Ideas for Green Living

10 Tips for Eco-Friendly Landscaping: Energy Conservation, Water Conservation

Image of Colorado blue spruce tree.
Why not grow a live Christmas tree rather than buying a cut one?. David Beaulieu

Ideas for green living may begin with energy conservation and water conservation, but they must go beyond that. Thus the eco-friendly landscaping ideas that we will explore in this article extend to issues of environmental pollution and overuse of landfills, as well. At the conclusion of the article, furthermore, ten recycling ideas will be presented. "Eco-friendly" is shorthand for a modern approach to life in the West that exhibits a heightened sensitivity (relative to Industrial Age precedents) towards environmental concerns.

As in other aspects of our lives, in our landscaping we can implement ideas for green living to save energy, make the earth a cleaner place in which to live -- and save money, to boot.

Ideas for Green Living: Energy Conservation:

  1. Reel Mowers
  2. Cutting Back on Lawn Space
  3. Planting for Energy Conservation

Reel lawn mowers are an eco-friendly alternative to gas-powered rotary models and a true boon to energy conservation. These devices are muscle-powered, so there's no engine involved. Using them not only promotes energy conservation but also clean air.

If you must do your mowing with power equipment but still wish to stay as green as possible, battery-powered mowers can be a decent choice. To learn more about reel lawn mowers, please consult the following resource:

But a change in how you cut your lawn grass is not the only way to promote energy conservation in lawn care. Depending upon a number of factors (including the climate of your region), you may also wish simply to cut back on the amount of space that you have to mow. For some alternatives to maintaining large lawns, please consult the following resource:

Alternatives to Lawn Grass

But energy conservation strategies aren't limited to how you handle the lawn. Where you locate plantings of trees and shrubs can also play a role in energy conservation. The following resource contains some ideas for green living that subscribe to the mantra, "location, location, location":

Ideas for Green Living: Water Conservation:

  1. Xeriscaping
  2. Automatic Irrigation

As we saw above, reducing lawn space can promote energy conservation. The premise is simple enough: less lawn means less mowing, and -- unless you're using a reel mower -- less mowing means reduced use of a power source. But reducing lawn space can also promote water conservation. Lawns require more watering than planting beds. In watering planting beds comprised of individual plants, you can target the watering better (using drip irrigation, for instance), thereby promoting water conservation. For more information, please consult the following resource:

And speaking of irrigation, it is a common misconception that automatic irrigation systems are wasteful. On the contrary: if used properly, automatic irrigation systems can promote water conservation. For more information, please consult the following resource:

So far we have considered how we can promote energy conservation and water conservation in our landscaping efforts. Now it's time to tackle the equally challenging issues of environmental pollution and the overuse of our landfills. In the context of landscaping, three of the most significant ways to reduce environmental pollution are by cutting back on the use of chemical herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers.

Environmental Pollution: Reducing Chemical Herbicides:

  1. Avoiding Harmful Chemicals in Fighting Weeds
  2. Changing Your Perspective on Weeds

One way to reduce usage of chemical herbicides (and thereby reduce environmental pollution) is to take a pro-active approach. Instead of waiting for weeds to arrive and then engaging them in battle, why not take preventive measures? It is precisely such preventive measures that I emphasize in the following resource:

It was the great American philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson who famously scribed, "What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered." Indeed, another chemical-free approach to weed control is simply to control what may be your own irrational intolerance toward weeds. Taking a cue from Emerson, you may wish to re-evaluate the weeds in your yard, seeing if perhaps you can discover an overlooked "virtue" here or there. Virtue is a very personal matter, so only you can decide. But I will tell you this much: some "weeds" have the virtue of being edible! To learn more, please consult the following resource on edible plants:

Environmental Pollution: Reducing Chemical Pesticides, Fertilizers:

  1. Deterring Pests Naturally
  2. Using Compost and Mulch
  3. Smart Plant Selection

But the use of chemical herbicides is not the only culprit responsible for environmental pollution in landscaping. Our wars against garden pests (whether insects, rodents or others) have been fought just as fiercely as our weed wars, and we've pulled out all the stops. But to reduce environmental pollution, consider alternatives to chemical pesticides.

Reconsider the types of plants you wish to grow on your landscape. Effective deer control, for instance, can begin with selecting plants that aren't especially appealing to deer. Another intriguing alternative that won't contribute even a smidgen to environmental pollution is something called "companion planting." To learn more about companion planting, please consult the following resource:

Chemical fertilizers round out the "big three" of environmental pollutants in landscaping. Fortunately, it's very simple for homeowners to switch to a natural approach when it comes to providing the landscape with nutrients.

For instance, did you know that you can be mowing your lawn and fertilizing your lawn simultaneously? Well, you can, at least if you use mulching mowers. With mulching mowers, you can let the grass clippings fall where they may, acting as an organic fertilizer.

If you do not own a mulching mower, all is not lost. In your case, you can compost your grass clippings. But don't stop there. Get into the habit of composting as much as you possibly can. Composting is a terrific way to reduce environmental pollution. You'll also be reducing the amount of unneccessary material being transported into landfills.

Note that compost holds many virtues beyond its ability to fertilize the plants in your yard. Compost also helps with aeration in soil, as well as helping soil retain water better -- so that you won't have to water as much.

  1. Got a soil that's too clayey? Add compost: it will help clayey soil drain faster.
  2. Got a soil that's too sandy? Add compost: it will help sandy soil retain water longer.

Successful composting depends on the proper mix of "green" material and "brown" material. The former provides nitrogen, the latter carbon. With proper air circulation and moisture in your compost bin, a mix of two parts green to one part brown should decompose fairly quickly.

There's a ready supply of both green and brown materials in the average household. Kitchen scraps such as orange and banana peels, for instance, would be considered "green," while fallen leaves would be "brown." So you can use the leaves you rake in autumn for compost, as well as for a mulch. For more information, please consult the following resource:

A Final Tip for Reducing Environmental Pollution

Visualize yourself at the local nursery, buying annual plants. You load them in the car, drive home and plant them. What's left behind after planting? All those blasted plastic flats and pots, right? And since annuals last only one year, you'll have the same sort of waste to deal with next year, too, if you stick with annual flowers. One solution is to switch to perennial flowers. Some perennials last many years. In some cases, they even spread readily, giving you new plants for free. To learn more about perennials, please consult the following resource:

Perennial Flowers

Recycling Information: 10 Ideas for Waste Recycling and Reduction

Recycling is another great way to practice green living. The recycling information provided below represents but a small fraction of what homeowners can do to live earth-friendly lives. The focus is on recycling information that goes beyond just reducing the burden on our landfills. Follow these ideas for waste recycling and you'll not only be "saving the planet," but also saving money in some cases.

We begin with five recycling ideas apropos to the holiday season, before moving on to more general recycling information.

Recycling Information for the Holiday Season

  1. Re-Using Packing Peanuts
  2. Buying Live Christmas Trees
  3. Re-Using Cut Christmas Trees
  4. Giving Plants as Gifts
  5. Giving Nursery Certificates as Gifts

If you were lucky, you received gifts that were sufficiently "high-end" to be packed with packing peanuts. Before you take those packing peanuts out with the trash, consider how useful they may be as filler in your container gardens.

Huh? you ask. That's right: packing peanuts are light and airy enough to offer great drainage at the bottom of a container garden, such as the raised beds I show you how to construct elsewhere.

Why pay money for a product such as perlite to accomplish the same result, when the packing peanuts are free? You could also use crushed stone; however, not only will you have to pay for it, but its weight will make the container much heavier to move around.

Thus this is one example of recycling information that will help you save money, as well as "saving the planet."

Like using outdoor Christmas tree lights? Why not buy a live Christmas tree and plant it outdoors later? That way, you'll be able to decorate it for many years to come with outdoor Christmas tree lights.

If you follow this practice every year, you can eventually end up with a nice windbreak or privacy screen, without spending extra money at the nursery. Your Christmas trees can thus serve double-duty -- another piece of recycling information that will save you money.

If you do opt for a cut Christmas tree rather than a living tree that you can plant later, at least consider alternatives to letting it end up at the local landfill. For instance, here's some recycling information that birdwatchers will appreciate:

You can put your cut Christmas trees out in the backyard after the holidays are over, to provide shelter for wild birds. Recycling Christmas trees in this manner is just one of many ways that you can use plants to attract wild birds. Draw even more wild birds by hanging suet on the Christmas trees, or pine cones smeared with peanut butter and rolled in birdseed.

For non-birdwatchers, another piece of recycling information pertaining to cut Christmas trees may be more useful. Saw off the branches, then saw the trunk up into smaller parts. Use this material as "flooring" with which to line the bottom of your compost bin. With the superior aeration such flooring will provide, your compost will break down faster.

Give people plants for a holiday gift. A plant is a gift that will "keep on giving." Even if it does die, it can be recycled -- by composting it. Think of composting as "recycling plants."

Furthermore, a plant doesn't come in a box, so there's no cardboard waste to dispose of. And if you wish to take "saving the planet" to another level with your gift, make sure the plant comes in a fancy container -- one too pretty to throw away! There will also be less temptation to cover up fancy containers with tin foil, which is not biodegradable.

Alternatively, give people gift certificates provided by a local nursery. The recipients can then do their own shopping in spring. This alternative is not only enviro-friendly but will also reduce holiday shopping stress for you! If the recipients are not already committed to composting, this is a good opportunity for you to impart some recycling information, yourself: inform them of the benefits of compost. I provide more recycling information about compost on the next page.

Now let's discuss the next six recycling projects -- ones you can undertake throughout the year. If you love plants, then making compost is among the smartest recycling projects for you.

Five Recycling Ideas for the Rest of the Year:

  1. Making compost with grass clippings: Don't treat lawn grass clippings as waste. You can either bag them for making compost or, if you have a mulching mower, simply let them "fall where they may." Either way, they'll save you money on fertilizer.
  2. Making compost with weeds: Instead of poisoning annual weeds with chemical herbicides, pull them before they go to seed and put them in the compost bin. Without seed heads, they're harmless -- perfectly okay for making compost.
  3. Making compost with leaves: When you rake up leaves in fall, don't dispose of them as waste. Instead, turn them into leaf compost or mulch.
  4. Making compost with newspapers: You can recycle most newspapers for mulch or shred them up for making compost, instead of disposing of them. Using a combination of newspapers and bark mulch is an easy and natural way to kill grass, if, for example, you wish to convert a portion of your lawn to perennial beds, instead.
  5. Creating mulch from fallen branches: Rural homeowners committed to maintaining large tracts of land often must deal with vast quantities of fallen branches, especially after hurricanes. Using wood chippers, you can convert these branches into chips and have a ready supply of free mulch on your property.

But note that wood chips deplete nitrogen in the soil as they decompose. To counteract this tendency, add a fertilizer to the soil prior to applying the wood chips. The fertilizer should contain at least a moderate amount of nitrogen, as indicated by the first number in the NPK string. For instance, a popular fertilizer such as 5-10-5 would be sufficient.

If you can't afford a wood chipper, consider hauling such branches into out-of-the-way places on your property and building up brush piles with them. Brush piles provide housing for wildlife. But if you have a garden, locate your brush piles away from garden areas. No sense in providing gratuitous cover for garden pests.