IN WINTER, MANY HOMEOWNERS DREAM BIG. There's nothing like cold to bring out plans for ambitious projects, landscaping and otherwise.
I was reminded of this when I ran across a brochure I wrote several years ago for the Thurston County (Washington) Native Plant Salvage Project with a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 10. Titled "A 'Don't Do' List for Land Stewards," the brochure explained that many of the activities landowners believe they "have to do" actually aren't necessary and may even be unsafe and/or bad for the environment. Plus they cost time and money!
Taken from that brochure, here's a list of ambitious projects that it probably would be best to try not think about this winter:
- Drastic changes of any type. Work with--don't try to change--natural features such as wet areas and slopes. Remember this natural landscaping rule: Don't fight the site!
- Installing a large (or any) lawn. Native plants are much easier to maintain, and friendlier to the environment.
- "Landscraping." Avoid any project that involves removing native vegetation or soils. If you absolutely must remove soil in order to build a structure, store plants and soil during construction and replace them later.
- Landscaping of any area that isn't used. Why saddle yourself with maintenance of an area you're not going to use?
- Paving. Hard, nonporous surfaces contribute to runoff, which in turn can contribute to pollution of waterways, to say nothing of drainage problems around your home. If you need a parking or other solid surface, consider using one of the modern surfacing materials that allow water to soak through the surface instead of running off.
- Removal of standing dead or dying trees, stumps, or fallen logs. Dead wood is very important habitat for birds and other wildlife, helps to provide the kind of environment in which native plants will thrive, and adds interest to your garden. Unless a snag (standing dead tree) presents a hazard, let it be.
- Removal of rocks and other yard "waste." Rocks and brushpiles are excellent wildlife habitat.
- Heavy pruning. Trees and shrubs generally make better wildlife habitat, and are more natural looking, if they are not pruned. Pruning during nesting season can cause birds to abandon their nests.
- Trying to be "perfect." Many of today's conventional ideas about what constitutes a "perfect" landscape have their origins in efforts to imitate the British upper classes of the pre-war era. Others can be traced back to more middle-class notions--but the notions in question are still British, and more than 100 years out of date. These approaches to land management are completely inappropriate to North America in the 21st century, and it's long past time for homeowners to start breaking away from them.