Waxahachie Parks and Recreation department employees, along with other city employees, met last week for a seminar on Earth-Kind gardening and landscaping techniques with the goal of integrating these techniques into their day-to-day practices, as well as upcoming special projects.

The seminar, which focused mostly on soil preparation, was led by Ellis County Master Gardener president Nancy Fenton, with the help of Master Gardeners James Kocian and Jim Suggs.

The seminar was presented again for the public on Thursday night.

The Earth-Kind method employs research-proven techniques that are designed to provide the maximum plant enjoyment while protecting the environment.

The program was developed by members of the Texas Agricultural Extension Service with the goal of combining the best of organic and traditional gardening principles to create a new horticultural system based on real-world effectiveness and environmental responsibility.

“It saves time in the long run and it goes a long way in beautifying our city,” said city manager Paul Stevens of the Earth-Kind system, which is more labor intensive at the beginning but drastically reduces the amount of effort later.

Waxahachie Parks and Recreation director John Smith explained that when the Ellis County Master Gardeners first presented the Earth-Kind system to the parks and recreation department approximately two years ago, there was some concern on the part of the department that implementation of the program might require too much time and effort and require additional labor.

In fact, at the time of initial plantings, more time and extra labor is required. But after researching the concept, it was realized that benefits experienced later — including not having to fertilize, irrigate or spray pesticides – far outweigh the effort involved in the extra necessary steps at the time of the initial planting.

“It fits in so well,” said Stevens of the Earth-Kind program and how it compliments and works hand-in-hand with the current efforts of the water department to encourage citizens to use organic fertilizer and to take special care to not over-fertilize. Waxahachie has its own water source and there is an existing initiative in place to promote the conservation and protection of that water source. Taking these steps is one of many ways citizens can protect the water system.

“David Bailey (water department director) has always stressed water conservation, the use of less chemicals,” said Smith, reiterating that the city already practices many environmentally friendly methods.

The Earth-Kind method employs soil preparation using compost and mulch, tilling of the ground, raised beds and proper spacing of the flowers and foliage planted. The steps involved with bed preparation before any plants or trees are put in the ground includes a soil test, the elimination of grass and weeds, the addition of compost to the soil and the addition of a three-inch layer of mulch on top of the ground once the planting has been done.

For long-term soil maintenance, all that is required, in most cases, is the addition of more mulch once or twice a year in order to bring the mulch layer back to a thickness of three inches.

“There was a lot of natural beauty (in Waxahachie), but not a lot of refined beauty,” said Smith, who noted the changes that have taken place in the last five or six years.

“With the help of the Master Gardeners, we’re realizing we can do more in providing refined landscaping,” said Smith.

One such example is the recent landscaping project that took place at Penn Park, with parks and recreation department employee Timothy Jay supervising.

“We landscaped it (Penn Park) with cedar trees to green it up around the pool,” said Jay, who pointed out that cedar was chosen, as there would be no leaves falling into the pool.

“We planted over 200 flower bulbs on the sides of the pool house and used mulch from the landfill,” said Jay, who is eager to see the flowers bloom this summer.

“We’d like for people to go by and take a look at it and give us some feedback so that possibly we can do some more (plantings) like it,” Jay said of the new landscaping at Penn Park.

Smith reported that in years past, the jobs of parks and recreation department employees consisted of maintaining trees and grass.

“But many (employees) are stepping beyond their initial roles of keeping the parks neat, tidy and usable and have evolved into landscapers and landscape designers,” said Smith.

“I look at assigned areas differently,” said parks and recreation department employee Larry White of how his tactics have changed since receiving training in techniques such as Earth-Kind.

For more information, visit www.earthkind.com.

E-mail Jennifer at jennifer.howell@wninews.com.