News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Sustainable gardening can ease yard maintenance

Linn County Master Gardener

OSU Linn County Master Gardener.

Is your yard and garden sustainable? A sustainable garden can thrive with as little labor, water, fertilizer and pesticides as possible. It requires a bit more planning to achieve a balance between efforts and outcomes.  

In high summer, water becomes the major input to a green and lush environment. 

Are there some changes we can make that would use less water and effort? 

Could those changes also mean less mowing and maintenance in spring and fall? 

During hot weather, after the early morning irrigation, we can stay cooler inside and think about changes to make to the landscape when the rain returns. We can conserve resources (time, energy, money, water) with some thoughtful changes to how we do things.

If spring mowing is a chore, why not reduce the grass area and replace it with low-growing, water-thrifty ground covers? 

If the lawn is cherished, use a mulching mower that will build the soil to make it more absorbent and water retentive.

Some plants suffering from summer heat? Consider replacing them with more drought-tolerant varieties. Even the native plants are having difficulty adjusting to hotter summers and wetter winters, but they are still better suited to our area than lovely flowering shrubs from the Southeast states that we are tempted to buy in the garden centers. 

Even our common rhododendrons are declining and struggling to survive. Will we need to replace them with shrubs from California as growing zones creep northward?

More green growth helps to keep our environment cooler than paved areas during heat spells. Studies show that the shading effect and evapotranspiration of moisture from leaves can lower the ambient temperature. We notice that by simply walking from a green, tree and shrub-covered area to a plant-less parking lot. 

Striking a balance between greening up our spaces and hardening them to protect our homes from fire danger – that’s a trick that requires some planning. 

Deciduous trees and shrubs are often less fire-prone than evergreens, but are bare and less pleasing in winter. That’s where green ground covers can be useful as color in winter and cooling fire-resistance in summer. 

Sit inside, safely sipping a cool beverage during hot days and consider changes to your personal outdoor space that will make it more useful, more sustainable, easier to maintain, fire-safe, water-conserving, and healthier. Plan how can you make a significant impact on your own environment in future seasons.

Need some brain-starters for sustainable landscape design? There are several publications at https://extension.oregonstate.edu/catalog  available for download when you search “sustainable gardening.” 

The pamphlet on Waterwise Gardening in Central Oregon (EM 9136) might be more applicable to gardening in the Canyon than it was intended when written two years ago.

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