Take a look at our guide and see whether the green, greener or greenest approach works for you.
Even in the land o' lakes, watering bans have become commonplace in our hot, dry summers. Instead of panicking when the heat is on, start the season with smart practices that conserve water and help your plants build deeper, healthier roots.
• Take rainfall into account; water only when soil is dry.
• Water early in the morning before temperatures rise. During the heat of the day, more water is lost to evaporation.
• Water gardens, grass and newly planted shrubs and trees deeply rather than often.
• Mulch garden beds, shrubs and trees. A few inches of wood chips (from your local chip pile), shredded leaves or other organic material help hold soil moisture.
• Opt for plants that need less water. Native plants, which are naturally acclimated to our weather, take fewer resources to grow, especially when established. Drought-tolerant plants can survive dry spells with little water.Plant resources www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture/DG8464.html and click on dry soil.
• Buy or build a rain barrel to capture runoff from your gutters. Use the water on annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs. A rain barrel can cut your water bill (one rain barrel can save 1,300 gallons of water during the summer) and reduce runoff that can pollute streams and lakes.
• Build a rain garden, which naturally captures the water that runs off from your house. By retaining runoff, a rain garden helps water to filter slowly into the ground, where it replenishes aquifers rather than polluting streams and lakes.Rain barrel basics: www.ecologyactioncenter.org/clean-water/rain-barrels.shtml
Instead of focusing on getting your grass supernaturally green, work on building a healthy root system. A well-established lawn naturally reduces weeds and can cut down on the need for watering.
• Keep grass longer (2 1/2 to 3 1/2 inches) to encourage deeper roots, which help grass plants survive hot, dry weather.
• Leave grass clippings on the lawn, where they break down and add nutrients to the soil.
• Water deeply rather than often. (Most turf grass requires an inch of water per week.)
• Fertilize (it's usually best to do so in the fall) with natural fertilizers that contain corn gluten meal, soybean meal, blood meal or feather meal.
• Core aerate every few years in the spring.
• Overseed thin lawns in spring or late summer to encourage thicker growth and discourage weeds.
• Instead of using fertilizer, top-dress your lawn with completed compost or composted manure.
• Reduce or eliminate herbicide use. Remove weeds by hand. If you have a large patch of weeds, kill it by covering it with black plastic for a month or so.
• Consider replacing an area of traditional turf grass with one of the newer low-mow or no-mow grasses, especially in locations that are difficult to maintain. Low-maintenance mixes often contain a blend of fescues or seed mixes with broad-leaf or flowering plants such as clover.
• Get rid of some of your grass, especially little-used sections. Replace turf with tough ground covers, masses of hardy shrubs, drought-tolerant perennials, a vegetable garden or a swath of prairie.Low-maintenance resources • www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture/DG7552.html • www.prairienursery.com, 1-800-476-9453, a Wisconsin-based nursery that sells no-mow grass seed mixes.
Growing green isn't a competition, it's an attitude. Instead of striving for a picture-perfect yard and garden, aim for a healthy space that fits your family, can be maintained in the time you have and is a boon to the environment.
• Plant something. Whether you put in a dozen trees or pot up a few geraniums, plants help the environment by producing oxygen, reducing pollutants in the air and providing food and shelter for birds, bees and butterflies. Planting also gets you outdoors.
• Build or buy a composter and start a compost pile. Composting turns yard waste and many kitchen scraps into a soil conditioner and natural mulch. It also keeps organic waste out of landfills. Besides, it's really easy to do.Compost resources www.extension.umn.edu and search on compost
• Wean yourself from chemical fertilizers by improving your garden soil and lawn with compost, composted manure or other natural fertilizers.
• Before you reach for an insecticide or pesticide, do your homework. Try to determine if you have pests (many can be deterred by a blast of water) or a disease (many can be slowed or stopped by removing diseased plants immediately).Green resources • www.organicgardening.com forums2.gardenweb.com/forums/organic/ • "The Truth About Organic Gardening" (Timber Press, $12.95) by University of Minnesota associate horticulture professor Jeff Gillman.