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Landscaping with conservation in mind

Spring is the time that many people plant their landscapes for the coming year. This year, consider landscaping with conservation in mind. In this column, we will explore some of the topics presented in “Conservation Landscaping Guidelines: The Eight Essential Elements of Conservation Landscaping,” a resource published by the Chesapeake Conservation Landscaping Council.

When planning a landscape, choose a design that will benefit both you and the environment, “[A conservation landscape] seeks to preserve, enhance, and reduce impacts upon a site’s natural features. Landscape design is the initial investment that allows you to make the most of the site you have without expending resources to drastically alter the site” (Conservation Landscaping Guidelines). A site analysis is an important part of a landscape plan. Determining features such as soil types, sun exposure, and existing plant communities will contribute to the success of your landscape. For example, you may want to plant a flowering dogwood tree (Cornus florida) in your front yard, which receives the full afternoon sun. However, upon further research, you learn that the flowering dogwood prefers shady or partial sun conditions. Instead of trying to fit the dogwood into your front yard landscape, you decide to plant it in your backyard, which offers conditions betters suited for the dogwood to thrive. A site analysis will allow you to choose plants and trees that will flourish in your landscape without having to make major alterations to your site’s natural conditions.

Another element of conservation landscaping is providing habitat for wildlife, which need food, water, structure (layers of different plant heights), and cover to survive. In your landscape, you may want to attract pollinator species, such as butterflies and bees. However, there are specific plants that are better than others for providing food and shelter for pollinator species. Butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii) may sound like a great supporter of the butterfly population, but it does not provide the benefits that milkweed does. Butterfly bush is native to China and is not suited to support the wildlife species that are native to central Virginia. However, milkweed is native to central Virginia and provides a wonderful food source for the monarch butterfly. According to the United States Department of Agriculture National Resource Conservation Service Plant Guide, butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) “is a wonderful horticultural plant for landscaping to attract butterflies (particularly monarchs), whose numbers are declining and migratory routes changing due to lack of appropriate habitat.” Other native milkweeds that are good for pollinator species include common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). For more information, visit the searchable native plant database on the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Natural Heritage website: http://www.dcr. virginia.gov/natural-heritage/native-plants-finder.

Healthy soils are critical to a healthy landscape. An issue some gardeners face is soil compaction, which may have occurred from equipment traffic (such as with new construction) or foot traffic. To test compaction, poke a screwdriver into the soil. If you cannot achieve this easily, the soil is likely compacted and may need remediation. Choose the least intrusive method, such as adding leaf mulch and organic matter, which feeds the soil organisms that aerate and rejuvenate the soil over time. Tilling, if needed, may be done when the planting bed is established but should be avoided or very limited after that as it can damage soil structure and increase the loss of topsoil. Topsoil is the upper layer of soil that is rich in organic matter and nutrients necessary to support plant life. However, it takes 100-500 years (or more, in some climates) for an inch of topsoil to form, so we must maintain its integrity. Continuing to add organic matter, such as compost, builds up the topsoil and keeps it healthy.

For more information, contact the Piedmont Soil and Water Conservation District at (434) 392-3782 ext. 131, or download Conservation Landscaping Guidelines: The Eight Essential Elements of Conservation Landscaping at https://www.chesapeakelandscape.org/ resources/the-eight-essential-elements/.

Emily Gibbs is the Residential Conservation and Marketing Coordinator at Piedmont Soil & Water Conservation. You can contact her at (434) 392-3782 ext. 131 or visit www.piedmontswcd. org.