Follow 7 principles for a sustainable landscape

One of the LSU AgCenter’s many educational efforts is the Louisiana Yards and Neighborhoods program for gardening and landscape enthusiasts. LYN – through its literature and demonstrations – tells how to maintain sustainable landscapes and follow best management practices in home horticulture.

LYN centers on seven landscape principles: putting the right plant in the right place; watering efficiently; maximizing mulch and recycling yard waste; fertilizing efficiently; managing yard pests; protecting surface water and wetlands; and providing beneficial wildlife habitats.

The “right plant, right place” slogan is frequently heard in horticultural circles these days. This principle simply advocates matching the plant to the planting location. Consider sun exposure at the planting site and the sun/shade recommendation of the plant being put there.

Also, consider soil drainage and soil pH, and give serious attention to mature plant height and mature plant spread. Many times shrubs and trees are planted too close together and become overgrown in a short time.

Watering efficiently requires knowing the irrigation needs of the plants in the landscape. What is the required irrigation for different lawn grasses? Centipede grass, for example, is less drought-tolerant than others. You need to water it deeply and infrequently instead of shallowly and frequently.

Mulching is one of the best things we can do to suppress weed growth and replenish landscape beds with new organic material. Add mulch to bedding plants at a depth of 1 inch, to shrubs at a depth of 2 inches and to trees at a depth of 3-4 inches. Go “out with mulch,” not “up with mulch”; that is, don’t make a pyramid of mulch at the base of the tree. The best mulch is pine straw.

Fertilizing efficiently mirrors the watering-efficiently concept. Know the nutrient and fertility demands of the plants in your landscape. Use a slow-release fertilizer instead of a quick-release and water-soluble type. Know your native soil fertility. Your soil may contain enough nutrients so you don’t have to fertilize as much. Apply fertilizer at the time of the year when plants can maximize the fertilizer’s benefits.

Managing yard pests can be tricky. The important concept to remember is that there are more beneficial insects than damaging ones. You have to learn which is which. Insect problems in Louisiana include azalea lace bugs, scales, white flies, aphids and thrips, among others. Scout your landscaping plantings once a week to check for insect problems.

Protecting surface water and waterways means understanding how urban stormwater contributes to pollution. The problem is a residential as well as an industrial issue. Be careful when applying fertilizers and pesticides. Do not allow these products to move into water bodies. Also, when mowing grass, do not blow leaves, grass clippings and debris out into the street. Proper landscaping and lawn maintenance can help reduce these pollution problems.

We can do much in a landscape to provide habitats for beneficial wildlife. Native plants frequently can be used to attract wildlife. If you want to attract hummingbirds or butterflies, for example, select plants that draw them.

By LSU AgCenter Horticulturists Dan Gill, Allen Owings and John Young

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