If you’re interested in making more sustainable choices when it comes to your yard and garden, you’re not alone. In recent years, as concerns about climate change and other environmental issues have grown, designers and homeowners alike have become more and more interested in green landscaping. Also known as sustainable or eco-landscaping, this increasingly popular movement is all about creating landscapes that not only look beautiful but support the environment by nurturing wildlife, optimizing resource use, and reducing waste and pollution.
To help make your landscape green in more ways than one, here are some simple steps you can take to get started.
Choose native plants.
When it comes to choosing plants for your eco-friendly landscape, it’s best to stick to plants that are native to your area. Native plants, or cultivars that have been derived from native plants, are already naturally adapted to your regional environment and particular climate conditions. This means that they are easy to grow and maintain and don’t need much, or any, special treatment. For example, if you live in a dry or arid zone, plants native to that area will be far more drought-tolerant and won’t require excess watering. (Just be sure to check up on native species that may be invasive or aggressive, however, as these can easily spread and take over wild areas.)
Plant to attract pollinators.
Creating a thriving native garden is also a great way to attract and support local wildlife, particularly pollinators like bees and butterflies. Habitat loss in urban areas is a major problem for pollinators, so why not make your landscape into a vibrant refuge for these important species? Native wildflowers and herbs are particularly good choices here; just keep in mind that it’s usually best to plant pollinator-friendly blooms in bands or clumps so they’re visible from a distance and easily accessible.
Make room for trees.
If you have extra room in your landscape, consider planting a tree or two. According to several studies, gardens with trees are not only more attractive to local wildlife, but they can also benefit homeowners by reducing noise pollution and improving air purity. Also, deciduous trees can help provide sustainable passive cooling by shading your home during the hot summer months.
Making smart choices regarding water use is one of the most important ways to ensure that your landscape is eco-friendly. Grass lawns, for example, are notorious water hogs. If your landscape includes a significant amount of lawn, consider allowing the grass to go dormant in the summer. For the rest of your garden, a drip irrigation system is a very effective water-wise choice. These systems deliver water in slow drips directly to plant roots, so far less water is wasted.
Another great way to save water is to harvest rainwater for later use in your garden. Connecting a rain barrel (or several!) to the downspouts of your home allows you to capture rain runoff from your roof that you can use to water plants during drier weeks or months. There are many different types of rain barrels for purchase, and most come with handy hose attachments that make dispensing water from the barrel easy. Just be sure to check any local laws around rainwater harvesting, as some states have legislation in place that restricts this activity.
Create a rain garden.
Capturing rainwater in a barrel is just one way to help water stay on-site and avoid water loss from runoff. Another effective and attractive option is to create a rain garden. A rain garden is a sunken, planted garden area where stormwater runoff from your roof or hardscaping can be channeled into, allowing the water to slowly soak into the ground rather than simply flowing off-site.
Rain gardens offer all kinds of environmental benefits. For example, they are important for recharging groundwater, and they help purify surface water by filtering out many pollutants. According to the EPA, almost 70 percent of water pollution is caused by stormwater runoff, and half of this pollution is due to chemicals used in residential yards and homes.
Reduce or eliminate chemical use.
Speaking of chemicals, an obvious way to make your landscape more eco-friendly is to reduce or eliminate your use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and/or herbicides. Start by testing your soil—you may find that your soil doesn’t need any chemical nutrients at all. If further nutrients are required, however, consider supplying them through compost or other organic materials. It’s very easy to make your own compost (there are countless resources available online that can help you get started), or you can purchase compost from your local gardening center.
Your hardscaping choices also play an important role in decreasing rainwater runoff in your landscape. Using permeable surfaces wherever possible allows water to seep into the ground gradually (benefiting from filtration along the way) rather than rushing off into stormwater drains. Pea gravel and decomposed granite are excellent permeable surfaces that can also boost a landscape’s aesthetic appeal.