'NEW GREEN'
is 'old news'
for Aggie horticulture


January 29, 2011

by Donna Roberts, Victoria County Master Gardener

edited by Charla Borchers Leon,
Victoria County Master Gardener
Gardeners' Dirt

VICTORIA COUNTY
MASTER GARDENER ASSOCIATION
PHOTOS BY DONNA ROBERTS/VICTORIA COUNTY MASTER GARDENER
LEFT:  Earth-Kind gardening techniques are in practice with this mulched bed that has drip irrigation hoses at the Master Gardener Victoria Educational Gardens at Victoria Regional Airport.
RIGHT: Belinda's Dream roses are designated both an Earth-Kind rose, as well as a Texas SuperStar plant with distinctive survival characteristics requiring low maintenance. It no doubt is a wise plant selection for conservation of resources in the Earth-Kind program.
Also at VEG are a rainwater harvesting system with two tanks to collect rainwater from the roof of the Officer's Club building as well as raised beds in the vegetable garden that help conserve water when watering plants.
One can go hardly a day without being bombarded with the new catchall phrase "going green." The last two to three years have especially seen a tremendous focus on "going green." Everything from hair products to dog food seems to have a "green" product available. Some of these products are most likely environmentally friendly while others are mostly hype to try and boost sales. The consumer must learn to wade through packaging and ingredient lists to know if the product is truly environmentally friendly.

GREEN BEFORE GREEN WAS COOL

While the "new green" mindset has come to the forefront recently, Texas AgriLife Extension Service implemented the Earth-Kind program in 1994 (it was "green before green was cool"). The Earth-Kind program was started to promote environmental awareness. The program combines the best organic and traditional gardening principles based on real-world effectiveness and environmental responsibility. Gardeners don't need to spend time with their own research to determine if they are being environmentally responsible if they follow the Earth-Kind guidelines in their landscape practices.

PRINCIPLES OF EARTH-KIND PROGRAM

Some of you who read our column regularly are probably familiar with the Earth-Kind term, but for those of you who aren't familiar with this practice, the principal goals of Earth-Kind include the following: water conservation; reduction of fertilizer and pesticide use; reduction of yard wastes entering urban landfills; and landscaping for energy conservation.

Water Conservation - Water conservation includes low volume irrigation, irrigation system auditing (making sure water is used wisely), mulching, rainwater harvesting and using raised beds. Many of our Gardeners' Dirt articles have been dedicated to these topics in the past. If you've missed any, just go to our Master Gardener website (www.vcmga.org), click on "Gardeners Dirt" and scroll through the list of more than 300 articles we've written in the past eight years.

Reduction of Fertilizer and Pesticide Use
- Reduction in and the safe handling of fertilizers and pesticides, whether organic or not, includes learning how to put beneficial insects to work in the garden, and balancing the benefits of plant fertilizers. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is one key approach that is recommended for making the landscape more stable and subject to less problems. It includes a thorough understanding of the entire landscape and focuses on tactics that will prevent or avoid anticipated pest problems, rather than addressing problems once they have occurred. If you must use pesticides, follow the guidelines strictly as stated on the packaging for use and storage. Reduction of fertilizer and pesticide use can also be achieved more easily by creating native habitats and using natural nutrients. By using native plants and using "natural" nutrient sources for landscape and garden plant materials, you will be reducing the potential contamination of surface and groundwater resources.

Less Yard Waste in Landfills
- Reduction of yard wastes entering landfills can be achieved primarily in the fall season as both temperatures and leaves start to drop. Instead of leaves, grass clippings, tree limbs, weeds, organic debris and other yard wastes ending up in landfills, use them either as mulch or start a compost pile, which will add nutrients and make your soil more workable.

Energy Conservation in Landscapes - Landscaping for energy conservation simply refers to wise plant selection and soil improvement to reduce home energy consumption and costs. Tools to help accomplish that include the Aggie Horticulture website, the Urban Landscape Guide, the Texas Superstar list, Earth-Kind Roses, as well as local Extension recommendations, all of which we've covered in one or more of our more than 300 Gardeners' Dirt articles.

The following Earth-Kind guidelines hopefully will help you in your landscaping endeavors:

1) Start with a plan - sketch your yard - you don't have to be an artist to produce a great plan.

2) Add organic matter to increase the soil's ability to absorb and store water and do a soil test.

3) Select plants, shrubs and ground covers that are time tested for your region's soil and climate.

4) Carefully select grass according to water use requirements and adaptability to your region.

5) Practice proper mowing and fertilizing - mowing height varies depending on the type of grass you choose, and following a soil test to estimate fertilizer recommendations helps produce healthy turf.

6) Consider irrigation systems - sprinkler or drip.

7) Use mulch wherever possible.

Scientific studies show that by using Earth-Kind gardening and landscaping techniques, you can protect our environment and enjoy success with your plants. Earth-Kind products and guidelines offer everyone the opportunity to be truly "green" without the hype.

For more detailed information about Earth-Kind guidelines, contact your local Extension agent.
BASIC PRINCIPLES OF EARTH-KIND LANDSCAPING
Plan and design
Do a soil analysis/test
Plan practical turf areas
Appropriately select plants
Utilize efficient irrigation
Use mulches
Follow appropriate maintenance

ARTICLES ON EARTH-KIND TECHNIQUES
Go to
vcmga.org
Click on "
Gardeners Dirt"
Choose from articles written over the past eight years.
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.