Green Gardening

Boy in vegetable garden.Composting

Composting is a great way to reduce the amount of organic kitchen, garden and yard waste from your household, and it helps create a rich soil amendment you can use in your garden. Save yourself time bagging leaves and simply add them to your compost bin. Learn more about composting or how to buy a composting bin from us.

Native Plants

Native plants don’t require as much watering or maintenance as nonnative plants. They also provide food and habitat for local wildlife such as beneficial pollinators (bees, butterflies and many more insects) and birds. Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Landscaping – Chesapeake Bay Watershed from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in an excellent guidebook if you wish to augment your yard with native plants.  The Plant Nova Natives web site has great information about natives plants for Northern Virginia.  You can also learn more about invasive plants from the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Eco-Friendly Lawn Care

Many of us want a lush, emerald green lawn, but it doesn’t always turn out that way. The quality of our lawn is influenced by many factors including the type of grass grown, soil, soil pH, nutrient levels and rainfall. Some varieties of grasses are better suited for our climate than others. Different grass types require care at different times of the year.

Lawn care also has an environmental impact. Fertilizers and chemicals applied to our lawns often find their way into Four Mile Run and other local streams. The practices below will help lessen your impact on our local waterways.

  • New lawn? Choose your grass wisely. Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue and zoysiagrass are among the recommended species for northern Virginia. The Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) selecting turf grass website provides Virginia-specific grass recommendations.
  • Mow high. Adjust your mower’s blade height to the highest setting. Higher grass allows for thicker grass with deeper roots that are better able to absorb fertilizer and water. Thicker, higher grass also discourages weeds.
  • Grasscycle. As you mow, leave the grass clippings on your lawn. The clippings must be small enough to filter through the turf grass and down into the soil region. Grass clippings are free sources of nitrogen and phosphorus (components of fertilizer) for your lawn. Never leave clippings in the road or on a hard surface like a sidewalk where they can blow or be washed into a storm drain.
  • Dead leaves can be a fertilizer. Mulch your leaves by mowing over them in the fall. You may need to pass over the leaves with the mower more than once to cut the leaf parts small enough. Like grass, leaves contain phosphorus and nitrogen and are free fertilizer for your lawn. If mowing your leaves isn’t an option, bag them or rake them to the curb the day before leaf collection.
  • Test your soil before adding fertilizer. Your soil’s pH, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium levels have a strong influence on the health of your lawn and should be checked every two to three years. To learn what amendments your lawn needs, you can pick up a soil test kit from the VCE or from any of the plant clinics at Arlington Central Library and farmer’s markets. The soil analysis test will be conducted at Virginia Tech, costs $10 and the results are emailed to you. For more information on soil testing and gardening, as well as assistance in interpreting your test results, call the VCE Help Desk at 703-228-6414.
  • Fertilize in the fall for fescue, bluegrass and ryegrass. It’s a misconception that lawns require spring fertilizer applications. Fertilizer should only be applied in response to soil test results and should be specific to the species of grass.