Yard care may endanger waterways

John Young, Gill, Daniel J., Owings, Allen D.  |  1/9/2009 9:19:22 PM

Sustainable Landscape News Distributed 01/09/09

By LSU AgCenter Horticulturists

An important part of LSU AgCenter educational programs focuses on environmental issues. This includes teaching Louisiana gardeners that our yards and neighborhoods are channels to our waterways.

What you do in your landscape certainly needs to take this concept into account. The health of Louisiana’s estuaries, rivers, lakes and aquifers depends partly on how you maintain your yard and garden. You don’t even have to live on the water to make a big difference.

Rain that falls on yards, roads and parking lots goes down street drains and often into local surface bodies of water or leaches into groundwater, carrying pollutants – including fertilizers, pesticides, animal waste, soil and petroleum products. In particular, improperly applied fertilizers and pesticides from urban and suburban residential areas can play a role in polluting Louisiana’s waters.

Louisiana is rich in natural habitats that function well in preserving the quality of the environment. Unfortunately, when land is developed for residential use, much of it is covered by impervious surfaces, such as asphalt and concrete, and neighborhood landscapes bear little resemblance to native habitats.

Expansive planting of high-maintenance lawns has dominated our landscapes for years. That practice, however, may be changing. You can be a part of the movement in Louisiana to have a more environmentally friendly landscape.

Look around your neighborhood or nearby parks to see if any natural landscapes remain. Can areas of your own landscape be redesigned to replace a piece of what has been lost?

The ideal Louisiana-friendly yard – the smart way to garden – should reflect the beauty of natural habitats and ecosystems in our state. To be truly effective, these landscapes must be created and sustained by landscape practices that have a low impact on the environment.

Here are some of these practices:

– Cooperate with pre-existing natural conditions instead of altering them or changing them to suit the desires of the gardener or needs of plants not suited for those conditions. For instance, in naturally dry areas, choose plants that are drought-tolerant. In locations where drainage is poor or that are boggy, select plants well-adapted to growing in wet conditions.

– Conserve water and energy, both indoors and out. Applying mulches in beds will help slow evaporation and reduce the need to irrigate. Mulches also suppress weed growth reducing maintenance and the use of herbicides. Whenever practical, use hand tools rather than powered equipment to save energy and reduce air pollution. Reduce the size of lawns with areas of ground cover to reduce gas used and pollution generated by mowing.

– Use more native species in your landscape. Choose native and non-native trees, shrubs, vines and ground covers that are well-adapted to our climate and require minimal water, fertilizers and pesticides under the right growing conditions.

– Choose plants that are appropriate and attractive but also provide environmental benefits. Include plants that provide food for wildlife in the landscape, for instance.

– Use fertilizers carefully because they can contribute to nonpoint source pollution. Fertilize moderately, if needed, at the appropriate times. Choose slow-release or controlled-release formulations, and never apply more than the label directions recommend.

– Tolerate some pest damage in the landscape and focus on gardening techniques that reduce pest problems. Properly identify pests before using pesticides. Choose nonpesticide methods of control when practical or available – such as handpicking, mulching, barriers, traps and beneficial insects. Use pesticides only when necessary and according to label directions. Limit treatments only to infested plants. Always choose the least toxic products that will do the job.

Come to LaHouse in Baton Rouge to see sustainable landscape practices in action. The home and landscape resource center is located near the intersection of Burbank Drive and Nicholson Drive (La. Highway 30) in Baton Rouge across the street from the new LSU baseball stadium. Go online to www.louisianahouse.org and www.lsuagcenter.com/lyn for more information.

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Contacts:
Dan Gill at (225) 578-2222 or dgill@agcenter.lsu.edu
Allen D. Owings at (985) 543-4125 or aowings@agcenter.lsu.edu
John Young at (225) 578-2415 or (225) 578-2222 or JoYoung@agcenter.lsu.edu
Editor: Mark Claesgens at (225) 578-2939 or mclaesgens@agcenter.lsu.edu

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