What Sustainable Landscaping Is All About

Sustainable landscapes involve three practices that have been around for a long time: soil conservation, water conservation, and planting the right plants in the right place. Added to this are new and advanced practices in construction such as permeable paving and various on-site water recharge devices, LED (light emitting diode) lighting, drip irrigation, use of local and recycled materials, and use of organic fertilizers to name a few.

For the homeowner who has an established garden, much can be done to achieve a more sustainable landscape. Someone looking to buy or build a new home can begin implementing sustainable principles throughout the design process.

What are the principles of sustainable landscape design? The word “sustainable” means “to endure.” We might add: to endure with minimum use of harmful chemicals, energy, and labor. So what can a homeowner with an established garden to do practice sustainable landscaping?

First is to conduct an audit and analysis of existing conditions. This includes evaluating existing trees and shrubs for their health and usefulness in the garden. What about the area taken up the lawn? Could some of this be put to another use? How about drainage? Is storm water runoff being kept on the site and allowed to filter back into the ground? Is there a conveniently located compost pile on site? Are rainwater downspouts installed to keep all storm water on site? Are plants available that attract beneficial wildlife?

If the site analysis and audit reveal areas that can be improved or changed, then a renovation and remediation plan should be prepared.

Sustainable low impact development promotes the return of storm runoff to the soil by groundwater recharge devices, and retention or detention runoff for future releases. In addition, various pollutants in runoff can be reduced or eliminated by rain gardens, vegetated swales, and buffer strips. This is called “biorentetion,” which treats storm runoff by using a specially prepared planting bed and plant materials that filter water within a shallow depression or swale.

A useful summary of sustainable landscaping comes from the Florida Friendly Landscaping Program. They have developed nine principals which are just as home here in the New England area as they are in the Sunshine State:

  1. Right plant, right place.
  2. Water efficienty.
  3. Fertilize appropriately.
  4. Mulch.
  5. Attract wildlife.
  6. Manage yard pests responsibly.
  7. Recycle yard waste.
  8. Reduce storm water runoff.
  9. Protect the waterfront.