​​How to Create a Sustainable Landscape

There are several reasons why you would want to create a sustainable landscape. For one, it’s extremely beneficial for the environment; it helps clean our bodies of water as well as the air, restores habitats, and limits carbon. On top of that, they also create healthier communities. Land and homeowners can conserve natural resources, reduce their ecological footprint, and enhance the functionality and beauty of their outdoor spaces by making a sustainable landscape.

Let’s take a look at how you can create a sustainable high-end landscape design that supports a healthy ecosystem, minimizes waste, conserves water, and promotes biodiversity.

Assess the Site

Before you start creating your dream landscape, you want first to take a look at the condition of the area and what characteristics it has. Knowing things like soil type, how much sun the space gets, and existing vegetation is essential because this will help you determine the best plants and plan out the design. Understanding the site’s characteristics will help you optimize the use of resources and make informed decisions throughout the process.

How to Improve Soil Quality

A common issue is poor soil quality, to fix this you’ll want to start by conducting a soil test. A soil test assesses your soil’s nutrient deficiencies, pH levels, and composition. Soil testing kits are available online and at garden centers, the results you get from the test will help you determine what changes you need to make.

More often than not, people find that they need to add organic matter. It enhances its ability to hold water, fertility, and structure. Examples of organic matter you can use are leaf mold, manure, or compost. Work the organic matter of your choice into the first few inches of soil and spread an even layer over the surface of the soil as well.

Avoid Over-Tilling and Add Some Mulch

When setting up your sustainable landscape you’ll want to avoid excessive tilling. This is because it can disrupt the structure of the soil and decrease any beneficial microbial activity. You only want to till when it’s absolutely necessary and keep it to a minimum to preserve the soil.

Additionally, using organic mulch is a great idea because it helps regulate soil temperature, retain moisture, suppress weed growth, and gradually breaks down, adding organic matter to the soil over time. Examples of organic mulch you can use include shredded leaves, straw, and wood chips.

Design with Biodiversity in Mind

One of the main reasons people design a sustainable landscape is to promote biodiversity. The entire goal is to create habitats that support a variety of animal and plant species. It’s important to note that adding native plants is crucial because they provide shelter and food for native wildlife, are well-adapted to the local environment, and require less water.

On top of that, a diverse range of plants with different foliage textures, flowering periods, and heights attract beneficial insects and pollinators which enhances the overall ecosystem. It’s not uncommon for people to incorporate features like nesting boxes, bird baths, and bird feeders in their sustainable landscapes because it encourages wildlife to thrive.

It’s important to note that you do not have to plant ONLY native plants. While you should plant native plants because of the reasons listed above, you can plant non-native plants as long as they’re not invasive. Non-native plants are species that do not exist historically in an area but have been introduced due to humans. Non-native plants don’t pose a threat to native plants, but they don’t support the environment as much as native plants do.

Water Conservation

One of the more challenging processes in sustainable landscaping is reducing water consumption. To conserve water, you’ll want to choose drought-tolerant plants that require minimal irrigation once established. You’ll also want to consider grouping plants together that have similar water needs and using mulch around them because it can help reduce evaporation and retain soil moisture.

Also, adding a rainwater collection system, such as cisterns or rain barrels, is a great option because the rainwater can be used later for irrigation. Furthermore, using permeable paving materials for walkways and driveways can help minimize stormwater runoff and regenerate groundwater.

Limit Chemical Use

To create a landscape that’s truly sustainable, one of the most important things you can do is minimize the use of harmful chemicals such as herbicides and pesticides. Instead, focus on using natural pest control methods, such as organic pest deterrents and introducing beneficial insects. Furthermore, composting organic waste and using organic fertilizers can naturally improve soil health which reduces the need for synthetic fertilizers.

Manage Resources

Proper resource management is another crucial step for sustainability. Implementing structured irrigation systems like drip irrigation or sprinklers with sensors and smart controllers can deliver water precisely when and where it’s needed. This is huge because it reduces waste significantly.

Additionally, incorporating proper drainage and grading techniques can prevent direct water runoff to planting areas as well as erosion. Furthermore, selecting energy-efficient outdoor lighting options, such as LED fixtures with timers or motion sensors, can reduce energy consumption.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Adopting the principles of the “Three R’s” to promote sustainability and minimize waste has been around for a long time, but that’s because it works! Reduce waste by choosing durable materials, such as reclaimed wood or recycled plastic lumber. Reuse materials whenever possible. Recycle yard waste, including fallen leaves and grass clippings, by composting or using them as mulch.

For example, you can use recycled materials for hardscape elements, such as paths or retaining walls, you can create raised garden beds and compost bins with wooden pallets or use an old door as a potting bench or table. The possibilities are endless, you just have to be creative. Doing this can help reduce waste and minimize the environmental footprint of your landscape.

The Bottom Line

Creating a sustainable landscape is an opportunity to combine environmental responsibility and beauty. By following the steps listed above, you can contribute to the preservation of our planet while enjoying an aesthetically pleasing outdoor space. Embrace the principles of sustainability and let your landscape flourish in harmony with nature, providing a haven for wildlife. So get out there and create a greener, more sustainable landscape!

Paula Johnson

With a Master’s in Environmental Design from Yale University, Paula Johnson started contributing to our site in 2020. Her focus on landscaping stems from her 20 years in sustainable garden design and management. Her expertise includes native plant landscaping and water-efficient gardens. Paula’s articles offer insights into creating harmonious and eco-friendly outdoor areas. She enjoys creating wildlife habitats in her garden and is a volunteer in community greening projects. She is a beekeeping enthusiast and advocates for pollinator-friendly landscaping practices.

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