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Masters at home series: sustainable landscaping

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Sustainable landscaping is landscaping design for the future. It’s responsive to the environment, characterised by regeneration, and can actively contribute to the development of healthy communities.

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Sustainable landscaping uses strategic methods for business and residential landscapes with the purpose of offsetting negative environmental impacts. It sequesters carbon, cleans the air and water, increases energy efficiency, restores natural habitats, and concentrates on social, economic and environmental benefits.

As each region’s local climate and soil quality varies, sustainable landscaping changes shape wherever it’s carried out. The principle, however, remains the same and that is to design with the future and environment in mind.

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Practicing sustainable landscaping

The field of landscaping continues to evolve and there are global threats that affect ecological balance. That’s why it’s crucial we implement sustainable landscaping practices now. By focusing on the now, we can protect our world long term.

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Sustainable landscaping is a conscious arrangement of outdoor space for you and others to enjoy. It uses minimal water, fertilisers, pesticides, labour and building materials. It teaches you to think about your landscape, think about your entire property, and determine exactly what it is that you need.

It is therefore essential that a master plan is created. Keep in mind that landscape development can be a long-term process. Consider shaping the landscape over a few years which will not only be more feasible, but will help you evaluate plants as they grow and mature.

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Benefits of sustainable landscaping

1. Save on energy

The vast majority of energy produced today is from non-renewable, fossil fuel resources. If demand continues to rise, we face uncertainty over our energy security. We therefore need to look at reducing demand.

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A well-designed sustainable landscape adds more than just aesthetics to your home. Consider your home’s microclimate, watering needs, heating and cooling costs, wind, shade etc and you can greatly reduce your energy usage. In fact, a well-designed landscape saves enough energy to pay for itself in less than eight years.

Shading is the most cost-effective way to reduce solar heat gain in your home, while landscaping for windbreaks reduces heating costs by lowering wind chill near your home. Exposed ground, especially from paved areas, can reflect a lot of heat and light, so consider planting deciduous trees with a wide canopy that can shade your home and patio in summer but let the sun through in winter. You could also grow deciduous vines on a pergola or vertical trellis to protect windows from summer sun and chill.

2. Support local ecosystems

Forgetting about all the living things around your home or business is a mistake that can damage local ecosystems. Taking away trees, shrubs and other native plants takes away shelter, food and other important sources of survival.Your local landscape is home to millions of tiny organisms that are crucial for the health of your soil and the foundation of your ecosystem. Protect these microorganisms and add trees, shrubs and other native plants. You’ll not only enjoy a more fruitful landscape but you offer the animals in your area a safe home.

Sustainable landscaping supports native species by planting favourite food sources and providing shelter. In short, it puts back much of what may have been in place before development. A carefully planned garden that incorporates local wetland plants for example would attract frogs, dragonflies and local birds. It’s a win for the animals and a win for you as you enjoy your frequent visitors.

3. Save and protect water

Sustainable landscaping allows off-site runoff to move across outdoor space without damaging your garden, while aiming to mimic the natural water cycle that took place in the garden before it was developed.Rather than drain into the pavement driveways, sidewalks and gutters can drain into a well-vegetated area instead. Special attention is made to protecting creeks, drainage swales, storm sewer outlets and wet areas by incorporating native buffer zones that intercept and filter pollution in runoff.

Sustainable landscaping groups plants with similar watering needs together to conserve water. It reduces the need to water turf by using low-water types or choosing alternate materials for open spaces. Any lawn space is then aerated regularly, so that water flow to plants’ roots are improved. Watering should be performed in the mornings when it’s cooler and evaporation rates are low, and mulch is used to keep plant roots cool.

4. Sustainable landscaping improves soil quality

Nutrient cycling, water regulation, and other soil functions are important processes that occur in all ecosystems. Understanding that we benefit from the value of soil means we can manage land in a way that maintains soil function.

The reason soil quality matters is that healthy soil can store and process more water and will ensure more organic matter formed by living organisms. Keep in mind that soil is a living and dynamic ecosystem in and of itself.

In urban/suburban areas, the biggest economic benefits of soil relate to structural support for buildings, roads and landscaping. Benefits on site are the delivery of nutrients to plants, reduced pesticide resistance, erosion control and maintained salt, metal and micronutrient levels. Offsite, the benefits lie in water and air quality, genetic diversity, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, flood and sedimentation control, and stored archeological items.

5. Make smarter plant choices

A major rule to follow with sustainable landscape design is to choose plants suitable for the job, site and position. By this we mean choosing plants for shade or screening, plants that suit the local climate, and plants that match your soil. Smart plant selection is the key to sustainability and will make life easier in terms of maintenance too.

Given the harsh climates Australia sees, sustainable landscaping considers plants that are not only drought tolerant, but are capable of withstanding extreme conditions such as heavy rain, high winds, and severe heat. This doesn’t have to impact the look of your garden, because tolerant plants can be found to suit all environments.

Sustainable landscaping more often than not looks at indigenous plants that naturally grow in your area. These plants will have evolved with the local climate and soil and therefore tend to be perfect for your environment. Besides their ability to thrive in your garden, local plants tend to be low maintenance with little need for fertilisers or pesticides. They also provide food and shelter to native wildlife.

6. Save on costs

Making sustainable landscape choices has an obvious benefit to the environment, but it also has a positive impact on your wallet. Sustainable landscaping reduces labour, water and fertiliser costs and lowers hauling expenses and disposal fees by mulching, composting and recycling. Because soil water-holding capacity is improved, erosion is reduced and water is conserved.

As with any landscaping design there are cheap ways and expensive ways of doing things. All in all though, going green can save you money. With sustainable landscaping you can: collect rainwater, compost food waste, grow a variety of plants and vegetables, limit pesticide use, and cut environmental risks.

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Getting started

The bottom line is that an environmentally friendly landscape is something that every homeowner or business should be striving for. From a green landscape comes cleaner air, sequestered pollutants, reduced water use, and less energy used by heating and cooling the home. If you haven’t already, it’s time to start thinking about your landscape and what you can do to make it more sustainable. 

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