Tips on landscaping the eco way
We’re on the cusp of the season change: Spring is in the air and green will be on your lawn soon, too. But you can keep your grass green and be eco-friendly, too, by integrating these experts’ advice for your best (and healthiest!) yard yet.
Living the Good Life
You’ve probably seen in recent years the increased interest in turning the backyard into another “room” of the house. Building hardscape elements like kitchens and fireplaces as well as peaceful water elements like ponds and waterfalls remain popular and not only extend the season, but add additional value to the home and facilitate family time.
“In the recent economy families are not going on as many vacations and they are spending more time at home. Some families are waiting for the real estate market to turn around before moving to another home. The end result? We’ve seen more people reinvesting in their homes and landscapes,” says Josh Boley, director of business development at Boley Tree & Landscape Care.
A new twist to these outdoor living spaces is incorporating environmentally conscious elements into the setup so your outdoor hangout is green for good.
“With that inside-out lifestyle comes a heightened awareness of the
surroundings and so naturally more thought is put into the landscaping and plantings,” says Nicholas Tomkins, owner of Nicholas Solutions. “The combination of aesthetics and functionality becomes very important. Creating green screens with vegetation instead of building fences or planting shade trees instead of constructing an awning are examples of this.”
Gain Some Rain
Another huge trend all of our experts mentioned that can be incorporated into outdoor living spaces as well as for sustainable lawn care in general? Rain barrels and rain water harvesting.
“Rain water harvesting is also gaining interest as water resources may become scarce and polluted,” says Boley. “Turf and plants do so much better with natural rainfall and rain water harvesting can be incorporated into ponds and waterfall systems.”
Scott Gear’s company Second Rain actually constructs rainwater harvesting systems and he’s enthusiastic about them, predicting an even bigger demand to come.
“There is an increased awareness toward the sustainable. It’s really an environmentally friendly solution to get rain water out of the storm sewers which empty directly into our lakes,” explains Gear. “So you reduce runoff and your water footprint. In addition to reducing your water use it helps prevent groundwater draw-down, too.”
Gear’s company sells two different systems: rainwater “blox” made of ninety-eight percent post-consumer recycled plastic that hold forty gallons of rainwater and rain benches that have a sixty-five gallon capacity.
“The bench is an integrated rain
collection system. But we design rainwater systems into structures, landscapes and usable items and products.” Gear’s company even has a fascinating graphic on its website (second-rain.com) that shows a virtual demonstration of constructing an outdoor kitchen from fourteen rain benches.
If you’re more of a traditionalist Sustain Dane also sells quality and functional rain barrels on its website, too (rainfordane.com).
“My clients are requesting that rain barrels be included or accommodated for in designs,” says Tomkins. “Knowing that there will be rainwater harvesting on a site then helps us design a planting schedule that will take advantage of this natural irrigation.”
Way to grow
Native plantings are another way to cut down on pesticide use and lay the groundwork for a lower-maintenance lawn.
“We have seen a trend to use more native plants and perennials as they are more acclimated to our climate,
temperature and soils. Native plants and perennials tend to be more drought tolerant which saves water resources, and they are less prone to insect/ disease problems as well,” says Boley.
Look into prairie plants, ornamental grasses and evergreens, adds Gear. They bloom for a long time and look beautiful year-round.
Tomkins encourages clients to plant native cultivars that don’t require additional fertilization or irrigation—even going so far as to suggest eliminating the lawn: “We jokingly refer to lawns as ‘drug-addicted carpets’ because of the chemicals, excess water and mowing required to maintain a manicured appearance. Many times the patios, outdoor kitchens and native plantings we install can replace these types of lawns.”
All three experts use sustainable and green practices in their businesses that you too can use or look for when hiring a landscape firm.
Tomkins says his business focuses on the long-term effects of a build on the environment: They use natural, reclaimed and recycled stone and avoid concrete because of its large carbon footprint.
Boley cautions homeowners that organic and sustainable lawn care takes more time to show results than a chemical-based program, but is worth it.
“When a lawn is coming off of a chemically based program, you typically have more weeds the second year after switching due to residual effects during the initial season on an organic program,” says Boley. “It would be disingenuous for a product or company to say that ‘going green’ will save time or money and that there is little to no commitment that is needed from the homeowner to be actively involved in the healthy care of their landscape.”
SHOPPING LIST: GREEN GOODS FOR HOME AND GARDEN
• Rain barrels and harvesting systems
• Compost: Builds up the nutrient levels in the soil—it creates moisture retention and reduces the need to water. Mulching also reduces weeds and adds nutrients to the soil, says Boley.
• Natural, reclaimed and recycled stone for landscaping/outdoor living projects
• Fly-ash pavers: A byproduct of coal-fired plants, CalStar (out of Caledonia, Wisconsin) has turned fly-ash into a brick product for use in landscaping and hardscaping, says Tomkins.
• Native plantings, organic and natural lawn-care products: Gear cautions homeowners to check labels. “Just because it’s labeled organic or natural doesn’t mean it’s safe or nontoxic.”
Shayna Miller is associate and style editor of Madison Magazine.