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Detox Your Landscape

March 1, 2018

Everyone seems to have a detox plan. The best ones I’ve seen come with a balance of avoiding the “bad” and increasing the “good”. For example: reducing sugar and increasing veggies; cutting back on carbs and leaning into proteins; less time on screens and more experiences with people; nurturing good vibes and avoiding toxic relationships; more sleep, less caffeine. You get the picture.

As the days get longer and the horizon gets brighter, you may intend to apply similar principles towards your landscape. “Detox” is not necessarily about dealing with heavy metals or toxic chemicals. Rather, it’s a trend towards landscape wellness. Given a baseline understanding of the basic composition of healthy soil – a vibrant ecosystem of 25% air, 25% water, 45% mineral soil, and 5% organic matter, teaming with macro- and micro-organisms – here are five landscape detox tactics to try on your own stomping grounds.

1. Get on a path. No, really, it’s not just a metaphor. Pathways are important for landscapes. They visually shape the experience and the space. They also provide the practical advantage of keeping footprints – and weight, which leads to compaction – off of the workable soil. While pathways get compacted, the growing soil in gardens, veggie beds, and lawns can maintain its fluffy, porous qualities that enable the transfer of water, air, nutrients, roots, and beneficial organisms. Paths can be made out of a variety of materials. We often recommend mulch, which brings us to our second tip.

2. Lay down a magical layer of mulch. Mulch is a garden’s unsung hero. Indeed, we often refer to March as “Mulch Madness” because a layer of mulch spread down now will save so much time and energy in the future. The biggest benefits of mulch include: suppressing weeds, maintaining soil temperatures, retaining moisture, enhancing the beauty of the landscape, and providing a supply of organic matter as the mulch decomposes.

Mulch can be laid down as a path or tucked around existing plants. We recommend a 2-3” layer of the kind that works best for you based on the following characteristics:

  • Cedar Mulch: Typically a warm brown color with a pleasant cedar smell. Cedar mulch is great for repelling insects and has a very slow decay process so it won’t break down quickly. Cedar mulch is also the most resistant to artillery fungus.
  • Bark Mulches: Typically a variety of mulches that comes in an earthy hue or with natural colorants (brown, black and red) to make the color last. It breaks down quickly and adds nutrients to the soil.
  • Pine Bark Mulch: Typically a naturally rich, dark color with a pleasant pine scent. It’s a slow decomposer.
  • Hemlock Mulch: Typically strong reddish and orange tones which add rich color to landscapes. Just like cedar and pine mulch, hemlock mulches decompose slowly.

3. Amend your soil with compost. Compost is the champion detox friend for your earth system that helps support the physical, chemical, and biological properties of the soil. You don’t want to plant directly in it; you want to mix it in strategically. Here are a few tips to help you do so:

  • For gardens and new lawns: add a 2-4” layer of compost and mix it into the top 6” layer of soil.
  • For existing lawns: add a ¼”-1/2” layer as a topdressing. If your lawn looks all brown and earthy after the application, relax…the compost will settle down into the soil and help nourish those roots throughout the rest of the season.
  • For trees and shrubs: dig a hole 2-3 times the diameter of the root ball. Mix 1 part compost with 2 parts mineral soil (mineral soil is the soil from digging the hole). Add the soil mix back in under and around the root ball, which should be at the same height as the existing landscape.

4. Tidy up your space. This is more of an emotional detox. Look with fresh eyes at your landscape: the stray trowel, the dead vines, the tipped over bucket that flew into a corner during a winter storm, and the broken sprinkler that’s been sitting in your garage or shed for two seasons. Pick them up. Put them where they belong. Clean up. Organize. Make your space work for you.

5. Shelve the chemicals. Try alternatives. Springtime is a fantastic time of year to get a head start on the garden since all plants – including weeds – are still small. Three physical (as opposed to chemical) projects that help reduce weeds, stimulate growth, and promote landscape wellness include the following:

  • Give your trees a “tree pedicure!” Depending on the size of your trees: A) clip off any shoots or suckers that are coming up at the base of the trunk, then B) remove any weeds or growth in the area around the base of the tree to the drip line, or wherever looks best to you, and C) cover that space with a 2” layer of mulch being careful to give the trunk room to breathe (e.g. do not create a volcano of mulch around your trunk).
  • Go on a dandelion hunt. If you subscribe to the notion that you want a green lawn without dandelions, then get out your favorite weed puller, a bucket, and some neighborhood kids. Make it a challenge: who can dig down and pop up the most of those long and thick roots.
  • Consider cover crops. Cover crops are quick-growing crops which are planted primarily to keep the soil covered for a short period of time, then plowed under as “green manure” or composted. Get advice from your local garden center on the best cover crop for you.

We’ll explore other natural gardening techniques including companion planting and natural pest deterrents in future Natural Nutmeg articles. The garden is a forgiving place where things – and ideas – naturally grow, die, decay, and grow again. Try things out. Have successes. Have failures. Try again the next season. Go easy on yourself as you grow and trend towards a natural landscape.

Meredith Sorensen is the Director of Communication for Harvest, a company that fuels a more sustainable world where organic resources are harvested, not wasted. Harvest New England (http://www.harvestpower.com/ne | 860-674-8855 x101) provides top quality soils, mulches and custom blends in Connecticut at our Fairfield, Farmington, Ellington, and Wallingford locations, and via delivery.

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