Residents get down to earth |

Residents get down to earth

It’s time again to roll up your sleeves and get dirty.

The unique Lake Tahoe planting season is upon us.

But before residents purchase hundreds of dollars in planting supplies, seeds and soakers, a little planning needs to be done.

The last frost date in Tahoe usually occurs between June 1 and 15. Although a freak summer snow is always possible, gardeners usually set out annuals, perennials, vegetables, herbs and strawberries in June.

Maintenance such as feeding, weeding and wetting is highest during the summer months- important variables to consider when landscape planning.

Before South Shore landscaper Lyse Mondor puts a finger to the dirt, she considers how the landscaped area will be used, how much natural sun, shade and water it will receive, and how much maintenance will be required.

Mondor also sends soil samples from her yards to the University of Nevada, Reno Cooperative Extension, which determines the nutrient makeup of the soil.

The Cooperative Extension then makes a fertilizer recommendation based on the soil composition.

Mondor said organic fertilizers seep into the soil much faster than chemicals, which lessens the amount of chemical runoff to the drainage systems and into Lake Tahoe.

Darah Zurit, garden designer and consultant for Aspen Hollow nursery, said slow-release organic fertilizers last longer and help to build a stronger soil structure. She recommends a long watering session once a day to help establish roots on new plants, however, already established plants can be watered once every three days and some native species don’t require much water at all.

Since many plants can’t sustain the colder nights, drier conditions and shorter growing season of Tahoe, vegetation specialists recommend retaining any native vegetation that is already growing.

“If people have stuff growing on their lots just keep it there. Those things are growing without doing one thing to keep them alive,” said John Cobourn, Water Resource Specialist for the Cooperative Extension and co-author of the Home Landscaping Guide for Lake Tahoe. “Native and adapted plants should not require a huge amount of maintenance. Plus, if they’re really dense it will help with erosion control.”

The Home Landscaping Guide suggests a variety of ways to control runoff depending on the steepness of slopes. Mulches, such as bark and wood chips, pine needles, river rock or stone are recommended for moderate slopes less than 50 percent. Terraces, wood and rock retaining walls are recommended for steep slopes greater than 50 percent.

Cobourn said mulches and pine needles could be a fire hazard, so people should place them outside the 30-foot defensible space recommended for houses. Dead leaves or branches and flammable plants in close proximity to homes won’t allow much protection from forest fire.

League to Save Lake Tahoe spokeswoman Heidi Hill-Drum suggests planting thyme, native wildflower plants or native grasses to control runoff on steep slopes, some of which don’t require any cutting at all.

One pound of Tahoe specific lawn seed will usually cover 150 square feet of new lawn and 250 to 300 square feet for reseeding lawns.

New lawns need daily watering for about three weeks to fill in.

With the seed averaging about $6 per bag, Zurit said it’s an economical way to control runoff. Popular ground covers like sedum, creeping Veronica and mosses are generally a little more expensive but effective in the erosion control fight.

For those who want to spend a little bit more, Zurit recommends mixing grasses and ground covers with annual plants and perennials.

She said perennials spread their roots to keep soils in place. Perennials, like lupines, columbines and shasta daisies are usually more expensive than annuals because of their longevity. Popular annuals, like violas, geraniums and pansies bloom longer in the summer and then die.

Landscaping can range from under $100 to thousands of dollars depending on the lot size and sophistication of the plants and sprinkler systems.

Zurit recommends doing a little bit each year, starting with larger purchases that usually take longer to grow.

Or, Mondor suggests even a cheaper way to landscape- cut larger plants in half and trade with a friend. The plants get the necessary thinning and not your bank account.

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