Do your part
Do your part to make positive changes in the environmental quality of our yards and neighborhoods which can also reduce impacts to our local waterways.
- Maintain Healthy Soil
- Recycle Yard Waste
- Reduce Stormwater Runoff
- Remove Invasives
- Be Wise When Fertilizing
- Provide for Wildlife
- Garden Like a Local
- Right Plant, Right Place
- Manage Pests Responsibly
- Mulch Matters
- Water Wisely
For more ideas:
Forsyth County Cooperative Extension (https://forsyth.ces.ncsu.edu/)
Forsyth Soil and Water Conservation District (http://www.forsyth.cc/ces/Conservation/CCAP.aspx)
Piedmont Triad Water Quality Partnership (https://www.piedmontcleanstreams.org/)
Maintain healthy soil
Healthy soil is an investment in your landscape! Did you know that by simply improving your soil, you can beautify your garden, cut your water bill, improve water quality in our streams and even reduce your work? Growing healthy soil – and a healthy garden – is the single most important thing you can do for your garden.
Good plant growth usually requires the addition of lime and fertilizer but adding too much can have repercussions. Soil testing is the best way to find out how much to apply. The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services offers soil testing and information for both commercial growers and homeowners. Soil samples are usually analyzed within about a week, but may take longer from late fall through early spring due to heavy loads from farmers at this time. Results of the tests are posted on an online system.
For forms, instructions on sampling your soil and test results go to the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Recycle yard waste
By recycling yard debris, we gain free mulch and return valuable nutrients to the soil.
- Create and maintain a compost pile with kitchen scraps and yard waste. No animal products.
- Create vermicompost by using the digestive power of worms to recycle kitchen scraps and organic material.
- Recycle grass clippings by leaving them on the lawn. Mulching lawnmowers or mulching blades are not necessary.
- Use appropriate containers to contribute lawn clippings to community composting efforts.
- Keep clippings out of the street and storm drains.
Reduce stormwater runoff
Keeping rain and sprinkler water on our yards—and out of storm drains—reduces pollution of our creeks and lakes. Because water washes off our yards, it is important to reduce the amount of pollutants on our property. Ways to reduce pollutants found in stormwater runoff:
- Be considerate of others and pick up after pets. Properly dispose of waste in the trash. Help reduce bacteria and nutrient pollution entering storm drain systems, ditches and local waterways.
- Sweep fertilizer off concrete back into landscape.
- Wash car on the lawn to allow soap and dirt to soak into the ground.
- Check car for leaks. Use litter to absorb drips and dispose of in the trash.
- When using chemicals, always read the label before mixing, applying and disposing. Use only what you need.
- Create an at-home kit for chemical spills and leaks.
- If you can slow water runoff down, spread it out and allow it to sink into the ground, you can reduce these pollutants from reaching our streams.
- Disconnect and direct downspouts to drain onto a well drained area in the lawn or plant beds where rain will soak into the soil rather than run off the yard.
- Collect rain runoff from your roof in a rain barrel or cistern.
- Create swales (low areas), terraces or rain gardens to catch, hold, and filter stormwater.
- Use mulch, permeable pavers, flagstone, gravel, or other porous surfaces for walkways, patios and drives. Concrete and asphalt increase your impervious footprint, whereas pervious pavers allow for infiltration.
- Create a vegetated area along stream banks to prevent erosion.
- Take a tour of local practices that have been installed to treat pollutants and reduce stormwater runoff.
Invasive weeds are generally non-native plants introduced to this area from other parts of the world. Many were first brought here for a certain use by colonists in the mid-1800s and continue to be imported. Over time the population
levels exploded into problems or were carriers of other species (diseases, insects, seeds, etc.). Multiflora Rose, Rosa multiflora, was originally used as an ornamental fence. Invasives affect many businesses within agriculture and destroy natural habitats. Most of these non-native invasive plants have strong survival advantages that can include:
- Production of thousands of seeds with long seed viability
- Rapid early growth rates
- Very few native predators (fungi, diseases or insects) to control
- Resiliency to pathogens
- Waxy coating on leaves slows decomposition
- Extensive roots, tubers or rhizomes can resprout after topkill
- Tolerance to harsh soil conditions, flooding, drought and shade
- Secretion of allelopathic chemicals in soil that prevents other plant seed from germinating or growth
You can be a part of the solution!
- Identify some of the most common problem plants.
- Remove the invasive at the right time of year with a fitting method (use the legend below for the following pages). NOTE: depending on chemical used, there may be some variation within particular months. When using goats it is important to repeatedly defoliate target plants as soon as they leaf out during the growing season (control depends on stocking density and height of target plants; goats can also debark woody plants to provide adequate control). Contact a local Cooperative Extension or Forest Service office for chemical recommendations and to see if rent-a-goat operations exist. Most herbs and vines can be controlled with cardboard and mulch during December-February.
- Replant with native vegetation of local origin or non-invasive alternatives. Establishing a thick cover of trees will help shade out and discourage establishment of many invasives. Native plants should always be selected for wildlife food plots, pollinator habitat, and soil stabilization.
Be wise when fertilizing
Many trees and landscape plants require little or no fertilizer once they are established and mature. In fact, fertilizers can be hazardous to the health of your yard and the environment when they are misused.
When over-applied, fertilizers may aggravate insect and disease problems and force excessive growth which must be mowed or pruned. Excess fertilizers can run off yards into waterways or seep into aquifers, polluting drinking water.
The decision to fertilize should be based upon the health of the plant, the desired rate of growth, and a soil analysis. A soil analysis will tell you the soil pH and the amounts of nutrients in the soil that are available for plant growth. Soil pH affects the availability of nutrients in the soil. When you choose the fertilizer to use, it should have an analysis, which provides the nutrients that are lacking in the soil.
Be Wise When You Fertilize Action Checklist:
- Walk around your yard at least weekly and observe your plants and lawn for early signs of problems (ex. poor growth, poorly colored leaves (pale green to yellow), leaf size smaller than normal, earlier than normal fall coloring and leaf drop, twig or branch dieback, or little annual twig growth).
- Fertilize only as needed to maintain the health of lawns and landscape plants. If plants show signs of stress, such as yellow leaves or stunted growth, identify the problem before applying fertilizer. Always soil test to determine if fertilizer is needed and how much.
- Use slow-release fertilizers. Buy fertilizers that contain 50% or more of the nitrogen in slow-release forms.
- Establish a 10-30 foot “no fertilizer, no pesticide” buffer zone along your shoreline.
Provide for wildlife
North Carolina is blessed with a tremendous wildlife diversity of more than 17,000 native species of animals. That’s everything from bugs to critters; both terrestrial and aquatic. There are even more critters that migrate in and out of the State throughout the year. Continuing development is rapidly reducing as well as degrading habitats…leaving all types of creatures homeless. No wonder our homes seem so attractive to them. A well-planned landscape can help provide a habitat for desirable animals by providing food, water, shelter and space to meet their needs.
Ten tips for success in landscaping for wildlife are as follows:
- Reduce lawn areas and encourage native groundcovers or islands of vegetation.
- Increase vertical layering between trees and groundcovers. Add varying heights of shrubs, perennials and grasses.
- Provide snags and brush piles away from houses to encourage insect feeders and cavity nesters.
- Provide water sources like water gardens or shallow containers filled with pebbles so butterflies and birds don’t get their feet wet.
- Plant native vegetation with berries, nectar-rich flowers and nuts. Be forgiving of ‘munching’ by hungry caterpillars.
- Provide houses for critters like birds, bats, and native bees.
- Remove invasive exotic plants as these do not provide essential nutrients for wildlife diets.
- Allow leaf litter or mulch to remain on the ground under shrubs and trees.
- Reduce pesticide use by spot treating and always read/follow label directions.
- Encourage neighbors to design wild areas that connect from yard to yard to provide a wildlife corridor.
Garden like a local
Did you know there are approximately 5,700 species of plants native to North Carolina? Native plants are plants that are natural to a region, and therefore may be better suited for the soils and seasons. They may also provide the best habitat for birds, bees and butterflies. However, selecting a plant native to your region will not automatically lower your maintenance chores. Remember that many factors determine the suitability of a plant for a particular location. Look for native plants that are suited to the growing conditions in your yard. Consult your soil test results, and consider light, moisture, and other site conditions that may impact the plant’s growth.
Garden like a local actions:
- Identify and protect native plants and trees in your yard.
- Choose native plants and trees for your yard.
- Avoid heavy traffic or storing equipment under mature trees and shrubs to help preserve established plant communities and prevent compaction as well as soil loss. When doing any construction activities in your yard, protect as much mature native vegetation as possible. Create a “do not disturb” area if necessary.
- Protect your native shoreline plants. Leave at least 2’ of vegetation at the water’s edge along ponds and at least 15’ of vegetation along creek banks; more vegetation is needed if you’re in a protected watershed.
Right plant right place
Do you feel like a plant killer or black thumb? Perhaps you’re drawn to plants for their color and plant it hoping fate will help this plant live. Gardening is really not that complicated but it does take some planning to determine which plants will work for a particular landscape.
Right Plant, Right Place Actions:
- Determine how you will use your landscape. Need lawn space for kids, pets or recreation? Do you want to grow veggies or reduce lawn to provide for wildlife?
- Take a walk around your property and sketch characteristics for sun conditions, dry vs wet soils, existing vegetation, drainage patterns, utilities, etc. Different conditions often exist in the same yard. The front yard may be high and dry, while the backyard may be poorly drained and soggy.
- Select plants based on what will fit your existing conditions. Excellent resources include books, plant search databases online and other gardeners. Read labels on plants at the store before purchasing a plant you’re not familiar with growing.
- Group plants according to their maintenance needs.
- While turf grass may seem easy to maintain, it actually requires more maintenance than most other landscape plants. Turf grass needs regular mowing (cut only 1/3 of the blade at a time at the height appropriate to the type, service mower once per year including sharpening mower blades), watering 1” per week, fertilizer and lime applications (SOIL TEST TO DETERMINE AMOUNTS!).
- Consider replacing unneeded turf areas with a groundcover or turn into a wildlife garden.
- Use deciduous trees or shrubs on southern exposures to allow the sun to passively heat your home in Winter. Shading the eastern and western walls of your home will help save energy costs.
Good landscape design hinges on one basic concept—the right plant in the right place. Careful planning and site evaluation are the first steps in applying this concept. Although there is no such thing as a maintenance-free yard, it is possible to have an easy to care for, attractive yard.
Manage pests Responsibly
It is impossible, and unwise, to strive for a completely insect, disease, and weed-free yard. Healthy plants can usually ward off pest and disease attacks. Predatory insects, spiders, birds, and lizards help control undesirable insect populations. Moles and skunks take care of many pesky soil insects. Even snakes do a great job of getting rid of rodents and roaches. Even though these critters are uncomfortable guests, they are a part of the web of life and help to further the food chain. Keep in mind that we, the humans, are doing a fabulous job of eliminating their natural habitat so these critters have to adjust to survive.
Learn how to treat the problem, not the symptom. For example:
- Too much watering: on leaves causes disease; near a foundation attracts bugs and allows mold to grow. Solutions: water the soil not the plant and make sure water drains away from foundations.
- Mulch is deeper than 4”: creates habitat for rodents; introduces disease to plants; causes tree roots to grow above ground. Solution: mulch no more than 3” around shrubbery.
- Birdfeeders: attracts critters other than birds; creates weeds where uneaten seeds fall. Solution: Put only amounts that can feed birds in 2 days at most. Clean up after messy birds. Consider planting native plants that provide nectar and seeds for birds when they need it most.
Manage Pests Responsibly Actions:
- Learn to identify 5 beneficial insects that provide natural control of pests.
- Scout for pests and learn more about common problems for plants in your landscape. One bug is not an infestation and could simply be squashed.
- Avoid routine applications of pesticides. Treat only affected areas with the chemical labeled for the problem. Overuse can injure plants and harm beneficial insects.
- Determine the appropriate method of control such as pruning, hand-removal, clearing away diseased debris, plant replacement, using horticultural oils/soaps, biological controls, and pesticides.
- HINT: Forsyth Cooperative Extension can help ID plant disease, critters and weeds as well as provide the most effective control measures.
Mulch has many benefits. It provides moisture in the soil and moderates soil temperature. Mulch also reduces erosion and weeds. Think of mulch as nature’s low maintenance, root protection! Nature produces large quantities of mulch all the time. Think about fallen leaves, needles, twigs, bark pieces, spent flower petals, and fallen fruit. A good rule of thumb for applying mulch is to maintain a 3” depth.
Mulch Matters Actions:
- Create self-mulching areas under trees where leaves can stay where they fall. They will break down fairly quickly and provide essential nutrients to the tree.
- Maintain a 3” layer of mulch around the base of vegetation but leave at least a few inches of space between the mulch and the plant stem/trunk to prevent disease.
- Apply triple-shredded, hardwood mulch to areas with high foot traffic or gentle slopes. It is the least likely to float.
If you water your landscape when it doesn’t need any, or apply too much, you might end up encouraging weed growth, increasing mowing time, stimulating disease outbreaks, and raising your water bill!
A truly efficient way to use water in a yard is to design the yard so that it thrives predominantly on rainfall. Even if your yard has a lawn and specialty gardens, it is possible to design it as a Carolina Yard in which you can water the plants “as needed.”
Water Wisely Actions:
- Put a rain gauge in your yard and track rainfall to avoid unnecessary watering. Your landscape needs 1” of water per week.
- Water your lawn and other plants only when they show signs of stress.
- Use a drip- or micro-spray irrigation system to more efficiently water plants and plant beds.
- Most plants are dormant in the Winter so reduce watering during that time.
- Design or modify your sprinkler system to water lawn areas separately from plant beds, which require less water.
- Calibrate your sprinkler(s) to apply 1/2 to 3/4 inch of water per application. Walk your yard when the irrigation system is on to ensure that water is being applied to lawn and plant beds only and not the pavement.
- Connect an automatic rain shut-off device to your sprinkler system’s timer and set the device to 1/2 inch so it will override the timer when enough rain has fallen. Check to see if the shut-off device is working properly.