Everyone has their own idea of what a healthy, sustainable landscape is. I really want my yard to be smart … an Alabama Smart Yard. What exactly is an Alabama Smart Yard? It’s an environmentally sustainable landscape. And no Smart Yard is the same. Everyone’s backyard is different, so plant choices will be different and use of the backyard will be different.
For example, one backyard may be designed for watchable wildlife: squirrels, birds, even deer. These backyards may have nut trees, persimmons, hollies or a lot of nectar plants to entice the butterflies and pollinators. The same backyard could be designed for entertaining: roses, azaleas, gardenias for scent, flowering vines climbing a wall, the perfect outdoor table and maybe even an outdoor kitchen. Again, this same backyard could be landscaped with kids playing kickball in mind. A large lawn with a couple of shade trees on the border. Whatever your preference, creating a landscape that is smart is a good idea.
Your backyard is part of a larger landscape. As stewards of the community, our part starts in our own backyard. These are a couple of resolutions that I have made to make my own backyard a little smarter. Before I start planting trees and shrubs anywhere at my home, I will analyze my entire site.
If you look at what you are wanting to landscape and really study it, you will start to see different zones in your yard. You will notice that some areas stay wetter than others. You may notice areas that are always dry even after a rain, especially when they are on a slope. Plant accordingly.
Plants that tolerate more water will thrive better in the wetter soils. Choose drought tolerant plants in the dry areas. Sounds like common sense, right? You may be surprised when you are having trouble with plants in your landscape and the problem comes down to wet or dry soils. Watch for sun and shady areas. Mimic nature. Rarely do you see a dogwood naturally growing in full sun. In nature, you see dogwoods thriving as understory trees, under the canopy of pines.
You’ve heard it before: right plant, right place. The object of an environmentally sound landscape is to minimize inputs that may affect the environment. For example, putting your landscape on a spray schedule, to me, is the opposite of a Smart Yard. Selecting plants that grow well and are not subject to a lot of insect and disease problems would be my first choice.
There are so many native plants that are beautiful landscape plants. Native plants are an obvious choice because they are adapted to our climate. Native plants usually require less water and are able to survive Alabama’s hot drought conditions. Notice I said usually. Just like all other plants, native plants also fall under the right plant for the right place motto. Native plants in the landscape have less insects and diseases, meaning less pesticide use. Natives require less pruning and fertilizer and native pollinators love them.
I have a lot of favorite natives, but just to name a few: sweetspire, Itea virginica, a semi-evergreen with beautiful white flower spikes in early summer. I can’t say enough about this plant. Muly grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris, is a must; it’s a wonderful clumping grass with tall, wispy, purple flowers in the fall. Another great native plant to consider is a southern waxmyrtle Myrica cerifera. I love the smell of the foliage and think it is a great evergreen shrub. I would love to mention more, but the list would go on and on.
You can access the Alabama Smart Yards publication online or order one; they make nice gifts: http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-1359/ANR-1359.pdf
Danielle Carroll is an extension agent for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.