Earth-Kind landscape design makes the grade at field day

COLLEGE STATION — “Water.”

“Soil.”

“The plants themselves.”

    These were some responses producers gave at a recent field day in an attempt to answer the question of what’s most important when planning a landscape. It’s a good thing they weren’t getting a grade.

“The light,” answered Dr. Mengmeng Gu, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulturist. “You can’t change the sun. You can plant a hosta in good soil and give it the right water, but with the full sun, it will not do well.”

She did credit the growers’ answers, however, noting that soil, water, plant material and even wind and climate in various parts of the state play a role in deciding how to landscape in an Earth-Kind way.

    Gu discussed Earth-Kind principals at the annual turf and landscape field day at Texas A&M University in College Station.

Earth-Kind landscapes combine the best of organic and traditional gardening and landscaping principles to create a horticultural system based on real world effectiveness and environmental responsibility. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Kathleen Phillips)

“The objective of Earth-Kind landscaping is to combine the best of organic and traditional gardening and landscaping principles to create a horticultural system based on real  world effectiveness and environmental responsibility,” according to AgriLife Extension experts.

Gu cited seven principles of the method: planning and design, soil improvement, practical turf areas, appropriate plant selection, efficient irrigation, use of mulch and appropriate maintenance.

She suggested that a landscape is “live and growing” and thus should be designed in phases.

“What we want changes, too,” she said. “So leave room for future development. And design in zones. A water requirement zone, for example, groups plants with similar water needs.”

Other zones might consider maintenance requirements, short- and long-term cost effectiveness, and function, she said.    She likened soil consideration to selecting a home based on a school district.

“You want your kids to go to the best school so they can get the best education. Similarly, plants are an investment in the future value of your home,” she said. “If the soil is crappy where your house is, invest in soil amendment.”

Gu said turf areas should be in a landscape as a design element, not as a filler.

“Turf could be in areas for kids to play,” she said. “I’m not a ‘turf hater.’ I just believe it should be in balance. Lawns can help reduce water runoff, but they may also require the most potable water.”

She suggested http://earthkind.tamu.edu/ to help select plants for various growing areas. It allows one to select region, growth habit, light exposure and blooming characteristics, for example.

Gu noted that many irrigation systems now on the market allow one to plan efficient application of water. And rainwater harvesting should be considered because plants respond better to rainwater and it’s free.

With the other principles in place, mulching adds a layer to protect the plants from soil erosion, too much water evaporation, extreme soil temperatures and weed competition, Gu said.

“Earth-Kind landscapes will help you be able to enjoy your plants while taking better care of the earth through water and energy conservation, less fertilization and pesticide use, and reduced waste in the landfills,” she said.
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