Spring is officially here, and I have never been more excited to get my yard ready for the summer! In the spirit of sustainable living, I have been looking into what changes I can make this year to grow a more sustainable garden and promote sustainability outside my home and inside. This is where I first learned about eco friendly landscaping.
What is eco landscaping?
Environmentally friendly landscaping is planning and designing your outdoor space to promote ecological sustainability by conserving resources, reducing your carbon footprint, and supporting the local ecosystem.
Sustainable gardening is also an important part of environmentally friendly landscaping. Sustainable gardening reduces the need for synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and other expensive chemicals.
While this is wonderful, eco friendly landscaping takes this idea one step further. It goes beyond just your garden, looking at how to improve the overall sustainability of your outdoor space.
Why Should We Prioritize Eco Friendly Landscaping Practices?
In the 17th century, aesthetically pleasing gardens and landscapes with symmetrical, hard, formal lines mirrored contemporary architecture was the trend (think about the gardens at Versailles).
These designs represented human dominance over natural landscapes, and today, tailoring our landscapes to the local climate still takes a back seat to an aesthetically pleasing, perfectly arranged space.
So… what's the problem? Many traditional landscaping methods used today are awful for the natural environment!
Many invasive plants like English Ivy and Japanese honeysuckle started as landscaping plants. While beautiful, these plants have now established themselves across the US, using up water and nutrient resources that native plants need for survival.
Unfortunately, you can still buy invasive foliage and flowers at many garden centers today. A recent study found that nearly 1,300 invasive plants are still being sold in nurseries and garden centers across the US, despite many being banned by the Federal Noxious Weed Act and various state regulations.
Losing natural spaces and biodiversity
Another issue with traditional landscaping is taking wild, untouched space away from local wildlife. While your picture-perfect lawn might look pretty to your neighbors, the animals and insects vital to maintaining a healthy, biodiverse ecosystem are NOT big fans.
Chemicals and water use
Grasses and other high-maintenance species used in traditional landscaping won't thrive naturally because they aren’t suited to the local climate. As a result, they require significant amounts of water and fertilizers or other chemicals, which end up in the local water systems.
You might have already noticed, but switching to eco friendly landscaping isn't just good for the environment and YOU. Homeowners can benefit from green landscaping in many ways:
- You will save money on your water bills and spend less time shopping for fertilizer and pesticides.
- You will spend less time watering or weeding your garden and manipulating your plants to fit the surrounding ecosystem.
- You will now spend more time enjoying the beauty of your space!
5 Key Principles of Eco Friendly Landscaping
1. Efficient use of water
Try to design your space so that you need less water in the first place. You can start by choosing low-maintenance plants that require less water and are better suited to your local climate. Another option is grouping plants based on water requirements (creating hydrozones).
Eco-friendly landscaping also includes watering your plants more naturally and efficiently, like using rain barrels.
2. Soil health
To have the healthiest soil possible, you must first understand what kind of soil you are working with!
Your soil's pH, salt, and moisture levels will largely depend on where you live. Soil particles can also be relatively large (sand), medium in size (silt), or small (clay). The dominant particle size of your soil will directly influence your soil porosity or drainage ability.
These components influence soil fertility and the chemicals, nutrients, and organic matter levels in your soil.
3. Use of native plants
They are naturally best suited to your local climate and require minimal maintenance! Unlike invasive plants, native plants contribute to “rewilding” your space and support natural ecosystems - rather than disrupting them.
4. Reducing waste
5. Attracting wildlife
Habitat loss and fragmentation are rising with urban development, and wildlife is slowly losing the tracts of unbroken forests, prairies, and waterways they need to survive. When wildlife populations are isolated from one another, they are at a much higher risk of becoming one of the 1 million plant and animal species worldwide threatened by extinction.
Step-by-Step Guide to Eco Friendly Landscaping
Now that we understand what eco-landscaping is all about and why it's important let’s dive into sustainable yard ideas!
Planning and Designing
You want to plan for the future so that your yard doesn’t look beautiful for one season but for many to come.
The first step to eco-friendly landscaping is assessing your existing landscape… if you live in a small apartment and your outdoor space is limited to a balcony, you will take a very different approach compared to someone who lives on acres of untouched land.
If you live in an apartment with limited outdoor access, I have tone landscape design ideas and tips for apartment gardening. For example, you can make your DIY hanging planters from recycled materials. This is still sustainable landscaping!
Other tips for planning and designing your sustainable yard:
- Take some time to define your goals before planning and designing. Erosion management, carbon sequestration, waste reduction, and creating a space requiring minimal maintenance are all great goals to remember.
- When creating a design that supports eco-friendly principles, remember the ultimate goal is to use the natural landscape as much as possible - also known as working symbiotically with nature.
Biomimicry is another concept to keep in mind at this stage. Biomimicry in landscape design is about imitating nature to solve complex problems because mother nature knows best! Bullet trains inspired by Kingfisher birds are an excellent example of biomimicry.
The takeaway is to take inspiration from nature and incorporate biomimicry and patterns already in the natural world into your landscape.
Improving Soil Health
Understanding the importance of soil health in eco-friendly landscaping is critical. This means testing your soil and considering factors like soil porosity, texture, acidity, and composition when making your plan. You can use a soil testing kit for this step.
You can also take matters into your own hands and take steps to improve the health of your soil.
Tips to improve soil health:
- Regularly apply natural compost to balance your soil's nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
- Apply natural mulch (like wood chippings) to the top of exposed soil to prevent erosion, compaction, and water evaporation (organic mulches will break down over time and must be replaced). You can also use inorganic mulches like crushed stone or lava rock.
- Switch to permeable concrete rather than regular stuff to allow rainwater to penetrate the so
Efficient Water Use
If you live in an area that doesn’t receive a lot of rain, like the western regions of the US, pick drought-tolerant plants or try xeriscaping!
According to National Geographic, Xeriscaping is “the practice of designing landscapes to reduce or eliminate the need for irrigation… this means xeriscaped landscapes need little or no water beyond what the natural climate provides”. Beyond being low maintenance, xeriscaping can reduce the water you use by 50 to 75 percent!
As I mentioned, you can divide your outdoor space into hydrozones! Research what kinds of plants you are considering adding to your yard and group them based on how much water they need. When creating your hydrozones, you can break it out in five sections:
- Zone 0 - no irrigation
- Sone 1 - irrigate monthly
- Zone 2 - irrigate twice per month
- Zone 3 - irrigate weekly
- Zone 4 - irrigate twice per week
This way, you will avoid overwatering your yard and wasting water!
Other ways to water your plants more efficiently:
- Install a drip irrigation system or a sprinkler that runs on an irrigation schedule.
- Check your water and sprinkler/irrigation systems often (especially after winter) to ensure no damage, leaks, or debris might block the water supply.
- Install a rain garden to collect stormwater and prevent flooding.
Choosing the Right Plants
Using native plants compatible with your local soil and weather (water availability) is a great way to increase your chances of success since they will need fewer resources or outside influence to thrive. Native gardens are more likely to attract birds, bees, and other beneficial wildlife.
If you aren’t sure what plants are native to your area, you can use the Native Plant Finder tool. Bee Balm, Hosta, Day lily, Russian Sage, and Yarrow are all suited to most eco-friendly gardens.
Other tips for easy-to-care, low-water, and native plants:
- Try plant species supporting pollinators.
- Source seeds that are local, organic, and GMO-free.
- Try companion planting (placing plants known to benefit one another close to each other).
Creating Wildlife-friendly Spaces
You will increase your yard's biodiversity by attracting beneficial wildlife to your outdoor space!
One great way to do this is by rewilding your space and converting it as close as possible to its natural state before the last was cleared of trees and native plants. In turn, you will slowly build new habitats and create wildlife-friendly spaces!
Other tips for creating habitats for birds, bees, and butterflies:
- Create a bee hotel to attract more pollinators.
- Install bird feeders or bird waterers throughout your yard.
- Use aromatic plants to deter unwanted pests (this is a great alternative to chemical-based insecticides).
- Build your bat hotel or mosquito repellent planter to help keep mosquito populations down naturally!
Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling in the Garden
Last but not least, reducing waste along the journey is another essential part of this story. For example, why not make your recycled plant pots instead of buying new ones? I have tons of Garden Recycling Ideas here at the Eco Hub!
Tips for composting and recycling in the garden:
- Use your homemade compost instead of synthetic fertilizer.
- Construct a recycled privacy fence made from recycled pallets.
- Reuse bricks, stones, and concrete for DIY walkways instead of laying down impermeable concrete slabs.
Pro tip: I would suggest researching what is compostable and the best indoor compost bins before diving into the compost game.
Eco-Friendly Landscaping Tools and Products
Unfortunately, carbon emissions also come from the power tools and mowers you use while landscaping.
Some ideas and inspiration for eco-friendly landscaping tools and products:
- Use electric or solar power tools over gas-powered ones (electric tools also produce less noise pollution).
- Avoid landscaping fabric or other barriers that might prevent organic matter from reaching the soil.
- Use bamboo stakes and natural twine in your garden rather than a plastic alternative. These products will break down naturally without releasing microplastics and other harmful chemicals.
A final word on green landscaping
By embracing eco friendly landscaping and making small changes to your backyard that help to protect the environment and reduce waste, you will be creating a beautiful space that you and the wildlife in your backyard can enjoy for seasons to come.