May 24, 2012

The Power of Compounding on Your Yard

I recently wrote about the importance of making a commitment to regularly planting and/or gardening.  As with developing any habit, it takes consistent, recurring effort to form a new habit and make it stick.  Over time, the effort required decreases as the habit becomes a more natural, automatic part of your schedule.  In regard to planting, each addition to your yard makes the next one easier because it becomes a routine habit, knowledge and experience is gained with each planting, and because each plant helps to create better conditions for the next plant to survive and thrive.


Compounding is a concept typically encountered in relation to a 401(k), retirement account, or investing in general. Per Investopedia compounding is defiined as:

  • The ability of an asset to generate earnings, which are then reinvested in order to generate their own earnings. In other words, compounding refers to generating earnings from previous earnings. 
Basically, if you take the interest, dividends, or other earnings of an investment and invest them, your return will grow more and more quickly, as you are earning money not just on the money you contributed but also on the earnings that money generated (earnings on earnings). This idea is the basic premise behind most retirement planning today.  Here's a graphic representation of the idea of compounding.

The concept of compounding equally applies to creating a healthy, flourishing environment in your yard.  If you start with a yard that is nothing but pavement, it's going to be pretty hard to get the first plant to grow.  However, if you can get one plant established, the next plant will be able to benefit from a host of ways the first plant improves growing conditions, including:
  1. Quieter environment
    1. May promote growth and presence of pollinators and seed disbursing animals
  2. Improved usage of water resources present
    1. Denser vegetation encourages more dew to form
    2. Plants can also benefit from transpiration of nearby plants 
  3. Increased soil quality through decomposition of leaves, berries, etc.
  4. Habitat for birds, bugs, insects, etc.
    1. Provide pollination, seed dispersion, source of fertilizer
  5. Increased shade and protection from strong sun
  6. Improved air quality
Essentially, these improvements to the conditions in your yard are the 'earnings' on your initial investment and can be 'reinvested' in additional plants.  This reinvestment occurs through the lower input costs required (fertilizer, physical effort, water) the new plants require and the higher 'returns' (growth rate, health of plants) possible.  Lower costs and higher returns both lead to an increase in the growth of the investment made.

These benefits impact not only your yard, but also your neighbors, city, and larger region. Although we apply many lines to the world - property lots, city limits, county and state borders, etc. our actions easily cross these borders and impact those on the other side of them.  This is readily seen on a large scale here in San Diego where there are regular beach closures (more than half the year, 239 days, in 2010) in the southern part of the county primarily due to polluted water entering the ocean from Tijuana, Mexico.  

On a smaller scale, I often find disoriented dying bees on my driveway and yard.  Most likely these bees have been sprayed with a poison by someone nearby and then found their way to my yard.  Decreasing the bee population, and the beneficial effects they provide as pollinators, harms my yard and plants.  More importantly to me, I also worry that whatever was sprayed on the bees may drifting into my garden, patio, yard, etc. where it may directly impact my health.  Actions like this also decrease the returns I can realize on my investment in my yard and garden.

Suggested Action Steps:
  1. Make a regular commitment to adding plants to your yard or garden
  2. Consider the plants already in your yard when selecting new plantings
    1. For example, if you have a shade producing tree find part shade plants to install below, or climbing vines to climb the trunk and branches
  3. Enjoy the quieter, more enjoyable yard you've created and the returns on your investment

My neighbor's yard - first plant is going to have a tough time (if it ever happens).

Part of my backyard - not great, but getting better. (Which yard do you think a new planting would do better in?)

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