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Take The Mittens Off Your Green Thumbs

While some of us can’t see beyond this season of snow shovels and sodium chloride, the gardeners among us are already plotting plots and seeding soil, at least metaphorically.

“This is the time to plan,” said Vincent A. Simeone, an Oyster Bay-based horticulturist. “And if you are going to have a sustainable garden, you need to have a plan.”


“Sustainability is the new buzzword,” he said. “It’s how to let nature do more and we do less.”

Yard work? Do less? Simeone has my attention.

It’s the theme of his new book, Grow More With Less: Sustainable Garden Methods.

“It’s a guide to how to have less of an impact now so future generations can enjoy what we enjoy,” said the 45-year-old Simeone, who understands the long-term view firsthand.

His day job is as director of the Planting Fields Arboretum, where, for the past 10 years, he and his wife, Gloria, have lived in the superintendent’s cottage.

“It’s a lot like it was almost 100 years ago,” he says of their home on the grounds of the sprawling Coe Hall, which itself is gorgeously preserved.

Those of us charged with something less than a 409-acre estate still can take significant steps toward environmental preservation by not overdoing chemicals or pesticides.

“People put down grub control every year,” said Simeone. “But you shouldn’t do it unless you have a grub problem.”

And watering? Almost everyone does it “improperly,” he said. Either wasting the grass or wasting water. The goal is to develop a deep root system that is more drought- and disease-resistant than the average, shallow-rooted lawn. This is accomplished by deep watering.

“Two times a week for an hour or two,”said Simeone. “That will build a deeper root system.”

And length matters topside, too, he said, recommending that we raise our mower heights from one and a half or two inches to three and a half inches. The lawn won’t look as trimmed, but it will be healthier and less prone to problems.

On Friday, Jan. 24 at 7 p.m., Simeone will speak and sign books at the Hoffman Center Nature Preserve and Wildlife Center in Muttontown (6000 Northern Blvd.). You can count on him hitting a wide range of topics covered in the book:

Native grasses. While plants such as maiden grass and fountain grass have a place as ornamentals, they also can be invasive, choking out other plants. Switchgrass and bluestem are better choices, said Simeone, because they are native, and they help sustain wildlife.

Native plants. American dogwood is back! While disease decimated these trees in the 1970s and 1980s, they have returned, and are a good choice, not only because they look great spring through fall, but also because birds thrive on their berries. And when you help wildlife, you help your garden. “We need animals,” Simeone said emphatically. “We need pollinators.”

Composting. You can make your own rich fertilizer by letting nature have its way with everything from your coffee grounds to grass clippings. Just turn it often and give it sun. The timetable? Figure five or six months. “It needs time to cook,” said Simeone.

Soil. Know what you have. If the consistency and chemistry of your soil are at odds with what a plant really needs, you are in a losing battle with Mother Nature. Even in the winter, you can make those determinations, and if the soil isn’t frozen, you can get it analyzed.

Planning. This is where we started. And it’s essential. It’s also something you can do right now. Say, for instance, you want to plant an American dogwood. First, determine if you can give the tree an eastern exposure so it gets morning sun. If you can’t, your idea, like the tree itself, probably isn’t, well, sustainable.

Grow More With Less: Sustainable Garden Methods by Vincent A. Simeone is available at Amazon and wherever books are sold. For reservations at the Hoffman Center event, call 516-922-3290.

John Owens is editor in chief of Anton Community Newspapers. Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it