Design Strategies for a sustainable home landscape
For many homeowners the concept of a sustainable landscape is a yard that needs little water or maintenance to survive. Such a typical landscape includes a small lawn, few ornamental plants, a large natural area, and a fair amount of rocks and gravel or other hard surfaces. Unfortunately this image gives the false impression that a sustainable yard must look desert-like, have a large hard surface, or look wild and unkempt. The reality is a sustainable yard can be lushly planted, attractive, and undemanding.
The key concept is to choose the right plant and the right hardscape material (hardscape includes structures such as ponds, walkways, garden walls and rock gardens), then put these in the right place for the right purpose. Doing so means your yard will be sustainable because it is functional, environmentally sound, low maintenance, cost effective, and visually pleasing.
Many strategies can be incorporated in your yard to make it more sustainable. The list below offers a wide variety of ideas to choose from:
Select the Right Plants
Think about the yard over many future years and seasons. Although all newly installed plants will require water; choose plants that need little water once established. Plant more trees. They need less water once established and provide shade, which reduces temperature and evaporation of moisture creating a pleasant microclimate. Consider vegetation that will produce food for wildlife.
Keep up the Maintenance
Use naturalistic pruning techniques that maintain a neat, but un-sheared plant. Use the natural form or habit of the plants as your guide for the trimmed form. Use plants with the appropriate size and habit to avoid constant pruning. Use mulch to control weeds.
Protect the soil
It’s much easier to grow plants adapted to the existing conditions than to change the soil. If improvements are needed, keep the plant beds small and amend the entire planting bed, not just the hole for the plant. Use compost and mulch to build healthy soil and improve plant resistance to pests and diseases.
Use reclaimed, recycled or local hardscape
Reclaimed materials are the greenest option. Reusing material reduces waste and the need for virgin resources and uses no manufacturing energy. Use reclaimed or repurposed metal for fencing and structures. Use reclaimed brick, concrete and aggregate. Use materials made from recycled plastic, such as recycled plastic lumber.
Use natural pest control
Use artificial habitats, such as bat boxes and bird house, to encourage natural insect control.
Design for energy efficiency
Use landscape, such as trees and shrubs, to slow wind and mitigate temperatures. Winds that skim across asphalt or other hard surfaces tend to pick up and transport summer heat into the yard and home, while winter winds tend to carry heat away from homes. Climbing plants can be helpful because they create a layer of still or slow-moving air around the building, yet still allow wind flow through windows and doors.
Loud, noisy power tools, such as leaf blowers, contribute to noise pollution, especially on weekends. Switch to hand tools such as rakes.
Pick a few of these strategies that are best suited for your yard and your capabilities. Even if you can only use a few ideas you will be contributing to the ecological heath of your neighborhood.