the potential for disease and insect damage.
- Select slow-release fertilizers to gradually feed plants. These products should contain little or no phosphorus. The numbers on the labels of fertilizers will help you identify which are low in phosphorus. The numbers indicate the percentages of nitrogen-phosphorous-and potassium as potash. Low phosphorous brands have ratings on their labels such as 23-0-6, 30-4-4 or 26-4-4. Fertilizers containing abundant nitrogen (46-0-0, 33-0-0) are not recommended because they are highly soluble and can readily wash away or enter groundwater
Principle #5 Recycle yard clippings on site.
- Feed your lawn . . . with grass clippings! Plants need certain nutrients to grow and many times we think fertilizer is the only solution. Think again. Grass clippings contain valuable nutrients and can decompose quickly into the soil.
- With grass recycling, artificial fertilizers can be significantly reduced — by 30% to 40% or more. Mix extra grass clippings with leaves and soil to make a backyard compost pile (see section on composting) or use the clippings as a garden mulch.
Tips for grass recycling
- Set mower blade at the highest setting, leaving grass blades 3 inches tall if possible. Tall grass encourages deep roots and also shades out crabgrass and low-growing weeds.
- Cut no more than the top 1/3 of the grass blade.
- Let the short grass blades fall back onto the lawn.
- Sharpen mower blades several times during the growing season. A dull mower blade will tear grass and provide entry port for diseases.
- Only mow when the grass is dry.
Principle #6 Minimize the use of insecticides, herbicides, and other pesticides. Practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM).
- If you decide to use a professional lawn care service, ask neighbors and friends who have dealt with the company if they were satisfied with the service they received. Call the Michigan Department of Agriculture at (517) 373-1087 to see if the company has a history of violations.
- Make sure the company is affiliated with a professional lawn care association. This helps members stay informed of new developments in the lawn care field.
- Find out if the company uses integrated pest management, or “IPM”, an approach that reduces pesticide use by combining it with other, non-chemical methods of pest control. The company should readily supply you with information on the types of pesticides it applies to your lawn, and what health and environmental risks may be presented by their use.
Why Plant Native Plants In Your Yard And Garden?
Native plants provide a beautiful, hardy, drought resistant, low maintenance landscape while benefiting the environment. Native plants, once established, save time and money by eliminating or significantly reducing the need for fertilizers, pesticides, water and lawn maintenance equipment.
Native plants do not require fertilizers. Vast amounts of fertilizers are applied to lawns. Excess phosphorus and nitrogen (the main components of fertilizers) run off into lakes and rivers causing excess algae growth. This depletes oxygen in our waters, harms aquatic life and interferes with recreational uses.
Native plants require fewer pesticides than lawns. Nationally, over 70 million pounds of pesticides are applied to lawns each year. Pesticides run off lawns and can contaminate rivers and lakes. People and pets in contact with chemically treated lawns can be exposed to pesticides.
Native plants require less water than lawns. The modern lawn requires significant amounts of water to thrive. In urban areas, lawn irrigation accounts for as much as 30% of the water consumption on the East Coast and up to 60% on the West Coast. The deep root systems of many native Midwestern plants increase the soil’s capacity to store water. Native plants can significantly reduce water runoff and, consequently, flooding.
Native plants help reduce air pollution. Natural landscapes do not require mowing. Lawns, however, must be mowed regularly. Gas powered garden tools emit 5% of the nation’s air pollution. Forty million lawnmowers consume 200 million gallons of gasoline per year. One gas-powered lawnmower emits 11 times the air pollution of a new car for each hour of operation. Excessive carbon from the burning of fossil fuels contributes to global warming. Native plants sequester, or remove, carbon from the air.
Native plants provide shelter and food for wildlife. Native plants attract a variety of birds, butterflies, and other wildlife by providing diverse habitats and food sources. Closely mowed lawns are of little use to most wildlife.
Native plants promote biodiversity and stewardship of our natural heritage. In the U.S., approximately 20 million acres of lawn are cultivated, covering more land than any single crop. Native plants are a part of our natural heritage. Natural landscaping is an opportunity to reestablish diverse native plants, thereby inviting the birds and butterflies back home.
Native plants save money. A study by Applied Ecological Services (Brodhead, WI) of larger properties estimates that over a 20 year period, the cumulative cost of maintaining a prairie or a wetland totals $3,000 per acre versus $20,000 per acre for non-native turf grasses.
(Source: Environmental Protection Agency)
For more information:
WildOnes: Ann Arbor Chapter: Links to native plant photos/descriptions, local suppliers/landscapers, and other resources
WildOnes Native Plant Handbook: Comprehensive guide that covers the basic and much more
Landscaping with Native Plants: Answers to all of the questions that you’ve always wanted to ask about native plants