Guest post contributed by Kent Swanson, a freelance writer specializing in environmental issues. Kent’s writing is also featured on Practical Environmentalist, Clean Air Gardening: Organic Gardening Advice, and Ecobackyard.
When we think of green architecture, sometimes we forget that our landscaping can have a big impact on how efficient and sustainable a building is in the long run. For example, a few strategically planted trees can help to cool off a building and reduce the amount of energy allocated to air conditioning. The following is a list of 11 suggestions to create an eco-friendly landscape that will complement a holistic approach to green building design. Incorporating a few of these ideas will help you save energy and water, and also reduce environmental contamination. If you’d like to make a suggestion on how to use landscaping to reduce your environmental footprint, please leave a comment!
(1) Incorporate Native Plants in Your Landscaping
When planning your landscape, consider using a collection of native plants. Native plants are adapted to your area, which means they naturally require less maintenance and water than exotic plants. They are also more resistant to pests and diseases than many exotics, reducing the need for pesticides. Additionally, native plants attract native wildlife and beneficial insects. You don’t need to exclude exotic plants from your yard and garden, but incorporating natives in your design can make a big difference. The U.S. EPA’s Greenacres Program is a great place to look for information on using native plants for home landscaping.
(2) Plant Deciduous Shade Trees to Reduce Energy Use
Planting deciduous trees (trees that drop their leaves in the fall) is a great way to cool your home and reduce your air conditioning costs during the summer. When these trees drop their leaves, they also allow sunlight to warm a home or building during the winter. To maximize the benefits of deciduous trees, plant tall trees on the east and west-facing sides of your house. This will help shade your home during the hottest months of the summer. Planting trees on the south facing side of your home can help shade the roof, as the sun will not hit that side of the house much during the summer. Make sure to prune trees so that at least a few branches are shading the roof and the air conditioning unit. This adds up to additional energy savings. The Utah State University Forestry Extension has more information on planting trees to maximize energy savings.
(3) Plant Evergreen Trees to Block Cold Winter Winds
Evergreen trees are very useful if you want to create a natural windbreak to reduce those chilly winds that hit your home during the winter. It’s common to plant trees for windbreaks on the north and west sides of a home. However, you will need to determine the dominant wind direction for your area and plant upwind. Talk to your local extension agent for more information. Again, USU Forestry Extension has some great tips for selecting trees to block the wind.
(4) Use “Xeriscaping” in Your Landscape
While Xeriscaping is mostly associated with the arid landscapes of the Southwestern U.S., its main concepts are applicable to all gardens and landscapes. The basic ideas of Xeriscaping are the use of efficient irrigation systems, low-water use plants, reducing turfgrass, and creating water-wise garden designs. There’s a lot of info out there about Xeriscaping on the internet. Texas A&M has a website that is a great place to start learning about simple Xeriscaping principles.
(5) Use Efficient + Non-polluting Reel or Electric Lawn Mowers
While gas-powered mowers are a great time-saving device, there are alternatives that are cleaner, non-polluting and more energy efficient. Modern reel mowers are a great way to mow the lawn and get exercise at the same time. They are also easier to use than you might imagine. The Christian Science Monitor has an interesting article about the benefits of reel mowers. You can also read about different models of reel mowers here. If you have a large lawn, a reel mower may not be the best solution. In this case, consider a non-polluting electric mower (some of which are cordless!).
(6) Convert to Drip Irrigation Systems
Drip irrigation systems (micro-irrigation systems) deliver water directly to your plants with minimal waste. According to Colorado State University, drip irrigation systems are around 90 percent efficient, whereas traditional sprinkle systems are only around 50-70 percent efficient. Colorado State University’s website is a good location for more info on drip irrigation systems.
(7) Cut Down on Energy Use with Solar Powered Landscaping Lights
While solar energy can still be expensive for a lot of homeowners, using a few solar powered landscaping lights can help to reduce your overall energy use. Here are a couple options for solar lights that you can check out.
(8) Use Rain Barrels to Irrigate + Landscape
You can cut back on your water use by storing water in rain barrels and using it to irrigate you garden and landscaping. Rainwater is naturally soft water that is chemical-free. Plants love it! Using rainwater also reduces municipal storm water runoff. The following link is a good source of information on using rain barrels for water collection.
Composting occurs in nature and is a process that keeps organic nutrients cycling from soil to plants and back to the soil. You can use organic waste from your home to return needed nutrients to the soil. Things like fruit peels, grass clipping, leaves, etc. are great materials to recycle and mix into garden soil. Composting has many benefits, including: (1) Reducing municipal waste, (2) Improving soil moisture retention, (3) Boosting plants’ immune systems, and (4) Reducing the need for chemical fertilizers. This guide to garden composting has lots of tips for successful composting.
(10) Use Natural + Organic Products and Techniques for Landscape Maintenance
Try out a few organic pesticides or fertilizers and see what works for you. Even if you switch to just a couple organic products, you’ll be helping by reducing harmful wastewater runoff and creating a healthier environment for your family and pets. Mostly Organic Gardening is a website with lots of organic gardening tips.
(11) Grow a Small Kitchen Garden of Fruits + Vegetables
Harvesting your own fruits and vegetables is a great way to save money and live in a more sustainable way. Of course, it’s always recommended to use natural and organic gardening techniques when you grow fruits and veggies.