Sustainable landscape restores natural balance

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 22, 2008

By Sue Davis
Master Gardener Volunteer
For many years the “Three R’s” of good gardening and protecting the environment have been Reduce, Recycle and Reuse.
Today more ways to protect our dwindling supply of many of our natural resources are available beyond the “Three R’s.” With new ways come new expressions and new ideas. Among the new expressions to describe becoming more eco-friendly are “organic,” “going green” and “sustainable.”
When I first read about a sustainable landscape in a publication from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, I wondered, “What is that?” Then I found an article by Adele Ashkar from George Washington University who defined sustainable landscape in terms I could understand and begin to put into practice.
Ashkar defines a sustainable landscape as one that uses water, energy, soil and native flora and fauna as efficiently as possible to restore ecological balance. Can one single family homeowner make a difference, I wondered? What could our family do short term to help restore balance in the environment?
Some of her suggestions include conserving water by using rain barrels to keep gardens, landscape ornamentals and trees irrigated during dry conditions. Another is to compost kitchen waste and garden waste to recycle nutrients back into the landscape by increasing organic matter in the soil. When replacing plants in the landscape, select native plants and turf to reduce the need for fertilizers and additives.
In thinking about creating a sustainable landscape, it is important to understand how water usage can affect the environment elsewhere. Most gutters and drainage systems on homes actually send water out of the area of the home instead of using it to restore ground water around the house.
Water which runs down our driveway picks up soil particles, debris and pollutants, like oil and lawn chemicals, as it makes its way to area streams, lakes and rivers. Placing a rain barrel in a sustainable landscape lets water be used in the landscape where the rain falls.
Rain barrels are easily installed at the base of a shortened downspout. Water collects for later use in the garden. Overflow hoses can be directed to flow into areas where the water is used immediately. Another solution for capturing runoff is to create a rain garden. This garden bed is usually created in a low or depressed area of landscape. It is dug out, the bottom filled with porous gravel and soil. A bed is planted on top using plants which like wet feet.
There are some calculations which are important for handling the amount of rain water expected. The Extension Service can assist with how to determine the appropriate size for the amount of runoff anticipated.
The ideas in this article about sustainable landscapes are short- term. If major replanting or a new landscape is possible, look at energy savings you can claim. Trees can be used to cut down on the direct sun hitting the sides of the home during various season. Trees can create a wind break to aid in energy effectiveness.
So what is a sustainable landscape? It is simply continuing to use the “Three R’s” and to begin thinking smarter about using water, energy, soil and native flora and fauna conservatively and creatively.
Sue Davis is a Master Gardener Volunteer with the Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County.Rain barrels for sale
North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service is selling rain barrels. They are heavy-duty commercial grade polyethylene with a brass spigot, stainless steel screen and overflow valves. These barrels are designed to collect rain water from gutters to irrigate shrubs and other plants during extended periods of drought. Costs: $100 for an 80-gallon barrel; $90 for a 60-gallon barrel. The deadline to order rain barrels is Aug. 29. Customer pick-up is scheduled for Sept. 4 at the Agricultural Center on Old Concord Road in Salisbury. This is the last sale this year. Call 704-216-8970 or e-mail darrell_blackwelder to place an order or visit the Rowan County Master Gardener Web site at for more descriptive information about the unit.