A quick summary of environmentally friendly ways to reduce yard maintenance, costs and greenhouse gas emissions.
Eco-landscaping includes a number of practices that are easy on the environment and your pocketbook. It includes designing your yard to conserve water, using selective plantings, collecting rain water, watering wisely, backyard composting, mulching, grasscycling and using a push or electric mower.
Eco-Landscaping reduces waste, fertilizer and chemical needs, conserves water and saves money through reduced energy and yard maintenance costs. It also reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions responsible for climate change.
Xeriscape landscaping is designing your yard and garden specifically to conserve water.
Xeriscape, is coined from the Greek word “xeros” meaning dry, and “scape” meaning a kind of view or scene. You might take Xeriscape landscaping to imply a dry and uninteresting garden; however, in practice quite the opposite is true.
Whether you are developing a Xeriscape landscape from scratch or modifying a traditional garden, the same basic principles apply.
Design for water conservation.
Incorporate native, drought-resistant plants, practical turf areas and mulches into your landscape. Place plants with the same watering and care requirements together to increase survival rate and reduce maintenance requirements.
Reduce our lawn.
Minimize your lawn by incorporating different purpose areas such as patios and rock gardens. Use various shapes and colours of rocks and gravels combined with drought resistant shrubs, flowers and evergreens to create interest.
To create visual balance throughout the year, select drought resistant plants, trees and bushes for all seasons. Opt for native and drought-resistant plants.
Evergreens along the north and west side of your home provide shelter against winter winds. Deciduous trees on the south side shade your home in the summer while still letting the sun shine in during the winter.
More than half of the water applied to lawns and gardens can be lost to evaporation and run-off due to over-watering.
Over watering is not only a waste of water, it encourages excessive growth, depleting the lawn’s energy reserves and disease resistance. It can create high moisture and surface humidity, ideal conditions for fungal pathogens.
Water early in the morning, after the dew has dried to reduce losses to evaporation.
Apply single deep waterings (25 mm / 1 inch once every 7 – 10 days) rather than several light waterings. Light, frequent watering encourages shallow roots making lawns more sensitive to drought and soil compaction. An empty tuna can works as an easy measure. Most hoses provide 6.4 mm (one-quarter inch) to 8.5 mm (one-third inch) of water per hour.
Stop watering when runoff occurs; especially on slopes or dry compacted soil. Cycling water on and off in these areas avoids wasting water and gives your lawn a better watering.
Reasons to Xeriscape:
- Conserves water.
- Requires less pruning and maintenance.
- Provides lots of attractive planting options.
- Thrives with little fertilization.
- Minimizes pest and disease problems.
Use a cistern or rain barrel to capture and store rainwater for irrigation. It reduces stormwater runoff and the GHGs associated with drinking water. Make sure your barrel is covered with a tight-fitting lid or screen to keep disease-carrying mosquitoes from breeding there. For detailed savings and GHG emission reductions associated with using rainwater for outside watering, see Rain Barrel calculations.
Many kitchen organic wastes can be transformed into compost for the garden. Compost raw fruits and vegetables, tea bags, coffee grinds and eggshells with leaf and yard waste to make your own soil conditioner.
A family of three can reduce GHG emissions by more than 125 kilograms per year by backyard composting. Reducing household waste means less waste needs to be collected and less waste ends up in landfills which produce GHG emissions.
Find out more about composting.
Mulching is the act of covering the soil surface around your plants with compost, shredded bark or other organic material. Inorganic mulches such as rocks and gravel come in all kinds of shapes, sizes and colours and make permanent mulches. Inorganic mulches help conserve water but unlike organic mulches, do not help build up the soil.
Mulching in the spring reduces weeds and the need to water. Mulching in the fall protects plants against winter.
Reasons to mulch:
- Reduces erosion and washing away of soil in heavy rain.
- Adds valuable organic matter to the soil as it decomposes.
- Helps retain soil moisture and reduces the frequency of watering required.
- Reduces weeds and makes pulling out those that do grow easier.
- Encourages better root growth by insulating soil from temperature changes.
- Provides a beneficial use for fallen leaves. Chopped leaves make great mulch for around plants and trees.
Leave grass clippings on your lawn when you mow (grasscycle). Clippings will quickly break down, helping your lawn retain moisture, adding nutrients and reducing the need for fertilizers.
Correct mowing is the key to successful grasscycling. This includes cutting the grass at the recommended height, maintaining a sharp mower blade, mowing when the grass is dry and mowing often enough to remove no more than one-third of the grass blade in a single mowing. Leave at least 5-8cm (2-3 inches) on the grass blades after cutting. If the grass becomes too tall between mowing, raise the cutting height for the first mowing and gradually lower it with later mowings until the proper height is reached. During summer drought period, which causes stress on the grass, raise the cutting height but continue mowing often enough to avoid excess grass stem removal.
The benefits of proper grasscycling:
- Returns nutrients back into the soil as the clippings break down, (nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus).
- Helps keep roots cool in hot weather.
- Eliminates the work and time associated with emptying the bagger.
- Reduces garden wastes and the need for garbage bags.
- Reduces water and fertilizer requirements.
- Saves tax dollars by reducing extra city yard waste collection, hauling and composting.
- Reduces GHG emissions by over 500 kilograms per household per year.
A common misconception is that grasscycling causes thatch build-up. Research has shown that the primary contributor to thatch is grass roots and stems, not grass clippings.
Roots and stems contain large amounts lignin and decompose slowly. Grass clippings are approximately 80-85% water, contain only small amounts of lignin and decompose rapidly.
Grasscycling during prolonged wet weather or when mowing infrequently (grass clippings are too long) is not feasible. In these instances the clippings can be bagged for other uses. Grass clippings can be added to your compost pile or used as mulch during spring and summer to prevent moisture loss and to help control weeds around trees, shrubs and flowerbeds.
Find out more about grasscycling.
Consider replacing your gas mower with an electric model (there are even cordless electric mowers on the market now). Electric mowers, require no gas or oil, release no fumes and are much quieter than gas mowers. A typical gas-powered mower produces 48 kilograms of GHG emissions in a season and as much air pollution as a car driven 550 kilometres.
Another option is to purchase a new push reel mower. The new ones are about half the weight (and easier to push) than the old models and require no electricity or gasoline so they are good for your health and the environment.
Additional Information Sources
Creating the Prairie Xeriscape
Sara Williams, University Extension Press, University of Saskatchewan, 1997 (ISBN: 0888803575)
Xeriscape Plant Guide
Denver Water. Introduction by Rob Proctor, American Waterworks Association, Fulcrum Publishing, 1996
Xeriscape Gardening, Water Conservation for the American Landscape
Connie Ellefson, Tom Stephens, Doug Welsh
The Calgary Gardener: The Essential Guide to Gardening in Calgary's Chinook Country
Calgary Horticultural Society Staff, 1996
Water Conserving Gardens and Landscapes
John M. O'Keefe
American Gardening Series. Waterwise Gardening
Lauren Springer. Burpee Publications