1. Rethink Lawns: Lawn maintenance uses water, fertilizers, and pesticides; results in water and air pollution; contributes to climate change; and reduces available habitat. Therefore, rethinking lawns can contribute to sustainability. For example:
- Reduce lawn size.
- Maintain lawns more sustainably. Mow higher to shade out weeds. Mulch clippings on the lawn instead of bagging to keep nutrients on site and reduce the need for fertilizers. Contrary to popular belief, thatch buildup is caused by excessive fertilizing and watering, not by the buildup of lawn clippings.
- Conserve water by irrigating less. Only water early in the morning, to reduce evaporation loss, and water deeply and less frequently.
- Consider lawn alternatives, like a moss, sedge, or wildflower lawn.
- Embrace a certain amount of weeds. Is a perfect lawn worth harming environmental or public health?
2. Reduce Use of Synthetic Fertilizers: Test soil to determine if fertilizer is needed, and if the test determines the soil is low in certain nutrients, time the application appropriately to reduce runoff into surface waters.
3. Reduce Use of Pesticides: While many people are concerned about pesticides in food, homeowners use 10 times as many pesticides per acre as farmers. Some may assume they are safe, due to their ubiquity. Others may assume that synthetic pesticides – but not natural pesticides – are harmful. The truth is much more complicated and depends on many factors. The bottom line is that, while pesticides kill pests, they can have other unwanted effects. For example, pesticides can harm beneficial insects, such as pollinators and predators, and can result in bird and amphibian deaths. In addition, children and pets are particularly susceptible, as they come in close contact with the lawn, and often put things into their mouths. And since children are still developing, pesticides may affect them differently. Some commonly used lawn pesticides have been shown to be correlated with various cancers and hormonal disruption and should be used with caution, or avoided if possible.
4. Conserve Fossil Fuels: Conventional lawn and garden maintenance uses fossil fuels in many ways. For example, lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and trimmers directly burn gas. Water requires energy to clean and transport. Fertilizers and pesticides are produced using fossil fuels. Transporting plants and hauling away leaves and grass burn fossil fuels.
5. Conserve Water: There are many ways to conserve water in the landscape beyond the lawn. Examples include planting native or drought-tolerant plants, using a rain barrel, planting a rain garden to reduce urban runoff, using mulch, and installing drip irrigation.
6. Use Native Plants: Native plants evolved in a given area, and are therefore adapted to local climate and soil conditions and have important connections with native wildlife. As a result, they require less maintenance, such as water and fertilizer, and support 29 times more biodiversity than non-native plants (Tallamy, Bringing Nature Home).
7. Plant a Diversity of Native Plants: Ecosystem functioning (show diagram?) depends on biodiversity. Each species in an ecosystem plays an important role, and systems with low diversity, such as lawns, are less stable and less resilient to change.
8. Use Naturalistic Designs: Formal gardens, with clear structure, geometric shapes, and symmetry, require a heavy human hand. Controlling nature requires a lot of maintenance! Naturalistic designs draw inspiration from nature, and in nature, plants grow and move. Designing gardens that mimic nature will result in a garden that can grow and change with less maintenance.
9. Use Perennials: Annuals, or plants with a one-year life cycle, provide many homeowners with desired season-long blooming. But annuals require yearly purchasing and planting. Perennials, on the other hand, grow back every year on their own. Perennials tend to have a higher up-front cost, and require two to three years of more intensive care, but are a more sustainable (and less expensive) option in the long run.
10. Use Compost: Compost is decomposed organic matter, from kitchen scraps to yard waste. Applying compost to the garden is one of the best things you can do for your plants, as organic matter provides nutrients, helps soil to retain water, and suppresses diseases and pests. In addition, composting organic material is good for the environment. Around 25% of solid waste in landfills is organic matter, and decaying organic matter in landfills produces methane, a greenhouse gas with a global warming potential over 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.
11. Use Mulch: Mulch is any material that covers the surface of soil, helping to reduce water loss and suppressing weed growth. Inorganic mulches — those not derived from living matter, such as plastic and gravel — will not break down over time or provide nutrients. Organic mulches come from something that was once alive, add nutrients to the soil as they decompose, and can include straw, chopped leaves or grass, cardboard, newspaper, or bark. Be aware of the source of colored bark mulch.
12. Include Edibles: Growing your own food saves money; produces healthy, local foo;, and can help build connections to our food supply. Food gardens can include much more than the standard vegetables (like tomatoes, peppers, squashes, and beans, all of which are annuals), and don’t have to be confined to the back yard. (Resources: https://www.amazon.com/Edible-Estates-Attack-Revised-Project/dp/193520212X; https://www.amazon.com/Edible-Landscaping-Rosalind-Creasy/dp/1578051541) Consider using edible plants, such as fruit trees or bushes, in landscaping, and plant perennial herbaceous crops as well.
13. Plant the Right Plant in the Right Place: Happy plants are easy plants. Improperly siting plants, such as planting a shade-lover in a sunny spot, will result in the need for more maintenance and resource use.