When designing a garden, the long-term goal is to create a sustainable landscape. This is accomplished through a series of short-term goals. Proper design will be unique to a specific site and should be based on a careful review process. Identify excesses in the existing landscape. Develop a realistic budget and timeline and note the accomplishment of each short-term goal.
What does sustainable landscaping mean? There are varying definitions, but sustainable landscaping should include an attractive environment that is appropriate for the local climate and requires minimal resources, such as fertilizer, pesticides, and water. Sustainable landscaping begins with an appropriate design that includes functionality, cost efficiency, a pleasing visual, and is environmentally friendly and maintenance-friendly.
There are short-term as well as long-term goals for a sustainable landscape. For example, a short-term goal may include saving water or implementing and using a compost bin. Composting locally grown crops and kitchen waste and returning it back to the garden increases the organic matter in the garden while recycling nutrients within the landscape.
A long-term goal may be to create a more self-sustaining garden. This includes all aspects of total plant health care, proper plant selection, and maintainability.
As part of the landscaping process, answer the following questions:
How will the space be used?
What are the plant and landscape needs?
What are the site conditions? Is there a need for renovation?
What is the timeline, and what is the budget?
How much time will be needed to maintain the landscape? Is it maintainable?
Visually, what look is it trying to be achieved?
Landscape design begins with an understanding of the future use of the property. Furthermore, lot size, house size, local covenants, and budget all play into the design planning process. Hiring a professional landscape designer can aid with the construction process and plant selection. The design process generally includes a base plan, site inventory, analysis, and construction plans.
Implementation Time Components
Obtain permits and locate underground utilities.
Clear the site of any debris, old sod, weeds, etc.
Create a rough grade and identify major drainage issues.
Install drainage system if needed.
Construct masonry and wood projects.
Install water elements (fountains/ponds).
Incorporate soil amendments.
Install metal or wood edging and create shrub borders and planting areas.
Install sprinkler heads or drip irrigation.
Plant all larger materials.
Install bedding plants, ground covers, and turf areas.
Install low-voltage landscape lighting.
Maintain the landscape.
Amending soils greatly depends on what is being planted. Native plants adapt to local soil conditions and do not greatly benefit from soil amendments. Many non-native plants and natives establish quickly and develop a healthier root system with the addition of soil amendments.
The beach area has heavy, sandy soils due to its close proximity to the beach. The sand texture leads to great water and oxygen penetration—necessities for healthy roots. Add organic material to increase soil nutrient deficiencies.
Base fertilizer applications on a soil analysis and specific plant requirements. Many annual flowers or bedding plants and vegetables have a higher nitrogen and phosphorus requirement than herbaceous perennials, shrubs, and trees. Some native plants can actually decline from too many applications of fertilizers. Most have lower nitrogen and phosphorus needs, having adapted to the lower fertility conditions of Colorado native soils.
The choice of building materials within the landscape is extensive. Some materials may be reused, and others should be avoided due to the negative environmental impact. For example, reusing broken concrete to erect retaining walls is good because it may lend visual excitement and reduce the amount of material going into the landfill.
New recycled plastic material may also be an appropriate choice. However, an example of inappropriate material may be reusing creosote-impregnated railroad ties to build a raised bed. This is bad because the chemicals used to treat the wood are not safe to grow near food crops.
Plant and Turf Selection
Select the right plant for the right space in order to thrive. Plants placed in environmental conditions (lighting, moisture, temperature, etc.) that do not meet their requirements become stressed. Stressed plants are more prone to pest problems. Plants suited to our environment, whether native or exotic, have a better chance of surviving our conditions. Native species are able to tolerate the local conditions. Another commonly overlooked aspect of plant selection is the mature size of the plant; again, match the plant to the growing space.
Limit the amount of irrigated turf within a sustainable landscape to the recreational needs of the homeowner. Lawns are usually installed in yards where kids or dogs will play.
Consider using drought-tolerant, slow-growing turf.
Dealing With Diverse Sites
Plant for Shade
Use deciduous plants to create shade in the summer to help cool the home while allowing light penetration in the winter as solar heating. Avoid evergreen trees close to the home because they create shade year-round and block solar radiation during the winter.
South-facing parts of the house receive the most intense sunlight; east and west exposures get morning and afternoon sunlight, respectively; and north facing will receive the least. Therefore, shading the south side will contribute the most to summer cooling, followed by shading on the west side for afternoon cooling and shade on the east side for morning cooling.
Often, two or three large deciduous trees can provide sufficient summer shading for single-family homes. Plant the trees far enough from the house foundation to avoid any problems with root watering, but close enough that the canopy hangs over the house. Because the sun is directly overhead in the summer, little shade will be cast outside of the tree canopy. Give careful consideration when selecting tree types.
Understanding the nature of the soil within the landscape may indicate a need to address erosion and slopes. An appropriately graded site should have positive drainage away from permanent structures. Steep slopes should be terraced with a series of raised beds or planters. Use berms in conjunction with swales to encourage appropriate drainage at no greater than 5% grade.
Adding low-voltage lighting into the landscape increases the time you can make use of the yard. It is also a function of safety. Solar garden lighting versus electric lighting: Solar lights are typically dimmer than other types of wired landscape lighting, and they do not use consumable energy. However, the solar landscape lights available in today’s commercial market last a fraction of the time that conventional low-voltage lighting lasts.
Maintenance of the Sustainable Landscape
Many organic yard waste materials can be composted, including leaves, grass clippings, vegetable and flower plants, and small amounts of woody material. Avoid material exposed to weed killers or systemic insecticides—they may not break down during the composting process. In addition, avoid plant material exposed to plant diseases unless the compost reaches a minimum temperature of 122°.