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  • Writer's pictureKathleen Contrino

Be a Lazy Gardener

Lazy Gardener, published in The Release June 2019

Kathleen Contrino

In this world of divided opinions many wonder if American’s can agree on anything. I propose we agree to be a lazy gardener. Being a lazy gardener benefits the individual, wildlife and cools the planet. We don’t have to agree on why the planet is heating up to want to help cool the planet. Instead let us agree to save money and add hours of leisure to the day. Here are simple ideas that allow you to be a lazy gardener and help the planet while we do it.

1) Over seed your lawn with native low maintenance grass seed.

European grass is high maintenance requiring intensive watering, fertilizer and weeding to condition the lawn to look good. Prairie Nursery has a No-Mow mix that includes low maintenance fescue grasses which once established is drought tolerant and only requires mowing once or twice a year. The grass bends over as it grows and gives the impression of a sea of grass. Grasses in this mix include Hard Fescue (Festuca brevipila), Sheep Fescue (Festuca ovina), Chewings Fescue (Festuca rubra subs. fallax), Red Fescue (Festuca rubra), and Creeping Red Fescue (Festuca rubra var. rubra).

Prairie Moon Nursery also has a Low-Mow or No-Mow grass mix that includes fine fescue grass seed. Other low or no maintenance grass seed blends are available from online companies at offer the same benefits. Over seeding an existing lawn is available for patchy lawns.

2) Mow your grass higher.

Lawns with well-established lawns with thick thatch of grasses can be mowed higher and reduce the intensive maintenance most European grass requires. Mowing at 2.5” to 3” and mulching your grass means a healthier lawn. Mowing higher help make your lawn more resilient to drought and sun.

3) Leave the leaves.

Leaving the leaves to overwinter will protect your lawn from freeze/thaw cycles and nourish it. It is well established that a thin layer of leaf litter protects the lawn over the winter while excess leaves can be placed under trees and bushes. Decaying leaves provides similar beneficial nutrients to plant beds as expensive fertilizer. Alternatively you can run a mulching lawn mower over leaves in the fall and leave all the mulched leaves to nourish the lawn. Leaving leaves to overwinter provides habitat for beneficial pollinators such as bumble bees and caterpillars as well as toads, praying mantises and lady bugs.

4) Plant native bushes or grasses to combat soil erosion.

What you plant and how you plant depends on your particular situation. A well designed erosion control plan based upon your soil type, slope, sun exposure and erosion issues are key. Native grasses, plants, bushes and trees are components used to stop soil from becoming runoff. Trees such as Black Cherry, birches and hornbeams are good hardwoods to prevent soil erosion. Native sedges that spread by rhizomes help prevent soil erosion as do plants like Blue Vervain. Bushes that fight erosion control include native dogwoods and viburnums.

5) Incorporate well behaved native plants in your garden.

There are some lovely native plants that will behave in the garden. Blue flag iris, red milkweed (also known as swamp milkweed), native violets, zig zag goldenrod, cardinal flower, ferns and the like. There are a number of native trees and bushes that are suitable to a suburban or urban landscape. Shade trees include native oaks, birches and maples while redbud, striped maple, hornbeam, hophornbeam and hawthorns

6) Remove invasive plants and plant strong native plants to compete with potential regrowth.

Invasive non-native plants propagate aggressively coating the landscape with one or two species. For gardeners and landowners who enjoy a summer full of flowering plants this is a less than desirable outcome as well as a barren landscape for wildlife. Recently I have had to combat multiflora rose, Japanese honeysuckle and garlic mustard. It is not easy to remove these invasive species. One method I learned was to cut honeysuckle or multiflora rose canes as close to the ground as possible and use a small amount of targeted Round-up on the cane to kill the plant then plant a strong, relatively aggressive native species to compete with it.

Repeated mowing may be sufficient to kill garlic mustard. Garlic mustard is a bi-annual plant growing every other year so mowing must be done two years in a row. I have been using year-old hay to smother garlic mustard and burdock. Ripping invasive plants out of the ground along with the root can expose the soil to seed that is dormant. That seed can then sprout and the cycle never ends. Carefully planting native plants that spread by rhizomes such as native ferns, sedges or plants will replace the mowed or smothered invasive plants.

7) Plant a rain garden.

Low spots in the lawn or persistently wet areas are a good spot for a rain garden. Once planted rain gardens help reduce flooding, conserve water, clean the air and purify runoff. Rain gardens can include native trees that love water such swamp white oak, black cherry, sycamore and grey birch.

Water loving shrubs can also be planted in wet areas. Red, grey and silky dogwoods love water as does buttonbush, chokeberry and serviceberry.

8) Install a rain barrel.

Rain barrels are a great way to conserve water. Rain water is the best water to water your food garden with. Tap water is full of chlorine which strips water of all the beneficial bacteria growing plants use to become better tasting. Rain water captured in a rain barrel for watering your garden saves money and is better water for the garden.

9) Mulch with old hay.

The soil found in the forest is rich, moist and loamy from decomposing leaves. Using year-old hay provides many of the same benefits that a layer of leaves provides. Old hay does not compact in the same way weed fabric does. A layer of hay lays lightly on the soil, allowing rain to pass through, and prevents drought. The decomposing hay enriches the soil and invites earth worms and other beneficial insects to work on the soil.

The hay mimics leaf litter and benefits the soil similarly. In some circumstances year-old hay can serve as mulch in your garden beds.

10) Invite beneficial insects to stay

Ladybugs, earth worms, lacewings and predatory insects are good bugs to have. They eat aphids and help reduce predation on your garden plants. Reducing reliance on fertilizer and pesticides helps balance nature between predators and prey. This reduces the prolific reproduction of nuisance bugs and is better for the environment. It is also cheaper to let the bugs do the work for you instead of buying expensive chemicals. You have more time to enjoy the garden and more money to buy plants. Isn’t that something we can all get behind?

Please join me and become a lazy gardener today.

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