Spring Garden Sustainability

— Written By Casey Shotton and last updated by
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pink magnolia blossom against blue sky

As the weather continues to warm up and the days get longer, people begin to emerge from their winter hibernation and step out into their gardens once again. This year, when preparing your garden for the growing season, I encourage you to think about the role your landscape plays in supporting wildlife and the environment. Each garden, whether you have an apartment balcony or a large yard, is a puzzle piece of the larger ecosystem that we all call home.

What steps can you take in your landscape to improve your impact on wildlife and the environment?

Minimize your use of fertilizers and pesticides.

  • Always take a soil test before applying fertilizer! Your soil report will provide you with a fertilizer recommendation specific to your landscape and what you are trying to grow.
  • Good cultural control methods such as correct watering practices, choosing insect/disease resistant plant varieties, and practicing good sanitation can help reduce the amount of pesticides required in the landscape.

Add a fresh layer of mulch around trees, shrubs, and garden beds.

  • Pine straw is an abundant resource in our area and is a great option for an organic mulch.
  • Mulch provides numerous benefits including weed suppression and increased moisture retention in the soil.

Introduce more native plants in your garden.

  • Native plants are better adapted to our local climate, thus don’t require as much maintenance as non-native plants.
  • Native plants are important food sources for local butterflies, birds, and other wildlife.
  • Visit the Native Plant Garden at the Arboretum to see how you can use native plants in your landscape.

black eyed susans and native plant sign

Introduce practices to reduce water usage in your landscape.

  • Install a rain gauge in your garden. Monitoring rainfall can help determine if, when, and how much supplemental irrigation is needed.
  • Inspect your irrigation system for leaks and correct positioning to reduce wasted water.
  • Install a rain barrel to capture stormwater runoff for use in your garden.

Reconsider your lawn.

  • While lawns do serve a purpose in the landscape, they aren’t always the best option. Consider replacing areas of your lawn that are more difficult to grow with mulch, groundcovers, or new planting beds.
  • For areas where turf is needed, follow a maintenance calendar specific to your warm-season grass. A correctly maintained, healthy lawn requires less fertilizer and pesticide inputs than a struggling lawn.

leucojum, white flowers on slim stems and ground plantingsTifGrande Bermuda

Provide food, water, and shelter for wildlife.

  • Clean out old debris from birdhouses to allow shelter for new nesting birds.
  • Clean and fill your birdbaths to provide a water source for birds.
  • Introduce seed, fruit, and nut producing plants like Callicarpa americana (American Beautyberry) to provide important food sources for birds and wildlife.

Start a compost bin.

  • Among the many benefits that composting provides, it most importantly recycles food waste and returns valuable nutrients to the soil.
  • Visit the Plant Clinic for more information on how to start your own backyard compost bin.

Right plant, right place.

  • Good plant selection is one of the most important factors when it comes to plant survival. If you choose plants that are well-suited to the location where you plant them, they will thrive without too many additional inputs.

If you are looking to add new plants to your garden, visit the Extension Master Gardener℠ Plant Sale April 28th through May 1st. Friends of the Arboretum members are invited to shop early on April 27th from 12 p.m.-4 p.m.

The Master Gardener℠ Volunteers will have a generous selection of shrubs, perennials, annuals, azaleas, Japanese maples, herbs, vegetables, and native plants available for sale. All proceeds from this sale will be used to provide additional training for our Extension Master Gardener℠ Volunteers, provide grants to our community, and supply scholarships for deserving students from UNCW and Cape Fear Community College.

plant sale arrangement