Home gardeners have an environmental responsibility, too | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Home gardeners have an environmental responsibility, too

by Sally J. Taylor

Everyone with a piece of ground to tend in the Tahoe Basin can help preserve the clarity of Lake Tahoe by incorporating water conservation and runoff controls in their landscaping and yard maintenance.

The methods to control runoff are known as Best Management Practices. For now, homeowners are encouraged to adopt them. Eventually they will be required.

Water that runs off a property carries eroded soil, nutrients and pollutants into streams and storm drains where it is carried into the lake. The combination is considered one of the major contributors to the ongoing loss of lake clarity.

Because homeowners and renters working in the garden tend to use fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, private property runoff is especially polluting.

To stop it, all property owners and those maintaining the property need to take responsibility for their own piece of ground.

“The key thing is to contain the soil,” said Pam Drum, spokeswoman for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. “It just makes sense anyway. The garden is healthier. You don’t want the soil running off.

“BMPs prevent movement of soil off the garden.”

Structure is the first thing to consider in any garden.

On steep slopes, runoff can be better controlled with terracing and retaining walls. Milder slopes may be easier to deal with by planting vegetation with strong root growth and spreading branches.

Even flat surfaces need to be covered.

Wherever rain mixes with dirt, or snowmelt pools, the water must go somewhere. If the soil is compacted, as it usually is on bare dirt, water tends to run off.

Covering the area with plants is only one way to deal with bare soil.

“Keep in mind what you’re trying to accomplish,” Drum said. “If you have a layer of duff, like pine needles and natural vegetative material, it’s doing what vegetation would do. It slows down the rainfall and snowmelt so it doesn’t gully and run off. If the duff layer is doing the job, leave it there.

“But if there’s open space with no cover, that kind of area needs vegetation. And, of course, we encourage the use of native plants (which take less water, fertilizer and maintenance).”

Another alternative to covering every inch of soil with plants is mulch. Besides inhibiting weed growth, retaining moisture, adding organic matter to the soil and moderating temperature extremes, mulch also acts like duff.

Mulch, including a variety of bark products or rocks, can be purchased by the truckload from rock and soil suppliers.

When esthetics or plant habitat are less important but quick erosion control is, South Shore residents have a free mulch alternative. The city’s Christmas tree recycling program generates mounds of chipped trees every year for use both by the city and homeowners. Call the parks department at (530) 542-6059 for information on where to pick it up.

Sooner or later, home gardeners want to plant plants. A number of authorities offer advise on what plants are BMP-friendly as well as beneficial in the Tahoe landscape.

A plant list of native and adapted species can be obtained from the TRPA, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Resource Conservation District and the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Service.

Plants and structures can be seen in a garden environment at the Lake Tahoe Community College Demonstration Garden, which also offers information brochures in its Interpretive Center.

Many local garden centers carry native plants and can order what you don’t see in stock.

The most individualized help comes from the Backyard Conservation Program, a cooperative effort of the conservation service and the conservation district. Their experts will survey individual properties and offer advice on dealing with problem areas. The service is free.

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