A lot of us are spending more time outside than usual, particularly in the land surrounding our houses. Over the course of the past few months, homeowners have become more familiar with their own yard ecosystem — and, perhaps, its role in the world that surrounds it.
Whether you have a tiny front lawn or acres of property, taking steps for the sake of environmental-friendliness in the land surrounding your house will help make your world a little greener. Here are a few ways you can make your landscape more sustainable with simple renovations.
Plant a tree
Planting a tree is one of the best ways to make your yard a little greener because they provide flowers for pollinators and shade for our houses, which reduces the need for air conditioning. In the winter, the leaves will die back and let warm sun in. Trees also create habitat for wildlife — birds in particular — and add value to your home.
When choosing a tree, you will have to consider the soil type of your yard, the amount of space you have and the orientation of your yard. Local nurseries and landscape design specialists will be able to help you determine what tree is best for your property.
Start a pollinator garden
If you do not yet have a garden in your yard, consider planting a few plants in your yard — namely, pollinator-friendly species that will feed beneficial bugs along the way.
If you already have a garden, consider replacing certain plants with more local, pollinator-friendly alternatives. Thomas Berger, owner and operator of Green Art in Kittery, said to look for “locally-harvested seeds” for plants like viburnum, elderberry and blueberries.
“Blueberries are among the best for wildlife,” Berger said. “They nourish a huge number of caterpillars, also a lot of different bee species, including some bees that are specialized on blueberries.”
You don’t have to replace everything in your garden, though. Some non-native plants (as long as they are not invasive species, Berger said) can attract pollinators to your yard.
Berger also said that in addition to a diverse buffet of flowers, make sure that your pollinators have places to nest, such as pollinator hotels.
“Many bees use mud to divide their nesting tubes into single cells and close up the nesting tubes, that means you have to provide mud if you don’t have it naturally,” Berger said.
The best part about having diversity in your garden, Berger said, is that it will naturally reduce the need for pesticides and herbicides.
Let your lawn go wild
Naturalizing your lawn will create opportunities for pollinators all season long. Start by choosing a mix of grass for your lawn that will thrive and letting it grow naturally. A lawn with a mix of seeds rather than a monoculture of one kind of seed will be more resilient, more hospitable for all different kinds of wildlife and require fewer resource inputs like fertilizer and water.
If you want to take the rewilding of your lawn one step further, consider making part of your lawn a meadow, letting it grow up naturally and eventually adding some native flowering perennials. If you do want this feature in your landscape, though, make sure you do your research or hire the appropriate experts to make sure grasses that will strangle out other species do not get overgrown.
Mow properly and efficiently
Mowing responsibly will help you save resources and promote the health of your yard ecosystem.
“In my experience, a lot of people mow their lawns much too short,” Brown said. “Cutting your lawn more around three inches will help shade out the soil and maintain moisture which is beneficial to maintaining that nicer looking lawn.”
Proper mowing will also help reduce water use.
“If you mow higher and you mow less frequently, you shouldn’t even have to water your lawn,” Brown said.
Jennifer Cummings, owner of Full Circle Landscaping in Yarmouth, recommended using a mulching mower to add grass clippings back on the lawn to suppress weeds and retain moisture without causing a build up of dead organic matter known as thatch, which comes from deteriorating root systems. Electric mowers will also reduce your dependence on fossil fuels.
“The battery-powered mowers now are becoming much stronger than they used to be,” Cummings said. “They’re much more reliable, cut much better [and] last much longer.”
Consider creative water management
Instead of diverting water away from your house, find ways to reuse it around your landscape.
“We don’t want water in our basements, so I get the idea of getting rid of water around our house [but] is there a way you can do the rain barrel or you have your gutter system run through your garden so it’s watering your garden as it’s getting the water away from your house?” Cummings suggested.
Creative water management, Cummings added, can also help you save money on your water bill.
“It can be a little hard to remember [because] we live in an area that’s not affected by massive drought,” Cummings said.
An intentional water feature may also help round out your yard ecosystem. Berger said that the dragonfly pond in his yard is not only a great habitat for the insects, but it is “the highlight of [his] garden.”
“People said, ‘You must have a lot of mosquitoes,’ and I said, ‘No, I don’t have any mosquitos — I have an army of dragonflies,’” he laughed.
Work with your local ecosystem
If you are willing to make a big change to your landscape, you might consider opting for a yard that is more in-line with your local ecosystems — for example, dune systems on coastal properties in lieu of lawns.
Working with your local ecosystem instead of fighting it will also reduce the amount of water and energy that you use on your property.
“There’s no inputs — no mowing, no inputs of fertilizers — [because] you’re basically giving it back to nature,” said Ted Carter, owner of Ted Carter Inspired Landscapes in Buxton.
If you are not ready to commit to a full-blown landscape revolution, a good way to start working with your landscape on a smaller scale is to choose plants well-suited to your soil. This will help reduce the maintenance and required inputs.
“I don’t use water in my garden,” Berger said. “It doesn’t need it, even if there’s a drought. You have to plant according to what the soil allows you to plant.”
If you have a naturally soggy spot in your yard, you can also consider setting up a rain garden.
“A rain garden is awesome if you have a really wet, low spot in your yard and you want to grow something that’s not a sloppy, soggy lawn,” Brown said.
Many of these projects can be done yourself if you are willing to put in the work, but a professional will help you get started and guide you on your journey. One thing to consider when choosing what changes you want to make to your landscape is how much time and effort you are willing to put into it.
“There’s nothing easier than mowing your lawn, but maybe [that’s] all you can handle at this point,” Cummings said. “Part of it is just doing it a little bit at a time so you don’t bite off more than you can chew.”