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A Beginner’s Guide to Sustainable Landscaping

A Beginner's Guide to Sustainable Landscaping

While many modern greenies already run ultra sustainable homes, some of us are still fairly new to sustainable landscaping.

Why sustainable landscaping?

After having made your house’s interiors completely eco-conscious, the logical next step is to extend these principles to your property’s outdoor spaces. However, conventional landscaping methods are often wasteful and detrimental to the natural environment.

The good news is, landscaping with an eye for sustainability is not only shockingly easy; but is also a satisfying endeavor. Focusing on some key aspects will help boost your eco-landscaping efforts, and soil conservation is an excellent starting point.

1. Choose native plants.

A Beginner’s Guide to Sustainable Landscaping 1 native plants

Native plants are as beneficial to the health of the soil and local wildlife as they are water efficient.

Because plants that grow naturally in your region are what the local wildlife has adapted to, cultivating a garden of natives means that these organisms are able to make the most use of them, and that you won’t run the risk of planting an invasive species.

Native plants require less maintenance than others as well, and this can help enrich soil value, improve water retention, and simplifies wildlife management—all of which are essential to sustainable landscaping. You can also work with whatever plants are already in your yard, of course, and replace those slowly, if at all. Instead of redoing the entire yard, preserve what you can.

Many people love the look of a large green yard, but such spaces don’t actually do anything, and are basically useless to wildlife. Instead of spending your time, energy, and resources on creating and maintaining a plain turf, cultivate trees, shrubs, and flowers spread throughout your yard.

Some people will allow their whole yard to become a giant garden, and while this option isn’t for everyone, it’s worth exploring if you have the interest and the means.

2. Take care of your soil.

A Beginners Guide to Sustainable Landscaping 2 compost from Quartz

Compost keeps soil healthy and nutrient-rich. Image credit: Quartz

To grow plants well, you’ll need healthy soil. Caring for the soil promotes growth as well as prevents soil erosion. Plantings with deep roots allow the plants to hold onto soil, while compost and a decent fertilizer can keep it full of nutrients.

Composting is an excellent option that allows you to keep your soil healthy and reduce your waste at the same time. Simply turn it in with a new layer of mulch in the spring and again at the end of fall.

If you’re working with a garden, you can also consider a groundcover during winter. A groundcover plant prevents soil erosion during the off-season and supplies organic matter to the soil. Many farmers use them to great benefit on their farms, so there’s no reason you can’t do it on your own.

3. Understand the value of dirt.

A Beginners Guide to Sustainable Landscaping 3 soil from HGTV

A good groundcover, such as this bed of succulents, helps prevent erosion and protects from drought. Image credit: HGTV

If you’re familiar with the Great Depression of the 1920s, then you’ve probably heard of the Dust Bowl, which was a the direct result of soil neglect in the Great Plains and prairies of North America. The period’s wheat boom had caused farmers to plow deeply and uproot native grasses in the plains, converting them into cropland.

The farmers then planted wheat, and only wheat, in their fields. So when a harsh drought struck the area, there was no root system, no rich soil composition, and no water retention factor keeping the ground intact. Once the high winds struck, the soil all just blew away.

Farmers realised that if they want to be able to work the land, they need to care for the soil. The government subsidized soil rehabilitation and education programs for farms so that people could learn how to care for their soil.

Soil care and soil conservation has since become so central to growing plants, and many options have been developed to encourage it. Farmers and gardeners alike understand the importance of composting, groundcover, and crop rotation.

Another good soil care option is called hydroseeding. This is where a slurry of water, seeds, fertilizers, mulch, and more is sprayed over the soil. It does the double duty of protecting the soil and planting seeds.

4. Understand the wider impact of soil health.

A Beginners Guide to Sustainable Landscaping 4 soil health from Soil Health Consortia Soil Health Consortia for Eastern and Southern Africa

The quality of the soil affects the entire ecosystem’s quality of life. Image credit: Soil Health Consortia for Eastern and Southern Africa

The Dust Bowl had a sweeping, prolonged impact on the ecosystems it ravaged. Animals had to move or die as the lack of stable soil caused everything from deer to earthworms to leave the area. If a place does not have good soil, people can’t live there either.

Furthermore, the Dust Bowl didn’t just bring about a lack of food for various life forms; it also left about 7,000 dead from ‘dust pneumonia,’ due to the huge dust storms that were stirred up. It took years to rehabilitate the soil via groundcover grass seeding, contour plowing, strip plowing and rotating crops, and shelter belts.

Lastly, without good soil, rainwater doesn’t get into underground waterways, aquifers dry up, and any water that does penetrate is poorly filtered and unsafe for our use. This can then lead to problems with waterways and wells. Since we already have a fresh water scarcity, any issue affecting our water supply is a serious one, and that includes soil health.

5. Know and appreciate the value of water.

A Beginners Guide to Sustainable Landscaping 5 water from Wasatch Community Gardens

Water conservation is key to truly sustainable landscaping. Image credit: Wasatch Community Gardens

Water, especially fresh water, is an increasingly scarce resource. There are many things you can do to help conserve water, but the first and foremost is to make the most out of your watering. One of the quickest and easiest ways to do this is with drip irrigation. It delivers water directly to the root system, without runoff or excess water usage.

If you’d like to learn more ways to conserve water, check out last month’s post, Water Saving Tips for Home Gardeners.

Creating a sustainable landscape at home benefits not only your household, but also the community and ecosystem to which you belong. Following the principles of nature in your planting and gardening saves you money as well, so there’s no downside.

If it’s cold and snowy where you live at the moment, then start planning what you’ll do in the spring. Otherwise, why not start now?

Feature Image courtesy of Minute Man Landscaping

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About the author

Megan Ray Nichols

Megan Ray Nichols is a blogger and green living enthusiast. She is passionate about science, sustainability and writing; and uses her skills and knowledge to communicate scientific discoveries in a more palatable way.

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