Green Landscaping - Eco Friendly Tips For Your Lawn and Garden
Of all the things you enjoy about your home, you would think your lawn and garden are the most eco-friendly. On the contrary, landscaping practices are one of the biggest contributors to our residential carbon footprints - from water usage and chemicals, to pollutants emitted by gas-powered machines. Here's how to make your yard as green as it looks.
- Grow Plants Native to Your Region
- Conserve Water
- Use Solar Powered Lighting
- Grow an Organic Garden
- Compost Organic Waste
- Avoid Using Chemicals
- Use Mulch in Your Flower and Plant Beds
- Green Your Gardening Tools
Grow Plants That Thrive in Your Region
The most eco-friendly plants are those that are easiest to grow. So instead of trying to grow non-native plants that don't naturally thrive in your region, stick to those that grow best in your climate, as they should require the least water, fertilizer and pesticides. Return to Top
More than half of the water used in North American homes goes toward landscaping! Considering that the vast majority of what we're watering is ornamental, we can cut back considerably on our residential water usage. You can still have a nice yard to look at, just a more eco-friendly one.
To conserve water in your lawn and garden areas:
- Design a xeriscape (landscaping that requires minimal water) by choosing drought-resistant plants and ground covers native to your region.
- Install a drip-irrigation system and soaker hoses.
- Catch water in a rain barrel for watering plants, inside and out.
- Water plants deeply and less frequently, encouraging deep rooting and minimizing evaporation.
- Water in the morning or evenings, another way of minimizing evaporation during the midday heat.
- Sweep your porch, driveway and sidewalks instead of hosing them down.
- Use a variable spray hose nozzle to control water amount, speed and direction.
Though a xeriscape can help reduce your outside water usage by 50 to 75 percent, many of us simply cannot let go of our perfectly manicured grass lawns. If that case, take all the eco-friendly steps to conserve water where you can:
- Try limiting your watering to 1 inch per week, increasing the amount only if your lawn seems to need it.
- Deep-soak the lawn which helps promote deeper root growth, as opposed to light watering more frequently which evaporates more quickly.
- Let grass grow up to 3 inches, helping to promote water retention in the soil.
- Cut the grass with an electric mower or a "reel" muscle-powered mower.
- After mowing, let the grass lie instead of raking; it returns nitrogen to the soil.
- If you are going to use a sprinkler system, be sure the sprinkler heads are pointing in the right direction so that you're not watering walls, rocks or pavement.
- Let your grass "rest" in the summertime; it will turn brown but then when you start watering it will green again.
- Reduce the size of your grass lawn and add a meadow, garden or ground cover into your design.
Give It the Green Light
For both practical and aesthetic purposes, you can green your landscape lighting with outdoor solar lights that charge during the day so they can stay lit all night long, including:
- Path lights
- Flood Lights
- Security Lights
If and when you have some outdoors lights running on electricity, set them on timers so that they turn on and off automatically. Certainly you want your security lights on during all hours of the night, but set some or all of them on motion sensors. It not only minimizes hours of usage, but the switching on of a light helps scare off anyone snooping around your house. As for accent lighting, if it's electric keep usage to a minimum, running them only when you're there and awake to enjoy them. Return to Top
Grow an Organic Garden
Instead of putting time, energy and water toward growing a landscape that's just pretty to look at, set aside at least some of your outdoor space for a functional yard feature - an organic vegetable garden. Done right, it can be among the greenest features of your home, providing you with eco-friendly produce year-round. Just be sure you go organic every step of the way, from organic soil and seeds, to organic fertilizer and pesticides. For more info, see Buying and Growing Organic Food. Return to Top
Compost Your Organic Waste
Why send food and yard waste to the landfill when you can turn it into nutrient-rich compost at home and return it to the soil where it belongs. Starting a compost pile is easy, requiring a balance of 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. Carbons are materials with low water content, like dead leaves, newspaper, cardboard, twigs, wood chips, pine cones, pine needles, straw, sawdust and tree bark. Nitrogens are materials with high water content, that rot much more quickly than carbons, like food scraps, grass clippings, manure, coffee grounds and tea grounds. To maintain your compost pile, turn it often so as to promote proper aeration and keep it moist, about as damp as a wrung-out wet sponge. For more in-depth details on how to compost, check out CompostMania.com.
NOTE: When composting food waste, it is best to have an enclosed bin so as to prevent children, pets and wildlife from having access to these rotting and potentially dangerous materials. Return to Top
Your edible fruits and veggies aren't the only plants you want to keep chemical free. Most commercial lawn and garden fertilizers, pesticides and weed killers contain synthetic substances that have no place anywhere around your home or family. Not only can they pose an immediate health threat to children, pets and wildlife, but these substances stick around, negatively impacting the planet for many years come.
The ideal fertilizer for your plants is compost. It not only adds nutrients to the soil but also helps with moisture retention and aeration. Ideally, you can make your own from yard and food waste, as referenced in the section above. However, you can also buy compost ready-made in the store. If you go this route, just be sure to avoid peat moss as a compost ingredient. Peat moss is over-harvested, threatening the sensitive ecosystems in wetland bogs, moors, mires and peat swamp forests.
To naturally repel pests:
- Fill your yard with plants that bugs don't like, such as basil, eucalyptus, marigolds, rosemary, sachet and Thai lemon grass.
- Attract insect-eating birds by filling your yard with bird baths and bird houses.
- Attract aphid-eating ladybugs by planting flowers they like, including dill, cilantro, yarrow, wild carrot, angelica, cosmos, geraniums and dandelions.
Make your own insect sprays:
Liquid Soap Bug Spray Recipe
- 1 Tablespoon Dr. Bronner's Liquid Peppermint Pure Castille Soap
- 1 Gallon Water
Spray on infested areas in your garden. Be sure to follow these measurements exactly, as using too much of the liquid soap can prove too harsh for your plants. To be on the safe side, it is a good idea to test on a small area first. Wait a day or two so you can see how your plants react.
Neem Oil Bug Spray Recipe
- Combine 1 part Neem oil to 10 parts carrier oil (olive, sunflower, jojoa). Spray on plants.
If the above-referenced options don't do the trick, try an organic, plant-based insect spray by EcoSmart or Sucrashield. For more info, including how to keep bugs out of your home, see how to Repel Insects Naturally.
Though weeds can be hard to pull at times, chemical spray-on weed killers should always be a last resort. The best form of weed control is prevention and good old-fashioned elbow grease. When managed regularly, weeds need not reach the monstrous, epidemic proportions that intimidate people into the easy way out. Morning is best for pulling weeds when the ground has the most moisture, and pulling weeds after a good rain can actually be fun.
To help prevent weeds, broadcast corn gluten meal in your lawn and garden. To kill weeds (if they're too tough to pull), try a combination of vinegar, molasses, orange oil and an eco-friendly liquid soap. Spray directly on weeds, careful to avoid the plants you want to keep. Return to Top
After you've worked compost into the soil, add mulch on top, which can be any number of organic materials, such as straw, nutshells, rocks, stone chips, chipped or shredded wood, pine needles and crushed acorns. This layer of material helps plants thrive while helping you conserve water in the process, as mulch: 1) retains moisture in the soil, 2) controls soil temperatures and 3) reduces erosion.
NOTE: Keep mulch 3 inches aways from the base of plants as some materials can damage plants when they make direct contact. Return to Top
Green Your Tools
Though replacing something that works perfectly well is generally not the eco-friendly thing to do, gas-powered lawn mowers, weed eaters and leaf blowers are a big exception. According to the EPA, just one gas-powered mower emits as much pollution as 43 cars driven 12,000 miles! Invest in electric mowers, weed eaters and leaf blowers instead. Your range need not be limited by the extension cord, as you can purchase cordless, battery-powered electric machines.
As for all your other lawn and garden tools, remember what's old to you is new to someone else. Instead of sending it to the landfill, put your "old" lawn and garden equipment in your next rummage sale or donate it to a local non-profit or school. Return to Top