Greener Landscaping

Not as in the grass is always greener, but as in finding a more sustainable landscaping option for your home.

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First, I want to discuss the benefits of landscaping in general. When you have a nice front yard, it maximizes your curb appeal, it can make your home stand out as one that is better taken care of overall. Good landscape makes for good first impressions on potential home buyers when you’re on the market, which increases your home’s value. It can also increase the way you think about your home, making you feel happier and more content with where you come home to everyday.

That said, why not look into a more sustainable option that requires less upkeep and less maintenance overall so that you can have your beautiful landscaping and have the time to enjoy it too? Help a mother out, Mother Nature that is, and help yourself in the process.

Sounds pretty good doesn’t it? So, how do we achieve a greener landscape? It all starts with the planning.

Limit the lawn. It’s okay to have a grassy area, but this grassy area uses a lot of water, mowing (more energy and air pollution) and overall just more maintenance to keep it look nice and fresh. So think about ways to decrease the amount of land your grass is covering. Start with healthy soil. Healthy soil makes for healthier plants. Remember when I mentioned starting to compost yesterday? Composting makes for incredibly healthy soil. Add beds around the perimeter. You can put anything in these beds, make a rock garden, make a garden filled with flowers, veggies, etc., the more beds the better. Look for native plants. Native plants are those that are native to your region, the are more likely to thrive in your area with limited support by you. Avoid invasive species. Invasive plant species will require more care, and they aren’t likely to thrive in your area without a lot of help, so it is best to leave them off the list. Find plants that thrive in your regional and micro-climate. Do you get a lot of shade in your yard? Cater to shade lovers. A lot of sun, look for sun lovers. Group plants according to maintenance needs. If there are plants that require more water, instead of running around the yard with the hose, you can go directly to where the water is needed and reduce the water you are using. Avoid high-maintenance plants. High maintenance is high maintenance, and even if you are an avid gardener and you can keep these high maintenance plants feeling lush and looking good, they are going to require more energy, more resources, more everything, so remember in green landscaping, less maintenance is more. Build in walkways. Adding a pathway of gravel or paver stones, cuts down on lawn coverage while guiding the eye through the space, and guiding guests through the area as well.

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Now that we know what to plan for and what to include or exclude, we want to make sure it looks good. After all, to really reap the benefits of a beautifully and sustainably landscaped property, you want to make sure that it looks as nice as it functions.

Incorporate different heights. Look for native trees, shrubs and tall grasses that are taller and can act as a nice backdrop for the rest of the plantings. You can also look into building or buying taller planters or terracing out areas with native stones or pavers to make a tiered planting area. Look at the texture. From a visual perspective, you want to make sure there is interest in what is there and visual texture is huge in creating something that is overall appealing to the eye. Try to incorporate different tall grasses mixed with different leafy plants, flowering plants, succulents and mosses, to keep the texture interesting. In addition to the texture of the plantings, you can add texture by incorporating boulders, sculptures or other features. The more variety you are able to incorporate, the better. Add Color. You can add color in vegetation and flowers that will bloom at different times, or look into adding something like a copper rain chain or colorful and whimsical garden globes. Incorporate patio areas and decks. Create a space to enjoy your newly landscaped space by incorporating a centrally located patio area where you can make an outdoor dining space and/or a place to just relax. You can consider adding a fire pit or a water feature to pull your chairs up around; make a zone for grilling and entertaining outside so you are ready to host at the drop of a hat. Add designated walkways. This is another textural element, but using gravel, pavers or decking will allow rain water to seep through and eliminate pooling or irrigation issues, while again limiting the amount of grassy space, and you can fill the gaps with moss or ground cover that is pretty, adds a soft element, and feels good on bare feet.

Now that you know what to consider, it’s the perfect time of year to get started! You’ll be ready for summer entertaining in no time, you will have less maintenance to worry about year round, and what’s best, your conscience will be clear knowing that your landscaping is greener. If you live in a state that frequently has droughts, also look into tax-rebate programs that you may be able to benefit from by converting to less or no grass.

Image sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. For more green landscaping inspiration, check out my Houzz ideabook, and follow us on Houzz so you don’t miss any updates!

10 Ways To Celebrate Earth Day

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Happy Earth Day! As this day stems from Arbor Day, I know many people try and plant trees or donate to causes that do the dirty work for them. If you are interested in planting a tree, check with your local town or county to see what public places are acceptable to be planting in. The last thing you want is for your goodwill to go to waste when you get in trouble for digging in the wrong places.

Trees have incredible benefits. Most prominently, they filter our air for us, providing us with the fresh air we breathe. They offer shade, some offer fruit, but more than that, they increase our happiness. Trees can increase the value of your neighborhood and some even believe that they reduce crime.

If you are unable to plant a tree today in honor of Mother Nature, there is still plenty you can do today (and everyday) that will have a positive effect.IMG_0514

Here is a list of 10 things you can do, try and check a few off your list this week, and see if there are some that you can squeeze into your day-to-day life as well.

  1. Start a compost bin. It will make great soil for planting in your garden while cutting down on waste.
  2. Shop the farmer’s markets. Keep it local and fresh by stocking up on produce from the local farmer’s market, this can also reduce toxins if they aren’t using pesticides when growing as well.
  3. Stop using produce bags. Yes the basket and cart are dirty, but likely so is the way the produce got to the produce department and you are going to wash it before you eat it anyway. And while you’re at the grocery store…
  4. Spend the money on re-usable shopping bags. Do yourself a favor, and make a habit to always keep two in your car. You can also create a habit of getting the old bags back into your car by putting them on top of your purse once they are unloaded or put them on a hook by the door, or even just looping them over the door-knob. These are some foolproof ways to make sure you always have them. Use them for more than just groceries, use them for clothing, the drug store, etc., there is no limit to where they can go, just more limiting of paper and plastic bags being used.
  5. Switch to cloth hand towels in the bathroom and kitchen. I know some people find this to be a dirtier, more germ-infested way, however, if you consider using one to dry your clean hands on in each room that can be re-used multiple times a day over the course of a few days as opposed to one disposable towel that is used once and tossed. Also for clean dishes, dry them with a fresh kitchen towel, this as well as the hand-towels can be washed and re-used over and over again, and save a lot of paper. There are times when a paper towel still might be preferable, and in that case, or in the case of toilet paper, recycle the inner cardboard tube instead of throwing it away.
  6. Group your errands by location. Throughout the week there are things that need to get done. Try making a list of what you need and grouping things that are located in the same neighborhood on the same day to reduce driving back and forth to all the places everyday.
  7. Go to the car wash. Using a car wash (do your research to find a reputable one in your neighborhood) ensures that the waste water is not running off into the general waterways.
  8. Transition your cleaning supplies over to an eco-friendly variety. There are plenty of green cleaners available at the store, but there are also some you can make using general household items.
  9. Replace your light bulbs. Start the process of keeping CFLs or something more efficient on hand and when your current bulbs burn out, replace them with the more efficient variety.
  10. When you aren’t using something, turn it off and unplug it. Try not to let the auto off settings do the work for you because things will stay on so much longer than necessary. So when you are finished making your coffee for the day, turn off the pot; done fixing your hair, turn off the blow dryer, flat iron, etc., turn them off and put them away; finished watching TV, turn it off. Most small household appliances have an sensor in them to automatically turn them off after a period of inactivity, but it would save so much if we just flipped the switch ourselves when we were done.

There is a list for you of simple tasks and tips that you can start implementing today! What else are you doing to be more ‘green’ or how are you celebrating this Earth day? I’m curious to know what I’m missing out on, so leave your comments on what else can be done.

I hope you are enjoying this series! I have some prettier posts planned for the rest of the week on how you can be more green in your design process to round off this mini-series. If you’ve made it through these wordier posts, I appreciate it, and if you are starting to implement some of the things we’ve been discussing, I know that the earth is thankful too.

Daily Conservation Efforts

There are some basic things that you can do everyday if you aren’t doing them already to help reduce your impact.

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I think by this day and age, we all know about recycling, but it’s a lot more than just paper or plastics. Check with your local town or county to determine exactly what things they will take into their facilities. Every town is different, and some will accept more than you think. You can also recycle things like cans or scrap metals and get paid by the weight of what you bring in.

Try to cut down on the things that you print out everyday to reduce the need to later recycle paper. Regularly remove your name and those in your household from the ‘junk mail’ lists to reduce the amount of paper coming in that is unnecessary waste (check DMAchoice.org). You can also try to re-use the waste-paper that has been printed out of necessity, but now you are done with it by making into scrap paper to jot down notes while on the phone. Re-use old newspaper as gift-wrap (you can add drawings over the top of the newsprint to make it more festive), or if you have a wood burning fireplace, save some of the newspaper to help get the fireplace going in the colder months, and take it with you on camping trips during the summer months.

Lastly, try to reduce the amount of receipts you are getting. A lot of retailers are now offering to email receipts. Set up an account that you use specifically to get coupons and receipts through and that way you can save what you need and filter out the rest without the added paper waste.

Water-Drop

Another major topic of conversation right now, especially out in California, is water conservation. Start with the little things you do daily. One of the easiest things you can do is start a timer on your phone and see just how much time you are taking cleaning yourself up daily. Don’t rush it the first time, take your time and make an effort to shower however you normally would to get an accurate gauge on how much time you are really spending. Do this for about a week to average out your daily shower time and then see if you can cut that down. Every little bit counts. Most states have regulations as to how much water flow a shower head can put out — most are around 2.5 gallons per minute, so you can do the math, if you shave a minute off of your shower time you are saving 2.5 gallons of water that day. You can also look into trading in your standard shower heads for a ‘low flow’ option. These come in several options but are typically around 2 gpm which during a 10 minute shower will save 5 gallons of water. These small amounts add up over time and do have a positive impact on the overall reduction of water usage. most of these shower heads have technology built into them that offer the feeling of just as much water as you are used to as well, without actually using as much.

To give you an idea, if one person swapped out their shower head to a low-flow options and showered for 10 minutes a day everyday, they would conserve an extra 1,825 gallons of water in a year. Now just imagine how much that number would multiply if more people were switching over to these low flow options and reducing the amount of time spent in the shower. Secondarily, you can look for a shower head or hand-shower attachment that offers a pause button that you can use to pause the flow of water while you are lathering up. Another small change that can make a big difference over time.

In addition to the shower, there are plenty of ‘low-flow’ options available these days. Look at the gpm indicated for lavatory faucets and kitchen faucets as well as the gallons per flush (gpf). For toilet gpf, most states require a maximum gpf of 1.6, however the technology is there for 1.28gpf and 1gpf to flush well and work effectively. If you are nervous about cutting the flush rate so drastically, consider a dual flushing system that uses less water most of the time with the option of flushing at a higher rate when necessary. Again, these small changes are easy to implement and add up faster than you might think.

There are a lot of other discussions out there about how to not waste water as much as well, and I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on anything you are currently doing or have heard of doing. One that I heard recently was a suggestion to use the ‘warm-up water’ from heating your shower up to do something else in the house that you can do with water straight from the tap, such as boiling it for pasta. You can place a bucket under your tub spout to capture the water while you are waiting for it to heat up before getting in, and then take that water and use it later. It would be great for watering your garden and many other things as well, and it is a lot less sophisticated and less expensive than adding a gray-water usage system to your home.

Consider stocking up on things like good quality travel mugs and glass storage containers for leftovers and beverages so that you can save those paper cups. Get a mug that will work for both hot and cold beverages, and when you forget the mug at home and you still want to make a pit stop for a drink, put your paper or plastic cups into the recycle bin instead of the garbage when you can (Starbucks beverage cups are recyclable). The same goes for water bottles. Growing up in the PNW I didn’t drink a lot of purchased bottles of water, we had reusable water bottles that we filled before we left the house each day and re-filled as needed. Here in New Jersey especially, I’ve noticed there is a high amount of disposable water bottle usage. Take the time to put in a good filtration system into your kitchen or whole home if you feel it is necessary in your area, and invest in some re-usable water bottles.

I’m sure there are a lot more daily things one can do to reduce their foot print on this planet, so what are you doing that I didn’t already mention? Are you implementing any or all of the above? As I mentioned yesterday, don’t beat yourself up if you need to make a big effort to push yourself to better conservation efforts, none of us are perfect, so make an effort, take baby steps, and do what you can do. Every little bit helps!