The Ultimate Builder’s Source: Gardening

Common sense might tell you that all landscaping is ‘green.’ But a look into the art, and science, of gardening shows that there’s room for environmental improvements, like using organic fertilizer and planting native species. These and many other developments in landscaping are making our green spaces even greener.

“The Metropolitan Sewer District is really trying to keep the water on the land, so it soaks into the ground rather than runs off, so rain gardens are a big thing right now.” says Tony Frisella of Frisella Nursery. With rain gardens, the water that comes off hard surfaces, which would typically run out of downspouts into gutters, is instead collected and used to water plants. “There’s also different types of pavers out now that are permeable, they let the water through to drain into the ground—so less water gets into storm sewers.”

So-called ‘green roofs’ are growing in popularity as well. “This is a roof structure that has a light mix of gravel, sand and some perennials that grow in it. It’s a ‘living’ roof. It eliminates that much more of your carbon footprint,” he says. Frisella Nursery has just remodeled and expanded, with plans to create a demonstration green roof. Some municipalities are going so far as to allow only a certain amount of pavement on properties, he adds. “People are planting things between the house and patio, or making a smaller patio, putting the grill on a slab surrounded by herbage,” Frisella says.

Organic fertilizers offer yet another advance. “We’re all going organic, although not every professional gardener has picked up on that yet,” Frisella says. “The salt in chemical fertilizers kills all the microorganisms in the soil, and you have to be very careful with it, because those pollutants get into our streams. Chemical fertilizers are instantaneous, but then the chemical fertilizer wears off. With organic fertilizers, results get better and better over time. Chemicals are one of our worst enemies in this industry.”

Besides buying organic fertilizer, home gardeners can also plant native species that are easy to maintain, suggests landscaper Hilary Daniel Engelhardt. “When adding new plants to your garden, look for ‘plants of merit,’ which have been established by professionals as being plants that grow consistently well in our area, are easy to grow and maintain, are not known to be invasive, are resistant or tolerant to disease and insects, and have outstanding ornamental value,” she says. This list of plants has been established by the Missouri Botanical Garden and garden professionals. “There’s a reason for planting them—they don’t require a lot of chemicals to do well and sometimes they require less water.

Daniel Engelhardt (who goes by this double last name) says all the pots that her plants come in get recycled, either through the Missouri Botanical Garden, which turns them into rubber timbers, or through vendors, who sterilize and reuse them. “Years ago, landscapers would throw out all their pots,” she says. “It’s a big development. And clients can do it, too; many planting containers can be recycled through your typical recycling program.”

She has also switched to a new weed killer that uses citric acid as its main component. “It’s the same thing you find in oranges and boy, does that stuff work!” she crows.

To cut down on overall water use, Daniel Engelhardt recommends a move from grass to a plant-based lawn. “Beds and plants need to be watered much less than grass. Grass requires a lot of water and fertilizer,” she says. “So see if you can minimize your turf areas. We keep just enough grass at my home for the dog to use. Everything else is a plant to cut down on maintenance.”

Finally, when hiring a landscape designer, “you want someone who will plant things that provide shade during the hottest part of the day to cut down on air conditioning use,” she says. “Choose a designer who’ll take environmental factors into account.”