Sustainable Landscaping

By: Brett Freeman , Contributing Writer
In: Green Renovations

Most landscaping plans are the result of tradition–a big front lawn, hedges along the front path–rather than common sense. The result is a yard that requires a lot of work and a lot of chemical help. A more sensible approach to landscaping can result in a yard that grows better, pollutes less, and requires less care. It can even lower your heating and cooling bills.

Grass isn’t Green
Grass is so ubiquitous in suburban landscaping that its use as the dominant feature is simply assumed in most cases. Indeed, for many, residential neighborhoods are inextricably linked with “sweeping lawns.” A thick, lush lawn is undeniably pretty, but it’s not really green, at least in the environmental sense. Maintaining a healthy lawn requires a lot of water, a lot of fertilizer, and regular mowing. In most cases, weed killers and pesticides are also needed, and for what?

Grass has a shallow root system that absorbs far less water than most plants. The runoff that results is replete with fertilizers and pesticides that can have a damaging effect on the streams and lakes where they end up. And mowing, in addition to being tiresome and noisy, is also dirty, with lawn mowers accounting for 5 percent of the ozone-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released into the atmosphere nationwide. Replacing significant portions of your lawn with planting beds and gardens is an alternative that can result in significantly less watering, less chemicals, and less work. It’s also attractive and definitely more “green.”

Too often, tradition dictates what is used in landscaping. English boxwood shrubs, for example, have long been a staple of landscaping in many parts of the country. They do form nice hedges. They’re also expensive, require a lot of care, and can die suddenly if conditions are too wet or too dry. Native species, on the other hand, are supposed to thrive in their own part of the world. Native plants are already adapted to the local soil and climate, meaning they need little or no water or fertilizer, and they are naturally resistant to garden pests.

A good landscaping plan can not only save you money on maintenance, but also on heating and cooling costs. Planting deciduous trees south and west of your house can keep your house in the shade during the hottest part of the day in summer. In winter the trees’ leaves are gone, so the sun is able to penetrate and provide warmth. And evergreen trees and tall shrubs planted to the west and north of your house can be effective windbreaks in winter. Such strategic placing of trees can result in heating and cooling savings of 25 percent or more.