Whether you are designing a new landscape or renovating an old one, by following the principles outlined in this article and consulting with landscape professionals, you will be able to create a beautiful landscape which satisfies your personal needs, adds value to your property, and conserves valuable resources. The ultimate goal of a resource efficient landscape is sustainability. The concept of sustainable landscaping examines the energy and resource inputs (i.e. water, materials, and labor) and outputs (i.e. water runoff, greenwaste, and pollution) and finds ways to minimize both. Applying the following principles will help create sustainable landscapes.
1. Planning and Design
- Create a “site plan” including all of the major elements existing on your property: your house, driveway, sidewalk, deck or patio, existing trees, etc. Take time to analyze your property and become familiar with its unique conditions such as sun, shade, slope, moisture, soil type and air movement. A detailed plan will help provide direction and will ensure that water-conserving techniques are coordinated and implemented in the landscape.
2. Soil Improvements
- Determine the type of soil found on your property. Clay soil is dense and slow to absorb and release water. Sandy soils hold little or no water. Adding soil amendments can help to improve the existing conditions by enabling your soil to better absorb water, to hold essential plant nutrients, and enhance root development.
- Select plants that are best adapted to your soil type.
3. Efficient Irrigation
- Zone turf areas separately from other plantings and utilize an irrigation method that waters the plants in each area most efficiently. Be sure plants with similar water needs are grouped together.
- Utilize drip irrigation whenever possible. These systems apply water directly to the root system thus eliminating runoff and water loss due to over-spray, evaporation, and wind.
- Water less frequently and for longer periods of time. This will encourage deeper root systems which enable the plant to better withstand drought. Plants will also be less susceptible to pests such as disease and insect infestations; while their increased vigor will help to out compete weeds.
- Water plants between midnight and 6 a.m. Temperatures are cooler at this time and evaporation rates are much lower.
- Install a rain shut-off device or weather station to your irrigation controller. Your system will turn on and off in response to daily climate conditions.
- Irrigation schedules should be based on climate, soil type, and plant type.
4. Zoning of Plants
- Different areas of the yard receive varying amounts of light, wind, and moisture. To minimize water waste, group together plants with similar light and water requirements into areas of the yard that satisfy these requirements.
- Put high water-use plantings in low lying drainage areas, near downspouts, in the shade of other plants, or in places with easy access to a water supply. Place low water-use plants in areas that are drier and sunnier.
- Mulches reduce weed growth, conserve soil moisture, recycle nutrients, reduce soil compaction, and moderate soil temperatures.
- Organic mulches such as wood chips or shredded bark should be applied at least 3 inches deep because they decompose over time.
- If inorganic mulches are utilized, such as rock or gravel, avoid placing it next to the house on the sunny south or west sides. These materials tend to retain and radiate heat. Inorganic mulches rarely need replacing and are good for use in flat, windy areas.
- Mulches are a necessity when using drip irrigation. It covers the drip tubing which keeps it from being exposed to U.V rays, which over time will deteriorate the poly tubing.
6. Turf Alternatives
- Eliminating or minimizing turf is a good idea because turf requires constant inputs of water, pesticides, fertilizers and labor. Select drought tolerant turf grasses such as tall fescues or fine fescues.
- Limit turf to small functional areas that are easy to irrigate.
7. Appropriate Maintenance
- Regular maintenance will help to preserve the beauty of your landscape. Weeding, proper irrigation, pruning, fertilizing, and pest control will help keep your landscape beautiful and sustainable.