Whether you’re working with a lot of outdoor space, or something much smaller, eco-friendly landscaping, gardening, and outdoor living has been on the mind of many who are looking to greenify their day to day lives. And for good reason.
Not only do eco-friendly choices in your yard make a positive impact on the planet, but they make a positive impact on your wallet as well. Not to mention, sustainable landscaping and gardening usually require less upkeep and maintenance than their counterparts. However, if you’ve never ventured in the world of more environmentally friendly landscape designs and choices, it can be tough to know where to start.
Thankfully, there are environmentally friendly options for every lifestyle, skill level, and budget. From native planting to trading in your gas mower, it’s the small things that can make the biggest difference.
Choose Native Plants
If you were born and raised in Florida, chances are you’re not too happy after a few days spent in a frigid Chicago winter. Native plants share similar sentiments about being planted in areas they are not accustomed to.
Any sustainably-minded gardener or landscape designer will tell you the benefits of choosing to feature native plants in your outdoor living space. By selecting plants that are native to your area of the country, you are making a choice that is highly advantageous to your environment in more than one way.
Native plants are not only accustomed to the seasonal changes of your area, but the water and average rainfall levels as well. Flora that is already adjusted to the fluctuations in temperature and moisture have the best chance to thrive in your space, with the least effort from you. Because these plants are accustomed to average precipitation and conditions in your area, they are less susceptible to drought, pests, and disease. This means you can skip the chemical pesticide and the excess watering. But that’s not the only benefit!
Native plants do more than thrive naturally- they help the fauna in your area live healthier lives as well. Localized flora provides built in habitats for the birds, butterflies, bees, and other necessary wildlife in your area. These animals and insects provide free pollination for blooming plants, as well as provide you with natural pest control in your yard. If you hate mosquitoes as much as most people, that may be incentive enough.
Native plantings vary by area, and can be easily found by researching your zone, or inquiring with local garden centers. To easily find flora native to your state, search your area by zip code on nwf.org.
Pavers over Pavement: Permeable Hardscaping
If you’ve ever driven through a typical suburb, you may notice a lot of properties have one thing in common: long, opaque, hard surface driveways. While traditional poured concrete driveways may be somewhat practical and aesthetically appealing to homeowners, they also create a cause for one of the more pervasive environmental issues linked to landscape design- rainwater runoff.
Rainwater runoff caused by impenetrable hard surfacing sends unimaginable amounts of polluted water directly into storm drains, which can be harmful to local waterways and the fish and animals that call them home. However, this doesn’t mean you need to forgo a patio or paving around your home. In fact, patios, driveways, and paved paths can be incredibly eco-friendly landscaping design options. To minimize runoff, avoid polluting storm drains, and maintain groundwater supply in your area, try hardscaping your yard with permeable pavers.
Permeable pavers allow water to pass through small openings in or between the hardscape materials and absorb back into the ground, resulting in less runoff, and less pollution in storm drains and waterways. Interlocking pavers can be excellent and eco-friendly solutions for any outdoor aesthetic. Companies such as Techo-Bloc provide a huge variety of premium options for everything from modern to rustic spaces, all while offering the permeability not provided by poured concrete.
Other options such as brick, stone, and even crushed stone can be eco-friendly and budget friendly ways to give hardscaping in your yard a green boost.
Reduce Outdoor Water Usage
You may have guessed that some water is wasted in our pursuit of greener lawns. But the actual number is astonishing. A report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indicated that as much as 50 percent of water used for outdoor purposes is wasted. That means half of the water used in upkeep of your outdoor space is either unnecessary, or being delivered in ways that minimize or completely eliminate its effectiveness in maintaining the look and health of your landscaping.
Furthermore, in dry regions of the Southwest, water usage per home can be delegated to outdoor maintenance in figures as high as 60%. Pair that with the figures reported by the EPA, and as much as 30% of water used in your home could potentially be going to waste. If you find yourself endlessly watering your lawn, and are looking for ways to end the cycle, consider trying one the following eco-friendly landscaping alternatives.
Mulching, and other non-lawn methods of organic ground cover, are some of the best ways to reduce water waste in your outdoor space. Not only does mulching your garden beds reduce the amount of water needed for maintenance, but it also inhibits weed formation, regulates soil temperatures, and retains what moisture it does encounter. Organic mulching also provides critical nutrients to the soil as it breaks down, making it a sustainable option for any yard.
Alternative Ground Cover
If you’re fighting a losing battle against your lawn each year, try trading it in for a drought and water eco-friendly landscaping alternative. Options such as moss and other creeping perennials provide the greenscape you’re looking for, and are soft underfoot. Many require little to no maintenance, and re-emerge every year without assistance.
Dead set on the look of a lawn? Fake it til’ you make it. Artificial turf has gotten a bad rep in previous years, but modern innovations have made it an eco-friendly, sustainable option for families searching for the traditional look and feel of grass without the upkeep.
Drip Irrigation and Drought Tolerant Planting
Gardening is on the rise. However, much of the water we use to keep our beds saturated is going to waste due to improper delivery. To maximize delivery of water, try drip irrigation. This affordable irrigation system not only saves you water, but helps plants flourish by delivering water directly to the roots, reducing the amount of overall water used.
If your area experiences little precipitation, try choosing drought tolerant trees and plants. Being eco-friendly shouldn’t mean you are left with a brown or wilting landscape. By purposefully landscaping with trees and plants which require less water, you are ensuring that your space can be as green as your intentions.
Incorporate Rain Barrels
If your area does experience measurable rainfall and precipitation each year, one of the most eco-friendly landscaping practices you can adopt is the use of a rain barrel. Collecting or harvesting rainfall is a great way to recycle and make the most of water that may otherwise end up in city storm drains.
Rain barrels can be found in countless designs, and can actually add visual appeal to your outdoor living space. Choose from options that double as planters, organic finishes such as sandstone, and even clean designs in modern palettes.
For those who aren’t ready to implement full rain barrels, rain chains can be great stepping stones and provide decorative value to outdoor spaces of any size or design.
Pollinator Gardens & Pesticides
It’s no secret that bees have been going through a particularly turbulent time lately. While reports paint a bleak, sometimes dire future for the survival of bees, there’s something you can do to help, right at home in your own backyard.
Pollinator gardens are gardens planted to encourage the health and numbers of local pollinators such as beads and butterflies in your area. The USDA published reference material with guidelines on how to best implement a pollinator garden in your outdoor space. Among these tips are recommendations for planting native flora, avoiding modern hybrid flowers, and incorporating drip irrigation. Unsurprising, a main suggestion is to avoid the use of pesticides.
Scientists agree, harsh chemical pesticides are bad for our environment and our pollinators alike. From polluting waterways and groundwater, to killing bees and other wildlife, the use of pesticides in your yard may keep your grass and shrubbery looking pristine, but they have a detrimental impact on the environment itself.
When possible, environmentalists advise avoiding chemical pesticides and even fertilizers when possible. If pesticides must be used, look for natural, non toxic options. Thankfully, employing other eco-friendly practices such as native planting often means your landscaping will have natural resistance against pests, meaning human intervention in the maintenance of your garden can remain minimal.
Both a great way to reduce food waste, and to improve the quality of the soil on your property, implementing a daily practice of composting can provide a huge boost to the eco-friendliness of your yard. According to the EPA, food waste and yard scraps make up 30% of what we throw away, and nearly all of this material can be composted at home. Though the idea of composting can seem overwhelming, it is actually a simple eco-friendly landscaping practice that can be done in even the smallest of spaces.
All you need to begin a simple compost is a bin, purchasable at any hardware or garden center, or a designated space away from outdoor areas where you may gather. Composting does not have to be unsightly. Employing methods such as surrounding your bin with foliage, or creating an enclosed area blocked with lattice or wooden slating can hide composting from view.
Once you are happy with the configuration of your compost bin, you can begin building a compost pile. For basics on how to start your own simple compost, visit the EPA website.
Try a Reel Mower
If your lawn space is on the small side, consider skipping the gas mower for a more economical option- push mowers, or reel mowers. While the basic mechanics of the reel mower haven’t changed much over the years, the design has gotten an upgrade.
Today’s best models are made from premium materials that guarantee the sharpness of the blade, as well as let you control the length of your lawn with ease. Not only are these mowers a great way to reduce air pollution and consumption of fossil fuels, but the physical act of mowing your lawn is a great way to put a little extra exercise into your day.
Solar Powered Lighting
Outdoor lighting can do wonders for the ambience and even the safety of your outdoor living space. Whether you’re making walkways navigable, or simply providing nighttime visibility for seating areas, pools, or patios, lighting is a must in many backyards. However, frequently using your outdoor lighting can make a significant and unwanted impact on your electric bill, along with being unsustainable. For outdoor lighting that won’t make a dent in your wallet or an impact on mother earth.
From flood lights to illuminating steps outside your home, solar-powered lighting options eliminate or greatly reduce the carbon footprint created by alternative lighting solutions. If solar power isn’t an option, choosing low-energy bulbs can make a big difference as well.
Little Things Make a Big Difference
Many of us may feel like creating sustainable outdoor spaces is a project that is beyond our capacity. This could not be more untrue. No matter how much you have, or what your budget is, small changes can make a huge difference. Eliminating pressure on yourself to undertake every aspect of eco-friendly landscaping all at once can be daunting. Rather than focusing on the full breadth of options available, choose a few to implement and enjoy the benefits.
From choosing pavers over poured concrete to planting native to implementing a rain barrel or compost bin in your yard, making your outdoor space greener doesn’t have to be difficult, and mother earth will thank you in return.