Blog : Sustainable Landscaping

By Patrick | Apr 11, 2014 | in

By Jeff Beeman

Jeff Beeman is the webmaster of EnergyMattersNH.org, an offshoot of the Lakes Region Community College Energy Services and Technology Department. EnergyMattersNH hopes to raise awareness of issues relating to sustainable energy options and education throughout New Hampshire.

When you hear about sustainable living practices, you may think about reducing your environmental impact through ecofriendly steps like recycling, energy efficient renovations, upgrading to Energy Star appliances, etc., but an often overlooked area of sustainability is landscaping. Sustainable landscaping encompasses many different aspects of landscaping from planning a project which uses less damaging products to selecting the proper plants for your specific ecosystem. Here is just a small introduction to some of the steps you can take when landscaping sustainably:

Design

There are many different aspects of landscape design that can be used to make a property more sustainable, for example windbreaks –rows of trees and shrubs -are helpful to reduce heating expenses in nearby buildings and aid in preventing erosion. Designing a driveway with permeable paving materials will allow storm water to run through instead of over a driveway, allowing for a more even distribution of water to the earth and root system below.

More and more homeowners have begun to see the benefits of residential “green roofs:” vegetation planted in a layer over an existing roof. They provide a great source of extra insulation to keep heat in, and conversely work to drastically lower the temperature of a roof in the summer which saves on cooling expenses. And they look great too!

Plant Selection

Try to picture the full grown size that your plants will achieve before planting them, consider how they will all be drawing from the same resource pool that is your soil, water, and sunlight. An overcrowded environment will produce unhealthy plants which will be more susceptible to pests and disease. Make sure that any trees planted won’t be blocking an important amount of sunlight from nearby shrubs and other vegetation when adults. Diversity in plant selection is a great way to discourage pests and encourage helpful life forms like birds, insects and beneficial microorganisms. A diverse selection will also help if your land suffers from a plant specific disease or pest.

Composting

Healthy soil is essential for healthy plants! Improving soil quality through composting will allow plants which may not be native to your local ecosystem to develop a stronger root system and integrate themselves more quickly in their new setting. These healthier plants will be far more resilient to diseases and pests.

Composting aids not only your own plants and vegetables, it is a direct recycling method that takes waste that would normally be add to landfills and puts it to work for the benefit of everyone! Along with decreasing landfills, composting will save you money by reducing the expenses of water and fertilizers as your soil becomes rich and moist. Grass clippings, fruit and vegetable waste (peels, skins, trimmings, etc.), coffee grounds, leaves and twigs all are great ingredients for proper composting.

Pest Avoidance

The best way to avoid pests is to keep your plants healthy! A site set up for maximum sustainability will keep your trees, shrubs, and flowers at optimal health to fight off pests. If you do need to use a pesticide make sure that it is specific to the pest as well as the host plant. A specific pesticide is a better choice than a generic one because it is likely to cause less damage to surrounding vegetation.

Here are a few great resources with more information on sustainable landscaping:

EPA Composting Basics
Sustainable Landscaping - Colorado State University
Design Strategies for a Sustainable Home Landscape - University of Florida