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Organic Landscaping Tips to Try at Home

Update from the Port on the coronavirus response and guidance to travelers. Learn more.

April 22, 2019

The sun has made its first appearance for the year. Which means it’s time to walk in the park, sit in the grass, and have a picnic. Did you know that the Port of Seattle owns and maintains 44 acres of parks just for your use? One of them is sure to be your perfect place to sit and watch the grass grow. 

Best of all, spending time in Port parks is safe for your family and Mother Earth because the Port of Seattle Landscape maintenance team takes a 100 percent organic, non-toxic approach to landscaping at all Port parks (including five parks and 10 public shoreline access sites). 

Save the Salmon

The Port of Seattle park system is certified by the Salmon-Safe Program. To get the five-year certification, programs must enhance the ecological environment and improve salmon habitat. Factors that are considered in certification are:

  • Irrigating efficiently 
  • Managing stormwater runoff 
  • Reducing pesticide use
  • Conserving native biodiversity
  • Protecting streams and wetlands

Puget Sound and ships from Jack Block Park
Jack Block Park

Top Landscaping Tips

To celebrate Earth Month, the employees who maintain Port parks share a few tips on organic gardening that you can use at home to save the salmon and the environment.

Tip 1: Design local landscapes

When you’re designing a new landscape, first analyze your site and soil and select the most suitable trees and plants for the location. The ideal planting mix should include low maintenance, drought tolerant, disease resistant, and native plant materials. And contain no more than 20 percent of turf areas, which should be planted with a seed mix that’s suited to the Pacific Northwest.

Tip 2: Plant a variety of plants

Healthy landscapes need a mix of plants and trees, not just one species, to prevent pests and diseases from spreading. You can also plant densely to crowd out and suppress weeds. Prune only to remove dead or diseased branches.  Take a look at recommendations for more than 1,000 plants that will thrive in the Pacific Northwest from Great Plant Picks.  

Roses from Centennial Park
Rose Garden at Centennial Park

Tip 3: Amend your soil

For optimal growing conditions, amend your existing soil with a mix of compost and topsoil. The Port uses a mix of 50 percent pure compost (either yard waste or manure) plus 50 percent topsoil. Amend existing soils with compost to a depth of 6-12 inches.

Tip 4: Avoid chemicals

The Port does not use any synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides in Port parks because these chemicals will make it into the watershed. We use only 100 percent organic fertilizers and supplements like bone meal, blood meal, kelp meal, and cow and chicken manure.  You can find organic fertilizer at Walt’s Organic Fertilizer Company.   

Tip 5:  Keep your lawn healthy

You can core aerate to improve lawn circulation and promote root growth and soil structure. When you mow, set your blades to 3-4 inches in height to encourage thicker turf that helps with weed control. Leave the grass clippings to decompose and to serve as mulch and natural fertilizer.   Also consider using a phosphorus-free fertilizer for lawn applications. Excess phosphorus causes algae to build up in waterways and can disrupt the ecological balance. If you only fertilize your lawn twice a year, make one application in the spring and one in the fall. If you only fertilize once a year, make sure to do it in the fall.

Space Needle from Jack Block Park
Jack Block Park

Tip 6: Weed by hand

Weeding by hand can be meditative and relaxing! Rather than using toxic chemicals, control weeds by mechanical methods like pulling them by hand, layering mulch in garden beds, or burning with a weed torch. Learn about sheet mulching to control the spread of weeds. 

Tip 7: Conserve water through proper irrigation

Water conservation is a top priority at the Port; we water less frequently, but for longer periods.  This helps landscape plants grow deep roots that are less vulnerable to drought conditions.  Install an irrigation system with clocks to minimize water usage, a rain sensor to stop the irrigation system when it detects precipitation, and a minimum of four separate programs per cycle. We utilize the latest irrigation technology such as Cycle Soak, which breaks total watering time into shorter cycles with a soak time in between. This saves water that might otherwise puddle in compact soil or end up as runoff on slopes. To prevent evaporation, the Port irrigates early in the mornings and in the evenings, rather than during the day.  

People walking in the trees at Terminal 107 Park
Terminal 107 Park

Tip 8: Practice integrated pest management

This tactic uses natural systems to disrupt the physical environment of common garden pests, rather than using chemicals to kill them. 

A few tricks:

  • Remove material that is infested by pests
  • Put netting over plants to prevent insects from reaching them 
  • Pick mites off plants by hand or use traps, rather than using chemical insecticides 
  • Introduce beneficial insects like ladybugs to control an aphid population

Tip 9: Install permeable hardscaping

Hardscaping are the elements of your garden like pavers and paths. Impervious materials like concrete and asphalt can prevent rainwater from reaching the ground and increase flows into nearby streams, which can damage habitat.  When you’re installing new paths or a driveway, install permeable materials like gravel, pavers that allow water to seep in between, or permeable pavement. Learn everything you need to know about grass block pavers from Gardenista.com

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