What is Sustainable Landscaping?
Sustainable, or green landscaping, is a way of designing and
maintaining yards, gardens and landscapes in a way that reduces harm to
the environment, provides healthier places to work, live, and play, and
saves time and money by offering reduced maintenance.
How do you go about designing a sustainable landscape? Make sure it
incorporates these elements:
· Use a greater variety of plants, especially native plants.
Native plants are those that were found in the area prior to European
settlements. See this site for a list of plants native to the Harford
County/Maryland regions: http://www.mdflora.org/.
Native plants are well adapted to the soil,
climate (temperatures and rainfall), and wildlife of the region, and can
thus do very well with minimal care. Plants that need less water,
fertilizers, and pesticides are important in a sustainable landscape.
They support insects, birds, and other wildlife in the region, enhancing
· Reduce the amount of lawn in the landscape.
Lawns require a lot of maintenance, including mowing, irrigation, and
often fertilizers and herbicides. They are often a monoculture,
providing very little value to wildlife. Soils beneath lawns are often
compacted, contributing to water run off and the many problems
associated with run off, to include flooding, erosion, and water
pollution. Alternatives to lawns are wildflower meadows, woods, and
expanded beds of native flowers and shrubs. They are beautiful, and will
save many hours and dollars in upkeep.
· Alter the traditional maintenance practices.
If areas of lawn are kept in the landscape, measures can be taken to
lessen their negative environmental impact. Use integrated pest
management to reduce the need for pesticides; consider the use of a reel
mower (hand-pushed), to reduce the use of fossil fuels and the noise
pollution associated with gas and electric mowers; use a mulching mower
to return the grass clippings to the lawn, which will fertilize the lawn
as they decompose; incorporate clover into a lawn, which has the ability
to fix nitrogen and reduce the need for fertilizers; do not water grass;
allow the grass to grow taller (3-3.5 inches) to keep the lawn cooler
and reduce weed growth.
· Apply natural design principles.
Natural design is much less formal than a traditional landscape; it uses
nature as its model and incorporates plants of random shape and height,
and can incorporate natural elements like rocks. How does natural design
contribute to sustainable landscaping? A more casual design reduces the
need for maintenance, pesticides, and fertilizers, all of which are
goals of green design.
· Reduce the use of power equipment.
Power equipment used in yard and lawn upkeep uses up fossil fuels,
contributes to air and water pollution, and is a source of noise
pollution. Small gas-powered engines used on lawns are less efficient
than car engines; EPA estimates that 5% of urban air pollution can be
contributed to lawn and garden equipment. Switch to hand tools, or
reel-type push mowers, when practical. And, as stated above, reducing
the amount of lawn in a landscape can help reduce the need to use
· Conserve natural resources, such as water, soil, and fossil fuels.
Using native plants reduces the need to water; other water conservation
techniques include clustering plants together with similar irrigation
needs, watering early in the day, and watering deeply to encourage deep
roots. Incorporate rain barrels and rain gardens into your
landscape, and reduce impervious surfaces. Keep in mind that quality
soil takes years to create; minimize soil erosion on slopes by planting
groundcovers and applying mulch until the groundcover fills in. Plant
trees and shrubs whose roots grow deep and intertwine to help stabilize
slopes and stream banks. Attempt to reduce the use of lawn equipment in
the landscape to reduce the need to use fossil fuels.
· Compost yard wastes.
Compost yard waste to produce mulch and soil amendments for use on your
property. Leaves, grass clippings and other cuttings are not permitted
in Harford County's Trash to Energy plant. Bring yard waste to recycle
locations in Harford County, or create a compost pile of your
own. There are important nutrients in yard wastes and many ways of
returning these nutrients back to the earth for reuse.
· Apply integrated pest management.
Pesticides, applied indiscriminately, destroy beneficial pests,
including the natural enemies of the species trying to be controlled. In
integrated pest management, pesticides are considered to be a last
resort. Try these
measures before turning to pesticides: use physical controls such as
removing pests by hand, using traps, or removing parts of the infected
plant; introduce natural enemies, such as ladybugs, to control aphids;
try horticultural oils or insecticidal soaps.
· Create wildlife habitats.
Development has lead to widespread destruction of wildlife habitat;
plants and animals live in complex ecosystems, easily damaged by mowing
meadows, building homes, paving, and other activities. A wildlife
habitat provides food, water and shelter; they can attract birds,
butterflies, bats, and other beneficial species. Organizations, such as
the National Wildlife Federation, can certify backyard habitats and
assist with creating them.
· Avoid using invasive plants; remove them from an existing
Invasive plants are those that grow aggressively, spread rapidly, and
out-compete native plants. They originated in another region and are not
in balance with the plants and animals in the area where they have been
introduced. When an invasive plant takes over a region, it can alter
water patterns, soil chemistry, and the water-holding capacity of soils,
leading to soil erosion. They can alter the genetic makeup of native
plants, and can cost millions of dollars a year in damage. They can
seriously disrupt the balanced wildlife of a region.
· Protect natural areas.
What are natural areas? They are areas that have been mostly
undisturbed, and are made up of a good variety of local, native plants.
They include woodlands, bogs, and meadows. Once a natural area has been
disturbed, it is difficult to replace it. They are home to a wide
variety of wildlife, help to prevent flooding by absorbing and releasing
rainwater more slowly than a cultivated landscape, help to absorb carbon
dioxide and release oxygen into the atmosphere, and work to naturally
filter air and water pollution. They do not need watering, weeding or
fertilizing, and offer a natural beauty that enhances the environment
while being protective of wildlife.
· Use plants to reduce heating and cooling needs.
Plants can be used to reduce the energy needs of a home by creating
shade and by blocking winter winds. Reducing the energy needs of a home
saves money, natural resources, and decreases air pollution emissions
associated with the use of fossil fuels. A general rule is to plant
deciduous trees on the south and west sides of a home; these are the
areas that get the most exposure to the sun's rays during summer months.
In winter, when the leaves are gone from the trees, the warmth of the
sun can reach the home. Using trees to shade streets, driveways, and
other paved surfaces can cool entire communities in the summer. To
reduce winter heating costs, evergreen trees and shrubs can be planted
on the north or west sides of a home to act as windbreaks. Windbreaks
work best when planted at a distance from the home equal to 2-5 times
the mature height of the windbreak; shrubs should be planted slightly
away from foundations. Green roofs, vegetative roofing
alternatives, also save energy in a home.