As more of us become concerned for the health of our environment, the concept of a sustainable landscape is increasing in popularity. This concept is becoming a sub-specialty of mine.
[The following overview of Sustainable Landscape Design is taken from a pamphlet put out by the Santa Barbara County Water Agency and the City of Santa Barbara Public Works Department. It was produced and written by Darcy Aston and Alison Whitney.]
The over-riding principle of sustainable landscape design is creating a garden that conserves resources. The typical landscape requires many inputs: time, money, labor, water, chemicals, and fertilizers. Our landscapes also produce wastes which most of us never consider: plant trimmings, polluted run-off from chemicals and fertilizers, and water lost by evaporation. The concept of sustainable landscaping asks us to examine the input and output of our landscaping and find ways to minimize both. Applying the following principles can save you time and money, and create a landscape that is environmentally responsible.
PLAN AND DESIGN: Begin by analyzing the site (sun/shade, slope, soil, wind, available moisture). Consider use and function (child play, vegetable production, wildlife habitat, rest, and meditation). Make a list of materials needed to create the landscape and use recycled materials if they are available locally. Consider climate and order areas for the benefit of sun or shade. Plant trees or vines to assist in temperature control. Take the time to identify problems and search for solutions.
SOILS: Consider soil composition, slope, and need for amendments. These factors help determine choice of plants and irrigation. Increasing humus content will improve most soils. Use recycled materials like redwood compost/city recycled compost, and plan to compost and recycle your own green wastes once the garden is installed. Mulch to slow evaporation and erosion, and to control weed growth. As mulch decomposes, it adds to the nutrient content of the soil.
PLANT SELECTION: When possible, use low water using plants. Group plants together according to water, sun/shade, and soil requirements. Minimize lawn areas as they are the most water intensive of plantings, and require additional fertilization and labor to mow. Leave clippings on the lawn or use as mulch. Choose plants that grow to an appropriate size to decrease need for pruning, and that resist pests and disease so less chemical controls are required. Look for organic methods of pest-disease control if problems develop.
IRRIGATION & WATER EFFICIENCY: Use drip irrigation whenever possible to irrigate individual plants. Use separate irrigation valves for each type of planting so individual scheduling is possible. Check and maintain the system regularly. Find ways to capture natural rainfall and consider use of greywater where allowed by municipality.
MAINTENANCE: Careful planning helps, but all landscapes require some maintenance. Prune carefully (and recycle clippings), mow lawns higher (and compost grass) water wisely and adjust according to weather patterns. Consider using slow release fertilizers (organic if possible) which reduce the possibility of runoff.
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