Layer your land­scape to make it eas­ier to main­tain

The News Tribune - - Sound Life - BY MAR­I­ANNE BINETTI Con­tribut­ing writer

The third week of Jan­uary is the start of the gar­den-show sea­son, and this year the Ta­coma Home and Gar­den Show runs Jan. 24-27. You can meet home-im­prove­ment ex­perts, talk to builders, land­scap­ers and trades­peo­ple in their booths or just en­joy shop­ping the vin­tage mar­ket­place and lo­cal crafts­peo­ple in­side the cli­mate-con­trolled Ta­coma Dome.

The show is also the kick­off for the new gar­den sea­son, and I’ll be shar­ing ideas on the main stage for how to man­age any land­scape us­ing a tech­nique called “Lay­er­ing the Land­scape.”

Lay­er­ing the land­scape is a greener way to gar­den with less main­te­nance, less wa­ter and fewer chem­i­cals.

The easy idea for this new type of land­scape de­sign is sim­ply to plant in lay­ers of tall, medium and low grow­ing plants, be­ing par­tic­u­lar about the plant ma­te­rial. Keep in mind these lazy gar­den­ing prin­ci­ples and you’re on your way to a lower main­te­nance land­scape.

Low grow­ers crowd out weeds with the ben­e­fit of less her­bi­cide use and more plant ma­te­rial for birds, bees and other pol­li­na­tors.

A bit of a rant here: The birds and the bees are not pleased with all the neat and tidy and very ster­ile land­scapes of­ten found around com­mer­cial build­ings (in­clud­ing some schools) that show­case tightly pruned shrubs and a few trees sur­rounded by blan­kets of beauty bark.

All this open ground space means weed seeds (think dan­de­lions) can blow in, take root in the open space and mul­ti­ply. The next thing that hap­pens is an un­cared for look as ev­ery- When:


Mar­i­anne Binetti’s pre­sen­ta­tions: one knows a dan­de­lion is a weed. So out come the her­bi­cides to spray on all the weeds. Mother Na­ture does not ap­prove. The earth in our cli­mate is sup­posed to be cov­ered with plant ma­te­rial – just as it was be­fore we felled the forests. (Plus some plants that we think of as weeds pro­vide food for birds and blooms for bees.)

The so­lu­tion: Fill in the low­est level of your land­scape with ground­cov­er­ing plants that will smother most weeds plus pro­vide nec­tar, pro­tec­tion and nutri­tion for wildlife. The key is to match the right plant to the right place with shade-tol­er­ant ground­cov­ers such as lami­ums on the north side of build­ings and drought re­sis­tant low grow­ers like the na­tive kin­nikin­nick or bear­berry in sunny spots.

Kin­nikin­nick bear­berry is an Arc­tostaphy­los plant that is na­tive to our area and, de­spite the com­mon name, will not at­tract bears to your gar­den ...un­less you hap­pen to live in the foothills of the Cas­cades.

The right plant for the lower layer of your land­scape may be dif­fer­ent for each lo­ca­tion, and this is what Mother Na­ture prefers – avoid­ing mono­cul­ture or an area cov­ered with just one type of plant. Mix­ing ground­cov­ers of dif­fer­ent types gives a land­scape more of ta­pes­try look rather than the uni­form ap­pear­ance of ar­ti­fi­cial turf or the weed­pocked mess of shrubs sur­rounded with open soil wait­ing to col­lect weed seeds.

The Re­al­ity: Adding a lower level of plant ma­te­rial that cov­ers your soil will not re­sult in a “main­te­nance free” land­scape, as over time ground­cov­ers will need to be trimmed back and new plants will need to be wa­tered the first sum­mer. The end re­sult will be an area that re­quires only oc­ca­sional hand weed­ing to stop any re­ally per­sis­tent or very tall weeds. The other re­al­ity is that weeds may pop up in your lower level of plant­ing but they won’t’ be as no­tice­able nor will they be able stage a hos­tile takeover of the area. A healthy ground­cover can smother any sun lov­ing weed.

The ground­cover plants shade the soil, so you’ll use less wa­ter as well as less her­bi­cide.

The Beau­ti­ful Bonus: The ground be­neath your trees and shrubs will bloom, form berries, dis­play flashy fo­liage and be­come a habi­tat for birds, bees, sala­man­ders and tiny green frogs de­pend­ing on what low grow­ing plants you add to the mix. More plants are bet­ter than bare ground.

Next week: Not every­one can make it to the Ta­coma Home and Gar­den Show to learn more about “The Lay­ered Land­scape,” but next week in this col­umn I will write about adding the up­per and mid­dle layer to the land­scape.

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