13 Ways to Make Your Landscape More Sustainable

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.

3 thoughts on “13 Ways to Make Your Landscape More Sustainable”

  1. Absolute­ly agree. Apart from the “nice look” a lawn may lend to a prop­er­ty & a great area for chil­dren to play on, a lawn is of lit­tle use.

  2. Need easy (afford­able) ways to swap out grass for a nice look­ing man­age­able ground cov­er.. And some plant options .

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