Friday, April 28, 2006

Leave the lawn, hone the herbs

On The Greener Side by Dana Dugan


Dana Dugan

Spring has finally at long last and with much relief inched its way into our world. It weaves its feverish pull to the gardens, the lawns, containers and window boxes. Soon we'll be dallying in the dirt and pillaging the plant sales.

This season consider some easy changes that can help the pocket book and the overall pleasure of your landscaping.

While a thick lawn is many homeowner's pride, in this alpine desert region it's the bane of our existence. Despite the current state of flooding, by mid-summer, water may again be a scarce commodity.

Grass isn't a native plant, and frankly it looks a bit bizarre when a bright green lush lawn is just a fence away from the wilderness of sage, wildflowers and sandy soil.

However, many herbs make a great ground cover and once established need little care. They don't require the kind of watering that a grassy lawn does and some, like certain types of thyme, are highly fragrant and have showy masses of color.

Another bonus is their ability to suppress weeds since they grow in dense mats.

Select a variety appropriate to the area, and pay attention to the size requirements for each plant. A good organic compost, such as Whitehead Landscaping makes in Hailey, will help plants off to a good start.

For shady areas, try sweet violet, woodruff, ground ivy, vinca, wild strawberry and lungwort. For full sun, where the fragrant varieties work well, plant creeping thyme, chamomile, pennyroyal, wild white clover and yarrow, which stays nice and soft if mowed.

Paths also benefit from herbal planting. Walking down a fragrant path barefoot is a sublime sensation. My favorite path is one that goes nowhere in my garden, but separates two sides of my shade garden. I have Irish moss and thyme in between several large paving stones. Weeding in this garden is now a cinch on my knees and feet.

Even mat daisies (Anthemis cretica) does beautifully amongst pavers, although you may not want to actually walk on it when in bloom.

Before planting in an established area, turn over the soil and weed thoroughly. You'll need many plants to cover a largish area, so be sure to measure and plan carefully. Water thoroughly after planting. The area will need a season or two to fill in. Make sure to continue weeding in the meantime. Finally, mulch with an organic product after planting to discourage weeds. It's best to keep the mulch away from the base of the plants to discourage rot.

Mulches using wood or bark chips can tie up surface nitrogen and creates a nitrogen deficiency due to a carbon-to-nitrogen imbalance. Plants need that nitrogen. Instead, you can amend the soil with more nitrogen or use a good compost, which continues to replenish soil nutrients as well as encourage a healthy living soil. There is little, if any, need to use additional fertilizers when mulching periodically with compost.

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