A lawn–the landscaping choice for many builders and homeowners–is arguably a bland and unnurturing choice. Outdoor spaces that will provide areas for quiet repose, entertaining, gardening and wildlife habitat are more satisfying and less water needy.
- Lawns require more water than plants, so a water-wise landscape will include more plants than grassy areas–plants that are suited to the conditions of the site, of course (See Ornamental Plants below).
- Think about why you want a lawn and what it will be used for and designate only enough square footage to lawn as will accomodate this need.Once you know how little lawn you can live with, research native grass species. Native grasses will need litttle or not fertilization and watering. (See resources section in right margin.)
- Add organic matter to your lawn to feed the soil. Healthy soil grows healthy grass which is better able to out-compete weeds and withstand stressful conditions.
- Mow grass high (3-4 inches). Tall grass blades shade the soil and help it retain moisture. This is especially important where the lawn receives a lot of sun.
- Aerate your lawn yearly. Compacted soil is a leading cause of water runoff that results in overwatering.
- Water first thing in the morning. Water during the heat of the day and you’ll lose lots of water to evaporation. Water at night and you put your lawn at risk of developing fungus or other problems.
- Give your lawn one inch of water per week. If this isn’t enough, increase that to two inches per week. If your lawn requires more water than two inches during the summer, there is a problem, and all the recommendations above should be employed to try and correct the problem.
- Plants that are native or adapted to your region are the best choices. After becoming established, they will require very little water other than what is provided through regional precipitation.
- Regional precipitation is only one consideration, though. Soil type can also impact what plants will grow best around your home. Have your soil analyzed and share the results with your local nursery. Based on the analysis, they will be able to recommend plants for your existing soil or suggest amendments that will improve your soil making it more hospitable to a wider variety of plants.
- Fruit trees, berries, vegetables, herbs — plant what you like to eat and you’ll be rewarded with fresh produce throughout the season. A garden that includes edibles is a great way to save money on food and increase the nutrition from your food. Nutrients in foods are at their peak right after harvest, so foods you pick right out of your garden and are grown organically are the healthiest foods to consume.
- Drip irrigation is the most efficient way to water plants, trees and shrubs. Drip sytems deliver a slow drip of water to the base of the plant where it can be immediately absorbed into the soil next to the plant’s root system. The do-it-yourselfer can easily install a drip system.
- When planting ground cover plants that will spread, a soaker hose is recommended, but a sprinkler can be used as well.
- Sprinkler systems for lawns can be manual or automatic. A manual sprinkler can be harder to ‘fit’ to the size and shape of your lawn resulting in uneven watering. They must also be moved around, and if not hooked up to a timer, can be forgotten and left on too long. For small lawns that are bascially square or rectangular in shape they can work just fine.
- A distinct advantage to moveable sprinklers is that you can water only certain sections of a lawn based on need.
- The efficiency of automatic sprinkler systems depends upon how well they are designed, installed and operated. I’ve seen hundreds of systems that are oversized, spray water onto hard surfaces and are programmed to water too frequently and for too long. Having an automatic sprinkler system does’t mean you’ll never have to think about it. Sprinkler heads should be monitored to check their aim and coverage. Move, remove, repair or adjust heads as necessary to correct over watering.
- Know how and when to override your system’s programmed settings to shut the system off. Don’t water on windy days and before or during a rainstorm. Following a rainstorm that results in at least an inch of precipitation, keep the system off for a full week. This chore can be eliminated with the installation of a rain sensor that will detect rain or moisture in the soil and shut the sytem off automatically when not needed.
- For a leaky garden hose, replace the nylon or rubber hose washer and ensure a tight connection to the spigot using pipe tape and a wrench.
- Check landscape irrigation systems each spring to make sure they are not damaged by frost or freezing.
- Impervious surfaces like poured concrete, asphalt and pavers create areas where water runs off. Runoff enters storm drains carrying silt, fertilizers and herbicides you may use in your yard with it–polluting nearby waterways.
- Landscapes should be as water permeable as possible to permit water to filter into the ground instead of run off. Minimize hard surfaces, and choose permeable alternatives such as crushed rock, bark, and special permeable pavers.
- Even lawns–after extended, heavy use–can become compacted and somewhat impervious. Adding organic mulch and aeration twice a year can help avoid compaction in the first place. If soil is severly compacted, the lawn (if there is one) will need to be sacrificed and the earth loosened to a depth of 12″ before being replanted.
- To avoid contaminated runoff from impervious surfaces, avoid leaving pet waste on lawns and use fertilizers and herbicides sparingly–even non-toxic varieties.
- Furniture, planters, fencing and decking are being made from recycled plastic. These products are durable and maintenance free making them ideal for outdoor use. Check out some of the resources at right.
- If recycled plastic isn’t your thing, wood products made from FSC-certified wood are earth friendly, but maintenance will be required.
For safety, preventing or removing ice on the surfaces around our property requires immediate attention. But deicing salts, though effective, aren’t the answer if you want to protect your property, pets and local environment from their damaging and caustic effects.
Chloride-based deicers are corrosive and can cause visible and costly damage to surfaces around the home including concrete, asphalt, pavers, bricks, wood decks, metal and carpet.
Salt also dehydrates and sometimes burns plants. When it leaches into the soil, chloride compounds can reach ground water supplies. And spring run-off contaminated with salt can adversely impact surface waters.
Avoid harmful deicing salts with the following alternatives:
Prevent ice from forming. Shovel walkways immediately—before snow has a chance to melt and refreeze. If you are building, consider installing heated walkways for high use areas.
Natural abrasives that add traction to iced surfaced are the most environmentally friendly as long as they are swept up after the ice melts. Natural abrasives include sand, wood ashes, peanut hulls and alfalfa meal. (Alfalfa meal will also melt ice.) Use abrasives sparingly and sweep them up before spring. If left on the ground, they can end up in waterways as a result of runoff, or contribute to dust and particulate pollution in the dry season.
Eco-friendly de-icers include IceClear (works down to -50° F and should ideally be applied before a storm), Green Logic (works down to -1°F) SafePaw (works down to -2° F), Safe Pet (works down to 0° F), Safe Step (works down to -15° F). When using these products, it’s important to use them as directed and resist over application. Any compound in the wrong place and concentration can cause pollution.