How to Go Green While You Grow Green
Your yard is an extension of your home, and as such, it should be something you take pride in and enjoy. But as environmental issues become more urgent, you may feel torn between your desire to have the best lawn on the block and your commitment to Mother Earth. Are those two things mutually exclusive? Not at all … as long as you open your mind to new ideas about what the “perfect” landscape looks like.
The first step is to acknowledge the cost — both environmental and financial — of a poorly planned landscape. A non-native covering of grass requires extensive watering and (often) chemical fertilizer treatments, which combine to send toxic runoff into waterways . Dense plant beds can harbor disease-carrying mosquitoes and ticks, but improper pesticide use is harmful to humans as well as the environment. And if that makes you want to give up and pave over your entire lot, remember that impervious cover (like concrete) interferes with rainwater absorption, creating erosion and flooding .
Fortunately, reversing those trends doesn’t just stop the damage to Mother Nature, it actively promotes a healthier ecosystem, and Americans are embracing the new possibilities. According to a survey by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), more than 83% of respondents expressed a preference for native and/or drought-resistant plants, and 80% prioritized low-maintenance landscapes.
Ready to join in? Here are some tips to make your landscaping more environmentally friendly!
1. Consider reducing the size of your lawn.
Don’t worry. We’ve already rejected the idea of a giant concrete wasteland. Instead, consider a vegetable garden, mulched beds, deciduous shrubs, or alternative groundcover like succulents (in hot climates) or mint, thyme, or clover. Ask your local garden center for the best choices for your location.
2. Start with the dirty work.
Namely, the dirt (or soil) in your yard. Test your soil to see how much nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and lime it needs before adding any nutrients. You might not need any! Whenever possible, use eco-friendly options like compost, mulch, and, if needed, fertilizers made with “natural organic” or “slow release” ingredients.
3. Plant smarter, not harder.
If your roses die off every year or your grass needs constant attention, you may just be planting the wrong thing. Xeriscaping (using native plants that are drought-tolerant and slow-growing) will allow you to spend less time tending your yard and more time enjoying it. Be sure to consider the sunlight, water, and soil needs of everything you want to plant before you put it into the ground.
4. Water wisely.
Infrequent deep watering is more effective than frequent shallow watering, and remember that you can always have too much of a good thing (including water). Soaker hoses and drip irrigation direct water down to roots where it will do the most good. But again, start with plants that can thrive according to the natural rainfall patterns in your area.
5. Be considerate of the critters …
Nobody wants their carefully tended garden to become a buffet for every aphid in the neighborhood, but indiscriminate chemical warfare will take out helpful insects like grasshoppers and butterflies as well. Rabbits get a bad rap for chewing up vegetables, but they also keep invasive plants under control. And while snakes may creep you out, most are harmless, and they are key to keeping animal and insect populations in balance. Get to know your local wildlife and look for ways to coexist when practical.
6. … but don’t let them crawl all over you.
Some species, like mosquitoes and ticks, spread diseases that are dangerous to humans. In these cases, the best offense is a good defense. Minimize standing water, clear out dead plants to keep ticks at bay, and take advantage of plants that attract good insects (hello bees!) while repelling less helpful strains (goodbye mosquitoes!). Depending on your climate, this may include marigolds, lavender, mint, rosemary, and more.
7. Embrace the possibilities!
Once you throw out the rulebook for what you think a yard should be, you’re free to imagine what it could be. A mulched playscape reduces the amount of lawn you have to tend while giving your kids a place to burn off energy and get some fresh air. A gravel bed with some container plants is aquifer-friendly and makes a peaceful meditation space. And a patio doesn’t have to start with a drab concrete slab. You can easily host a cookout on a deck made from reclaimed wood or a patio made from porous pavement. With a little effort, you can create a space that nurtures your soul as well as the environment!