The Green Way

By Lesley Sauls

February 15, 2008 6 min read


Eco-friendly landscaping practices come naturally

By Lesley Sauls

Copley News Service

With summer on its way, the heat is on to get your yard looking its best. With Mother Nature in mind, many homeowners are creating eco-friendly landscaping - and finding that an environmentally responsible space not only looks great, but takes less work to maintain.

Whether you want to conserve water, use all-natural products, play catch on a verdant lawn or simplify yard work, there's an eco-conscious way to do it all. Xeriscaping, organic gardening, traditional lawns and hardscaping can all be done in ways that keep the environment healthy and provide a striking setting for your abode.

Xeriscaping is an alternate to having a grassy yard. By grouping plants with similar requirements together, you can manage and reduce water use by as much as 60 percent. Native plant species are already adapted to local rainfall and may require no additional water at all.

Artfully arranged berms with indigenous flora can add colorful interest to an otherwise water-hungry lawn. Look to yews, lavender, sedum, thyme and hemlocks for variety without a high fertilizer or water demand. Colorful boulders, statuary or fountains scattered thoughtfully among plants provide an eye-catching change of pace.

Xeriscaping and water conservation are important in all areas of the country, not just arid climates.

"There is no reason why the seven principles of xeriscaping can't be applied anywhere in the United States," says Jean VanPelt of the Colorado WaterWise Council.

Those principles are: plan and design carefully, improve soil, irrigate efficiently, zone plants together according to water and light needs, mulch, choose native or low-water turf grass, and maintain xeriscape appropriately.

In addition to being water-conscious, organic gardeners make it their goal to use as few chemicals as possible on their landscape in an effort to keep poisons out of the watershed and animal population.

Fertilizers run off yards into city drains and eventually enter lakes and streams where they cause an overabundance of weeds and algae that disturbs riparian habitats and food chains. Birds and animals of prey can digest toxic pesticides in the food they eat. As they die off, pesky bugs and rodents remain without any kind of natural predator. In either case, nature's balance is shifted out of alignment.

The organic solution is to get creative. Spray diluted soapy water on plants to eliminate aphids, and spread pine needles around acid-loving plants to add nutrients without the use of harsh chemicals. Yard and kitchen waste can be piled in the far reaches of the yard or in a store-bought compost bin to decompose and produce a rich fertilizer for gardening.

A lush, emerald lawn can also be achieved in an environmentally aware way. Bob Rastani, of Rastani Landscape Design in San Diego, says grass consumes more water than any other vegetation.

Although a healthy lawn can be an effective erosion control, grass requires intense water management to induce proper growth and reduce runoff pollution. The best plan is to water grass once each week with a slow soak early in the morning. Yards generally require 1 inch of water per week and may cultivate fungus and disease if watered during the evening or nighttime hours. Mow frequently with blades that are sharpened two to three times each year to cause the least distress to the grass, and let the clippings fall as you cut.

"Everybody should mulch their clippings or they are bagging up a natural fertilizer," Rastani says.

Another way to make the most out of a grassy yard is to call your local extension office for a soil test to determine the chemistry, quality and density of your soil. This evaluation will direct you as to how much fertilizer, insecticide and water to use. Visit a local landscape company to determine what kind of grass is best for where you live. A properly watered and tended lawn will naturally crowd out many unattractive weeds and cut down on the need for chemical supplements.

Hardscape requires the least amount of water, fertilizer and homeowner effort. By putting in a patio, pathways, walls and planters, a yard can become an easy place in which to gather and enjoy long summer days. Incorporate potted plants, stone benches or tastefully placed xeriscapes, and your simple space can become an enchanted garden.

Point downspouts from gutters into attractive rain barrels for future watering needs or at least direct them toward a permeable surface where rainwater can make use of the earth's natural filter before it seeps into lakes and streams.

Eco-friendly landscaping can be attractive and showcase your own personal style, and it doesn't require much more labor than you already devote to your yard. In fact, these options will relieve you of enough work that you'll have time to enjoy the paradise you create.

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