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Northeast Gardening: Sustainable Garden Tips

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

Go for the green this season. Lowe's Northeast regional gardening expert Irene Virag offers five principles to guide you along the sustainable garden path.

Shrink the lawn to save time and money
Kitchen scraps ready for the compost pile

If you'd like to adopt an earth-friendly philosophy, here are ways to make your garden healthier and happier.

Tip 1: Get Savvy About Your Soil

  • Test the pH so you know what nutrients are available to your plants. Most vegetables find what they need in neutral soil with a pH of 6.5 to 7. Buy a do-it-yourself kit or call your cooperative extension service.
  • Go mad for mulch. Spread a two-inch layer of organic mulch such as shredded bark after the soil warms. Don't smother stems or pile it up around tree trunks. Mulch is essential for sustainable gardening because it helps suppress weeds, retain moisture, prevent erosion, and regulate soil temperature.
  • Cozy up to compost. Make it with raw vegetable scraps, untreated grass clippings, and yard debris. Do not use meat, oil, or dairy products. Keep a designated bucket in the kitchen to collect peelings for your outdoor pile.
Drip irrigation delivers water to the plant's roots

Tip 2: Water Wisely
The best way to water is slow and steady with low-pressure soaker hoses or a drip irrigation system to ensure that moisture seeps down to the plants' roots and isn't lost to evaporation or runoff.

If you use overhead sprinklers, water in the morning so wet foliage dries before nightfall. Install a rain sensor so you and your garden aren't washed up by season's end.

Arrange plants according to their water needs. Even pots on the patio will be easier to care for - especially if you place a rain barrel nearby.

Tip 3: Relieve Stress
Give your plants - and yourself - a break by putting them where they want to be. Give roses the sun they need and rhododendrons the dappled shade they desire. Select drought-tolerant plants. Go with disease- and pest-resistant varieties. Try native plants that require less pampering and attract wildlife and pollinators.

Tip 4: Know Your Enemies
Not all creepy, crawly, buzzing things are your enemies. Many help make your garden sustainable by wiping out evildoers. Learn to distinguish friends from foes.

Embrace IPM, or Integrated Pest Management, which espouses non-toxic remedies - chemicals are a last resort. Use sustainable solutions for what's bugging your garden. Put out beer traps for slugs, for example, or add plants that attract beneficial insects such as lacewings and ladybugs.

Tip 5: Shrink The Lawn
As a gardening friend asked me when we moved into our house, "What do you need all that grass for? Why don't you grow corn instead?"

I don't grow corn, but now there's a 40-square-foot organic flower-vegetable garden in the middle of my front yard. And we've got beds and borders of shrubs, trees, perennials, and bulbs that grow longer, wider, and deeper every year. We tend it all organically - no synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. Just say no to a chemically dependent lawn. It's the sustainable way.

Also, we use a mulching mower so the finely chopped clippings feed the grass and the soil. It's nice when the "green, green grass of home" is truly green.

What are you doing to garden in harmony with nature?

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