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What Is Sustainable Landscaping?


a house on a sustainable landscapeWhen we were in school, we all learned the three R’s of sustainability – reduce, reuse, recycle. With a little creativity, you can apply all three to living outdoor environments. “Sustainable landscaping” is a comprehensive approach to designing and maintaining residential front and back yards, commercial properties, and public spaces. 

The ultimate goal is two-fold: conserving natural resources, and nurturing the diversity of native eco systems. By implementing sustainable landscaping practices, you are also helping to conserve energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. How is that possible? Each of the five practices outlined below contributes in its own way:

1. Sustainable landscapes start with the right soil.

Here in California, many of us have heavy clay soils that are low in organic matter. Amending your soil with compost boosts its nutritional value and its ability to retain life-giving moisture. 

Plants that have to struggle just to survive require ongoing intervention in the way of extra water, pesticides, and fussing – all things you’re trying to avoid. Pesticides poison our soil and water systems. Yard waste overfills our landfills, and the decomposition produces methane, a noxious greenhouse gas.

In addition, plants that are struggling just to maintain their own existence don’t have much left to offer others within the eco system in the way of food or shelter. Birds, butterflies, and other beneficial insects depend on plants.

2. Right plant, right place.

This fundamental mantra of sustainable landscaping reminds us that plants have different needs when it comes to sunlight (or shade) and space. Choose native or drought-tolerant plants, and put them where they can thrive easily. 

3. Every drop of water counts.

With California’s watering restrictions recently tightened (and set to become even tighter in the coming years), if you haven’t already dramatically curtailed your outdoor water usage, now is definitely the time. The worst water offender in any yard is lawn grass, but what if you really, really want a lawn? The environmentally friendly choice is artificial grass. It meets every standard for sustainability, and it sure is pretty. 

4. Rainwater retention.

When it does rain, sustainable landscapes are ready to retain that moisture. Permeable pavers prevent runoff an erosion. Improved soil quality welcomes that moisture, holding some for plants and allowing the rest to filter into the aquifers. With rain barrels or cisterns, you can capture house for efficiently-targeted yard watering. 

5. Eco-friendly pest management.

Choose non-toxic products and methods to shoo away unwanted pests and plant diseases. But remember, in a sustainable landscape, some bugs that bug you are some other critter’s favorite snack. It’s all part of the circle of life. 

Sustainable landscaping in your backyard

We all know that California is a vast state and not at all the same from one region to another. Drought is about the only common thread. The details of developing a sustainable landscape in some other part of California are not going to be quite right for our South Bay location. That’s why the City of San Jose created this brochure that zeros in on xeriscaping just for Santa Clara County.

The brochure offers a wealth of information, including a step-by-step guide to creating a sustainable landscape from scratch or transforming your current yard into a more sustainable space. And if you’re looking for more resources, check out this list on the CalRecycle website.

When you come right down to defining sustainable landscaping, the title of the San Jose brochure sums it up beautifully: “Green gardens, healthy creeks.”

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