SIMPLE tips on helping your garden "go green" - or just making it easier and cheaper to maintain!


Felder’s Quick List of “Green/Lazy/Cheapskate” Garden Tips

         You don’t have to feel like a cult member, or even be a very liberal person, to see how these tips can save you time, money, and effort in the garden, while actually helping your garden look and work better.

In fact, they could be seen as being lazy or cheapskate approaches. As a bonus, they happen to help you and your family, the environment in your neighborhood, the country, and the world – all at the same time.

            As Steve Bender, senior garden editor for Southern Living Magazine, says, “You may not be able to save the whole world, but by slighting modifying the way you garden, you can change your own backyard. And that’s a start.”

Here is a list of simple things you can do, with a few details below:

- Plant drought tolerant, pest-resistant, native and adapted non-native plants

- Plant more trees in groups, shrubs in masses, and groundcovers

- Plant vines on an arbor over the patio or deck, and on west-facing walls

- Use natural slow-release fertilizers to feed the soil as well as your plants

- Mulch to conserve water and help control weeds

- Control weeds without pesticides

- Eliminate insect pests the natural way – no chemical pesticides

- Add plants that attract butterflies and bees - and keep a bee hive or put up a bat house

- Grow your own plants from cuttings, seeds, or division

- Redesign the lawn to be more sensible

- Reuse or recycle materials everywhere you can

- Lose the leaf blower - and the leaf shredder

- Grow your own vegetables, fruits, and culinary herbs

- Make Compost

- Collect and use rain water

- Create a "rain garden" sump

- Install low-voltage night lighting

- Put the water garden pump on a timer

- Install a small solar energy system

- Put up and occasionally use a clothesline (talk about a solar energy system!)

- Create a “green roof”  


Plant drought tolerant, pest-resistant, native and adapted non-native plants

            This is a no-brainer, using plants that not only look great and have positive landscape functions, but also are well-adapted to our soils, weather, and pest pressures. They can grow for decades with little or no care – for proof, just look at the fabulous variety found in older neighborhoods, country gardens, and even cemeteries (plants so tough even DEAD people can grow them).


Plant more trees in groups, shrubs in masses, and groundcovers

            These are the “climax species” of our countryside, and require less maintenance while cleaning the air of dust and pumping out clean oxygen. Groups are easier to maintain than individual plants – especially if the plants are connected in large mulched or groundcover beds.


Plant vines on an arbor over the patio or deck, and on west-facing walls

            Deciduous vines let warm winter sun in, but provide cool shade in the hot summer. And they completely block heat gain on exposed walls and paving.

Use natural slow-release fertilizers to feed the soil as well as your plants

            Locally-produced natural fertilizers (cotton seed meal, fish emulsion, bone meal, etc.) are less expensive, longer lasting, and gentler on your plants. Plus they “feed” the soil and worms, which in turn create better growing conditions for your plants.

Mulch to conserve water and help control weeds

            Covering the soil surface with a blanket of leaves, bark, or other natural material keeps soil and roots cool in the hot summer while insulating against dramatic temperature swings in winter. They also reduce weed seed sprouting, and as they break down they replenish the ever- disappearing organic matter in the soil. Plus mulches look good, and can be used to connect the bases of trees and shrubs, reducing the amount of mowing needed.


Control weeds without pesticides

            I have no problem with the occasional and thoughtful use of selected herbicides, but pulling and cutting is often just as easy, and usually more effective - especially if you keep at it, a little at a time. Mulching helps a lot, too.

Eliminate insect pests the natural way – no chemical pesticides

            Again, no problem with the judicial use of chemicals, but a garden filled with well-adapted, pest-resistant plants set in mixed groups, simply does not need as much attention to pest control. There are disease-free roses and insect-proof herbs that look good without needing pesticides. Plus, you will have more beneficial insects to clean up the few pests that do show up.

Felder's Size 8 Natural Pest Control...


Add plants that attract butterflies and bees

            Butterflies are a sign of a healthy garden. So are bees, which NEED sources of pollen and nectar, especially in highly-developed urban areas. Just don’t put bee plants near the path or doorway.



And you can do more good than your realize by keeping bees in a hive


      On a related note, consider putting up a bat house. Creepy, but more effective against night insects than a noisy, stinky bug zapper.

Redesign the lawn to be more sensible

Count up how many hours you spend every summer mowing and edging the lawn, then imagine wishing you had that time back at the end of your life.

I am not saying do away with the lawn entirely, just redesign it with these tips in mind:

Other ways to reduce your lawn chores include:

Reuse or recycle materials everywhere you can

Whether you reuse pots, make a bench out of an old wooden door, or make a walkway out of broken concrete, there are TONS of opportunities to recycle stuff in the garden. Too many to mention right here, but a quick list could include making planters from tires, line your flower beds with bottles stuck neck-down, make a sturdy retaining wall from stacked tires painted to look like dirt and filled with soil and planted with nandina, make a birdhouse out of old fence planks and a license plate, create a wall sculpture from rusted garden tools, or plant flowers in a broken wheel barrow... got any ideas of your own to share?





Lose the leaf blower - and the leaf shredder

A gas-powered leaf blower can emit as much pollution in a year as 80 cars. Not to mention all the dust, pollen, mold, and other allergens that are thrown up into the air – and up your nose. And the noise generated by a blower fan, pushing winds up to 200 miles-per-hour, can deafen you; many communities have either restricted blowers to those with noise levels below 70 decibels, or banned them outright.

The initial expense of a blower, plus fuel costs, adds up quickly. Yet a good rake, which can last for years, costs under twenty bucks. And think about this: Walking a leaf blower around the yard expends about 140 calories an hour; using a leaf rake burns off about 325 calories.

Ditto for power leaf shredders. If you have a big yard, you can find or make space for a leaf pile. If you don't have room for a leaf pile, how can you justify the expense and storage space a noisy leaf shredder will take, to be used just a couple or three times ayear? Think about it.


Grow your own plants from cuttings, division, or seed you saved yourself

Heirloom plants are easy to grow, share, and keep alive by rooting cuttings, saving and sowing your own seed, and dividing mature plants into smaller clumps. And they don't care who you share them with - we ALL love plants!



Grow your own vegetables, fruits, and culinary herbs

Not everyone wants an old-fashioned vegetable garden with long, skinny rows. But anyone can put a few attractive vegetable plants in with regular flowers – in small spaces, raised beds, or containers, without a power tiller. Peppers, bush-type tomatoes, lettuces, eggplants, kale, even okra are good-looking as ornamental plants, and they are good to eat. Container-grown veggies can be easy for folks with limited space, but a larger, raised-bed “kitchen” garden can be downright beautiful, year round. Again, without a power tiller.





Outstanding herbs that double as pretty plants include rosemary, oregano, chives, garlic chives, Mexican tarragon (also called Mexican mint marigold), mints, garlic, sage, and bay laurel; are all hardy perennials that require only good drainage and at least half a day of direct sunshine; basil and hot peppers are fantastic summer annuals that come in many shapes, colors, and intensities; parsley is a very arractive winter annual.




Fruit plants that double as regular “yard” plants without a lot of special care include figs (Celeste is the best for us), blueberries, pomegranate, native plums, some apples and pears (“fire blight” resistant varieties only), Oriental persimmons, muscadine grapes (with annual pruning), pawpaw, tree quince, elderberry, mulberry, and potted citrus (kumquats, satsumas, lemons are easiest in pots). There are others, of course, but many require special pruning and/or regular pesticide applications; peaches, pecans, mayhaw, blackberries, and raspberries are notorious for bugs and diseases.



Make Compost

Or at least set aside room for a leaf pile. Include shredded cardboard, kitchen scraps, and other degradable ingredients. It doesn’t have to look fancy, unless you want it to. No need to be a fast composter, either - it ain't a race! In fact, there are only two rules for good composting: Stop throwing all that stuff away, and pile it up somewhere. The rest is pure finesse.

By the way, you can also “vermicompost” – shred your newspapers, and chop up non-meat/fatty kitchen scraps, plus eggshells and coffee grounds, and put them in a large sweater box full of “red wriggler” worms, for the finest compost on earth. Don’t worry - it only smells like wet paper.


Collect and use rain water

            A rain barrel is as easy as can be. Make one out of a large trashcan with a faucet and rubber gaskets. Cut a hole in the top to put your downspout into, and cover the hole with hardware cloth to keep out leaves and mosquitoes.


Create a "rain garden" sump

            Where there is a low area in your landscape, make it more deliberate and create a way for rainwater to get to it, where it can slowly percolate into the ground instead of running off into the storm sewer. Around the area, plant Louisiana iris, ornamental grasses, cannas, and other “bog” plants that tolerate occasional wet feet.

Install low-voltage night lighting

            Low voltage night lighting uses a fraction of the energy, but is just as bright, as more dangerous electric lights, and can be put together easily using components from garden stores (low voltage transformer with a timer, a length of special top-of-the-ground wire, and clip-on lights). Solar powered night lighting is acceptable but nowhere near as bright as low-voltage lighting, and does not charge very well during our long periods of low light in the winter.

Put the water garden pump on a timer

            No need to run it all night.


Install a small solar energy system

            This can be used to charge batteries to run the night lighting and even the water garden pump. Maybe enough left over to run a small fan – or even your laptop.

Put up and occasionally use a clothesline (talk about a solar energy system!)

            Some neighbors will think it’s tacky, but you can hold your head high knowing that no carbon was used to dry your clothes, they smell better, and you aren’t throwing your clothes away in the lint filter. Note: According to federal law, and upheld by the courts, no neighborhood or community can enforce covenants against “energy conservation devices” – including clotheslines and solar collectors.


Create a “green roof”

Any flat or nearly-flat area, including the roof of your garden shed, arbor, doghouse, or even unused portions of the patio or deck, can be covered with plastic or pond liner, and planted in low-maintenance, drought-hardy plants. There are tons of ideas online, or you can get inspiration from the following photos of the architect-designed green roof entry arbor at the entrance to my garden (see below):

Easy plants for these areas in our part of the country include liriope, cascading herbs, ornamental sweet potato, ornamental grasses, sedums and succulents, and hardy winter bulbs.

Felder's Green Roof Entry Arbor

(For details on this green roof arbor, go to my main page and click on the Green Roof Entry Arbor link)


Got more suggestions? E-mail me!