In recent years, sustainable landscaping has seen a surge in popularity, as homeowners become more interested in what they can do to help the environment. Sustainable landscaping can also help reduce water bills and is often easier to maintain.
Here’s a quick guide to the basics if you’re interested in making your garden and outdoor landscaping more eco-friendly.
Using Trees and Shrubs for Energy Efficiency
Did you know that your outdoor landscaping can help you save energy indoors? By planting trees, large bushes, and other shade cover strategically, you can help keep your home cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.
Deciduous trees are a good choice in particular. A leafy, deciduous tree planted on the south side of your home can block the summer heat, while letting precious sunlight through in the winter when its leaves are gone. On the hottest days, the air temperature under a large tree can be as much as 25 degrees cooler than the temperature above a paved parking lot. If you live in a region with cold winters, evergreen trees and bushes can similarly provide protection from winter winds.
Be sure not to plant trees too close to your home, however, as their roots can compromise the foundation as they grow. Dense shrubs or vines on your home can also invite pests inside.
If you have an outdoor air conditioning unit, make sure you shade it with a tree or other cover. Doing so can increase its efficiency by as much as 10%.
Eco-Friendly Weed Control, Pest Control, and Fertilizing
Another way to make your garden more eco-friendly is to use natural methods to control weeds, reduce pest infestations, and fertilize your garden. For example, use compost as a fertilizer. Compost is made of decomposed vegetable waste, grass clippings, dead leaves, and other organic matter; you can easily start your own compost pile with scraps from your kitchen. By using compost in your garden, you can greatly improve your soil quality and encourage healthy plant growth. On top of that, using compost reduces or eliminates the need for fertilizers.
Weed control is also an important consideration in eco-friendly landscape design. While many agree that weeds are unsightly, the majority of them are quite harmless, so it might be helpful to determine if you can accept some weeds in your landscape, or use natural weed control methods to keep them at bay—such as simply pulling them out.
Getting Rid of the Lawn
Saving water is a key aspect of green landscaping. According to the EPA, about 30% of the water used by American families goes to outdoor purposes, such as watering gardens and lawns. Decreasing this figure will enable you to reduce your water bill, and conserve a precious resource, especially if you live in a dry, arid, or drought-prone region like much of the Western half of the country.
One of the most effective ways to reduce outdoor water use is to downsize or completely get rid of your lawn. Lawns require about 50-60 inches of water per year; if your region receives less rainfall, you’ll probably use a lot of water maintaining your lawn. The Association of California Water Agencies, for example, estimates that a small, 1,000-square foot lawn demands 35,000 gallons of water per year—or more if the lawn is over-irrigated, as is common. Therefore, anything you can do to shrink or replace your lawn will probably go a long way toward reducing your total home water use.
Planting a Xeriscape Garden
One lawn alternative is xeriscaping, which is typically used in the Southwestern US, but can be incorporated into nearly any garden. A garden designed with xeriscape principles is based around plants that do not require large amounts of water beyond natural rainfall. Mulch and compost are often used to reduce evaporation, and plants with similar moisture needs are grouped together to reduce water waste. Cacti, succulents, and even intricate rock designs are common in many xeriscape gardens, but there are other low-water alternatives, too.
In many cases, plants that are native to your region require less water than those that are not. That’s because they are adapted to the unique climate and weather conditions where you live. Ask your local home improvement store or nursery if they carry any native plants, or search online for a specialized native plant nursery in your area.
Whether you have a xeriscape garden or not, it’s always a good idea to examine your watering practices to see where you can improve. To reduce evaporation, use your sprinklers after dew has fallen in the evening or prior to the sun rising in the morning; don’t water plants during the hottest parts of the day. Additionally, soil moisture sensors can be installed that automatically shut off the sprinklers once the desired level of moisture has been reached.
An alternative is a drip irrigation system, which is typically 20 to 50% more efficient than a conventional pop-up sprinkler system, because it delivers water slowly, right to the root of the plant. Drip irrigation may be more expensive to install up front, but if you have high water bills, you’ll likely save money in the long run.
The many benefits of environmentally friendly landscaping cannot be overlooked—and what’s more, these benefits are not only for the planet, but for homeowners as well, in the form of lower water and energy bills.