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Our Environment Begins With Your Yard

What you do in and with your yard can end up outside your yard -- in your neighbor's yard, in the storm drain or stream, and eventually in the ocean. If you multiply what you do in your yard by the number of people on the block, in your town, or in your state, the yard starts to look like everybody's business. The environment really does begin with your yard!

A clean, well-maintained yard looks good. Those who pass by may comment on how beautiful your yard looks, how the neighborhood seems like a great place to live, and how the property values are enhanced by appearances. Those around you are proud to have you as neighbors. The plants in your yard and your neighbor's yard, in the woods down the street, in the public park next door, all give off oxygen to help us breathe. They keep the air fresh and clean. Also, plants help to cool the environment by providing shade. Ground covers and other plants hold your soil in place. The soil doesn't wash away, doesn't flow into your neighbor's yard, doesn't clog storm drains and streams, and doesn't carry along pesticides and nutrients that pollute the water. Your yard can be home to many birds, butterflies, and animals that are interesting to observe and can help control pests.

Learn About Your Soil

Not all soils are created equal. Soils have characteristics that make them different and affect their suitability for various uses. Knowledge of soil types and their features can help you solve current problems and avoid future ones.

  • Texture - Soil particles vary from coarse to fine, and are classified as sand, silt, or clay. The percentage in each soil determines its texture. Soil texture influences other soil properties such as how readily water moves through the soil and its ability to hold moisture for plant growth.
  • Slope - This is the inclination or steepness of the land's surface. Land disturbance that is planned with the slope of the land in mind can prevent erosion and reduce costs.
  • Depth to Water Table - How high the water table rises and how long it stays there will affect what can be done on the soil. A high water table soil can lead to wet basements, cause septic systems to fail, and restrict landscape plant selection.
  • Depth to Bedrock - The depth from the soil surface to bedrock influences a soil's potential uses by restricting or increasing the cost of construction.
  • Things You Can Do - Learn more about the potential for different uses on your property in a soil survey report. A soil survey is an inventory of the soils of a particular region. It includes soil maps showing the location of the dominant soils and the descriptions and interpretations of the soils.
Learn About Erosion and Sediment Control

Soil erosion is the process by which rainfall and moving surface water dislodge and carry soil particles, organic matter, and plant nutrients with them. Erosion around a home not only causes damage to your property and nearby roads, but also affects water quality in ponds, lakes, or streams. Muddy water flowing in your driveway, ditch, or onto the road following a rain indicates that erosion is occurring.

Sedimentation is the depositing of soil from muddy water. The eroded soil stops someplace as sediment- filling ditches, streams, lakes, and shipping channels at considerable cost to taxpayers. The best way to reduce sedimentation is to control erosion by using vegetative cover, or applying stone, straw, and fabric filters to trap soil particles. In larger flows, water is held in temporary storage basins until most of the soil settles out of the water. Here are some things you can do:

Keep the soil covered. Bare soil is the primary cause of erosion. Plant grass or other vegetation to protect the soil from the impact of raindrops and to hold the soil in place. Mulch bare areas with straw, grass clippings, stones, wood chips, and other protective cover. Vegetated and mulched areas increase soil infiltration, reducing erosive runoff water.

Control concentrated flow. Watch the flow of runoff water during storms. Areas of concentrated flow on slopes should be protected by keeping the channel in grass on gentle slopes and lining the channel with stones or pavement on steeper slopes. Building terraces across the slope will help to divert water away from slopes. Use splash blocks at gutter outlets.

Select plants that grow well in the local areas and are suitable for the climate conditions in your yard, such as shaded or sunny areas and wet or dry soil. Plant ground covers in shaded areas where grass is difficult to establish and maintain.

Learn How to Control Storm Water

You have a direct link from your property to nearby lakes and streams. The path of water running off sidewalks and driveways goes through street gutters and storm sewers into a nearby stream, lake, or wetland. The muddy water runoff joins with other runoff, and at times results in damaging floods further downstream.

By-products of our everyday life, such as motor oil, antifreeze, road salt, soil, pet waste, fertilizers, and pesticides can get into water and affect its quality. Keeping storm water runoff clean reduces the pollutants that enter the public water supply. Here are some things you can do:

  • Sweep fertilizer, soil, and lawn clippings off driveways and walks back onto the lawn.
  • Dispose of pet wastes by burying or flushing down the toilet.
  • Keep gutters and storm water inlets clear of trash, lawn clippings, and leaves.
  • Contact your municipality for proper disposal instructions for hazardous materials such as pesticides, auto fluids, and household cleaners.
  • Plant trees, shrubs, and groundcover to help rainwater soak into the ground.
  • Limit the amount of paved surfaces on your property. Instead, use porous pavements such as bricks, interlocking blocks, gravel, or porous asphalt. Building roofs, concrete, and blacktop have total runoff.
  • If concrete or blacktop are used, grade it so runoff flows to the lawn. Gravel filter strips and trenches may also be used along a driveway to increase infiltration, but will increase groundwater contamination if oil, salt, antifreeze, and other materials are left on the driveway.
Learn How to Care for Your Lawn
  • Maintaining a green lawn requires care and time. Concern for the environment has led many people to turn to more environmentally safe lawn care practices. Using organic fertilizers can help reduce the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium reaching local streams. Organic fertilizers contain the same basic plant nutrients as chemicals, but they take longer to dissolve and will stay in the soil longer. Here are some things you can do:
  • Test the soil for alkalinity or acidity (pH). Lawns like a balanced pH for growth. Lime the lawn if it is too acidic. One application lasts for several years.
  • Use environmentally safe and non-chemical ways to control pests. Only 1% of insects are bad for lawns and gardens; the rest are beneficial. Pesticides kill them all.
  • Use plants that need little fertilizer or pest control such as ferns.
  • Consider growing clover in the lawn. It is hardy, stands up to wear, and produces nitrogen needed by other lawn grasses. Clover, however, attracts bees.
  • Mow the lawn no shorter than 2" in height. Remember, root growth equals the height of the grass. Mowing close decreases root growth. Good maintenance is essential to a growing lawn.
  • Leave the clippings on the lawn (they are rich in nitrogen).
  • Water once a week, if needed. Grass requires about an inch of moisture a week. To check amount of application, leave a pail in the area covered by the sprinkler. Use drought tolerant grasses.
  • Fertilize in October or November to promote root growth and early spring growth. Do not fertilize in the summer or when the ground is frozen.
Learn to Control Insects with Plants

Some plants naturally repel insects. These plants have their own chemical defense systems. Planting them among desired flowers and vegetables help keep unwanted insects away. Following is a partial list of nature's alternatives to pesticides:

Pest Plant Repellant
Ants mint, tansy, pennyroyal
Aphids mint, garlic, chives, coriander, anise
Bean Leaf Beetle potato, onion, turnip
Codling Moth common oleander
Colorado Potato Bug green beans, coriander, nasturtium
Cucumber Beetle radish, tansy
Flea Beetle garlic, onion, mint
Imported Cabbage Worm mint, sage, rosemary, hyssop
Japanese Beetle garlic, larkspur, tansy, rue, geranium
Leaf Hopper geranium, petunia
Mexican Bean Beetle potato, onion, garlic, radish, petunia, marigold
Mice onion
Root Knot French marigolds Nematodes
Slugs prostrate rosemary, wormwood
Spider Mites onion, garlic, cloves, chives
Squash Bug radish, marigolds, tansy, nasturtium
Squash Vine Borer cloves, onion, garlic
Stink Bug radish
Thrips marigolds
Tomato Hornworm marigold, sage, borage
Whitefly marigold, nasturtium
Learn to Help Wildlife, and They Will Help You in Return

Songbirds and other wildlife add much to the joy of urban, suburban, and country living. Birds help reduce the insects that attack your flowers, gardens, lawns, and shrubs.

Shrubs, trees, vines, and other plants offer a natural way to attract birds and wildlife to your home site.

Wildlife likes diversity. Edges, the borders between open grass, trees, and shrubs, are the favorite habitat for wildlife. Flowering shrubs, grasses, and other plants provide berries and seeds for the birds. Taller and dense growth offers protection to birds and small animals against predators. Plant a rich intermingling of species, size, and shapes of plants.

Develop a plan for your yard. Wildlife need three things: food, water, and shelter. Along with your personal ideas, consider soil, slope, drainage, exposure, and climate. Added benefits occur where plantings provide beauty, shade, soil stabilization, and runoff control.

Flowering shrubs that attract birds and wildlife include:

  • American Cranberry Bush
  • American Holly
  • Arrowwood
  • Red-Osier Dogwood
  • Maple Leaf Viburnum
  • Shadbush
  • Hawthorn
  • Highbush
  • Blueberry
  • Winterberry
Learn About Gardening

Gardens enhance the environment and the quality of your life by providing beauty, fresh vegetables, and recreation. By following safe environmental practices, you can grow fresh, healthy food while satisfying yourself with a rewarding summer hobby. Here are some things you can do:

  • Plant your garden where the soil is deep and well-drained, sunny, and level.
  • Conserve water and reduce soil erosion by planting rows on the contour (across the slope).
  • Plant 3-5 rows of vegetables close together to reduce wasted space and weeds. Consider raised beds when using this method.
  • Conserve water. Over-watering washes away soil, nutrients, and pesticides. Remember, too much water will seep into groundwater or flow into other water supplies.
  • Water late in the day or early in the morning to reduce evaporation. Watering in the hot sun stresses plants.
  • Add mulch around plants to conserve moisture, control weeds, and increase organic matter. Mulch can be straw, compost, news-papers with soybean-oil inks, or grass clippings (if they are free of pesticides and herbicides).
  • Use plants that naturally repel insects from vegetables and flowers. Some of the more common plants of this type are marigolds, garlic, onion, nasturtium, geranium, turnips, and tansy.
  • Avoid overuse of fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Consider using a drip irrigation system for landscaping, vegetable gardens, and fruit trees. Drip irrigation uses significantly less water than conventional sprinkler irrigation methods.
Things You Can Do on Larger Lots
  • Plant food plots. Setup a strip planting of popular bird and wildlife foods such as corn, buckwheat, and sunflower.
  • Make cutback borders along woodlands. Cut your fireplace wood along the edges of the woods. Cut trees over four inches in diameter in a strip 20feet deep along the woods edge. The area will soon be filled with shrubs, vines, and wildflowers.
  • Establish open and grass areas. Wildlife likes a variety of cover. Mow once or twice per year, but don't mow during the nesting period for ground animals (after mid-July).
  • Plant a living fence or screen. Hedgerows increase wildlife numbers and serve as windbreaks for your home or increase your privacy.
  • Protect stream corridors. A vegetated buffer along streams and rivers decreases bank erosion, keeps water temperatures cooler, traps and removes sediment and nutrients, and provides food and cover for wildlife.
Things You Can Do on Small Lots, Patios, and Balconies
  • Use small areas to provide needed food, water, and shelter for a variety of birds and animals.
  • Provide water in a birdbath. Frequently refill and clean.
  • Use a bird feeder during winter and early spring when food is scarce. Corn, sunflowers, and other grains also attract rabbits, squirrels, and other small wildlife.
  • Plant small shrubs and trees near buildings. They are good shelter for birds and wildlife.
For More Information

Contact your local NRCS Service Center.