Forests, prairies, and the land of 10,000 lakes—Minnesotans love the outdoors, even when it’s just their backyard. Making that yard greener can play a major role in adapting a more sustainable lifestyle. Water reduction and conservation, storm-water management and the implementation of native plants can play a critical part in creating a more sustainable landscape.
This is one of a series of stories written by students in the Sustainable Communities class at the University of Minnesota.
Craig Stark from EcoScapes Landscaping, a local Minnesota business, said that sustainability means making economically sounds decisions that minimize negative effects environmentally and socially. Barry Lehrman, a landscape designer and professor at the University of Minnesota, referred to the term “regenerative urban design,” which implements cost effective ways to create a more sustainable landscape.
Many of the steps to sustainability outlined below save both time and money, making it even easier to enjoy lawns and gardens.
The U.S Environmental Protection Agency has named stormwater runoff as the nation’s biggest water quality threat. Stormwater runoff takes pollutants from our streets into the lakes and streams. Implementing rain gardens, permeable surfaces, and using a variety of native plants in landscaping can help to keep pollutants out of Minnesota waters.
Rain gardens: Rain gardens help water seep into the ground rather than flow into the sewers. They help slow stormwater runoff, remove pollutants and conserve and improve water quality. If placed correctly in residential yards, rain gardens will catch the runoff and drain the water typically within two days.
Permeable Surfaces: In natural landscapes, rain tends to soak directly into the ground. However, much of the land in developed areas is covered by impervious surfaces like streets and parking lots. Installing a permeable surface such permeable pavers instead of a concrete patio will help reduce water runoff.
Native Plants: A highly manicured and beautiful lawn can be obtained by using native species. The design just has to be well executed. Well designed landscapes actually increase in value over time, since trees get older, plants flourish and the whole design fills out years later. Not only do they increase in value but they save money by minimizing the need for replacement plants or fertilizers. Once established, native plants need little to no watering, saving not only money but also thousands of gallons of water each year. Native plants are low maintenance, improve soil quality by producing organic matter, and create habitat for animals, which in turn increases biodiversity
Heat absorbed through windows and roofs can increase the time for running home air conditioners. Incorporating shade into landscape design can help reduce this solar heat gain, which, in turn, reduces cooling costs. Shading from trees and plants can reduce the surrounding air temperatures as much as 9° F.
To block solar heat in the summer but let much of it in during the winter, use trees with high leaves and branches and plant them on the south side of the home to provide maximum summertime roof shading.
Properly selected and placed landscaping can provide excellent wind protection, which will reduce heating costs considerably. Windbreaks also create great barriers for snow drifts. The best windbreaks block wind close to the ground by using trees and shrubs that have low leaves and branches. The benefits from these windbreaks will increase as the trees and shrubs mature.
Blue Thumb – Planting for Clean Watermakes it easy for residents interested in doing their part to protect water quality to plan, purchase and plant native gardens, rain gardens and shorelines with native plants.
Ecoscapes Sustainable Landscaping is a full service design / build / do-it-yourself landscaping company serving the Twin Cities metro area. They offer do-it-yourself landscape packages to save money.
Gardening Matters is a nonprofit dedicated to promoting and preserving community gardening across the Twin Cities by connecting gardeners to each other and to the communities in which they reside.