Ask the Expert: Tips on making a landscape environmentally friendly

| by Teena Hammond
Ask the Expert: Tips on making a landscape environmentally friendly

It's simple to green your landscape and make it environmentally friendly while protecting the planet.

Here at ProudGreenHome we asked our experts for their tips on how to make a landscape eco-friendly.

EricEric Corey Freed, founding principal of organicARCHITECT

The natural landscape is a potential source of beauty for your home — it's a source of a lot of work, too. Many homeowners lose every weekend just trying to keep their yards looking good. If designed correctly, the maintenance can be kept to a minimum so you can spend more time enjoying your yard. Your landscape can provide beauty, recreation, and positive environ- mental effects. Trees, for example, shade your home, reduce energy consumption, create oxygen, filter the air, and even add to the value of your property. The diagram shows a typical house and provides examples of green landscaping considerations.

Lawns and plants

Anyone who has ever used a lawn mower will attest to the fact that lawnmower engines are not very efficient. They emit high levels of carbon monoxide, producing up to 5 percent of the nation's air pollution. A conventional lawn mower pollutes as much in an hour as driving your car for 100 miles. In an effort to keep the lawn looking good, Americans use 800 million gallons of gas per year, producing tons of air pollutants.

Switching to a push-type mower instead of a power mower will help reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by 80 pounds per lawn per year.

Grass cycling is leaving the clippings on the lawn after mowing, so they decompose and release their nutrients into the soil. Not only is grass cycling less work for you, but if you do it, you'll see a positive difference in the growth of the lawn, too.

Although a hand-powered mower reduces pollution, and grass cycling cuts down on yard waste, you may be asking, "Why plant something that needs cutting at all?" Planting native species plants cuts your work and produces an unusually beautiful landscape.

Xeriscaping is landscaping with drought-tolerant plants in ways that don't require additional water or fertilizer. The word xeriscaping (from the Green xeros, meaning "dry") encourages the use of native and indigenous plants already suited for their specific climate. A rich, native landscape provides more visual interest and requires much less effort to maintain than a lawn does. Often, attractive succulents, such as agave and cactus, are used.


If you still need some water intensive plants in your yard, consider drip irrigation. But sprinklers are incredibly wasteful. In fact, 30 percent to 60 percent of the average home's fresh water is used for watering the yard.

Traditional watering and sprinklers spray water at the top of the grass, wasting more than half the water. A drip irrigation system sits under the soil and applies water slowly to the plants' roots. By using less water and providing the water exactly where it's needed, drip irrigation pays for itself in water savings in one to three years.


In the United States, 67 million pounds of synthetic pesticides are used each year. Although pesticides are effective at killing weeds and insects, they're also killing people.

If possible, avoid the use of these dangerous chemicals. Natural alternatives such as garlic, hot pepper, and used dishwater are all healthy and effective methods to deal with insects. Simply spray a watery mixture of one of these over the plants you want to protect from bugs.

Integrated pest management (IPM) is an effective and environmentally friendly way to deal with insects, rodents, and other pests without using chemical pesticides.

To rid your garden of pests, IPM uses natural predators (insects eating other insects) of the pest you're trying to remove. By using this healthy method, insects, rodents, and weeds can be controlled.

Excerpted from: "Green Building & Remodeling for Dummies"

LuisLuis Imery, principal of The Imery Group

Water efficiency or water conservation were hot topics a couple of years ago, at least in Georgia, with the drought that hit the state. At that time people became very conscious on their water consumption, and counties trough out the state started implementing watering restriction and landscape watering bands. Today, the drought is gone, and most people forgot about the subject. The reality is that water is an undervalued commodity, is a finite resource, and we should be good stewards. So, what can you do to reduce your outdoor water consumption?

  1. Plant native or drought tolerant plants: This will reduce the demand on water, as this plant will require much less water to survive.
  2. Install "smart" irrigation systems: Turf and shrubs have different water needs, so why would we treat them the same. Drip and bubbler systems are ideal for the later, while spray heads need to be use for turf. In short, zone your systems according to your planting, and incorporate some sort of rain sensor that will cut off the system if it has rained.
  3. Rain Water Harvesting: If you like to keep it simple, install rain barrels. The water you collect can be use to hand water your garden and flower beds. If you like to take it up a notch, hook it up with your irrigation system. You will need a larger storage tank, and a small pump.
  4. Xeriscaping: Basically is item 1 but on "steroids". Xeriscaping is the use of drought-tolerant native or low water plants, as well as soil amendments such as compost and mulches to reduce evaporation.
  5. Smart Landscape Design: Consider the natural attributes of your lot, and supplement with plant species suitable for you. If you have a shaded and wooded lot, don't try to grow Bermuda sod or plants that require a bunch of sunlight.

MelissaMelissa Rappaport Schifman, principal at Resonance Companies

When you look at a huge, sprawling lawn, what comes to mind? Kids playing, taking naps, a serene afternoon walk? When environmentalists look at one, they usually think of all the energy and water that goes into maintaining a lawn — and possibly toxic pesticides and fertilizers as well, which pollute the ground water.

If you are determined to have a lawn, there are ways to make them more environmentally friendly:

  • Use an electric mower or a push mower instead of a loud, gas-guzzling mower.
  • For weed management, use only organic fertilizer. That requires more frequent application, but at least there is no sign on your lawn saying "children and pets keep off!"
  • Irrigate at night; in the daytime, more water is lost (and wasted) due to evaporation.
  • Consider limiting the size of your lawn.

If you want to get rid of some of your lawn, there are several other landscape alternatives:

  • Plant a native wildflower garden. These require very little maintenance or irrigation, and no pesticides or fertilizers. They spread on their own and are beautiful.wildflowers
  • Plant no-mow fescue for a green lawn look without the mowing maintenance. (It might take some getting used to — it looks like long lawn lying over.)
  • Get creative with other types of plants — including native grasses, shrubs, vegetables, native trees, etc. — as well incorporating rocks or mulch for covering the ground. As long as it is permeable (able to absorb water), it is environmentally preferable to lawns or hardscapes.

Of course the variety of options does depend on where you live and your climate. One good resource is this wildflowers website. Also, it's important to check with local codes, as some cities do not allow long grasses. (That happened to me — the city of Minneapolis cited us for violating the city ordinance. See the story on my blog.)

In any case, as with most green projects, everything is relative. You have to do what you can afford in both time and money. It's the intention that counts.

Garden photos by Josh Ward Garden Design.

Topics: Landscaping, Water Saving Devices

Teena Hammond
Teena Hammond has published more than 2,000 articles in People and W magazines, Women's Wear Daily, and in dozens of newspapers and books. She also wrote a home improvement, remodeling and decor column that ran in Gannett newspapers nationwide. She's interested in all things green and would love to hear from you with your story ideas.

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