One of the many wonderful features of naturescaping is that an established naturescape requires much less work than a conventional landscape (and typically that work does not require loud gas or electric powered machinery). The primary maintenance considerations for a naturescape include watering your new plants, i.e. "protecting your investment," and weed removal. The latter, weed removal, can perhaps not be emphasized enough. It is often the single most important barrier in establishing a naturescape. Weed removal is greatly advanced by removing weeds early and using "filler" plants to occupy space between desired plants and thereby keep weeds from moving into that space.
With respect to watering, if plants are planted in their dormant season and have a chance to acclimate to their new location before breaking bud, they are likely to require less watering, though they may still require or at least benefit from some watering. If plants are planted in the drier, hotter summer months, they will certainly require watering. The number one rule to follow in watering is use common sense. Since plants and location differ markedly, there is no general rule. It is best to read any instructions that come with a plant or to ask at the nursery where you obtained the plant.
If you have a small area and a keen eye, manual watering by hose or pail may be sufficient. If you have a larger area or you do not have the time for regular watering, you may wish to utilize a temporary irrigation system. Watering assistance is typically required for the first year or two after planting.
With respect to weed removal, while plants appear placid and docile, they are actually engaged in a very competitive life and death struggle for survival. From the time you plant your naturescape until the plants "grow in," there is a period during which the exposed ground between your desired plants is a battleground for other plants, mostly weeds, that are trying to establish themselves. The need to weed is reduced as:
- Your native plants grow in and reduce the ground available to weeds; and
- You remove weeds, hence removing the seed source of future weeds.
Planting the desired natives and then covering the site with yard debris compost or the like is a preferred way of reducing weeds from the outset. While a compost cover can reduce seed germination in the soil, seeds may germinate directly in the compost. These weeds should be pulled out immediately and pulling weeds from compost is far easier than from soil. Occasional weeding will also be required as your plants establish themselves. Weeding or weed suppression is typically a concern during the first 2-3 years of a naturescape and then tapers to minimal activity, for example, quarterly inspections and limited weed removal, if any. Note that the weeds may not only include random plants blown in from elsewhere (dandelions, etc.), but also plants that inhabited your space prior to installation of the naturescape such as non-native grasses and English ivy.
Weed suppression may be done through manual, obstruction-based or chemical removal. Most of us are familiar, perhaps to our dismay, with manual weeding. Nonetheless, it is an effective step in the critical battle of early removal of weeds. General considerations in manual weeding include removing as much of the plant as possible and removing plants before they have the opportunity to set seed.
Most weeds, dandelions, etc. like to grow in mineral soil. If you can keep the soil well-covered with leaf mulch and/or actual leaves you will reduce weed growth considerably. That is not to say that there are not weeds that grow in leaf mulch, they are only fewer and you can pull them out more easily.]
Obstruction-based weed suppression is emerging as a non-toxic manner of weeding a larger area or removing stubborn weeds. As the name implies, obstruction based weed removal utilizes a physical object to prevent plant growth in a particular area. Suitable objects include newspaper and cardboard, etc. These may be placed over an unwanted plant until the plant dies from lack of light and/or moisture. It is often desirable to cut a plant as close to the ground as possible (particularly for difficult to remove plants such as blackberry and ivy) before the physical object is placed over the plant. Once the unwanted plant is dead, the ground can be covered with a desired plant or with compost material to suppress further weed growth. In the adjacent photos a layer of newspaper is put down first and then covered with leaves. The initial leaf load and newspapers can be hosed down to keep them from blowing away. The process of laying down newspaper and leaves (or other yard compost) is continued until the desired area is covered.
Chemical weed suppression may at times be a necessary evil in suppressing weeds. Chemical weed suppression should only be used where other techniques have failed. Chemical weed suppression has serious negative environmental impacts including causing cancer in humans and causing considerable fish kills when carried off by rain.
Thus, if chemical weed suppression is utilized the following guidelines are recommended:
- Use a mild, targeted herbicide such as Round-up or a similar glyphosate-based herbicide. These herbicides are "post-emergent" herbicides which means that they only kill when sprayed "on" a part of a plant that is still growing, i.e., leaf, etc. Note that "pre-emergent" herbicides such as Casaron should NOT be used. These latter herbicides are so powerful that they can be effective for over a year and tend to wash off into a municipal drinking supply long before they have become inactive;
- Apply only when rain is not likely for a week or more; and