Improve quality of your environment with these changes in the New Year

It’ll be frozen and snowy out there for a while still, but I can’t resist offering a few “landscape resolutions” during this seasonal downtime. Perhaps, in them, you’ll find something you can do — or stop doing — to further a goal or two.

“What goals?” you might ask. Though some think of their yards as mostly visual, a deeper look finds opportunity to improve the quality of your environment, to deepen relationships, to grow food or find other enjoyment. In the following, I hope you will find an idea to explore that adds dimension to your 2018 landscape experience.

Got a condo or apartment and no landscape? Read on for ideas on how your business, volunteer work, community garden or homeowners association can make outdoor decisions that add value.

Choose plants that ‘give back’

Each landscape decision offers positive or negative potential. For about the same expense, you can choose a plant that gives back or doesn’t. The key to understanding this is to get beyond the visual.

Maybe you choose a groundcover for a shady or steep area, avoiding the exhausting battle to keep grass established where it may not be needed. Maybe you choose plants that offer food for songbirds or pollinators. Or perhaps you dodge huge loads of pollen by avoiding the once-popular “seedless” shade trees that tend to be wind-pollinated males.

Grow something edible

When my children were small, I would keep a few carrots in the garden so that their visiting friends could have the experience of pulling one up. It’s not only at the table that food can build relationships!

Not into gardening? Certain edibles make great landscape plants, like rhubarb, asparagus or Juneberry trees. Consider this as you choose plants.

Prune for good reason

One can now choose landscape plants for a maximum size, as well as shape, so pruning for size control and shape can be a thing of your past.

Consider how much time or expense you have tied up in size control, and you may be ready to make a change.

Plan routine care for trees

Our large trees provide important environmental services, such as stormwater capture, energy savings and clean air, but they also pose risks at close quarters. Case law shows that owners of large trees have a “duty of care” to manage their trees.

For most homeowners, this might mean getting trees inspected and serviced at intervals consistent with their risk tolerance. A certified arborist can make recommendations and handle the work. Remember to get more than one estimate, and to never have trees topped, which creates more risk.

No mulch volcanoes

Speaking of risk, if mulch is piled against a new tree’s trunk — and you can’t see the root flare at the base — the tree is at risk. Over time, feeder roots grow into the mulch, “strangling” the trunk. (And please note that mature trees don’t need mulch at all.)

Mulch offers many advantages when applied correctly, but it’s deadly when misapplied. If you are paying someone to mulch for you, make sure they know the difference.

Limit nitrogen on lawns

If you don’t know how many pounds of nitrogen a lawn under your care is getting, it’s time to find out. Excessive nitrogen sets up conditions for fungal disease, excessive mowing and fuel use, and — being water-soluble — flows into surface waters, threatening aquatic life.

“More is better” doesn’t apply to nitrogen. Three to four pounds per thousand square feet per year is considered a maximum for even a premium lawn.

Get out!

Aristotle said: “The best fertilizer for the field is the heel of the farmer.” There are many similar quotes about the gardener’s footprint or shadow, suggesting that getting out and having a look around has many advantages.

Don’t be a stranger to your yard, neighborhood, or public spaces. Make every decision count toward the best outcome.

For more information on any of these practices, just contact our office.

Kris Medic is Purdue Extension Bartholomew County’s educator for agriculture, natural resources and community development. She can be reached at 812-379-1665 or kmedic@purdue.edu.