How to Green Up Your Landscaping

Green Mulch and Compost

A homemade compost bin
A homemade compost bin
Mark Douet/­Getty Images

­Mulch and compost are two key ingredients to a green landscape. Whether your landscape and garden areas will be healthy and fruitful depends on the quality of the soil more than any other factor. The best way to improve the quality of your soil is through the addition of organic matter. The best kind of organic matter on earth is compost -- organic matter that's been broken down with the help of microorganisms and oxygen.

What makes it super green is that the base ingredients are the waste products in your own home -- newspapers, coffee grounds, food waste like banana peels and discarded vegetable matter, leaves, grass clippings, wood chips, you name it. There are thousands of items you can add to your compost mix. These items, along with some soil, water and air will leave you with a rich mix of organic fertilizer you can add to your landscape.

Here are a few ways it'll green up your landscape, both literally and environmentally:

  • You're recycling organic matter that normally goes into your waste bin.
  • Compost insulates the soil and helps it to retain moisture, saving water.
  • It acts as a natural fertilizer, so you avoid purchasing chemical varieties.
  • It helps protect against pests and disease, so no more harmful pesticides are necessary.

Once you have your homemade or store bought compost mix, till 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 centimeters) of it into new planting beds or when you're trying to establish a new lawn. The easiest way is to use a lawn tiller, but that means gasoline and harmful emissions. The green way is to do it by hand with picks and shovels. The choice is yours. If you already have a lawn, add about a half inch (1.27 centimeters) of compost to your grass each spring or fall before it rains. Sandy soil will hold more water and prevent runoff. It also helps to loosen hard clay soils, again saving water.

­Once you have your soil mixed with rich compost and your plants are in the ground, you need to mulch the area. Mulch is an organic layer added to the top of the soil around plants -- a blanket that aids with insulation and moisture retention. The ideal mulch is made up of about half compost and half woody material like wood chips, sawdust, straw or grass clippings. It helps keep weeds away, which means less money and time spent on chemical weed killer, and the insulation it provides keeps your plants' root systems strong in the winter.

For flower beds and vegetable gardens, use a co­uple of inches of shredded leaves, compost and grass clippings for your mulch. Trees and shrubs can handle up to 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) of w­oody mulch like tree bark and wood chips. Never mound up the mulch. It should be spread evenly around the plants, no closer than 2 inches (5 centimeters) from the stem. You can even mulch your lawn by grasscycling. Instead of bagging your clippings, simply mow and leave them on the lawn. They decompose quickly and allow valuable nutrients to be released back into the soil. This feeds your grass and reduces the need for fertilizer.