10 Steps Towards a sustainable Landscape
1. Compost kitchen scraps and yard waste.
For kitchen scraps don’t try and compost meat, dairy products or eggs. Stick with vegetable, fruit, coffee grounds—plant based scraps. For yard waste, use a mix of green waste, like grass clippings (only rake up really long grass clippings after mowing) and green leaves, and brown waste like sticks, bark, dry leaves, and a little soil.
You can make a compost heap anywhere you have space. It could be literally just a pile on the ground in an area that receives some sun and rain. Compost piles need some heat and some water to get started making compost. Once your pile is underway and working it will become hot all by itself!
Or you could buy a composter. Those barrel shapes composters that are raised up from the ground on a stand and have a handle so you can tumble them easily produce compost fastest and is easiest to deal with. You can also build bins from chicken wire, rubber tires, be creative! Find a book about it if you are confused. There are tons of great resources about composting.
2. Stop buying PVC garden hoses.
PVC leaches chemicals such as lead into the water that you are sending into the earth. Lead is only one PVC additive. Read from Wikipedia about PVC:
“Polyvinyl chloride, commonly abbreviated PVC, is the third-most widely-produced plastic, after polyethylene andpolypropylene. PVC is widely used in construction because it is durable, cheap, and easily worked.” PVC “can be made softer and more flexible by the addition of plasticizers, the most widely used being phthalates. In this form, it is used in clothing and upholstery, electrical cable insulation, inflatable products and many applications in which it replaces rubber.
3. Plant Trees.
Plant deciduous trees on the southern side of your house (or Northern side if you live in the southern hemisphere) to shade from summer sun, but then allow winter sun to warm your house. Plant evergreens as windscreens. Birds adore evergreens for nesting.
4. Remove unnecessary fencing around your property.
It impedes wildlife from moving freely around what used to be their yard!
5. Create a butterfly and wildlife friendly garden using native plants.
Monarch butterflies for example specifically need Milkweed foliage to lay their eggs. Every time you yank out milkweed you are destroying a breeding ground for Monarch butterflies. By wildlife, I don’t necessarily mean the kind that you would rather keep away, like rats, mice, and squirrels, even though they have a right to exist and have their rightful place in the ecosystem, but more like animals like possum, skunks, raccoons (raccoons eat grubs btw), birds, snakes. Oh, and keeping your darling house cat indoors will save the lives of many song birds (and rodents too). You decide your priority on that one.
6. Drip Irrigation
If you need to irrigate your lawn or garden, switch to drip irrigation for the garden beds. Soaker hoses are often made from recycled rubber tires, which is very green indeed. But soaker hoses don’t last forever. PVC drip irrigation lines are not great since they are made from toxic PVC that outgasses and leaches chemicals into the soil, but they last longer than soaker hoses and work well if installed properly. You will save lots of water switching to drip irrigation.
Lawns can’t be watered with drip lines, but try to water early in the morning instead of mid-day.
7. Stop using chemical pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and fertilizer.
There are non-toxic alternatives for killing damaging insects; for killing and preventing weeds and funguses; and many great alternatives to petroleum based, non- sustainable fertilizers. Did you know that the misuse and overuse of chemical fertilizers in “America’s breadbasket” flows into the Mississippi River and “downriver fuels the world’s second-largest oceanic dead zone”? (Onearth, Spring 2012, p. 42) Chemicals from you own yard are doing the same thing but on a smaller scale.
8. Don’t use non-biodegradable soaps and detergents for outdoor cleaning projects
The most obvious cleaning projects that come to mind are outdoor window washing, deck, patio, driveway, walkway and house power-washing, washing you car, etc. And definitely don’t do projects like stripping furniture outdoors and allow the chemicals to soak into the ground. Never, never, .never pour paint, solvents, or oil into the ground, and please don’t pour anything down the storm drains!
9. Get rid of your chemical lawn.
See our set of articles on how to create and care for an organic lawn. It might be easier than you think. Or it could be a daunting project. It’s still worth thinking about and implementing if possible.
10. Water Management
Which brings us to the issue of water management for your own little piece of our planet earth. Storm Water Run-off is a big topic these days amongst landscape architects and other land planners. The issue is that the more we pave over our soil, the less square footage remains to soak up rainwater and especially storm water. Like Joni Mitchell sang (eons ago it seems) “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot!” Really we (not they) paved over paradise; but, if we use permeable paving technology it would be lots better for us.
So in a rainstorm, if there is nowhere permeable surface for the water to drain into, it rushes over the pavement picking up many toxic contaminants with it and depositing it all in our local waterways, totally untreated. Add to that overloaded, outdated sewage systems and understand what happened to Boston Harbor and also how we went about cleaning up Boston Harbor. It is, incidentally also illegal in many towns to divert water from your property to someone else’s property!
You can do your part in ameliorating toxic run-off by
- Using permeable paving. That means using a sand or stone grit base for any unit paving projects you are doing instead of concrete base and cement joints. Lay a base of sand or stone grit and gravel, and fill the joints between pavers with sand or stone grit.
- If you have a lightly used parking area or driveway, consider using something like good quality patterned concrete block that allows green living things to grow up through the spaces as well as allowing water to soak in. It’s easy to maintain with a lawn mower.
- Consider using crushed stone for patios and walkways. Or how about using stone grit to create walkways that have a very smooth and easy to walk on surface. You can check out this style of soft hardscape around Willow Pond and Halcyon Lake in the Mt. Auburn Cemetery if you live near Cambridge Massachusetts.
- Make sure your downspouts end in a rain barrel, or at least are directed into a soil or grass area rather than a paved area. You definitely want to move water away from the foundation of your home, but direct it somewhere it can slowly sink into the earth. By doing this you replicate natures own cleaning and filtering system. It’s called wetlands.
Ellen Sandbeck describes the function of wetlands very well in her book Green Housekeeping:
“Water that has been absorbed slowly into the ground is less likely to flood; groundwater is release slowly and gradually into waterways, and it is more likely to keep streams, creeks, and springs running year-round.”
Wetlands can be thought of as Mother Nature’s kidneys, where contaminants are broken down and removed from circulation. This cleansing is accomplished by wetland plants, animals, and microorganisms. It is so efficient that artificial wetlands are being used to treat the raw sewage from small communities; the effluent from livestock production; contaminated agricultural and urban runoff; and industrial wastewater. Treatment in artificial wetlands has been found effective at reducing levels of toxic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and microbial pathogens, and also in removing heavy metals from wastewater. . . rain gardens are capable of absorbing about 30 percent more water than comparable areas of lawn.”
- So create a rain garden on your property! All you need is a shallow depression, swale, or existing drainage ditch that is situated to catch draining water.
Here’s a necessary conclusion to going green in your landscape: Seriously consider replacing your landscape company if they continue to practice polluting landscape methods. Those include the use of gas-powered tools like leaf blowers and vacuums, huge riding lawnmowers, string trimmers, edging machines, mulch blowers, hedge trimmers, and worst of the worst, leaf blowers. I mention leaf blowers first and last because they are hands down the most polluting tool used by landscapers.
If you are interested in the issue of leaf blowers read my post to get a gardeners opinion on this controversial subject.