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Green landscaping: A homeowner's guide

Published April 9, 2024| minute read

    These days, you can choose to "go green" in just about every area of your life — including where you use your green thumb. If you're a homeowner looking to apply care and conscientiousness to your landscaping projects, there are many ways to keep sustainability, energy efficiency and resource conservation at the forefront of how you design and manage your land.

    What is green landscaping?

    To start, landscaping is outdoor design: the art of modifying land in a way that is both functional and aesthetically appealing. This could mean planting, pruning and caring for the plants; installing walkways, patios or structures such as gazebos or pergolas. Green landscaping, or eco-landscaping, is when you do any of these things with sustainability and the environment in mind. While there are many elements involved in sustainable landscape design, the main principles are as follows:

    • Soil protection: The soil in our outdoor spaces is an important resource; it's both a home and an important source of nutrients for many living organisms. In sustainable landscaping, protecting this resource from erosion, degradation and compaction is a priority. Healthy soil is a key element of a healthy landscape.
    • Resource conservation: To conserve resources like water, energy, existing plants and materials, landscape designers employ energy-efficient methods, sustainable and recycled materials, and hardy, climate-friendly plants in their work.
    • Biodiversity: A biodiverse landscape with native plants has many benefits, including enhanced climate resilience, habitat creation for local wildlife and ecosystem services, like natural pest control and pollination. These benefits help the landscape on a holistic level, and often make an area more aesthetically pleasing to boot.

    Green landscaping ideas for your home

    There are several ways to incorporate sustainable landscaping principles on your land. You don't have to start from scratch, either. Even small choices, like composting or watering responsibly could help contribute to an eco-friendly garden and property.

    • Use native plants: Native plants are naturally suited to the soil, weather and wildlife of the surrounding area, and help to maintain the biodiversity that sustainable landscape design strives for. Consider keeping the plants that are already on the property or focusing on native species if you're going to be planting.
    • Water responsibly: One of the tenets of green landscaping is resource conservation, and one of the most important ways to conserve is by reducing water use. Planting drought-resistant vegetation and using irrigation systems instead of sprinklers can help accomplish this.
    • Avoid toxic chemicals: Toxic pesticides and other chemicals can contaminate the air, water and soil; kill plants and animals other than their target; and poison local water supplies. They can also harm your loved ones and make your home unsafe for your furry friends. Organic, non-toxic alternatives to pesticides and fertilizers, or plants that are natural pest-deterrents can potentially keep unwanted critters at bay.
    • Use sustainable materials: Using recycled or reclaimed, locally sourced, and durable long-lasting materials for your landscape design may help you maintain sustainable, eco-friendly outdoor space.
    • Harness solar power: Using solar power in your landscape design may help reduce your carbon footprint. Try using solar-powered lighting outdoors and using solar-powered charging stations for any electrical landscaping equipment. Solar power is becoming increasingly accessible, and you may be able to get the sun's help to power anything from irrigation systems to water features.
    • Compost: Looking to reduce waste and improve the health of your landscape? Composting may help in a big way. Compost returns nutrients to your soil, enhances its ability to retain water and — with the help of its microorganisms — can help sustain plant growth without the need for chemical fertilizers.

    Pros and cons of green landscaping

    While going green is generally something people feel good about, green landscaping does come with its own pluses and minuses. Consider these pros and cons before embarking on your sustainable landscaping journey:

    Pros of green landscaping

    • Environmental benefits: Green landscaping may help you conserve and protect resources like water and air, improve soil health, increase biodiversity, reduce waste and mitigate some aspects of climate change.
    • Potential to save on energy and water: Having a sustainable approach to your landscape design could help you save money on energy and water.
    • Aesthetically pleasing: While green landscaping has many ethical benefits, it's also a way to create an aesthetically pleasing, diverse outdoor area that is harmonious with nature. Those native plants may even attract some eye-catching wildlife and pollinators to your backyard.
    • Potentially less maintenance: In some areas, the emphasis on native and drought-resistant plants, use of irrigation systems, and mulching mean less work for the homeowner or hired landscapers.

    Cons of green landscaping

    • Cost: The cost of green landscaping could add up as the upfront costs for organic and sustainable materials and equipment are sometimes higher than their alternatives.
    • Less polished look: If you're looking for a well-manicured, pristine landscape, the wilder, native look of a sustainable backyard may not be appealing.
    • Pest control issues: While nontoxic, natural pest control methods are healthier for both you and the environment, some find them to be less effective than chemical options.

    In summary

    Green landscaping offers homeowners the opportunity to make eco-friendly choices while designing and beautifying their outdoor space, from the front porch to your backyard. That said, green landscaping may involve some extra time and financial investments. Green landscaping isn't a one-size-fits-all deal, but having an eco-friendly mindset may help you make more informed decisions that benefit the environment in the long run.

    Green landscaping FAQ

    1. Is fertilizer bad for the environment?

    Depending on the fertilizer and where it's being used, fertilizer may have a negative impact on the environment. To reduce this impact, try using nontoxic, natural fertilizers, or using fertilizer sparingly to reduce the risk of runoff.

    2. Why are native plants important?

    Native plants are an important part of green landscape design because they help maintain biodiversity and may require less resources and maintenance.

    3. Where can you find native plants?

    If you're looking for native plants, check with your local nurseries or consult an online database. Some websites will provide you with a list of native plants based on your location.

    4. Is hiring a green landscaping professional necessary?

    While hiring a green landscaping professional isn't necessary to employ green landscape design, they could help you make more informed decisions about your outdoor space.

    5. Do sustainable landscaping practices vary by region?

    As landscapes vary greatly by region, so do sustainable landscaping practices. Depending on your location, you may have different needs where resources like water are concerned, or different pest problems.

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