Good lawn and landscape maintenance practices take some of the work out of gardening, but getting your yard in shape and keeping it in shape is an all-year round job. Just ask Ed and Donna Black, whose yard was one of the first in Douglas County to be certified as a “Healthy Yard” by Kansas State University’s new Kansas Healthy Yards and Communities program.
The Blacks are longtime gardeners who recognize that all of their yard maintenance practices are tied together. They add compost to their flower beds each year, working the broken-down material into the soil to improve air and water movement around plant roots and maintain a 2- 3-inch layer of organic mulch around the plants to regulate soil moisture and temperature. Proper watering and fertilization help plants grow healthier and require less maintenance.
To acquire the designation as a “Healthy Yard,” the Blacks completed an assessment of yard maintenance practices, available at www.kansasgreenyards.org or from the Douglas County Extension Office, 2110 Harper St. The educational program and certification started in Douglas County last spring, and the materials have since been adapted for statewide use.
Even those who are not interested in a “Healthy Yard” designation can use the assessment and yard care strategies as good tips to make their yards easier to care for later.
The Blacks’ healthy yard has taken some work to get to its present state.
“Not everything in our yard has been a success story,” Donna says, as she refers to drainage problems and poor plant selections she and Ed faced when they moved into their home seven years ago. The first time the Blacks mulched the back flowerbeds, rain washed the shredded wood into the neighbor’s yard, and a dogwood on the north side of their home died within a few years.
The drainage problems have since been alleviated, and other less-hardy plant selections have been replaced with varieties that are well-adapted to Kansas temperatures.
At one point, after struggling with compacted clay soil, the Blacks even roto-tilled and re-planted the entire front lawn to give their grass a fighting chance. They continue to core-aerate both the front and back lawns each fall, and they mow their fescue turf high to encourage maximum root growth. The lawn is important because it reduces erosion and stormwater runoff and gives the Blacks’ grandson a place to play.
The Healthy Yard Assessment also provides tips to manage yard pests and attract songbirds and butterflies. In the Blacks’ yard, butterfly bushes, purple coneflower, milkweed, Joe Pye weed and dill grace the back fence and provide both nectar and larval food for butterflies. The tight branch structure of a nearby Cleveland Select Pear provides an ideal nesting site for some birds.
“We really enjoy watching the yellow finches at the bird feeder,” Donna says. “We finally have time to enjoy these things.”
But a gardener’s work is never done. There is more compost to work in to the flower beds, and later this spring, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers will be added amongst the daylilies and sweetspire. There will be a bit of weeding and watering, and maybe a pest or two, but the healthy, adapted plants are ready for it.
The work the Blacks have done already in their yard should allow them plenty of time to enjoy the birds, butterflies, giant hibiscus flowers and the shade of their ivy- covered patio.
— Jennifer Smith is the Horticulture Agent for K-State Research and Extension- Douglas County. Contact her or an Extension Master Gardener with your gardening questions at 843-7058 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.