These resources will help you understand how to keep your abundant landscape thriving.
Good Neighbor Garden Designs
Landscape designs that integrate beauty, food, habitat, education and community.
Ecological garden designs that address specific curriculum and educational goals.
Edible Agroforestry Design Templates
Design templates of edible agroforestry practices to aid growers with the design, implementation, and management of environmentally-beneficial ecosystems that support personal income and community needs.
Edible Landscaping Plans
Design examples showing small patches of self-supporting edibles.
Our Favorite Books
These helpful books help to inform and inspire all the work we do, and they will inspire you too. Learn about anything from veggie gardening basics to creating an edible forest or a rain garden.
Tips, Techniques, Time-Savers
For Iowans, conventionally grown food travels an average of 1500 miles to reach our tables. These miles consume massive amounts of fossil fuels, polluting our air and water. The space required to grow the food also reduces habitat for wildlife and can decrease important buffer areas between crop fields and streams. Growing your own food virtually eliminates these downsides and can replace an area of turfgrass with a reduced grocery bill. Growing different vegetables can also be an endless source of experimentation and can give you an in-depth understanding of how our ecological systems work.
Vegetables require a lot of sun so find an area of your yard that receives sun most of the day. If you have little experience growing vegetables, begin with plants that are easy to grow: beets, beans, squash and tomatoes. Purchase plants from the Farmer's Market or local nurseries and plant only large seeds (in general, bigger seeds mean easier plants).
Collect and Use Rain Water
It takes a significant amount of energy to deliver water to your faucet for outdoor watering needs. Energy is used to pull the water from the Iowa River or an underground aquifer, clean that water with filters and chemicals (products made using energy), and then pump it to a holding area. This energy is often generated from non-renewable resources which deteriorates your environment. Collected rain water that falls on your yard can be used to supplement or replace water provided by the city.
Rain water can be collected in a variety of ways. Leaving buckets, tubs, and a wheel barrow in the yard during a rain shower is simple and easy. Rain barrels that collect water from your roof are available at most farm stores. Redirecting water from your roof into a small pond not only provides for your watering needs, but it also strengthens beneficial wildlife and insects by giving them a readily available water source.
Diversify Your Lawn
Maintenance of conventional turfgrass often consumes significant amounts of your energy and the energy expended in creating fertilizers, pesticides, maintenance equipment and irrigation. This energy is often generated from non-renewable resources which deteriorates your environment.
Interplanting appropriate varieties of low-maintenance grass or other plants in your lawn reduces your yard’s drain on natural resources. Your yard’s year-round beauty can also be increased as some interplantings will remain vibrant and green when high-maintenance turfgrass has browned due to drought or seasonal changes.
Choose turfgrass and plant varieties based upon its sunlight needs and tolerance to foot traffic.
Late summer (mid-August through mid-September) is the best time to seed grass in the Midwest, but it can also be sown in April through mid-May.
Low-maintenance turfgrass varieties:
Manhattan II ryegrass
Dawson red fescue
These plants coexist nicely with turfgrass and are a good food source for pollinators and other insects. Clover is especially beneficial since it supplies nitrogen to turfgrass and other nearby plants, which reduces the need for supplemental fertilizer. Seed them in bare patches according to recommended seeding times.
Dutch white clover
Wild English daisies
Use Corn Gluten as a Preemergent Herbicide
Corn gluten is a safe preemergent weed control that also provides nitrogen to plants. It is a good alternative to chemical herbicides and fertilizers. It can help control the seed germination of crabgrass, barnyard grass, foxtails, dandelion, lambsquarter, pigweed, purslane, smartweed, and several other weeds.
Apply corn gluten to your lawn between March 22 and April 15. It can also be used to suppress the germination of weed seeds in your garden, but be sure your vegetable seeds have already germinated before application.
Synthetic herbicides are poisonous. While they are manufactured to kill weeds, they can pose a significant risk to your groundwater, plants and wildlife in your yard, your pets and your family.
If you must apply herbicides, careful and limited use dramatically reduces this risk. Rather than applying a herbicide to your entire lawn, spot-treat emerging weeds when they are young.
Many safe cultural and biological controls are available to help suppress weeds. Keeping your lawn healthy by mowing at or above 3 inches will help crowd out weeds. Corn gluten is a proven preemergent and can be safely applied to your entire lawn.
Replace Lawn Areas According to Use
Turfgrass provides recreational areas that other plants cannot match. Areas of your yard that are not used for recreation, however, could be replaced with alternatives that are better suited for its specific use. Tailoring your yard to match your specific needs will make it feel more welcoming and pleasant.
Carefully examine your yard and identify which areas are strictly used for recreation and which areas have the potential to provide more benefits to you and wildlife. Possible replacements:
Relaxation area with seating and a hammock
Children's natural playscape
Edible forest garden of fruit trees and berry bushes
Native grove of small shrubs and trees
Healing or meditation garden
Ornamental or prairie grasses
Flower or vegetable garden
Most alternatives to turfgrass are vastly superior in their ability to provide resources for yourself and your environment.
Make and Use Compost
Over half of all material put in many landfills are organic and can be composted. Hauling these materials to the landfill uses non-renewable fossil fuels which depletes your environment. Composting your organic materials not only reduces this energy consumption, but it also provides you with a superb soil amendment that does not consume non-renewable energy in its creation and distribution.
Food scraps, grass clippings, newspaper, card board, and leaves can all be composted. Many forms of composting exist: from a simple two-foot by two-foot hole to a composting barrel or bin. Newspaper and card board can be used in the garden under mulch to help suppress weeds. While it may take some creativity to ensure the compost is not unsightly, the resulting soil amendment is a huge benefit to the plants in your yard.
Use Compost as Fertilizer
Chemical fertilizers are a significant contribution to water pollution. Polluted water decreases the diversity and number of many animal and plant species.
Compost is a natural fertilizer made up of decomposed plant material. It slowly releases its nutrients and gives plants and soil organisms time to consume them so your environment is not polluted. Applying compost also greatly increases the quality of your yard’s soil thus providing many long-term benefits to all your plants.
Provide a Water Source
Most wildlife need water for drinking and bathing. Because wildlife will not need to expend as much energy searching for water, their strength and resiliency is increased.
Provide a constant, reliable source of water with a birdbath, small pond, or even a shallow dish.
Don't Bag Grass Clippings
Decomposing clippings are an excellent source of nitrogen fertilizer for your lawn. (Grass clippings do not add to thatch – excessive fertilizer, over watering, and organisms weakened by chemical pesticides are the main causes of thatch). Hauling bagged clippings to the Johnson County landfill also consumes non-renewable energy.
Do not bag grass clippings. Spread out any significant clumps with a rake. Use a mulching blade for better clipping infiltration.
Reduce or Eliminate Fertilizers
Chemical fertilizers are a significant contribution to water pollution. Polluted water decreases the diversity and number of many wildlife and plant species.
Cut your use of chemical fertilizer by half or switch to an organic fertilizer and observe the results. You will likely be surprised by how little fertilizer it takes to make a healthy green lawn. Your mowing chores will decrease and so will the costs of buying fertilizer.