Organic Park Care

The Conservancy is committed to using the best organic practices to manage The Greenway, creating a healthy and welcoming ecosystem that is sustainable for people and the environment, so that: 

  • Children and pets can play freely and safely on our lawns
  • Run-off from the parks will not pollute Boston Harbor or harm the delicate marine life
  • Our plants are healthier, more resilient, and better able to withstand the wear of public use
  • The Greenway is more economical to maintain in the long run

The Conservancy's organic management practices are tightly interconnected to create a successful outcome as a whole. We use a ground-up approach that mimics what occurs in natural environments but also reflects the latest science about sustainable and healthy ecosystems. Our approach starts with the soil and encompasses all living things including plants, trees, and insects and avoids the use of synthetic fertilizers, chemicals and pesticides. The Conservancy has a dedicated Horticulture staff which implements these strategies and the staff supplemented with help from our robust Volunteer Program (check it out).

What Creates a Healthy Ecosystem?

Healthy Ecosystem Graph

Building Robust Soil Using Compost Tea

The foundation of a healthy ecosystem is a soil that has a robust, functioning soil food web. This supports a community of bacteria, fungi, and other organisms that break down organic matter into plant available nutrients. To build this robust soil, the Conservancy brews thousands of gallons of our own Compost Tea annually and applies it regularly in spring and fall to our lawns, beds, trees, street trees, containers, and raised bed gardens.  

Our compost tea starts with a high-quality compost and other food sources that are tested and sourced to include all of the beneficial microbiology we are looking for. In addition, we also add worm castings to add diversity among the microbial populations. The worm castings are harvested from our vermiculture bins, fed by vegetable and fruit scraps collected from the Dewey Square Farmer’s Market and the Boston Public Market.

Additionally, we apply mulch and compost to the park regularly. Fertilizers are used sparingly and in accordance with the Massachusetts Fertilizer Law, which requires that fertilizers only be used when soil tests demonstrate the need for particular nutrients. Fertilizers and amendments are generally used only on our turf areas and are certified organic and natural materials.

Healthy Plant Communities as Wildlife Habitat

The Greenway is designed and maintained to provide year-round botanical interest, contributing to a beautiful setting and an enjoyable environment throughout the seasons. Our Horticulture staff relies on native plant species and additional non-invasive plants, all with a proven record of adapting to the urban stresses that occur in our parks. The Greenway ascribes to the “right plant, right place” philosophy when introducing new plantings or when relocating existing plants.  This allows for the plants to thrive with minimal supplemental inputs.

The Greenway takes into consideration the creation and preservation of wildlife habitat in the parks. We aim to encourage bird and insect populations, and have designed the plantings to function as an urban “pollinator ribbon”. The typical practice of fall cutbacks and leaf removal is kept to a minimum to retain winter interest for aesthetics, provide seed heads and fruit for native birds to feed on year-round and retain a habitat for overwintering beneficial insects. This contributes to the well-being of both plants and wildlife. Our efforts were recognized in 2012 when we became a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat.

Turf

The goal of organic turf and weed management practices is to create a thick, dense turf that will naturally shade out and deter weed germination and development. This includes mowing lawns at a taller height of 3 ½ inches, alternating mowing patterns to avoid compaction, regular aeration, and compost topdressing and overseeding in the spring and fall. To control weeds without the use of chemicals, we rely on hand removal and occasional sessions of flaming weeds with propane torches on hardscapes and open areas in our beds.

Irrigation and Water Management

The Conservancy is committed to frugal water management practices. We take advantage of Boston’s natural rainfall and supplement it with automated irrigation as needed. We pay close attention to weather conditions and plant health and carefully set the irrigation run times and frequency accordingly. The irrigation controllers have rain sensors which stop scheduled irrigation after a preset amount of rainfall has occurred. We also employ hand watering for containers, newly planted materials or special situations. To further reduce The Greenway’s water consumption, we regularly conduct audits of our irrigation system’s functionality and water usage to allow for quick detection and repair of leaks and malfunctions.

Organic Management Practices

All of the Conservancy’s practices are designed to minimize the use of resources. All of our mulch and compost is sourced locally, much of it derived from organic debris collected from the Greenway throughout the season and composted at an offsite facility. Fertilizers and seeds are sourced locally wherever possible to minimize the impact of transportation. A major criterion used when selecting Operations vehicles is their use of less fossil fuel to operate and fewer natural resources to manufacture. We also minimize the use of gas powered hand equipment in our day to day activities.

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