Green Landscaping – Wrightsville Beach Magazine

Landscaping projects can be daunting, especially if you’re new to an area or have a huge piece of land to tackle. On the bright side, a big project is a great opportunity to improve your home’s curb appeal, create an outdoor space you’ll enjoy and, by practicing sustainable landscaping, contribute to a healthy ecosystem.

Sustainable landscaping will improve the health of your soil, support native species, pollinators and other wildlife, and protect the surrounding environment. On the other hand, some landscaping choices can have negative effects on the ecosystem. Many homeowners unknowingly host invasive plant species and their pests and spread harmful substances into soil and water.

Here are some landscaping steps to make your garden sustainable.

Soil analysis

Before planting any plants, have your soil tested to see what will grow well and what kind of amendments are needed to encourage healthy plant growth. The NC State Extension Center located at the New Hanover County Arboretum offers soil testing – free from April 1 through November 1. 27 and for a small fee at other times – as do extension centers in other counties. The master gardeners at your local extension center are a wonderful source of advice for landscaping decisions.

Choose native species

Plant species native to the area require fewer pesticides and, if your soil is healthy, no fertilizer. They support pollinators, which we need not only for showy flowers but also for food crops. Native plants also play well with each other, while introduced species can become invasive natives and compete for nutrients and reduce food sources and habitats for wildlife.

There are thousands of native plants to choose from, but here are some suggestions.

  • Plant coral honeysuckle, Carolina jasmine or cross vine instead of English ivy, Japanese honeysuckle and Japanese or Chinese wisteria. Try chili peppers or good substitutes for privet, which is extremely invasive.
  • Bradford pears are so bad North Carolina has put a price on them – literally! (See for more information.) Replace Bradfords with redbud or serviceberry trees. Native ferns include Christmas fern and Southern maiden’s hair fern. Elderberry and blueberry bushes not only provide shrubs but also snack foods, and blueberries are semi-evergreen, providing color for most of the year.
  • Although extremely common in the Cape Fear area, virgin grass (or Chinese silver grass or miscanthus) is invasive. Switch grass, panic grass and pink or white Muhly grass are excellent alternatives.
  • Don’t forget the trees. Some landscape choices take time to bear fruit. Although flowers and shrubs offer faster results, consider including native trees as well. Oaks, maples, cypresses, pines, and other trees are crucial parts of our ecosystem, and we must be intentional about replacing trees lost to construction, age, and hurricanes.
  • Not all non-native plants are considered invasive. Crepe myrtles and azaleas were introduced from Asia, but neither have serious adverse effects on our ecosystem. If your landscape has plenty of native plants, a crepe myrtle or two won’t do much harm.
  • See for other recommended native species.

drought tolerance

Choosing drought-tolerant plants doesn’t mean turning your garden into a cactus-filled desert landscape. It is a question of selecting vegetation adapted to climatic variations. In coastal areas known for heavy spring and summer rainfall, it may seem unnecessary to think about drought tolerance in landscaping. However, it pays to choose plants that can thrive when water is plentiful and survive when showers are scarce. Besides the positive impact on the environment, it helps your water bill.

Less lawn

The lawn idea was imported from Europe, where climates and ecosystems are well suited to large areas of low-growing green vegetation. Although very few of our native plant species behave this way, the lawn has become a standard feature of landscaping in North Carolina, much like much of the continent.

The problem is that since lawns are not a natural feature, they require the introduction of non-native species as well as the use of large amounts of synthetic fertilizers and herbicides. Fortunately, our native plant species offer a multitude of beautiful alternatives.

Perhaps the easiest way to get rid of the tyranny of the English lawn is to create more flower beds and natural areas to reduce lawn space. This has the added benefit of reducing – pun intended – mowing time.

First, use what you have. The native pines of our region are very generous with their needles. Rather than viewing pine needles as an inconvenient obstacle to grass growth, adopt what nature has provided and rake the needles to form beds around your trees. They are excellent for suppressing weeds! If you have an overabundance, use the needles as mulch in other areas or share with neighbors.

Since lawn type grasses are not native to our area, lookalike vegetation options are limited. A lawn substitute is narrowleaf silkgrass, a hardy evergreen ground cover that can be cut like a lawn and produces small yellow flowers that look like daisies if left to flower. Green and gold, moss flower, blue-eyed grass and wild blue phlox are all low-growing native plants that can replace the lawn for at least part of some yards. These don’t work as well in high traffic areas, so you may need to save some grass for outdoor activities and for children or pets to play.

Common carpetgrass is a native grass that tolerates heat but not drought and goes dormant in winter. Several varieties of clover originating in Europe have become naturalized in the United States. Opinions vary on whether clover is a sustainable landscaping option since it is not native, but it adds nitrogen to the soil and serves as a food source for pollinators and foragers.

Avoid synthetic additives

When it comes to sustainable landscaping, what you put on your lawn and garden are just as important as what you put in it in them. Synthetic herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers offer quick short-term results, but their use has negative long-term effects.

Synthetic landscaping and gardening products use chemicals not found in nature, and the ecosystem is not equipped to deal with them. With the continued use of synthetics, the naturally occurring elements in the soil are diminished, depleting soil health and requiring ever-increasing doses of additives.

When artificial fertilizers flow into waterways, we get algal blooms and then mass mortality of aquatic species due to oxygen depletion. Synthetic herbicides and pesticides kill indiscriminately at the microscopic level, eliminating healthy soil microorganisms as well as parasites the same way a series of antibiotics kill healthy bacteria in your gut as well as the infection in it. was supposed to deal with.

Switching to organic inputs is much more sustainable for your landscape and for the local ecosystem.

rain gardens

John Gould v. 1873

A rain garden is a garden bed located to capture rainwater and runoff so it can soak into the ground instead of flowing out of your yard, reducing flooding, pollution, and pollution. stormwater runoff.

Rain gardens are beautiful and simple to create. Select a site 10 feet from your home and 25 feet from your well and drain field. Call 811 to check utilities before digging.

Most rain gardens are round or oval, but can be any shape. Dig a shallow depression 6 to 10 inches lower than your garden surface and plant shrubs, flowers and herbs that can tolerate “wet feet” (having their roots in water for a period of time). The North Carolina Coastal Federation website ( has detailed instructions for designing and maintaining your rain garden.

If your property drains slowly with a high water table and soggy soil, consider creating a wetland in the back. Backyard wetlands work much like rain gardens, but should be planted with native plants that thrive in water. A healthy wetland is the natural home of mosquito predators like dragonflies and frogs, so it should protect your property from those tiny flying vampires.

All of this information can be overwhelming, but you don’t have to do it all at once. Making even one change will have a positive impact and maybe even spark conversations with neighbors about sustainable landscaping.

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