Sustainable landscaping includes reducing the use of synthetic fertilizer, water, pesticides, herbicides, and fossil fuels. For many of us that means stepping outside our "comfort zone" of how we've always maintained our yards, or how our neighborhoods looked when resources seemed unlimited and there wasn't any problem that the right chemical couldn't solve.
The typical yearly needs of a small 1/3-acre lawn:
- 20 lbs. of fertilizer produced from fossil fuels
- 10,000 gallons of water
- 5-10 lbs. of pesticides and herbicides
- air pollution from a gas mower equivalent to driving a car 16,000 miles
- 40 hours (a work week!) of mowing time and noise pollution in your neighborhood
Imagine if you could turn that same space into native plantings and eliminate those costs.
Unless you have a very green thumb or hire professionals to plan and install your landscape, it's easiest to make small changes and gradually see what works best for your location and soil conditions. Small changes you can make in lawn care include:
- stop using lawn treatments
- stop watering your lawn (unless reseeding)
- raise the height of your mower, and
- leave clippings on the lawn for natural fertilizer.
Some "weeds" (native plants) will start to grow. This is how I maintain my small patch of mowed space, and it looks nice and green most of the time. I'm not stressing pollinators with chemicals, and if there's a dry spell it goes dormant so less mowing time is needed.
More thoughts about pollinators and landscaping on The Blog.
If you want to introduce larger perennials or shrubs, consider using the types of native plants that grow wild in your area. Select an area of lawn to replace, usually working out from the house or in from the road. Spread a few layers of newspaper topped with mulch over that part of the lawn and insert plants right through this layer. Include a location for compost bins to reduce your kitchen wastes and build soil; a local GS Troop found this HomeAdvisor page and associated links useful for compost resources.
Carefully positioned trees can be an important part of your home energy efficiency measures, saving up to 25% on energy for heating and cooling. The Dept. of Energy's online guide for energy efficient landscaping has more ideas on how to save.
There are many more ways to approach sustainable landscaping, and a good downloadable guide is provided by the state Office of Environmental Affairs. Websites with information on organic or natural landscaping and landscapers includethe Northeast Organic Farming Association.