10 Considerations for a Sustainable Landscape Design
Materials, water use, maintenance and other elements impact your yard’s footprint. Here’s what to think about when creating a more earth-friendly garden.
To bring sustainability into your home’s garden, it isn’t an all-or-nothing situation. By simply adding a few native plants to the garden you’ll be supporting local animal species. Cutting landscape water use by as little as 20 percent can bring big rewards. Every small step adds up!
1. Irrigation Needs
For a garden that uses fewer resources and requires less maintenance, fill it with plants that need little to no supplemental irrigation to survive. Ask your designer what a low-water garden looks like in your area.
If drought is a concern where you live, there are many ways to lessen water use, the most effective being eliminating or reducing the size of your lawn. Instead, only put lawn where it is useful for recreation and entertaining.
2. Stormwater Management
Your landscape designer may recommend design elements to reduce stormwater runoff, such as a rain garden or bioswale. Not only can they help slow down water movement, they can also clean the water and keep it out of the sewer system by draining it on-site, which deep-waters trees and other plants in the process. Making your garden soil more absorbent and capable of retaining water is also helpful to prevent runoff and erosion. In addition, rain barrels collect and store water that can be used to water garden beds.
3. Permeable Surfaces
Another strategy for keeping rainwater on-site and reducing runoff is adding more permeable surfaces to your landscape. An example is stone patios, which allows water to be absorbed into the soil underneath. Driveways are another opportunity for permeable surfaces.
4. Locally Sourced Materials
Ask about the origin and sustainability of the materials used in your garden. Garden materials like plants, wood, stone, gravel and concrete all leave an ecological footprint — how they were obtained and how far they had to be transported.
5. Salvaged Hardscape Materials
A way to reduce your ecological footprint (and often your budget) is to use salvaged hardscape materials like stone, brick and wood planks. Bring this up to your designer at the beginning of your project so they understand the scope of the project and can get creative finding materials.
6. Keep Some Existing Plants
Consider retaining some of your yard’s existing plants to reduce waste and save on new materials. As long as the plants are not invasive and don’t use up too many resources, this option is much better than starting from scratch. Reusing existing plants is an environmental choice that saves money.
While more maintenance doesn’t necessarily mean less sustainability, some chores are worse for the environment than others, such as spraying chemical fertilizers or mowing the lawn using a gas-powered mower. Always ask your designer to keep maintenance in mind for time and budgeting purposes, as well as sustainability. The goal should be healthy plants that require the least amount of care.
8. Native Plants
The first thing to do for a more sustainable design — for all landscape styles — is to add native plants. They’re hardy, good for beneficial insects, and need less care.
9. Plants That Support Beneficial Wildlife
As smaller pieces in a larger ecosystem, home gardens can offer resources needed by local pollinators and other wildlife. Try to include plants that provide pollen- and nectar-rich blossoms, edible seeds, berries and nest-making materials. Native plants often provide the most benefits to animals that have evolved alongside them, however many ornamental plants and herbs are also supportive of local fauna.
10. Lighting That Minimizes Light Pollution
Consider sustainable lighting strategies if you’re planning to include landscape lighting in your design. Choose fixtures that are low energy use, and include light color and brightness features so they will not interfere with nighttime wildlife.
Avoid harsh, bright white lights, instead using subdued light where needed. Energy-efficient low-voltage lighting is ideal. Consider using a motion sensor for your landscape lighting so that an area is only brightly illuminated when needed.