Green Landscaping: Eco-Friendly Ideas

By Lecia Monsen
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You'd think that simply planting some trees and grass in your yard would be a very eco-friendly thing to do. The answer to that is, it depends on the type of tree and grass, their thirst level and frequency of watering, fertilizer used and pest and disease control methods. Beautify your home's landscape and be kind to the earth with a few of these tips and ideas for creating a truly green landscape design.

Site Situations
Consider your home site's topography and drainage. If you're going to build a new home, consider the property and evaluate its characteristics. A home located in a windy or unprotected area will require more watering simply because wind can be very drying. A lot that has a steep grade will present challenges with runoff and erosion. Some properties' drainage issues can be corrected with grading and design but those solutions can run the gamut of cost, in terms of both the environment and your pocketbook, so be sure to consider that when you choose the location to build a new home.

Situating a home on a property with the main windows facing south is a good idea in colder climates but not nearly as optimal in warmer regions due to the heat gain from the passive solar energy. If you do live in a colder area that must contend with snow and ice in the winter, positioning your home so the driveway and entry door receives plenty of sun to help keep those spots clear is a good idea.

Lighting
Exterior lighting adds beauty and utility to your yard as well as a measure of security. Use motion detectors and solar-powered landscape lighting to reduce their energy drain. The motion-sensitive lights have the dual benefit of being a neighbor-friendly lighting solution and a crime deterrent. Since the lights only come on when they detect movement, they aren't shining into your neighbor's house all night long. The movement detection acts like a spotlight whenever someone (or something like an animal) approaches your home. A person with dubious intentions doesn't want that kind of notoriety and will probably leave rather than risk being spotted by you or your neighbors.

Xeriscaping
This unusual term refers to the way in which you design and choose the plants for your yard. This type of landscaping is geared to reducing or eliminating the need for additional water from irrigation. Typically this is accomplished by choosing plants that are native to the locale and are more tolerant of the area's normal rainfall. Added benefits of xeriscaping include a thriving yard despite watering restrictions that are imposed during a drought, lower water utility bills, little-to-no lawn mowing and much less maintenance. Xeriscaping requires much more prep work in the beginning but the overall benefits outweigh the initial investment.

Irrigation
If you choose a more traditional route and use plants that need supplemental watering there are issues to consider here as well; from the type of irrigation method to the timing and frequency of watering. A built-in sprinkling system with a timer can be your landscape's best friend as well as relieving you of the chore of dragging a hose around your yard. For planting beds and garden spots consider installing drip irrigation. This style of sprinkler delivers water through a perforated hose allowing you to saturate the roots of the plants rather than wasting water on the leaves and blooms where it will just evaporate. The hose isn't buried in the ground but lays on top of it making it easy to move it around a bit as necessary.

Part of eco-friendly irrigation is timing, both the frequency and time of day. Plants benefit most from a deep root soaking periodically rather than frequent shallow applications. A deep, infrequent watering encourages healthy root development. Trees that are watered lightly but frequently will become shallow-rooted and cause bumps in your yard as well as making the tree more susceptible to disease and wind damage.

Water your yard very early in the morning. This allows the plants and grass to absorb the most water and prevents moisture loss due to evaporation. It also lowers the risk of mold problems because the heat of the day will dry any remaining water. Watering at night tends to encourage mold because the excess water doesn't evaporate.

If nothing else, please do not water in the middle of the day! Not only is this wasteful due to most of the moisture evaporating in the heat, it is also bad for your plants and grass. Water acts as a prism or magnifying glass and intensifies the sunlight which in turn can scorch the leaves and blooms of plants and grass. The only time watering during the day is necessary is during the time you're establishing new grass either by installing sod or planting seeds.

Mulch
Adding a layer of mulch around plants will deter weeds while cooling the roots and preserving moisture. Mulch can be made of a wide variety of environmentally friendly materials from mats made of coconut fibers or recycled tires to shredded paper or bark. Other than the recycled tires, the mulch will decompose and enrich the soil. This also means you'll need to replace the mulch every few years but it's a wise green investment in your landscape.

Lawns, Mowers and Lengths
Lawns can be a notorious water hog. Altering the timing and frequency of irrigation, cutting the grass to the optimal length and mulching will cut down on the thirsty grass' need for water. Set your lawnmower's blade to cut no more than one-third of the grass length at a time and in cooler regions maintain grass lengths no shorter than three inches; in the warmer climates, no shorter than two inches. During times of very hot weather, leave the grass a bit longer so it will shade the soil keeping it cooler and able to retain moisture better.

Invest in a mulching lawn mower and you'll have to bag grass clippings much less frequently. The grass clippings will be chopped up more finely by a mulching mower's blade and if left on the grass will decompose and fertilize the soil of your yard. If the grass becomes very long between cuttings, you'll probably want to bag the clippings instead so that they don't mat the grass down. Just add the bagged clippings to your compost pile and mix well.

Fertilizer
Commercial fertilizers are typically composed of a variety of chemicals and therefore potentially harmful to the environment. Compost, whether from your own kitchen scraps or purchased from a reputable supplier, is much more eco-friendly. There are numerous guides both online and in print that can help you start composting at home if that's the method you choose. Another option is to apply manure as a fertilizer. Check with your local nursery for types.

Pest and Disease Control
Always an issue no matter the climate you live in or the plants you choose, there are few if any that are totally resistant to insects and/or disease. Unfortunately, chemical pesticides and herbicides are the areas that create the most environmental pollution in a yard. Take a proactive stance, pulling weeds early and often, adding mulch to inhibit weeds and choosing companion plants that repel pests (wildlife and insects). A saucer of beer placed among your plants will attract destructive slugs and snails which will drown themselves in the brew.

This is not to say that all insects are bad. The cute little ladybug will eat thousands of aphids and mites which love to suck the life out of your precious plantings. Red worms aerate the soil and their waste is an excellent fertilizer. They are a perfect complement to a compost heap. You can order live ladybugs and worms from many nurseries or online garden supply companies.

Maintaining a healthy environment for plants through proper irrigation, fertilization and pest control will go a long way towards encouraging a hardy, beautiful outdoor environment. We invite you to check out our reviews on Mac Landscaping Software where you'll be able to try out your designs before picking up the shovel. At TopTenREVIEWS We Do the Research So You Don't Have To.™

For more landscape tips and information, you'll want to read our other articles: Landscaping on a Budget, Landscaping—Where to Start, Picking the Perfect Landscape Fence and The Do's and Don'ts of Sprinkler Systems.

 
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