Sunday, March 8, 2015

Connect the Dots For a More Natural Landscape

Trees are wonderful things and I love to see them planted in suburban landscapes. In today’s smaller lots, they are often plopped right in the middle of a lawn with a neat ring of mulch around them. Having mowed a lawn or two, I can’t help but think about how difficult that is to mow around.

This tree ring could be connected to the bed behind it
Some people put several of these in their lawn, each one with a dedicated circle of mulch. Each circular object probably adds 3-4 minutes to the mowing job, making it even more of a chore.

These mini islands of arboriculture are more than just a pain in the neck, they are downright unnatural and not healthy for the trees.

What a chore!

How unnecessary to separate these!

In nature, trees are arranged in groups with natural leaf litter covering the ground around them. The deep and wide expanse of that leaf litter allows surface roots to be protected and fosters a healthy population of the bugs, worms and fungi that support the tree. Those bugs, worms and fungi help break down those leaves, releasing nutrients at root level for the tree.

Special types of fungi, called mycorrhizal fungi, forge relationships with the rootlets of the tree, helping to bring even more nutrients and moisture to the tree. The fungi benefit from the relationship as well, and this win-win arrangement contributes to your tree being healthy and happy.

You might think that the mulch ring around your tree performs a similar role, but tree roots extend farther than you think. Arranging trees in a group brings not only a more natural look but also benefits to the soil with more root cover.

Here a single large bed handles trees and shrubs

A simple path is all that is needed for access to the back

There are several other benefits to connecting your tree dots. Standalone tree circles chop up what might already be a small yard, emphasizing even more how small the area is. Joining smaller beds together creates a smoother look and using wide curves evokes a more natural landscape. Mowing chores will be easier and take less time.

An example of trees in a large, joined bed

A more natural look puts trees in a group

An alternative to grass paths 
With wider beds and less grass, you can incorporate more interesting plants like perennials or annuals.

For shady areas, use native ferns. For sunny areas, pollinator-powerhouses like perennial sunflowers, coneflowers and black-eyed Susans will contribute more to the local pollinators than the lawn ever would.

When you're ready to support more of nature, connect the dots in your landscape. I think you'll find it to be a win-win solution.

1 comment:

  1. I love this post. It is so true! This mimics a natural ecosystem much more than single tree mulch islands. This is what we do in permaculture, we connect the dots. Thanks for a great post.