Organic Landscaping

Choose less work and less environmental impact when you go organic.

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Urban habitat backyard invites pollinators and birds, providing a lively view from indoors.

Organic Landscape II

Urban habitat backyard invites pollinators and birds, providing a lively view from indoors.

Photo by: Image courtesy of Timber Press/Photo by Evelyn Hadden

Image courtesy of Timber Press/Photo by Evelyn Hadden

Urban habitat backyard invites pollinators and birds, providing a lively view from indoors.

For homeowners concerned with sustainability, landscaping is about more than just a pretty yard. How can you create a beautiful yard while limiting water consumption, staying away from chemical pesticides and herbicides, and minimizing impact on the environment?

Even if you aren’t quite ready to go 100% organic, using these tips from sustainable landscape designers can help you create a more Earth-friendly (and low-maintenance!) yard:

Choose the Right Plants

When you’re thinking about sustainability, it’s important to choose a plant that can thrive in your region and that will also do well with the amount of sun and shade provided by your particular yard. “The mantra of every happy gardener is 'right plant for the right place,'” says Frank Hyman, owner of Cottage Garden Landscaping in Durham, NC, and author of the Liberated Gardener blog.

For example, Hyman explains, Japanese maples are understory trees: they need some afternoon shade from big shade trees in order to live a long life without needing irrigation every summer. Impatiens are shade-loving plants, so they won’t do well in the full sun; while periwinkles thrive in full sun.

Plants that thrive in your yard’s conditions will be easier to keep healthy without pesticides and herbicides. It’s OK to use an exotic plant—just make sure it evolved in conditions similar to what your region and yard will provide.

Mulch, Mulch, Mulch

Be religious about mulching beds every year before summer comes. “Bare soil is a cardinal sin in gardening,” says Hyman. Without a cover of protective mulch, soil dries out much faster, meaning you’ll need to spend time, money and resources watering your plants to keep them alive. Mulch holds moisture in the soil and—bonus—feeds the earthworms that keep the soil loose and healthy.

Reduce and Reuse

Garden “waste” doesn’t need to be wasted! For example, says Hyman, you can leave grass clippings on the lawn—they’ll dry up, fall down to the soil surface, and become food for earthworms, who will turn the clippings into organic fertilizer for your yard.

Hyman suggests you do the same with fallen tree leaves—just rake them into a low, wide pile; shred them with the mower, then spread into flower beds and veggie gardens as mulch.

You’ll save the time you would have spent bagging, you’ll contribute less to landfills and you’ll save money on fertilizer and mulch.

Rethink Your Lawn

It may sound drastic, but one way to save money, time and natural resources mowing your lawn is...not to have one!

The “lawn-free” movement is growing steadily, says Evelyn Hadden, author of Beautiful No-Mow Yards, and the benefits are many: more privacy, greater comfort, welcome animal visitors, fragrance, four-season views, less maintenance and a gentler impact on the environment.

Hadden attributes the less-lawn trend to extreme climate events like drought and flooding, a tight economy that leaves less time and money for the pursuit of “lawn perfection” and increased awareness of the environmental concerns involved in maintaining a grass lawn like use of water, fertilizer, pesticides and fumes from gas mowers, to name a few. Instead, Hadden advocates converting lawns to landscapes that thrive with less help.

Going “no lawn” or “less lawn” gives you plenty of options, says Hadden. “Low-care options are popular, like simple living carpets using groundcover plants like thyme and clover, or “no-mow” native grasses and fescue blends, which stay low to the ground and need less care than traditional grass,” she says. Patios and paths can reduce space needing regular maintenance, while a rain garden—a shallow depression filled with deep-rooted native plants—can soak up rainwater and runoff, which can be helpful in urban areas with lots of pavement and roofs.

While organic pesticides and herbicides do exist to help us fight back when nature threatens our hard work, the best philosophy for a low-maintenance, low-impact landscape is to work with—instead of against—nature. The result? Not only can you get a gorgeous yard that’s gentle on the ecological system, but it’ll be less work to maintain, too. Organic landscapers consider that a win-win.

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