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Going Greener

Simple eco-friendly landscaping tips to reduce your environmental impact this year By Taylor Shillam

As we enter another spring in the Northwest, so begins the preparation to revitalize our landscapes, lawns and gardens. Whether the spring of 2020 will find you starting from scratch or breathing new vitality into an existing landscape, there are many simple ways to increase the sustainability of your efforts.

With the goal of avoiding an excess use of resources, and allowing the local climate to naturally thrive, eco-friendly landscaping is growing in both popularity and practice.

Increasing the sustainability of your residential landscape or garden contributes to reduced energy waste, maintaining the cleanliness of the water and air, a healthier regional wildlife population, minimized atmospheric greenhouse gas and upholding a solid foundation for future generations to be able to experience the same benefits.

Reducing your environmental footprint and turning toward sustainable landscaping may seem like a daunting task—but it doesn’t need to be. At the heart of a thriving garden are greener practices that take just a little bit of extra care but, when done routinely, add up to a significantly positive impact.

Both novice gardeners and experienced green thumbs can easily implement a few tweaks to contribute to a more eco-friendly landscape this spring. Here are a few ways to reduce the environmental impact of your landscape practices while maintaining a landscape you love.

Plant Choice Green landscaping starts early on with the actual selection of your plants.

Including plant life in your landscaping provides a unique diversity to the look, smell and feel of your yard or garden. Beyond their aesthetic contributions, plants enrich the environment by providing shade, clean air, temperature regulation and a habitat for valuable organisms, among many other valuable functions.

Selecting plants that are native or adapted to the conditions of your residential area will require less resources and maintenance to ensure they thrive, since they won’t need to adapt to an unfamiliar environment.

Choosing plants appropriate to the local climate also reduces the risk of creating an environment prone to the damage of invasive species and instead allows the safety and promotion of healthy pollinators and beneficial microorganisms.

You can easily learn more about the selection of plants native to the region with online resources like the NWF Native Plant Finder and the Wildflower Center Native Plant Database.

Another factor to consider: Annual plants require the most water to maintain, making perennials and grasses the most efficient choice for water use.

Efficient Water Use As we head into summer and temperatures begin to creep up, intentional and efficient water use becomes critical. The most significant impacts of your “greener” efforts will be related to water conservation.

Up to 60 percent of the average residential use of water is for landscaping, so finding ways to cut back can reduce your spending while reducing water waste.

The use of hardscapes in your landscape design (hardscapes being any selection of rocks, pavers, decks, etc.) allows you to diversify the look of your outdoor space and create interest while reducing the required amount of water to maintain the aesthetic. Hardscapes can be incorporated into pathways, stepping stones, fire pits and patios, providing more ways to enjoy your outdoor space while reducing the need for water.

Soil Health Healthy soil is a critical foundational element to a sustainable garden or landscape. According to Landscape for Life, healthy soil will remove pollutants, cleanse water and restore atmospheric carbon, along with the functions we’re most familiar with, such as water storage and plant nourishment.

In sustainable gardens, soils are healthy, living ecosystems, protected by vegetation or mulch, and best allow plants to thrive.

Heavily mulching in plant beds can protect gardens from weeds, pests and disease. Mulch provides a protective layer to insulate roots and cover soil, which can reduce water evaporation and moderate soil temperature.

Using organic mulch in garden beds and surrounding trees helps to provide nourishing minerals when the mulch decomposes and can improve water retention. Inorganic mulches like crushed stones and rubber chips are best placed in hardscape settings.

Maintenance With a healthy landscape in place, it’s important to remember that maintenance practices are just as critical to ensuring the health of that landscape’s environmental footprint.

Thoughtful maintenance practices work with nature, not against it, for a process that is more time-efficient, economically wise and environmentally friendly.

One simple example is your choice of lawn mower. Compared to a gas-powered lawn mower, an electric lawn mower will emit significantly lower levels of air pollution.

Pesticides are another important consideration. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reported that homeowners apply pesticides at a rate almost 20 times higher than farmers use on agricultural land. Pesticide exposure isn’t a new topic of conversation by any means, but it’s important to keep in mind the non-chemical options that are available.

Organic fertilizers (such as compost) and non-chemical pest control can reduce toxic chemical release into the air and water supply, reducing the possibility for the multitude of negative health effects that have been associated with toxic pesticide exposure.

With a goal in mind to choose the least chemically laden, most naturally derived pest-control products you can, you’ll find with a bit of research, there are a good amount of available options. Often these choices will use Neem, a plant known for its inherent pesticide qualities. More natural options will better target the true pests in your garden without spreading additional harm to beneficial insects, like traditional pesticides so often do.

Regardless of your level of experience with gardening, landscaping or sustainability, you can start small, and start today. By being intentional with your plant selection, prioritizing efficient water use and choosing safer maintenance methods, you can make your garden positively “greener” in 2020.

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