The right landscaping is like the right book cover. It entices people to look further. It also brings your home to life, especially when the natural elements attract birds and wildlife. Designing your California landscape with an ecological balance in mind brightens up your property and encourages a healthy relationship between people and nature.
Whether you do it yourself or hire a professional service to care for your lawn and flowerbeds, keep the term “eco-friendly” in mind.
Green, Green Grass
That thick, green grass doesn’t come easy. Mowing, fertilizing, weeding … it’s all part of the game. A well-kept lawn benefits the environment by absorbing carbon dioxide and cleaning the air. It also lowers the temperature and reduces erosion from stormwater runoff. But applying harsh chemicals to the soil can do more harm than good. Runoff water from synthetic fertilizers damages nearby streams, lakes, and watersheds.
Follow the Rules
If you’re applying chemical products, determine what you can — and cannot — use on your property. Many cities and counties in the U.S. have rules regarding chemical pesticides and fertilizers. San Diego regulations, for example, protect pollinator bees from pesticide poisoning. Surface water is under scrutiny, as well. Wherever there are oceans and lakes nearby, chances are the government will guide or regulate on what you can’t use on your lawn.
To be truly eco-friendly, organic products are the way to go. Worms are a must to aerate the soil; chemical fertilizers kill earthworms and soil microbes. Organic products won’t harm the worms or the birds that eat them.
Organic fertilizers are made up of animal or plant-based wastes such as manure, bones, compost, leaves, grasses, and wood chips. The packages are typically labeled as “slow-release” or “natural organic.” The types are based on region and soil acidity/alkalinity (pH).
Soil acidity or alkalinity is noted as a pH number ranging from 1.0 (very acidic) to 14 (extremely alkaline). Soil pH that is 7.0 is neutral. The ideal pH for many plants is between 6.0 and 7.0. In San Diego, soil tends to be somewhat alkaline, as does the water that irrigates it. Plants may suffer nutrient deficiencies if the pH is too high or too low because the vegetation cannot absorb the food. Warm, wet soil helps organic fertilizers break down microbes in mulch, grass clippings, animal manure, and fallen leaves. Slow-release products don’t work as fast as synthetic fertilizers, but they won’t burn the grass or damage nearby water sources.
Determine the soil pH in your yard. Soil testers are available at garden stores, or you can contact the county extension service.
Placing native plants and flowers attracts pollinators including bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies. Native flowers and shrubbery ward off most diseases and don’t require a lot of water, fertilizer, or pesticides. Add some color to your landscape with:
- Pink muhly grass (feathery pink blooms in summer and fall)
- Ian Bush (red bark, green leaves, tiny pink blooms)
- Bougainvillea (pink vines with thorns)
- Lantana (many shades of oranges, pinks, yellows)
- Desert mallow (bright orange)
- San Diego sunflower (bright yellow)
- White sage (white pinkish-purple buds)
What’s a California landscape without a few cacti? Aloe vera, icicle plants, blue agave, and a cactus or two will spice up your yard. Native succulent plants to the San Diego area include cane cholla, chalk dudleya, cliff spurge, and prickly pear.
Organic weed-killing products, along with everyday kitchen items, can help in your quest to be eco-friendly. For example, corn gluten meal adds nitrogen to the soil and keeps weeds from germinating. And you can buy organic weed killers that won’t damage nearby plants.