9 Tips for Sustainable Landscaping

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Sustainable landscaping provides a haven not only for you, but everything from pollinators to songbirds.

Creating an outdoor sanctuary near the front porch or back patio ranks among the more rewarding landscape projects to tackle. Gardens and decorative shrubs add visual appeal, and trees significantly reduce future energy bills as they grow and cool the home and yard with shade.

When choosing plants, keep costs and maintenance down by skipping the exotics and buying what thrives locally without expensive and time-consuming watering, fertilizing and maintenance. Here are nine ways you can help the environment by creating a sustainable landscape.

Go Beyond a Grassy Lawn

You can do a lot for nature by creating more than a grass lawn and a few shrubs or driveway edging. Consider habitats such as ground cover instead of mulch, shrubs with seasonal appeal, flowers to attract pollinators, rain gardens to filter water, food to reduce grocery trips and trees that cool and shelter humans and wildlife.

Serve Up an Edible Landscape

Plant perennials, shrubs and trees that feed your family and provide an attractive edible landscape.

If you’re not interested in growing food for yourself, look for easy-care fruits, nuts and seeds that can benefit wildlife, especially in winter when food is scarce. Some examples include highbush cranberry, crabapple trees, elderberries, currants, hazelnuts, coneflowers and coreopsis. Check with your local Extension Service for regional recommendations.

Choose Compost Over Chemicals

Boost the health and immunity of your plants and shrubs with nutrient-rich healthy soil that can help them fight off pests and disease. Vermicompost, created by worms breaking down food scraps, contains growth hormones that make plants stronger and more resilient. Traditional compost helps plants hang on to moisture between rains and lightens soil so roots can spread more easily.

Plan a Pollinator Garden

Help the dwindling populations of bees, butterflies and other pollinators bounce back by planting flowers that offer nectar and rest stops for migrating butterflies. Whether you put out a planter of zinnias or convert a large corner to prairie garden, the addition of favorites such as butterfly weed, bee balm, lupine, blazing star and asters can draw a colorful crowd. You can also register and become part of the Million Pollinator Challenge.

Dig Into a Rain Garden

Decrease erosion and potentially harmful runoff from lawns by creating a rain garden in a low area of your yard. By installing water-tolerant plants such as swamp milkweed, asters and blazing star, your rain garden can contain excess water after heavy storms and filter out chemicals and fertilizer that affect the water supply.

Build Wildlife Homes

A single bat can devour 1,000 mosquitoes an hour. Birds and toads snag their share, too, along with eating slugs and other garden pests. Encourage natural pest control by making your garden more welcoming with a DIY bat house, bird houses or a DIY toad cave by submerging half of a clay pot into a shady spot of soil.

Preserve Some Dead Wood

If part of a tree has died but isn’t in danger of falling and harming anything, let it be. Dead trees, also called snags, offer shelter and habitat for more than 1,000 species, according to the National Wildlife Federation. Logs and small brush piles can also provide essential shelter.

Provide a Water Source

Birds and other animals need water for drinking and bathing. If you don’t have a rain garden, pond or other water source nearby, consider a shallow bird bath. Make sure you empty it daily to prevent it from becoming a mosquito breeding station, and scrub it clean weekly.

You can add de-icer units for the winter months and solar-power pumps that keep the water moving and draw birds during the warmer months.

Certify Your Yard Wildlife-Friendly

To encourage others to consider sustainable landscaping and gardening, apply for designation as a wildlife-friendly garden through the National Wildlife Federation. It costs $20 to apply and includes a sign that recognizes places providing essential food, water, nesting areas and shelter.