With increasing environmental concerns, and a growing understanding of the need to adopt eco-friendly practices, sustainable landscaping has emerged as a vital consideration when designing and building a high-performance, environmentally conscious and eco-friendly home.
Sustainable landscaping is often referred to as “green landscaping” or “ecological landscaping”. Sustainable landscaping practices not only enhance the aesthetic appeal of your property but also contribute to biodiversity, conserve water, reduce energy consumption, and minimize its overall environmental footprint. They encompass a range of principles aimed at creating harmonious outdoor environments while minimizing negative impacts on our planet.
In contrast, traditional landscaping usually means laying down a carpet of lawn, adorned with a collection of decorative, exotic plants. Traditional landscapes typically place a high demand on the use of water, energy and chemicals to exist.
A sustainable landscaping approach involves thoughtful planning, design, and ongoing maintenance, with a focus on reducing resource consumption, promoting biodiversity, and supporting local ecosystems.
Sustainable gardening practices support clean water for drinking, cooking and cleaning, and cleaner air for breathing. Healthy soil helps grow stronger, more vibrant plants that provide shade on hot days, buffer your home from strong winds and noise and build a strong root system that prevents erosion.
In this article, we will explore various sustainable landscaping practices that you can adopt to create eco-friendly and sustainable outdoor spaces around your house.
Native plant selection and biodiversity
One of the fundamental principles of sustainable landscaping is selecting plants that are native to your geographic location. Native plants are already well-adapted to the local climate, soil, and wildlife, which means they will require less water and maintenance.
Native plants also provide essential habitats and food sources for the local wildlife in your area, contributing to the biodiversity of your community. By including a variety of native plants in your landscape design, you can create a resilient ecosystem that supports pollinators, birds, and other beneficial creatures.
Xeriscaping is a landscaping or gardening technique that reduces or eliminates the need for irrigation. In municipalities that receive limited rainfall during the summer months, and heavily restrict water usage, xeriscaping allows flowering plants to thrive, while providing forage for pollinators. Drought-tolerant plants are ideal for this system.
Xeriscaped areas are rarely flat the way traditional lawns are. Judicious plant grouping places plants with similar needs together. Drought-tolerant plants are typically placed in higher exposed points, along with moisture-retaining organic material. Grading takes advantage of water’s natural tendency to move downhill. Plants that require more moisture can be planted in the lower areas where water collects.
Mulching will help prevent weeds from growing and helps the soil below retain moisture. You can build the soil’s fertility and structure by mulching with well-rotted manure and finished compost.
Well-designed xeriscapes can often thrive simply through careful management of the naturally occurring rainfall. Some additional irrigation may be necessary, however, during periods of extended summer drought. Deeper root growth is encouraged by watering deeply and infrequently, employing a drip or trickle micro-irrigation system instead of overhead sprinklers.
Soil health and composting
Processing food waste into finished compost returns the nutrients to the earth and improves your soil’s health while helping plants retain moisture so they require less watering. Compost added to soil filters out 60-95% of the stormwater pollutants in urban areas. It sequesters carbon and replaces the need for artificial fertilizers, increasing healthy growth.
Compost contains three nutrients your garden beds need to thrive: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Most compost also includes traces of other essential minerals like calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc. It’s an organic alternative to the harmful chemicals found in synthetic fertilizers.
Rainwater harvesting involves collecting the run-off from the roof of your home or other impervious surfaces, such as driveways and sidewalks, to store it for later use. It’s a relatively clean and free source of water that can be used to irrigate your lawn and gardens.
Rainwater collected on your property is your water supply, so it’s not subject to city water restrictions. It is socially acceptable and environmentally responsible to use rainwater, conserve city water, and reduce stormwater runoff whenever possible. Rainwater is also better for landscape plants and gardens because it is not chlorinated.
Many communities and neighbourhoods lose more water as a result of stormwater runoff than they pipe in. Creating permeable surfaces when designing a landscape enables your property to capture stormwater through natural processes. Creating these porous surfaces allows water to permeate into the soil and replenish your groundwater resources rather than run off the surface and collect in storm sewers.
Soil acts as a natural filter, breaking down and removing pathogens and pollutants in your groundwater. The trapped, filtered groundwater acts as a natural source of irrigation, alleviating the need for additional water use to irrigate your lawn and garden beds.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management and a resource in your area. Its principles are guided by a combination of common-sense practices, based on current, comprehensive information on the life cycles of pests and their interaction with the environment.
Local pest control decisions are guided by an evaluation of the level at which pests are likely to become an economic threat. Pest control is not always needed if a single pest is sighted, and not all insects, weeds, and other living organisms require control.
IPM is recognized as the standard in turf and landscape care. Instead of relying solely on chemical pesticides, IPM focuses on a combination of techniques, including selecting pest-resistant plants, using biological controls, and promoting natural predators.
A well-designed landscape does more than enhance the curb appeal of your home. It can improve the energy efficiency of your building, significantly reducing your heating and cooling costs. The architect or designer-builder of your high-performance home can work closely with the landscaper, strategically placing trees and shrubs to deliver effective shade and act as a windbreak, with a potential energy reduction of up to 25%.
The climate immediately surrounding your home is known as its microclimate. When landscaping for energy efficiency, both your regional climate and the microclimate are considered. Depending on the location of your lot, your home’s microclimate may not match the average regional conditions, resulting in more sun, shade, rain, snow, wind, moisture or dryness. The plants you can grow in your landscape could largely be determined by your home’s microclimate and its target energy efficiency level.
Loss of habitat has been the single greatest contributor to the reduction of wildlife numbers in Canada. As homeowners we have the opportunity to reverse that trend in our yards, creating wildlife gardens that are easier to maintain, and with less energy and water than traditional garden features. You can create a habitat for animals that have been displaced by community growth.
Wildlife-friendly gardening is about providing the habitat needs – food, water, shelter – your wild neighbours need, and making landscaping decisions about how you’re going to tend your garden spaces to make your outdoor spaces safe for them. Reducing the amount of mowed lawns around your home can create shelter and food for many species. Designing islands of habitat and layers in your garden, with a variety of plants and sources of water like a natural pond, will make it more inviting to animals.
Gardening with wildlife in mind supports the pollination of your plants. It can also keep potential pest species in check, like mice, aphids, and mosquitoes. Green landscaping and gardening practices avoid the use of pesticides and commercial fertilizers, to keep the food supply safe for everything from small insects to songbirds and squirrels, and the doe and fawn that stop by at sunrise. Compost can be used in place of fertilizer, to release nutrients slowly over time, with mulch to improve soil conditions.
Keeping dogs and cats indoors makes your property much safer for wildlife. Dogs and cats hunt for fun and will keep wildlife away. Cats are, particularly good hunters and kill millions of birds and small mammals every year. Keeping pets indoors also keeps them safe from diseases, strays and traffic.
Sustainable landscapers have the opportunity to create an island of native trees, shrubs, and flowers that offer a path for wildlife to wander into our yards and through our neighbourhoods. By including wildlife-friendly features, and incorporating native plant species wherever possible, your wildlife garden can attract a greater variety of fauna.
Landscaping to attract wildlife is not only landscaping for the ecosystem; it brings nature close by welcoming it into our backyards, and that’s very people-friendly.
If your property is situated on a hill, or water runoff flows downhill through your yard, soil erosion could become a problem; a situation in which nutrient-rich topsoil is worn away by rainwater. As soil erodes it becomes less fertile and stormwater fills with particles of dirt before returning to watersheds.
Planting trees with a shallow root system, shrubs, or perennials naturally help prevent soil erosion. Concrete or wooden retaining walls can also be built to hold soil in place.
Whether through xeriscaping, rainwater harvesting, or energy-efficient landscape design, each green landscaping principle plays a role in reducing the ecological footprint of your home, while providing a nurturing habitat for local wildlife. Adopting sustainable landscaping practices when building your high-performance eco-friendly home is a step towards a more harmonious coexistence with nature.