Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sustainable Landscaping Makes Sense

The term “yard work” makes me cringe. As a landscaper I should see dollar signs instead the phrase takes me back to my childhood days of mowing the lawn, pulling weeds, trimming hedges and raking leaves. It’s not that I’m lazy it’s just that I’ve always known that there are better ways to spend time in the outdoors. I love gardening, I loathe yard work. Think of yard work’s ugly consequence- pollution- in the form of smog, herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers and landfill debris. Millions of dollars and hours of energy are spent each year maintaining these little parcels usually just to keep up with the neighbors. We’ve turned what should be our personal oasis into our personal outdoor prison. Fortunately there’s optimism on the suburban horizon and it’s called “sustainable landscaping”.

Sustainable landscaping is the practice of creating an attractive environment in keeping with the existing surrounds. It’s been described as landscaping that contributes to human well-being and at the same time is in harmony with the natural environment. Key components are: reduction and prevention of pollution, conservation of natural resources, maximizing ecological function and a beautiful appearance. The practice takes into consideration topography, local flora and fauna, climate, water usage, and limits the input of pesticides and herbicides to none or a very minimum. These components create not only an environmentally friendly and visibly stunning landscape but also one that is easier on the pocketbook and much, much easier on the back. With sustainable landscaping the homeowner will spend more time on the boat and less time on the mower.

Here is a quick overview and some ideas to create a sustainable landscape.

Reduce that lawn. Replace unused lawn areas with drought tolerant ground covers, mass shrubbery plantings, wildflower gardens, trees, or let it revert back to nature.

Use Native Plants. Use indigenous plants instead of ornamentals given that natives have adapted to the local environment and will require less watering and pampering. Natives are typically pest resistant, require little to no fertilizer and necessitate little pruning.

Create Wildlife Habitat. As we lose wildlife habitat it’s critical for us to step up and create habitat. Song birds, beneficial insects and mammals rely on plants for food and shelter. Trees and native plantings can be home to a multitude of flora and fauna, it’s vital that they be included for a healthy habitat. The addition of a water feature will also attract animals especially in times of drought.

Eliminate Pesticides and Herbicides. Reducing lawn area and using native plantings will drastically lessen the amount of pesticide, herbicide and fertilizers needed for a beautiful yard. New organic fertilizers and pesticides work effectively, are cost efficient and don’t harm the environment. A heavy mulching over a thick layer of newspaper or cardboard will benefit plants and slow weeds.

Manage Water. A healthy landscape requires water thus it’s valuable to collect and manage rainwater before it leaves the yard. Systems such as guttering linked to catch basins and plumbed into an irrigation system is one method of collection. Construction of depressions called “rain gardens” that are linked to the rest of the yard via a slope or swell and planted with moisture loving plants will take water before it leaves the property and allow it to soak into the ground. Using pervious surfaces like concrete pavers, crushed stone and pervious concrete will keep water on the property and out of the storm drain.

These are just a few quick ideas that can be incorporated into an existing property or included in a future project. These basic principles will transform a yard at odds with nature into one that’s harmonious with it. In the process the homeowner loses surroundings requiring unnecessary toil and needless expense and gains a relaxing outdoor sanctuary where margaritas can be consumed without guilt.


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