Ecology + Design

How to Prepare Your Landscape for Spring, Creating an Eco-Friendly Landscape Environment 

My how things have changed! We used to work so hard at cleaning up the landscape, the lawns and garden beds in the fall and again in spring.

Now, we collectively have a better understanding of how we can manage our resources for our own human health as well as for pollinators and other insects.

The Pollinator Pathway Initiative as well as the Healthy Yards Project has helped to revolutionize the way we treat our suburban landscapes.

A front yard in Fairfield County, CT converted to a pollinator pathway organic landscape.

A couple of fundamental concepts: we do not recommend heavy raking of the lawn and beds to remove leaves. Pick up the mid to large size sticks and twigs left over from winter storms. Leaves should be removed if they are in a heavy, wet mass or if they are so thick that they completely prohibit light from reaching the surface. Leaving a light covering of leaves that will quickly breakdown with warm weather and contributes precious biology to the soil is a BMP or Best Management Practice.

A light layer of leaves can provide critical nutrients to garden beds. Remove large and medium sticks from lawn areas for ease of mowing. Avoid heavy raking in early spring, when root zones are fragile.

Cutting back grasses and perennials when temperatures reach 50 degrees helps maintain insect populations. We cut down hollow stem native perennials in 4-6” increments to a height of 18” to allow for habitat protection. Grasses, leaves and perennials can be shredded or composted for later use.

If desired, you can mow perennial gardens. Be aware of seed dispersal.

Saving hollow stemmed perennials, as to not disturb the overwintering insects, as we clean up a garden in early spring.

If you leave all seed heads up from fall to spring and then mow or cut and leave in place you will be dispersing seed throughout the garden. We selectively harvest seed in fall to control propagation of some species, especially more aggressive plants.

We may mulch garden beds with a light cover of triple ground hardwood mulch, especially with garden beds that have not yet reached maturity. The preferred method is to use native ground covers as ‘green mulch’, thereby conserving tree resources and reducing the impulse to mulch. This poses a challenge in communicating to landscape maintenance contractors the desire to change and improve practices.

An example of Green Mulch: using ground cover plants to cover bare soil and reduce weed pressure, reducing use of traditional bark mulches.

Mulch mowing has become more widely used and accepted. It has enabled us to pulverize the precious organic material deposited on the lawn and convert it into biological building blocks, which in turn, help with water conservation. The absence of snowfall has done two things: 1) reduced the deposition of material from the atmosphere, usually produced from snow. 2) Limited the salt used for snow and ice control. Whereas we would normally use gypsum to alleviate damage along walks and roadways, we can now focus on other more important tasks. Enlivened rock powders such as Greensand and Azomite can improve drainage and facilitate nutrient availability.

A mature garden, maintained with ecological landscaping principals for the past decade.

We continue to feed young trees and shrubs, planted in the last two years to help with establishment. This is especially important for ericaceous plants like hydrangea, blueberries, rhododendron, etc. In our area the average pH is in the normal range, so we need to compensate if we have those plants in our landscape. Like us, they respond well to organic feeding, so give them what they need, twice a year, in spring and fall. As the label specifies, twice the rate in spring compared to fall as the roots and shoots are growing now.

Lace Cap Hydrangea is an ericaceous shrub that benefits from acidic fertilizer.

In Ecological landscape design and development, we have an opportunity to reduce the use of fossil fuel, gas, oil and electric by designing and building landscapes without them, thereby reducing the need for maintenance.

Ecological landscapes can be designed, built, and maintained with respect for our precious natural resources. They can and will be maintained gently and quietly…as nature intended.

Reduce your lawn…reduce the for need for resources…increase the critical biological biomass which we desperately need to support life on Earth.

Most of all…take a walk…breathe the air…say a prayer of gratitude for nature… for the gifts we receive from her, each and every day.

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