Having a sustainable landscape is important to water quality, local animal and plant life, and your wallet. By mimicking a natural landscape in your own yard, you can eliminate the need for toxic chemicals and irrigation, provide a habitat for New England flora and fauna, and save money!
Native plants are a low-maintenance, eco-friendly choice for your landscape. They typically do not require much watering, beyond what Mother Nature already provides, or harsh chemicals such as fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. They also support local flora and fauna. Boston Water and Sewer Commission (BWSC) has compiled a basic list of plants native to New England. Non-native species can sometimes become invasive, taking over and destroying habitats beyond where they were originally planted. The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife offers moreinformation on invasive species, including a list of invasive plants to avoid.
While some would say the greenest thing you can do to your lawn is to get rid of it, there are many actions you can take to make your existing lawn more sustainable. Large, lush lawns are usually frowned upon because of they lack biodiversity, and also thirst for water and petro-based chemicals. Having a small lawn with more of your yard dedicated to a variety of native plants is a great place to start. You can reduce the need for chemicals and water by keeping your grass longer, applying compost, and aerating. Managing your lawn without chemicals is doable, especially if you can learn to tolerate dandelions and clovers (which bees love to turn into honey!). Cornell Cooperative Extension school has developed a two-page, year-long organic lawn care plan that will help get your lawn off the toxic chemicals, thus keeping your kids, pets, and our water safe. Also, check out these informative videos from the US EPA with tips forwatering, managing weeds and pests, aerating and mowing your lawn.
Mowers and Blowers
Did you know gas-powered lawn mowers emit as much pollution in one hour as driving a new car over 100 miles? Emissions from lawn mowers, chain saws, pressure washers, leaf blowers and other outdoor motorized equipment are a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions and other harmful air pollutants such as carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides. In 2007, EPA announced that lawn mowers and other garden equipment account for up to five percent of the nation’s air pollution and a good deal more in urban areas.
Instead of a gas-powered mower, consider the various options for gasoline-free garden equipment. If you have a small lawn, or just want a good work-out, try a traditional push mower. There are also many choices for electric- and solar-powered lawn and garden tools, which have the added benefit of being easier to start! Whatever you choose, make sure you recycle your old equipment!
Rainwater Reuse and Recharge
The City of Boston has a lot of great parks and open space; but like any city, most of our land has been built upon or paved over, leaving little land to absorb rainwater. When all of our rainwater goes into the stormwater system, it ends up in the ocean and doesn’t recharge our groundwater supplies. In many neighborhoods in Boston, lowgroundwater levels are a real problem. By capturing and reusing rainwater on site, you can save money on irrigation and help recharge groundwater. Rain barrels are a great option for capturing and reusing rainwater runoff from a gutter downspout.Rain gardens and bio swales can capture runoff from paved areas such as parking lots or roads.
Tree Planting for Energy Conservation
Strategically planting trees or large shrubs can boost your homes energy efficiency. By planting deciduous shade trees on the west and southwest side of buildings, you can reduce your cooling cost in the summer by up to 47 percent! For keeping warm in the winter, plant evergreen trees as windbreaks on the north-northeast side of the building to reduce heat loss from winter winds. Check out the City’s guide for tree planting and this guide from Utah State University for planting trees in the right place for energy conservation.
Have you made the switch to greening your landscape? Share your experiences and tips below!