Earth Tones Native Plant Nursery & Landscapes

The Economy and Your Land

Friday, December 12th, 2008

With the current economic downturn we are ALL feeling the pain. As our government, from local to state, are making cut backs, we the landowners, i.e. taxpayers, can help reduce the cost of doing business. On the home front there are several things we can do that will save us money every day and reduce the cost that we contribute at the state and federal levels too.

Lately we have heard lots of conversation around the term “carbon footprint”, with talk of such things as a carbon tax on every product. A carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by ones actions. i.e. drive a truck which emits X amount CO2, or cook a dinner and emit X amount of CO2. Possibly a more appropriate term to use for this discussion would be an “ecological footprint” or simply the measure of demand on the ecosystem to support humans. This takes into account such things as how much land and water it takes to feed, cloth, wash, transport, and entertain every person.
Looking at our ecological footprint in regards to a plant nursery we see in the case of the “traditional, main stream” nursery stock, it would be the energy it takes to grow, ship and maintain a plant. In conventional agriculture there are carbon imputes from such things as shipping of seeds or starter plugs (by truck, diesel), green house heat (usually oil), fertilizer (usually petroleum based), lights (electricity) and more shipping, most nursery stock is grown in California, Oregon, and the Carolina’s (more trucking), and additional annual carbon imputes if this plant needs to be watered, fertilized and pruned to remain healthy. There can be additional costs associated with plants to be shipped. Other costs incurred can come from diseased plants, pests, or invasive plant that are brought to a new location. We the government spend substantial quantities of manpower and money to contain and control such situations. For example, look at how the Asian long-horned beetle has been dealt with in the northeast.

Fortunately at Earth Tones the use of carbon in producing plants at the nursery is very low. We collect the seed often on hikes, while biking or in our travels, (some carbon from auto). Some carbon is used to move soils with the machine and pump water for times of little rain, but we do not use petroleum based fertilizers, we don’t use heated greenhouses or lights to grow our plants, we use solar power. We do not ship our plants across the country, and this is our policy for a few reasons, first we want to keep the Connecticut gene pool strong by keeping our plants in our region for cross pollination with wild populations, collect locally, sell locally. This also encourages people who are not in our region that request plants to stimulate interest in native plants from their own region. Keeping plants in our region also reduces the CO2 impact. The annual cost of maintenance with native plants is usually zero or close to it because, once a native plant is placed in its proper site it will grow without the need for excess watering or fertilizers and does not need annual pruning.

Another area you can save BIG $$ and reduce your ecological footprint is your lawn. In a 2007 report for the Dry Creek Conservancy titled Economic Benefits of River Friendly Landscaping; it states a typical suburban lawn uses 10,000 gallons of water in addition to the annual rainfall!! it also shows how converting 1 acre of lawn to a natural area can save $90,000 over 20 years time!! According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 1 traditional gas powered lawn mower produces as much air pollution as 43 new cars each being driven 12,000 miles. In America 800 million gallons of gas per year are used just to mow lawns!!! If you use petroleum based fertilizers be aware that you are artificially supplying grass the nutrients it needs for survival, instead of the plant obtaining them from the soil. You are creating a chemically dependent plant. And we have all seen what it cost an individual to kick their chemical dependency. You may also need a watering system to maintain your lawn and someone to maintain your watering system. Other direct and indirect costs can come from improperly applied fertilizers. Applications need to be based on soil, rainfall and plant conditions, applying too much fertilizer can runoff and contaminate local waters. This can create dead zones in aquatic systems and contribute to fish and other animal death. Polluted water is one area we the government spend vast quantities of money to clean and if you do not have a well the cost of purifying public drinking water is also increased.

Some options for saving $$ ; NEVER have more lawn then you need! Reduce the size of your lawn if possible. Less area = less $ spent for maintenance. If you like large grass areas consider fields. Lawn can be converted to hay and cut up to 4 times a year, and cost you nothing in most cases. You can convert your lawn to field and let it grow for 2 years, then cut it so it will be kept in field type habitat. Mowing keeps the trees and shrubs from moving in and creating a forest. Both will have immediate cost savings, up to $90,000 over 20 years, and greatly reduce your ecological footprint. Another benefit in the big picture from field cover is food for pollinators. Bees need quality food to create honey to survive the winter and native plants in your field will help! On a regional scale, if the farmer does not need to have bees brought in to pollinate crops then there is a cost savings and again a reduction in the carbon cost of the produce.

Consider a Rain Garden. A rain garden is a depression in the landscape designed to temporarily store water from gutters and driveways, parking lots and other non-pervious surfaces and allows it to infiltrate the soil. How does this save money? Putting water in the ground keeps it from concentrating and eroding your driveway or soil from your property Storm water management is one of our biggest areas of interest by clients. On a larger scale putting water back in the ground not only helps clean pollutants collected from this runoff but also helps recharge aquifers. It also reduces the immediately large amount of water reaching the streams and rivers from surface runoff, which helps in reducing potential flooding during a storm. Repairing flood damaged property is very costly to all, especially river communities. Rain gardens also provide beauty to your landscape and plants that provide nectar for wildlife, especially important to our pollinators.

Planting buffers along rivers and streams help in flood reduction, curbs nutrient impacts and improves habitat for wildlife. Our rivers evolved within a forested landscape and keeping plants along rivers is essential for healthy streams and rivers. Plantings of 25 to 50 feet from riverbanks will enrich river and stream health, improve wildlife habitat and reduce erosion. Eroded stream banks cause direct loss of property during major storm events, but without adequate vegetation there is continuous loss of soil that may not be noticed until a bank failure occurs Erosion is a natural part of river ecology but the increased rate of erosion caused by anthropogenic processes creates the problem. To see the cost of increased flows in our streams and rivers review the repair of the 2007 flood damage at Orton Lane in Woodbury, CT, 06798. Orton Lane now has a 12ft high steel sheet piling wall to protect the home on the river, effective, but not a very attractive or wildlife friendly area in the Pomperaug River. Our clean streams and rivers also attract visitors to Connecticut that spend money in our towns.

Plant with Natives! using native plants in your landscape can have many benefits which can reduce the money you spend every year on your property. Many of the benefits such as having plants keep soil in place and absorbing carbon and providing oxygen, or having shade from native trees, are direct benefits to your home as well as your state, national and global budget. Growing plants native to your region will benefit you by providing an essential component for the wildlife by strengthening the connections to the ecosystem and enhance the overall health of your ecosystem. These plants also bring beauty to our landscapes without the need for synthetic fertilizers or watering. So start saving today, not only the cash in your pocket, but the land as a whole- the Big Picture!

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