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Home > Lowe's for Pros > Organic Landscaping: A Growing Trend

Organic Landscaping: A Growing Trend

Colleen Tang

Property managers and building owners always have understood the importance of curb appeal. A property with well-maintained landscapes alone can help attract renters. But incorporating organic landscaping around your building can make your property even more marketable.

Figuring out how to incorporate organic plants into your existing property can be a challenge, but answering a few questions at the outset can streamline the process and help ensure success.

Laying the right foundation

Before you consider making any changes to the landscapes around your properties, it's critical to understand the type of area and environment you're working with, including soil conditions and climate. You should clearly identify the type of landscape you want, whether it's a functional space in which residents can spend time or a visual screen that provides privacy for your tenants.

For inexperienced property managers, hiring a company to do an assessment of your landscapes can help identify the type of area with which you are working. If you plan to do some of your own landscaping, start small by adding mulch to your landscaped area.

Mulching is very effective for an organic landscape, says Annelise M. Doolaege, a faculty member in the School of Environment with Olds College in Alberta. A layer of four to six inches of mulch, using materials such as wood chips, gravel, leaves or compost, helps retain moisture and reduce weeds, minimizing maintenance demand and the need for irrigation.

Adding compost is another important first step, Doolaege says. You can make compost tea from organic matter, such as leaves and grass clippings soaked in water, to provide plants with essential nutrients.

"Compost tea also has a quality that actually defends the plant from pests, so it adds to the efficacy-the pushing away of pest problems," Doolaege says.

Regardless of the materials you use in your landscapes, irrigation is critical. However, you can implement water-conservation methods to align with your environmentally conscious landscaping goals. For example, the use of rain barrels is a low-cost system that avoids having to tap into the municipal water system for irrigation. You also can capture stormwater by installing a vegetative roof. Lastly, a directed drip-irrigation system uses only the necessary amount of water when you irrigate your landscapes, eliminating waste.

Identify plant materials for your landscapes

Before choosing the types of plants and trees for your landscapes, determine which species are likely to survive in your planting zone. Property managers with organic landscapes often consider native plants because they're acclimated to specific climates and can resist pests more effectively, Doolaege says. But even non-natives can thrive in organic landscapes.

Doolaege suggests the following plant types for the areas around your properties:

Saskatoon. This shrub produces spring flowers and summer fruit, and their leaves change colors during the fall. The fruit attracts birds, which will forage the woody plants in the landscape and act as pest-control agents.

Blue Grama. These grasses also attract birds and have a strong structure that helps them withstand weather changes throughout the year.

Sheep Fescue. This shorter grass also will thrive in an organic landscape. The sheep fescue and Blue Grama are both low-maintenance and don't require much water once they're established.

Coneflowers and Joe Pye Weed. Both are hardy plants that attract butterflies and birds during the summer.

Hosta. This plant thrives in a shady, moist environment.

Including drought-tolerant plants in your landscapes is another option for drier climates. Lavender, Boxwoods and Yews are drought-tolerant and still provide aesthetic appeal, according to Michael Cowan, co-founder of Edibella Organic Landscapes Inc., a landscape services company in Victoria, B.C., and co-founder of The Society for Organic Urban Land Care.

"Typically, it takes three years for a plant to establish itself, and after that it's very drought tolerant," Cowan says. "Its roots aren't deep enough. Its root system is small."

Focus on maintenance

If you want organic landscapes around your properties, your landscape manager should have a system in place for the following:

  • checking for diseases or infections
  • pruning or fertilizing at the best times of the year
  • cutting grass with the mower set at a higher level, which helps keep the grass healthy and prevents weed growth.

One difference between maintaining an organic landscape versus an inorganic one is the type of products included in the maintenance program. For example, organic, vinegar-based solutions can cost more than synthetic pesticides, but they often last longer, Cowan says.

Creating a diverse landscape also is an important part of organic landscaping, so consider mixing the types of plants, shrubs and trees. For an organic landscape to thrive, make it as close to a natural habitat as possible, says Ken Fry, coordinator of environmental horticulture with the School of Environment at Olds College. This natural approach will bring in many different species of wildlife and insects that are essential to a functional organic landscape.

"It's your responsibility that the pests don't get out of hand and the weeds don't get out of hand," Fry says. "The more that they can transition the site so that it takes on its own responsibility, its own functions, the less weight on the property manager's shoulders."

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