Go Green: Eco-friendly Landscaping Ideas
Eco-friendly landscaping is growing in popularity and for good reason – not only does it save homeowners monthly maintenance costs, it conserves precious resources and limits exposure to toxins from fertilizers and pesticides. And while planning your eco-friendly landscape is no harder than it is for traditional yard design, it does involve more than selecting drought-resistant plants and conserving water. It also extends to how you care for your yard and what you put on it. Still, with the right planning, planting and maintenance, a “green” landscape can be created that’s kind to the earth and to your pocketbook.
Let’s break it down into steps:
At this stage, you’ll need to assess your site thoroughly. Check which areas are in the sun and those that stay primarily in the shade. Look for how the water runs and drains in certain parts of your yard to know where water soaks more into the ground. Take stock of your yard’s size because you’ll want to choose plants that won’t outgrow its allotted space. Notice wind patterns because some plants need better air circulation than others.
Then, decide which parts of your yard will be used for what activity or purpose. Perhaps you want to design a play area, plant flower beds or a garden, or install hardscape for entertaining.
Knowing what you want to do in which parts of your yard connects the dots. For instance, play areas may need to be placed closer to your home’s back patio so you can keep an eye on the kids; flower beds will need more water so if there are areas in your yard that’s sloped and drains water quickly, you may want to avoid planting there.
Doing this pre-planning analysis will give you critical insight into what materials you will choose for your design. Play areas may do better with artificial turf, walkways and hardscape can be paved with permeable pavers, which make better use of water and reduce erosion.
Finally, consult resources to investigate options. Are you considering artificial grass? Mostly hardscape? Xeriscape (landscaping used most often in arid climates like those in the southwestern U.S. that uses drought-tolerant plants that require minimal maintenance)? Research all these alternatives, know their pros and cons, and most of all, their water and energy requirements.
A landscaper can help you weave these pieces together to develop a design that works for your space, usage, and soil. At this point, you’ll decide what structures, plants, flowers, and other elements will make up your eco-friendly design. The things to consider here are:
— the plants you already have, and their requirements for water, sun, and air circulation
— soil types (always test your soil for pH levels, moisture retention and type; soil testing kits are available at most home improvement stores).
— your yard’s microclimates (sun and shade zones, temperature (Hardiness zone maps will show the average low and high temperatures of your area), animal/insect population, soil acidity, etc.)
— your maintenance threshold (how much are you willing to do?)
— your budget
Taking all this into consideration will help you prioritize your goals, use what you already have, and balance your needs/wants with the ideal green design for your space.
Plant/Materials Selection —
First and most important, choose the right plant suited to your area using the information you found above. The data you discovered in the pre-planning process will decide which types of plants/ground covers can be used in the various sections of your yard. It will also help you determine irrigation zones so you can group together plants with similar watering requirements. Also keep in mind how big your plants will grow (not how big they look when you buy them) because you don’t want your plants to outgrow the space you’ve prepared for them.
For plants, you’ll want to choose native varieties naturally evolved to resist pests (and require less pesticide) and thrive in your area. A great guide to native plants is available at Plant Native.
Shrubs, trees and ground cover can help you save on home heating and cooling costs because they act as insulation. According to the EPA, planting trees along the south side of your home can cut air conditioning costs by as much as 20 percent in the summer. Deciduous trees planted near outdoor spots where your home retains the most sunlight will provide shade for cooling and because they drop their leaves in the fall, which allows more sunlight in to heat your house in the colder months.
You may also opt for vines and perennials to cool your outside seating areas.
If you’ve decided to go with xeriscape, again knowing the plants native to your area is crucial. And if you’ve chosen to use more hardscape, you’ll now choose low-maintenance, durable paving stones for your patio, pool deck or walkways. If saving water is highest on your priority list, installing artificial grass or synthetic turf will eliminate the need for watering (and mowing). Other low-maintenance materials that help you save water and energy include xeriscape, concrete walkways, gravel and bark. For pavers, you can also consider permeable pavers and those made with reclaimed materials.
Preparing Your Yard/Planting —
To really be eco-friendly, have a drip irrigation system installed to bring water directly to your plants’ roots minimizing water waste.
Before planting, check drainage propensity by filling the planting hole with water. If water stays in the hole for more than an hour, drainage is bad and you may need to raise the planting beds for slope or use drainage tile.
After selecting the most optimum planting areas in your yard, prepare the planting bed by digging 12-15 inches and adding organic elements to promote root development. As mentioned, grouping plants with similar watering requirements will conserve the amount of water you use. After planting, be sure to mulch to further reduce the need for water and resist erosion and weed development.
Mulch materials include shredded leaves, cypress, and pine straw. To get a good mulching, apply it about 2-4 inches deep and let it extend past your plants’ drip line. You can also lightly wet newspaper and add two to three layers under the mulch to conserve moisture.
The drip irritation system mentioned above will help you water more efficiently, but be sure to water after 9PM in the summer and well before 9AM to minimize evaporation and ensure the greatest amount of water reaches your lawn and plants. Automatic irrigation systems even come with technology that links them to a weather station so the water won’t release if it rains.
If you’re using sprinklers, check the heads to be sure the water is sprayed where it needs to be and isn’t watering your sidewalk instead.
You can also conserve water by collecting rainwater in barrels and using it to water your yard and plants.
Use compost to fertilize by building a compost pile in bins with grass clippings, fruit/vegetable peels and dead leaves. Keep the pile just barely damp and mix it up occasionally. When the compost reaches its ideal state and achieves a soil texture (usually within three weeks), apply it to your growing things to reduce or eliminate the use of chemical fertilizers.
Pull weeds instead of spraying them with weed killers, and use mulch to repel weed formation. There’s also a practice called “companion planting” a practice where certain plants with special substances in the roots or foliage are placed next to other plants to drive away pests or attract “good pests” (ladybugs) to the yard. For instance, onion plants repel aphids so can be planted next to plants that tend to attract aphids to “distract” the pests.
You may also choose other plants that are naturally pest-resistant such as mint, marigolds, and pennyroyal.
If you must use pesticides and herbicides, choose Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI)-listed treatments and the least toxic alternative possible.
Use energy-saving conservation tools
A reel mower is a better alternative to a gas mower because the former don’t use materials that pollute the environment. The same goes for electric mowers. Solar landscaping lights help reduce energy use and the aforementioned rain barrels are great for watering the natural way.
The benefits of less waste, chemical and water usage are no-brainer reasons to go green. When you add that eco-friendly landscaping is good for the environment, your family, and pets, plus saves money and resources, it’s no wonder more and more people are investigating this type of landscaping.
Here’s a few final tips at-a-glance:
— Choose native plants
— Use rain water to irrigate when possible
— Use fewer chemicals by going with natural fertilizers and pesticides
— Save energy with solar lighting and reel mowing
— Landscape in zones to keep plants with similar water requirements together
Do you have any eco-friendly landscaping tips that you would like to share? Please do in the comments below…