>GOING GREEN THROUGH GARDENING

>Since receiving Award Winning Green Garden recognition from the City of Austin, several people have asked us what that means. First of all, it means being good environmental stewards of the land, air and water we all share. The City of Austin’s Grow Green program is a leader among cities in this country in encouraging us to join that bandwagon. We were honored to be one of approximately 60 locations in Austin to receive such recognition, were given our own web page showing and describing our yard, proudly displaying an Award Winning Green Garden sign for all to note, and of course, receiving the obligatory T-shirt given to anyone who wins anything! You can learn more about this program at http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/greengarden , how to qualify, view examples of green gardens around Austin, plus see our yard at http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/greengarden/award_whistlingstraits.htm .


The main recommendations for Green Gardening as provided by this program are as follows. I couldn’t do a better job of expressing these, so I’ll primarily quote them for your benefit.

CONSERVING WATER:

Mulch: Mulch helps prevent water from evaporating, ensuring more water remains in the soil for your plants. It also smothers our many weeds before they gain a foothold.

Watering: In the summer, half of our water goes into our landscapes. It takes five days for the waterin your soil to evaporate, so there’s no reason to water more than every five days. Green gardens require less water and help ensure there’s enough water for everyone.

Rain barrels: Rain water reduces the demand on Austin’s water supply; it’s better for your plants than treated water, and it’s free!

Pathways: Using products like decomposed granite, mulch, or stepping stones for paths helps prevent runoff. Your soil will be able to absorb more water when it rains, to the benefit of your plants.

Rain garden: Create a drainage pattern to collect rainwater in a certain area to prevent eroding runoff and plant appropriate plants that can endure both wet and dry conditions.

HEALTHY SOIL FOR HEALTHY PLANTS:

Grass Clippings: Grass clippings will return nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to your lawn. They may completely eliminate the need to fertilize.

Compost: Compost improves the soil, reducing the need for fertilizers weed killers and extra watering.

Organic Fertilizers: Organic and labeled natural fertilizers out-performed synthetic fertilizers in recent studies by the City of Austin and Texas A&M.

When to Fertilize: You should apply at most ½ lb of nitrogen per 1000 sq. ft. each year. Over fertilizing plants weakens their roots and makes them more vulnerable to drought. Never fertilize before a rain. The rain will wash freshly applied fertilizer in to creeks.

Backyard Composting: You can easily make your own compost with leaves, green yard wastes and some food scraps. By providing your green clippings and leaves for City trash pickup in approved yard bags, the City will do the composting and make it available as Dillo Dirt for soil enhancement.

THE RIGHT PLANT FOR THE RIGHT PLACE

Native and Adapted Plants: Give your garden a unique, Austin look by choosing plants that will naturally do well in our hot, dry climate and alkaline soils

Less grass: Grass needs to be babied. It requires more water, fertilizer, pesticides, and care than most other ground cover plants.

Attracting wildlife: As our city grows, many birds, butterflies, and other wildlife are losing habitat. You can help these species survive by choosing plants that provide food and shelter for them.

Create shade: Shade trees help cool your house, reducing your electric bill, and a shady yard may need less water in the summer.

MAINTAINING A HEALTHY ENVIRONMENT

Weeds and bugs: Pesticides not only harm the unwanted pests, they can also poison many beneficial bugs and aquatic life. There are many effective and less toxic alternatives. Try them first and use pesticides only as a last resort.

So, if you want to create and sustain a GREEN GARDEN, ask yourself the following questions. See how you rate by simply divided the yes responses by the total.

1. Is my landscape aesthetically pleasing?
2. Do I use mulch to conserve water and discourage weeds?
3. Do I obey the City’s mandatory water restrictions and schedule?
4. Do I collect rainwater for use on my plants?
5. Do I compost to improve my soil or recycle compost-able materials for production of compost?
6. Do I leave grass clippings on the lawn?
7. Do I use fertilizer sparingly if at all and never fertilize before a rail?
8. Do I use fertilizers that are organic or labeled natural?
9. Do I compost some of my yard trimmings and vegetable scraps?
10. Do I have trees shading my house and garden?
11. Do I plant mostly native or adaptive species?
12. Is less than half of my front yard grass?
13. Do I plant species that will provide food and shelter for birds, butterflies or other wildlife?
14. Do I not use pesticides/herbicides or use them ONLY as a last resort?
15. Are my pathways made from permeable materials?
16. Do I have a rain garden?
17. Can I identify other measures have I taken to help protect our environmental resources?

The more “Yes” responses, the more “GREEN” your garden and yard is. We rated 15 out of 17 or 88%. The Green Garden program guidelines say you only need 11 or 65% to qualify for their award and recognition.

Not there yet? What are you waiting for? The hardest part is retraining our minds to think “Green” in not only our gardening practices, but in our overall lifestyles. Setting a good example will encourage others to follow. That’s what the Green Garden Program is out to do – show by example how each resident can make a difference. Join the new revolution to improve our only sustainable environment.

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