Landscape Design: Functional Landscaping

Beautiful landscaping can provide shade, prevent soil erosion and protect a home from wind.

Shade Trees: Cut Air Conditioning Costs

Incorporating smarter, more efficient landscape design strategies into the overall layout of your home's property can help to conserve natural resources, as well as money in your wallet. "A properly planted tree can shade a house in the summer, helping to keep it cool and save money on air conditioning," says Deborah Roberts, a Connecticut landscape designer. She recommends planting deciduous trees along the south- and west-facing sides of your house. "In the summer their leafy canopy will provide shade for your home, and in the winter the sun's rays will still be able to warm up your house." Additionally, shading an air conditioning unit with plantings can increase its efficiency by as much as 10 percent, according to the US Department of Energy. Photo courtesy of Deborah Roberts

Windbreaks: Lower Heating Costs

Creating a natural windbreak is an effective solution to blocking the path of prevailing winter winds. "Evergreen trees and shrubs are ideal for creating windbreaks," Deborah says, "as their foliage tends to slow down or even redirect the wind." Planting trees and shrubs within the correct distance from the house will create a more efficient windbreak, helping to lower your home's heating costs. To calculate the proper planting distance, Deborah suggests figuring out the mature height of the plants you will be using, and then planting them at least twice that distance away from your house. Photo courtesy of Deborah Roberts

Natural Fences: Increase Your Home's Privacy

In addition to Japanese cedar and blue spruce trees, evergreens also work well in creating natural year-round privacy screening for your yard. If your privacy needs are more seasonal, however, you have a greater variety of planting options, says Deborah, who offers suggestions such as big bluestem, a tall ornamental grass or rhododendron. "Using a mix of shrubs, trees and grasses will create a more interesting natural privacy barrier, and also add some wildlife habitat to your garden." Photo courtesy of Deborah Roberts

Rain Gardens: Reduce Watershed

Collecting and using rainwater for your landscaping not only helps lower your water bill, but also helps to redirect storm-water runoff into gardens and landscaping. By harvesting rainwater "we restore natural processes by putting that water back into the ground where it would have gone pre-development," explains Scott Kubiszyn, president of Nature's Tap, an Alabama company that specializes in rainwater harvesting and graywater systems. Rain gardens are an ideal design for this method. While their shallow grounds are designed to collect rainwater, the plants within them work to hold and utilize the water — often throughout an entire season, depending upon the amount of rainfall. The best kinds of plants to use in rain gardens are those that are able to tolerate both drought and wetness. Photo courtesy of Susan Pearlstine

Swales: Prevent Water Runoff

Similar to the concept of rain gardens, swales are common landscape designs that aim to collect rainwater and prevent it from becoming runoff. Swales are often placed along roads and curbs, but unlike a ditch, swales are much wider than they are deep. They are most often vegetated with grasses and other native plants that help to hold the water. A rain garden within a swale gives homeowners an added benefit because of the resulting "aesthetic appeal" says Susan Pearlstine, a California landscape designer, and author of Water: Catch It If You Can. Photo courtesy of Susan Pearlstine

Rain Barrels: Harvest Nature's Greatest Resource

Many cities now sponsor programs that offer homeowners financial incentives to promote rain harvesting efforts. Installing a rain barrel directly under a downspout is one of the more efficient methods to harvest rainwater. "It is pretty common for a single downspout to get 200 gallons of water with an inch of rain," Scott says. The most beneficial placement of a rain barrel is where you'll use the water most. "By capturing water at the point of the source and using it right there, we're being good stewards of our water and reducing demand on potable water supplies." Rain barrels are made in a variety of materials and come in a many different sizes. Although most homeowners tend to opt for smaller barrels, larger units provide additional storage for water and tend to include a pressurized pump, making it easier to irrigate landscaping. Photo courtesy of Scott Kubiszyn

Graywater Systems: Reuse Household Water

Graywater is gently used water from showers, bathroom sinks or washing machines. And because most people use these water sources on a daily basis, graywater becomes a constant and consistent supply of water. However, Scott explains, unlike rainwater, graywater will turn to blackwater over time if left untreated. Graywater systems, which can easily be installed within your home's basement or crawlspace, treat the water with chlorine. The water can then be distributed to the outside of your home to be used for drip irrigation systems. Photo courtesy of Scott Kubiszyn

Drip Irrigation: Reduce Water Waste

Drip irrigation methods provide plants with smaller amounts of water during an extended period of time. The slower process aims for water to penetrate deeper into the soil, offering greater nourishment to the plant's root zone. Unlike conventional sprinkler systems where a significant amount of water is often misdirected and wasted, drip irrigation works to directly impact specific plants, greatly reducing water waste. Using rain or graywater to irrigate through this system is another way to conserve. Photo courtesy of Rittenhouse

Soaker Hoses: Efficient Irrigation

A soaker hose can also employ rain or graywater to seep slowly into the soil during longer periods of time. Tiny holes are inserted throughout the length of the hose enabling smaller quantities of water to trickle out continuously as needed. These hoses come in multiple lengths, offering the ability to water great distances, and they can be set above ground or hidden beneath mulch. Photo courtesy of Rittenhouse

Xeriscaping: Water-Saving Design

Xeriscaping promotes landscapes that are specifically designed to conserve water, improve soil and preserve as much existing vegetation as possible. When using Xeriscape to design your landscape, plan to utilize plants that naturally thrive in your region. This effort will "help tie a designed landscape into the larger environment and give it a regional identity," Deborah says. Grouping together plants that need similar watering requirements will also help conserve water and promote sustainability. "If native plants are sited properly, in the long-term, they should require less ongoing maintenance than non-native plants," Deborah explains. "Since they have evolved to thrive in the local site conditions." Photo courtesy of Deborah Roberts

Mulch: Conserve Water and Promote Plant Health

Incorporating mulch into your landscaping efforts can also conserve water while simultaneously providing many other benefits. Deborah says the use of mulch can moderate soil temperatures, reduce weeds and soil erosion, and suppress some plant diseases. She suggests using organic mulch (wood chips, leaves, pine needles) as opposed to bark, stone or rubber. "As organic mulch breaks down, it feeds the soil by adding nutrients and organic matter to it which should make the plants healthier." Using a locally obtained organic mulch can also tend to be less expensive and will also help your landscape design appear more natural. Photo courtesy of Deborah Roberts

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