Sustainable Landscaping
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Soil in the Sustainable Landscape
In the sustainable landscape, soil is recognized as a living substance, where root-nutrient interaction is only one part of a complex ecosystem teeming with macro- and microorganisms. It can serve as a repository for sequestered carbon in the form of organic matter, as well as a chemical suubstrate intricately involved in the availability of nutrients.

The home gardener who has not learned the value of adding organic matter to their flowers and vegetables is missing out on a valuable resource. Most people have easy access to free organic matter in the form of kitchen waste, weeds and garden "waste", and fallen leaves. Furthermore, a chipper/shredder can add even more benefit by allowing one to make their own mulch for shrubs and trees. This valuable mulch aids in water retention, weed control, and provides a slow-release form of fertilizer to landscape plants. The farmer who grows crops using the "low-till" or "no-till" method reduces soil erosion caused by rain and wind.

The soil is truly alive with macro- and micro-organisms, such as earthworms, centipedes, and beneficial fungi that feast on this organic material, aerate the soil, and play a role in a healthy root-soil interface in the area around the root known as the rhizosphere.

Composting is a simple method that can provide abundant crumbly, dark organic matter that can serve as a soil amendment, or a potting soil replacement.


The tricks to composting are sort of exacting if you need it sooner rather than later. But generally the entire process is pretty forgiving and easy.

For speedy, 3-4 month compost, watch the temperature, moisture, and accurate blend of “greens” (grass clippings, kitchen scraps, weeds) and “browns” (dead leaves, sawdust, chipped branches).

Believe it or not, a compost pile can heat up to 140oF or more, due to the decomposition process alone. Turn the pile when the temperature falls below 104oF. It’ll heat up again as the decay process picks up.

Rainfall should provide adequate moisture, but if necessary, water the pile to maintain moist, but not wet conditions.  This is more important if the pile is placed in sunlight where it tends to dry out more quickly.

Use equal amounts of greens and browns. The ideal size for a compost pile is a cubic yard (3-ft. X 3-ft. X 3-ft.), and it should be in a partly- to mostly-shady location. If the pile smells bad it is probably too moist, resulting in anaerobic conditions.

Provide drainage, allow it to dry out, and turn the pile to provide aeration. You can make a pile of sticks for a base for your compost pile. That will aid in drainage and aeration.

If you want to use wood clippings or sawdust, add a fertilizer rich in nitrogen, such as blood meal, to ensure adequate nutrients for the decomposing microorganisms. The low-maintenance compost pile can take as long as 6 months, but doesn’t require regular turning – although an occasional redistribution of materials helps – and relies on rainfall for moisture.

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