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LANDSCAPING

GREEN

Green - Landscaping

Rain Garden
A rain garden is a homeowner’s secret weapon, stealthfully governing stormwater runoff following every rainfall, while seamlessly weaving into the landscape. The careful, permeable placement of stones and water-tolerant plants do the work. So sit back and relax, worry free.
Photo Credit: Snow Creek Landscaping, Inc. | www.snowcreekinc.com


Find more inspiration for your green home by exploring green landscaping ...

THE GRASS IS ALWAYS GREENER
CONSIDER THE CLIMATE
AVOID INVASIVE PLANTS
AVOID OVER-PLANTING
EDIBLE GARDEN
MINIMIZE GRASSY LAWNS
PERVIOUS PAVEMENTS & RAIN GARDENS
AVOID HERBICIDES
INSTALL RAIN BARRELS
COMPOST PILES
SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP

THE GRASS IS ALWAYS GREENER

Whether you are building a new green home from scratch, tackling a total-overhaul renovation or looking to make simple changes to be more environmentally-friendly, don’t forget to look out your low-e windows.

It’s important to literally tread more softly on the Earth, outside in your own yard, where your actions have just as much effect on the environment. While gardening seems, at the core, to be a most natural process, the way you go about it can actually be quite harmful.

“My approach to landscape design involves looking at it full circle,” explains Rob Dull, Lead Landscape Designer with Snow Creek Landscaping, LLC, in Asheville, NC.  “From me, the designer, to the implementation, to who is going to be living with it 15 years from now,” he continues, “we want as minimal impact and least maintenance possible, while doing our best to mimic the natural systems of the area.”  In other words, sustainability.

Just as with a green home, there are numerous benefits to green landscaping – for both the environment and the homeowner.Such landscapes reduce water runoff and air and noise pollution, alleviate pressure on native plants, improve biodiversity, create a natural habitat for wildlife and require less maintenance … which means less money, too. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.), “the average 1-acre lawn costs $700 and requires 40 hours of labor each year to maintain,” which is far more than a more natural, green landscaped yard requires.  Correct placement of shade trees can even help to save money on energy bills.  Other benefits to the homeowner include reduced exposure to synthetic chemicals (which is especially important with children).

It’s also important to remember that if you are pursuing green home certification, you will likely be required to meet a few requirements in your yard.

The impact on a family or community of improving one landscape may be difficult to envision, but is important nonetheless.  “We’ve got to start small at the grassroots level,” says Mr. Dull.  “These are the little things that really add up over time.”

With this in mind, here are a few ways that you can create a greener environment around your home:

CONSIDER THE CLIMATE

When selecting plantings for your yard, look for those that can thrive best in your climate.  And do your homework – even within a general region, such as the coast, heartlands or mountains, every single homesite is different.  “Hardiness Zones are helpful,” says Mr. Dull, of the U.S.D.A.’s map of climate zones, “but you need to make a thorough site inventory and analysis of all your plants, soils, temperatures, stormwater and sun patterns.”  While it’s not suitable for every area and yard, also consider xeriscaping – the practice of planting drought-resistant varieties of plants. This reduces irrigation needs, saving water (and money!).  It can be particularly successful in urban areas.  For guidance, look to your local nurseries and Cooperative Extension offices.

AVOID INVASIVE PLANTS

Just because a plant grows well in your climate, doesn’t mean it’s an automatic winner.  Some plants have the ability to overtake your own yard, or your neighbor’s, if not kept in check.  Southerners will be most familiar with the example of kudzu, that most determined vine that seems to overtake whole areas overnight.  Some other invasive plants to avoid include English ivy, fig vine, false jasmines, Japanese wisteria, mondo grass and creeping lily turf.

AVOID OVER-PLANTING

Plants need room to breathe, too.  Once you’ve made your plant selections, be sure to position them with enough space to thrive and grow to maturity, away from other plants, your home and hardscapes.  It’s an important rule to remember particularly when planning a new landscape.  The tendency is often to create instantaneously full-looking landscapes, without thought of how large in size the plants will grow.  “Don’t be intimidated by the instantaneous gratification factor,” says Mr. Dull.  “Good things come to those who wait.”  For example, it’s sometimes difficult to envision that a small oakleaf hydrangea will grow to eight feet by eight feet in size in its lifetime.

EDIBLE GARDEN

Plant fruits, vegetables, berries and nuts in your yard to be enjoyed by your family.  Food is never more fresh than when it has been walked from garden to table.

If you cannot grow the food in your own yard, do the next best thing.  Frequent local farmers’ markets to cut down on the fuel used to transport food to your community.  The same applies to nurseries – shop locally for the “greenest” plants.

MINIMIZE GRASSY LAWNS

Grass, that staple of American landscaping, isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.  Grass increases stormwater runoff, as it doesn’t absorb as much water as woodlands or diverse plantings.  The effect is multiplied when one considers how much water homeowners waste trying to water it.  Additionally, grass requires extensive maintenance, and gasoline-powered mowers and trimmers contribute to air and noise pollution.  Try to limit your grassy areas by replacing them with planting beds, and then cut them less often.  When it is time for a trim, opt for electric equipment over gas.

PERVIOUS PAVEMENTS & RAIN GARDENS

Another helpful way to manage stormwater is to use pervious pavements for your driveway and walkways.  Pervious materials, such as stones and gravel, allow water to be absorbed into the ground, whereas large concrete slabs create runoff.  There are, however, some great new concrete pavers on the market, says Mr. Dull, that are designed to be permeable.  For further control, plant rain gardens in water-prone areas.Rain gardens are a coupling of rocks and water-happy plants that can take on large amounts of stormwater and then help to dissimilate it into the ground, thus preventing erosion or water damage.

AVOID HERBICIDES

What’s harmful to you is harmful to Mother Nature, too.  Avoid the use of pesticides, such as insecticides and herbicides, or at least limit their use.  Look for more natural, albeit uncommon treatments for your gardening woes, such as using earthworm castings to get rid of whitefly on gardenias.

INSTALL RAIN BARRELS

Give your water bill a break by installing a rain barrel (or two or three). You can buy them ready-made, or make one yourself (Mr. Dull recommends checking with your local Cooperative Extension office for “how to” classes and tips). The barrels collect rainwater runoff from your roof via the gutters and store it for later use watering your lawn and plants.  You’ll be amazed, however, how quickly a barrel fills up following a good rain.  Some homeowners today are opting for large, 5,000 gallon tanks buried underground that can be sourced for traditional sprinkler systems, garden hoses or even grey water recycling.

COMPOST PILES

Want to really pamper your begonias? Start a compost pile using grass clippings, leaves and organic kitchen scraps.  Pick an out-of-the way spot in your yard, and the pile can start on the bare ground, or you can build or buy a container.  (Again, your local Cooperative Extension office is a great resource.)  In time you will have the most wonderful, nutrient-rich soil to cultivate your plants with, while simultaneously reducing the amount of organic matter in landfills.  An added bonus?  Little ones will also appreciate that “it’s virtually like having a science classroom in their own back yard,” says Mr. Dull.

SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP

Creating a truly green landscape requires extensive, time-consuming research.  Often, if you have time constraints or like to collaborate, it helps to turn to a professional.  Many landscape architects and contractors offer consultations and/or can create a landscape design for you that you can then implement on your own.

When shopping around for such a green professional, Mr. Dull has several suggestions.  Perusing a local green building council member list is a good way to find names of sustainable landscaping companies.  No matter how you come across a name, however, be sure to do a thorough check.  Read the company’s mission statement – are they sustainably focused?  Do they have extensive certifications and continuing education requirements?  Be sure to check references and look through their portfolio.  Trust your instinct, too.  Spend some time with your prospective landscape designer and ask lots of questions.  “Knowledge of native plant species and their specific growing requirements is very important in green landscaping,” says Mr. Dull, “and should be something that the designer is passionate about.”


Editor’s Note – Along with Rob Dull, this section was compiled with information from the following resources: www.epa.gov and www.landsteward.com