Be Earth-Conscious in the Garden and Yard

Create a landscape that benefits both you and Mother Nature.

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Green living isn't just for indoors. You can create a yard and garden that look great without harming your yard's other occupants -- birds and insects. Plus, you'll be able to brag to buyers about your eco-friendly lawn. Here are some things to try:

Build Your Deck With Earth-Friendly Materials

A lot of deck materials come from tropical hardwoods. If you choose to go with a hardwood deck, make sure you choose wood that has been harvested sustainably. This helps the environment and preserves endangered rain forests. Western red cedar is a great option; it needs less energy and produces less waste to manufacture than materials like steel and concrete. It's also biodegradable and can be recycled.

For an even greener option, try composite decking. It's made from a combination of wood waste and recycled plastic, so no old-growth trees are cut down. It lasts longer than ordinary wood decking and requires less maintenance. Plus, it won't warp, crack, splinter or rot. 

Use Eco-Friendly Soy Stain

While traditional glazes are high in VOCs, soy concrete stain is acid-free and contains no hazardous materials. Soy concrete stain is made from eco-friendly materials, so the disposal concerns typically found with paint and stains aren't an issue. This stain might be green, but you can pick it up in whatever color or thickness you like.

Get a Smarter Irrigation System

You can also money in the yard with a low-flow sprinkler or irrigation system. Less agua can actually help you grass stay healthier by preventing over-watering and minimizing weed growth.

There are also even higher-tech systems available. Conventional irrigation systems have a sprinkler timer that can be programmed to water different zones of the lawn at different times. Now, there are weather-based systems, such as the Toro irrigation system, which adjust to determine water requirements based on the weather that day.

Though it costs more upfront, this system saves money in the long run by reducing the amount of water used to the exact amount needed on any given day. Your wallet will thank you, and you can still have the greenest lawn on the block.

Save Rainwater in a "Gray Water" System

Heating fuel isn't the only wallet-emptying expense at home. The average U.S. family of four consumes nearly 90,000 gallons of water, costing as much as $500 annually from municipal suppliers. To save money when watering the garden, connect a rain barrel to the roof downspout.

Specially made barrels, which cost between $80 and $130, come complete with filter screens, hose fittings, valves and hand pumps. Hookup may require shortening the gutter drainage system so water runs into the barrel, but special kits (from $30) are also available to divert rainwater from the gutter.

Experts say this water is better for plants than tap; it's free of chlorine and fluoride, and its slight acidity help plants access soil nutrients.

Use Rubber Mulch in Garden Beds

You know all those old tires that get hauled to the dump? You can keep them from piling up by buying rubber mulch for your garden beds. The mulch is made from 100 percent recycled rubber and is great for creating a safe play surface for children. Like traditional mulch, it also keeps new weeds from popping up.

Rethink Your Grass Lawn

Everyone wants a putting-green perfect lawn. But constant mowing, watering and fertilizing puts a burden on the environment. A gasoline-powered lawn mower releases as many hydrocarbons into the air in 30 minutes as a car does in 90 minutes.

Think about replacing some of your sod with environmentally friendly options like clover, strawberries and ornamental grass. Replace your lawn with gravel to eliminate mowing and chemical fertilizer altogether.

Plant Trees for Natural Insulation

For an energy-saver that looks good and costs nearly nothing, plant a few trees. A row of evergreen trees will act as a windbreaker all winter long. Cold air usually blows against the north and west side of your home, so plant trees there to break the chill.

Norway, white and Colorado blue spruce provide the best wind defense, or buy saplings that are native to your area. Plant the trees at a distance from your house that's two to five times the height of the tree for maximum effect. Then dig some holes and sit back and wait; energy saving will begin in three to five years.

Deciduous trees will cut down on energy costs during the warm part of the year.

"Planting deciduous trees to provide shade on the south side of a house can lower the cooling load during the summer months by providing a solar shield," says landscape architect Rosheen Styczinski, FASLA, of New Eden Landscape Architecture of Milwaukee, Wis.

Why deciduous trees? "Because they will drop their leaves in the fall, thereby letting sunlight through to provide solar heating in the winter, lowering the heating bill as well," Styczinski explains. An environmental bonus: The tress will help clean the air, too.

Bushes and other shrubbery can cast a beneficial shadow, too. They're especially useful in shading an air conditioner; make sure there's enough room around the box for ventilation.

Styczinski also suggests adding vines on the house. You'll get an English-country look, and thermal protection. She recommends either Boston ivy or Engelman's ivy -- both fast-growing species -- for the quickest results.

Water Features Can Save Energy, Too

Hugh Dargan, ASLA, of Dargan Landscape Architects in Atlanta, says adding a water feature can also add savings.

"Including a small pond, a fountain or a waterfall in a strategic location can lower the cooling costs for a home," Dargan says. "Placing either in a spot where the prevailing winds can blow across them before reaching the house will provide cooling benefits."

Plus, a fountain or pond will definitely amp up curb appeal.

Install Solar Lights

One of the best ways to amp up your landscaping is to add some wattage to the lawn. Why not use solar lights? When placed in full sun, most of these lights will give you eight to 10 hours of continuous light at night.

The only maintenance these lights require is an occasional cleaning of the lens and cover to remove dust or debris, plus a once-a-year replacement of the bulb and batteries. They might be the perfect solution to your landscape lighting needs, and they rely on a renewable energy source that's going to be around for a long time.

Use Native Landscaping and Natural Pesticides

"Using plants that are native to your area -- thus sustainable in your area -- are easier to grow," says Linda Woodrum, interior designer for HGTV's Green Home and Dream Home. "Choose plants that work within the natural climate and soil conditions to your area."

Adding indigenous plants to the lawn will keep maintenance low and will require less watering than exotic varieties. Plus, they'll likely cost less upfront.

And while you're at it, use natural products to care for your plants. Organic lawn care experts recommend corn gluten as an herbicide and nematodes as a natural pesticide.

You can also try nature's method of bug eradication: other animals. Install birdhouses to shelter feathered friends who dine on pesky beetles and grubs. Put out egg cases of green lacewings or praying mantises, and they’ll gobble up aphids. Bats and toads will dine on mosquitoes; attract them with bat houses and toad houses. These methods won't harm the natural habitat, and you can tout an organic yard to potential buyers.

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