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Four Ways to Have an Eco-Friendly Lawn

Girl on lawn
A healthy-looking lawn does wonders for your property. Not only does it make your house stand out on your block, but it can also provide flood control, dissipate suburban heat, reduce fire hazards and if you’re trying to sell, definitely gives your home some curb appeal. Lawn care is big business, too. In 2015 alone, U.S. households spent almost $16 billion on lawn care and gardening services, which includes supplies, equipment, and lawn and landscaping services. Clearly, we spend lots of money to have great-looking lawns and landscaping, but could all the pesticides, fertilizer, and growth and greening additives we use be harming the environment, too?

It’s easy to go overboard with all the products when trying to keep a nice-looking lawn. However, you can still have green, thick grass, along with healthy trees, shrubs, and a garden, and fewer or no weeds if you follow these steps to creating an eco-friendly lawn.
1. Keep Your Lawn Green Without Chemicals
Paul Tukey writing for Popular Mechanics suggests some ways to mow your lawn that will keep it green, including keeping the mower’s blades sharp, using a push or electric mower to cut back on pollution, and leaving clippings on the lawn to create a natural fertilizer. He also suggests using compost as a natural, root-level fertilizer for lawns, gardens, shrubbery, and trees.
2. Water Wisely
While an oscillating or spinning sprinkler is a symbol of summer lawn care, both of those can waste a lot of water if you don’t monitor their use. Another option for watering is using low-pressure drip irrigation, where nozzles are placed at the base of plants, trees, or shrubs and water is applied slowly. This method can lower your water use. While a drip irrigation system might initially be expensive, it does reduce water usage and energy costs and improves seed germination. Regardless of whether you use drip irrigation, a sprinkler, or hand-watering, the key to using any type of system to water your lawn or your garden is to soak the ground to the depth of the roots.
3. Use Our Friends, The Bugs
Why spray your garden and foliage with aphid and other control products when nature provides its very own: bugs! Goodhousekeeping.com lists several species that can keep your greenery free of damaging pests, such as aphids, caterpillars, and Japanese beetles. These natural pest killers include ladybugs, ground beetles, soldier beetles, and tachinid flies. Many of these same bugs also help keep lawns free of pests, too.
4. Consider Using Plants As Ground Cover Instead of Grass
Unless your home is on several acres of land and there’s nothing but a wide stretch of lawn between the street and your front porch, consider using plant life as ground cover instead of grass. You can use flower and shrub beds, clover (just don’t step on the bees), or even several varieties of moss. Many of these and others, especially the mosses, grow easily in the shade, are easier to water (which is where the drip irrigation system can work better), and you won’t have to drag out the lawnmower every weekend. However, the ground cover does invite a number of unwanted pests and will have to be weeded frequently before fully grown. But once your insect friends make their home in it and you keep weeds from becoming a problem naturally with compost and organic mulch, ground cover will make your whole front yard look like a garden.

It doesn’t take a lot of chemicals to have a nice-looking lawn, just sensible use of mowing and organic fertilizer, the wise use of water, putting nature’s pest controllers to work, and using alternatives to grass. So, get out your gardening tools, pull on your gloves, and go play in the dirt to create an eco-friendly lawn you’ll be proud to call yours.

Photo Credit: Pixabay.com

Do Your Part for Conservation as a Homeowner

light bulb
America has become a nation of waste.

When it comes to water, the amount that just one individual misuses each year would fill three fuel tankers, while the energy they burn off needlessly could run an electric oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 207 days. That adds up on utility bills while also damaging the environment, both of which are less than ideal for obvious reasons.

You can do your part to help by making some adjustments to your household that keep waste to a minimum or by seeking out eco-friendly upgrades when you’re in the market for property. Here are some suggestions.

Turn Off Taps

Personal hygiene takes up 12 percent of water usage in the home, and much of that swirls down the drain if you keep it running while you brush your teeth. Turn off the tap after you’ve wet down your brush, then turn it on again when it’s time to rinse. It’s as simple as that. You could also use a cup if you’re really enthusiastic about saving

Fix Leaky Faucets

A drip can waste between 15 to 20 gallons of water a day, according to Today’s Homeowner, and 90 percent of such leaks are due to faulty washers. These are easy to replace, and according to HomeAdvisor, “Repairing leaking pipes and faucets is one of the most effective ways to conserve water around the house.” Turn off the water supply, take off the valve stem, and replace that troublesome metal donut. Put everything back together, and you’re done.

Install Aerators

Aerators are wire screens on the tip of faucets that cut down on the gallons per minute that flow out while increasing the pressure of the stream to make it easier to get that grease off your dishes. Installing an aerator also mean less splashing so you don’t get your clothes wet while you’re washing up

Seal Up Gaps

When it comes to heating and cooling, the average home loses the same amount of energy through air leaks each year as it would if you left a window open all winter long with your heat running. Some common problems include a lack of insulation in rim joists, warped dampers on fireplaces, and gaps around plumbing stacks. Luckily, these can be fixed with a little know-how and some materials from the hardware store.

Improve Insulation

Though it may cost up to $6,000 for the average home, this effort would pay for itself in lower heating bills within a matter of years, according to Greener Ideal. The attic and basement are the easiest areas to beef up, and there are even environmentally-friendly options to get the job done using cellulose insulation made from recycled newspaper.

Switch to LED Bulbs

First off, LED bulbs consume between 70 and 90 percent less energy than old-fashioned incandescent versions, which adds up to as much as $80 in savings on your electric bill over the course of the bulb’s life span. If that’s not enough reason to make the change, they also last longer, which means you’ll spend less on replacements in the long run.

Install Solar Panels

Not only will you cut down on intake from the grid, you could get a new source of revenue by exporting the excess energy you generate right back into it, says SaveOnEnergy.com. That means your neighbors without solar panels would rely less on the local power plant, so you’ve done everyone a favor. You’ll also save money, which is always a plus.

Landscape Efficiently

You’ll use less water while keeping your garden lush by planting native species rather than thirstier ones, especially if you live in an arid region. Moreover, using mulch traps moisture in the soil where it belongs, while watering in the morning cuts down significantly on the amount of moisture that evaporates throughout the day.
Once this crucial work is done, you can rest assured knowing that you’ve done your part for the environment, and you’ll be saving money. Just don’t forget to spread the word to your neighbors, as we’re all in this together.

Image Via Pexels

10 Questions to Ask Yourself When Picking Garden Flowers

Sunflower for picking flowers
Planting flowers in your garden lets you spend time in your yard, while also making it the perfect place to relax. Flowers bring color and beauty while adding texture and height variation throughout the garden. One key to arranging your flower garden is to pick the flower varieties that best suit your gardening needs.
1) What Areas in Your Yard Get the Best Sunshine?
Understanding the sunshine levels or your various garden plots will help you pick the right plants to thrive in your yard. Evaluate your light spots based on whether it receives full light, partial light, or shade. Full light is commonly described as the light that directly hits a spot. Partial light refers to a spot that is bright but doesn't receive direct light, and a shady spot will receive almost no direct or bright light.
2) Is Your Climate Particularly Dry or Humid?
While there are many flower varieties that can be gardened in almost any climate, it can sometimes be difficult to cultivate tropical or temperate flowers in dry climates without a lot of watering and irrigation. Aim for flowers that are drought tolerant, and you may want to expand your idea of flowering plants to include succulents and cacti. Those in more humid climates can use more tropical flowers in their gardens.
3) How Much Time Do You Have to Care for Your Flowers?
Some flowers are considered more high maintenance than others. Many of the most iconic flowers require the highest maintenance, including lilies, roses, dahlias, and tulips. If you don't have the time to nurture these beauties, you might opt for lower maintenance flower varieties such as cone flowers, daylilies, and cosmos.
4) Do You Have Children or Pets Around the Yard?
As a matter of safety, if you often have children or pets around the yard, it's recommended to look into your favorite plant varieties in case they're potentially toxic to eat. If you're worried about toxic flowers in your yard, you'll want to avoid planting hydrangea, azalea, wisteria, as well as a whole list of others. To keep your yard safe, opt for edible garden flowers such as marigolds, alliums, nasturtiums, pansies, honeysuckles, and daylilies.
5) What Plants Are Native to Your Area?
There are many benefits to planting local varieties, as they can create environments for local ecosystems and wildlife. These are also plants that are already adapted to the environmental conditions of your yard and climate, making them quick growing and hardy. This means that they are lower maintenance than other varieties.
6) Do You Have Size Requirements for Your Flowers’ Growth?
Different flowers grow in different shapes and sizes. Some make ground cover, staying low to the earth, while others grow in vines, bushes, or stalks. The size of the flowers that you need will depend on the space where you want to plant the flowers. Be sure to choose a variety that will grow healthily in your chosen garden plots.
7) Should You Plant Annuals or Perennials?
Most gardeners will recommend that perennial flowers form the basis of your gardening. These are flowers that will grow back in the same place year after year. Perennials are preferred because they do not require you to plant your full flower garden every year. Then you can fill in the blank spaces with the annual flowers that you want and even switch it up each year.
8) Do You Have a Color or Theme Preference?
Colors and flower themes can give you garden a different feel for when it comes time to relax and enjoy the outdoors. Cool colors, such as blues, purples, and greens, will give your garden a calming atmosphere. Warmer colors, such as reds and yellows, will add energy to your yard. Similarly, it can add a lot of fun to your garden to use thematic flower choices.
9) Should You Buy Blooms or Buds?
When you go to purchase your transplant flowers, you will see some flowers have more buds on them than flowers. It's often better to purchase the plants with more buds. This is because plants with buds will continue to bloom longer in the season.
10) Should You Plan a Blooming Plant for Every Season?
Many gardeners want their yard to bloom all year round. It's very rare to have a flower variety that doesn't go dormant at some point. However, in your planning stage, you can pick a variety of perennials that will bloom throughout the year, from early spring to late fall, to give your yard flowering plants all year round.

Ultimately, picking flowers is a combination of knowing your personal preference, local climate, sun conditions, and the amount of time available to you for gardening.

Building a Healthy Lawn and Garden on a Budget: Soil Prep Tips for Fall

Whether you’re growing grass or growing vegetables, quality soil is essential for good results. However, the very act of growing plants can deplete your soil’s nutrients from one season to the next. That makes end-of-year maintenance essential for getting the ground ready for next year’s demands -- but thankfully, it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. As warm weather is winding down, here’s what you need to do to prepare for a productive spring on a budget.
In The Yard
Fall maintenance is essential for a lush green lawn next year. This is the time to reseed bare patches and pull weeds before they go to seed, but a healthy lawn is about more than appearances. Since lawns get compacted from foot traffic over the active summer months, homeowners should aerate lawns each fall to allow air, water, and nutrients to reach plant roots. A garden fork will do the job just fine, but renting or buying a plug lawn aerator speeds up the process. If you want to invest in an aerator, look for promo codes and coupons or in-store savings at stores like Lowes.

While it’s common advice to fertilize lawns every year, adding fertilizer to a lawn that doesn’t need it pollutes the local water supply. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends applying fertilizer in moderation and only when necessary. A soil test kit lets you find out if your yard needs fertilization and which nutrients it’s lacking. You’ll get the most accurate and comprehensive results by sending a sample to the soil testing laboratory recommended by your local cooperative extension. Your local garden center or nursery can also provide at-home kits, and they often offer end-of-summer discounts, so be on the lookout for deals.
In The Garden
Fall garden clean-up saves you labor in the spring. It’s also an opportunity to add to your garden’s soil organic matter and fertility. As you clear out dead plants and debris, remember that bare ground is bad for your garden’s health. Exposed earth is vulnerable to being blown or washed away in windy and wet weather. This strips the topsoil, those upper few inches of dirt that hold the majority of the nutrients plants need to grow.

Rather than pulling plants out of the ground, cut them down at the base of the plant and leave roots in the soil. As root systems decompose, they provide nutrition to the beneficial microorganisms that live in the soil. Once old plants are cleared out, consider how you can keep the ground covered over the winter. Planting a cover crop, especially a legume like clover or vetch, adds organic matter and nitrogen to the earth. However, cover crops can add spring labor, as gardeners must till in the plants before new crops go in. For a labor-saving alternative, consider mulching your garden or covering it with a tarp to prevent erosion and maintain moisture. To keep your budget in check, look for coupons on sites like JoinHoney and Coupons.com for your favorite garden center. It’s worth it to spend a little extra for mulch and a tarp, because covered soil also stays warmer than bare earth, which means a head start on spring planting.

As you gather dead plants out of your garden, don’t throw them in the trash bin. When green waste ends up in a landfill, it becomes a significant source of harmful greenhouse gases. Composting plant matter instead not only reduces its environmental impact, it also can be an incredible source of fertility for the backyard garden. When dead plants, fallen leaves, shredded branches, and fruit and vegetable scraps decompose, they turn into the rich soil-like material known as compost. By creating compost and adding it to the garden before planting in the spring, gardeners can improve the quality of their soil year after year, not to mention save money on buying soil to keep their gardens lush. Compost is best created in a bin that’s easy to turn and aerate, like these DIY compost tumbler designs from Homesteading.com, which can all be made on the cheap.

Healthy soil is the foundation for a beautiful landscape, and although it’s worth the investment, it doesn’t have to cost a lot to maintain. As you’re working outside this fall, think about how you can improve the health of your lawn and garden for a more vibrant growing season.

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