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​Q.  As this year comes to an end, we are making plans for next year.  One item that has been pretty far down on the “to-do” list has finally become a top priority.  We plan to completely re-do our landscape and would like it to be as environmentally friendly as possible.  Can you help us with ideas that will get us headed in the right direction?

A.  Though sad, it's true, homeowners tend to create their own problems by giving their landscapes too much attention.  They feel the need to use excess fertilizer, water and herbicides thinking these are necessary ingredients for plant health.  In truth, these inputs are not really needed on a regular, predictable cycle.  The only predicatability lies in our knowledge of plant symptoms and watching them to know when they need something.

Homeowners also tend to install more plants than necessary to get that instant effect.  This practice sets them up for problems in the future; problems such as physical damage due to over-crowding, insect issues, disease problems, and etc.  With proper planning, a healthier landscape can be created with less expense, less work and less damage to the world around us.  Plants well suited to their site need less fertilizer, water, pesticides and maintenance. 

There are four essential components of landscape planning:

  • Site Analysis – make observations of all the different areas in your yard.richard's garden path.JPG
    • Check sun, wind and drainage before choosing your plant.  A plant that needs shade will do poorly in the sun, becoming stressed and insect prone.  A plant that needs good air circulation will likely need a fungicide to keep disease under control if planted in an area with no air movement. 
    • Plan for manageing water runoff during rainy periods.  This may include diverting downspouts, planting across the slope to slow the water so that it will have a chance to soak into the ground, or using a groundcover on steep areas to prevent erosion.
  • Size – Learn what the mature size of your plants will be. 
    • A common mistake is to choose plants that will quickly outgrow their space.  These plants will either need constant pruning or replacement in a few years.  Crowded plants grow poorly and are more prone to insects and diseases.
  • Water Needs – Develop a landscape for water efficiency. 
    • Group plants with similar moisture needs together so that water is not wasted on plants that don’t need it.  Many established shrubs and trees can go several weeks (4 or more!) without supplemental water, while annual flowers may need more than an inch of irrigation every week.
    • Plan practically sized turf areas and use mulch, shrub borders or ground covers in other areas.  
    • Plan on using flowering shrubs and trees for color rather than just relying on annuals and perennials.  Plan your flowerbeds where they will provide impact with the least effort.  Annual flowerbeds are high maintenance, and require more water than other parts of the landscape.
  • Plants – Choose the right plant for the right place.
    • Choose plants that are resistant to pests and diseases.  These plants will require fewer pesticides and fungicides. 
    • Consider heat and cold hardiness of plants.  Learn the hardiness zone for your area and choose plants suited to your area.  Hardiness zone maps tell how low the average minimum temperature is in an area.  Heat zone maps are also available which consider how many days per year the temperature exceeds 86 degrees.  Heat and cold are a limiting factor for many plants. 
    • When purchasing plants, check them carefully to ensure that you are not bringing insect pests into your garden.  Look for good color and strong growth as well.  Avoid a plant with spots, mildew or other defects.  

Following these recommendations will definitely get you pointed in the right direction for success.  Everyone can have an Alabama Smart Yard

Learn more about what is going on in Extension by visiting our website, www.aces.edu

Bethany O’Rear
Regional Extension Agent
Alabama Cooperative Extension System


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