An eco-friendly backyard may have vibrant greens of native grasses bending to gentle breezes, and splashes of flowering color alongside a quiet place to relax. Our outdoor spaces are just as important as the space created inside the home. Nature needs patches of land, however small, where she can renew herself with native plants and natural organic care. Humans also need outdoor spaces in which we can relax and renew ourselves. Creating or expanding an environmentally focused landscape is an ideal way to help nature out, while providing a special backyard sanctuary that can be enjoyed for years to come.
To bring an environmental focus to your landscape, start from the ground up, first addressing what goes into the soil, surrounding plants, and into the air. One of the most important things you can do to green the outside of your home is make the switch to using natural and organic fertilizers and pesticides. This is especially important if you are growing plants for food or have children or pets that spend time in your yard.
A healthy lawn will benefit from fertilizing or mulching once or twice a year, in the spring and again in the fall. Organic fertilizers build the health of your plants naturally, and could make them more resistant to pests.
When plants are healthy and growing in good soil with strong sunlight, there is less need for pesticides. When you must use a pesticide, choosing a homemade or organic one will give you a safer place to walk through the grass, and peace of mind knowing that the run-off from rains will not contain the dangerous chemicals from your lawn and plants.
Caring for your lawn in an environmentally friendly way has a lot to do with what you don’t do to your grass. When we choose to water and mow lawns in conjunction with nature, it is less work for us humans and helps our yard develop it’s own natural beauty. Watering your lawn infrequently and deeply when it is beginning to show signs of drought will help the grass develop strong roots and better compete with the weeds, which tend to have more shallow roots. Wait until the grass is beginning to curl or turn yellow, and then provide a good half-inch of water. Wait an hour for the water to soak in, and then repeat.
Mow the lawn with the blades on the highest setting; then taller grass can shade out competing weeds and grow healthier. Leave the lawn clippings spread evenly over the grass to add nutrients and further shade out weeds the natural way.
Once you have turned your lawn into an eco-friendly haven, next turn to other aspects of the landscape, including plants, animal habitat and water features. Filling your outdoor space with native plants not only provides a more natural feel to the space, but also makes it easier on the gardener. Native plants are typically more drought tolerant and will grow better in your area, requiring less maintenance. Take into account the amount of sunlight and ease of watering when you choose areas for planting.
Just as plants provide habitat for backyard critters, areas of brush, small woodpiles or thick bushes also make a great home for the animals that are attracted to our eco-yards. Adding water features such as a fountain, small pond or birdbath will attract and keep a wider array of wildlife. Birdhouses and bird feeders are an addition that creates a more inclusive environment for a variety of birds and other animals.
Once your outdoor space has been transformed into an eco-friendly haven for plants and animals, complete the process by further making the space pleasing and inviting to people. Green or environmental companies offer an array of outdoor living products. You may find patio furniture made from sustainably harvested teak or recycled materials, or a hammock constructed of recycled items. Look for a wind chime made from more environmentally friendly aluminum that is built to last, or add solar lighting to complete the landscape.
Co-op America maintains the Green Pages, a nationwide list of extensively screened environmental and socially responsible stores, which makes the task of searching for green companies much easier. Whatever additions you make to complete your eco-friendly backyard, you will be helping the environment through these committed companies, all while doing your part to green your own little piece of earth.
By: Rachel Betzen
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