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LOW-COST, LOW-IMPACT LANDSCAPING

Your home’s landscaping may be easy on the eyes, but not necessarily on the Earth—or your wallet. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that watering lawns and gardens accounts for about 30 percent of total household water use, and Department of Energy (DOE) research indicates that a home lacking shade trees could pay up to 25 percent more for heating and cooling. In addition, Americans apply millions of pounds of chemical pesticides and fertilizers to lawns each year, which can contribute to water and soil pollution.

This fall, as you prepare your yard for the next growing season, consider the following energy-, water-, and emissions-reducing solutions.

Plant trees strategically. Deciduous trees on the south and west sides of your home can cool the surrounding air up to nine degrees Fahrenheit in summer but let in warming sunlight during winter. Evergreens planted on your home’s windward side block winter winds and provide continuous shade in sunny climates. According to the DOE, just three well-placed trees can offer yearly energy savings of $100 to $250 while absorbing heat-trapping carbon dioxide and reducing storm-water runoff. Contact a nearby Cooperative Extension office (see the Related Resources) for a list of trees suited to your region; keep in mind that trees can increase water use on your property.

Landscape for water efficiency. You can cut outdoor water use significantly by replacing some or all of your lawn with native plants and ground cover, which are adapted to thrive on rainwater alone. Reseed the remaining lawn with drought-resistant grass: tall fescue for colder regions and Bermuda grass for hotter climates. Place mulch around flowers and trees to help the soil stay cool and retain water.

Create natural fences. Trees and bushes can replace fencing and edging made from wood or energy-intensive manufactured materials. They also provide food and shelter for local animals and insects.

Use plants to control pests. Native plants tend to resist damage by local pests, and you can also avoid the need for toxic pesticides by planting flowers and bushes that attract pest-eating insects. For example, sunflowers draw lacewings—native predators of plant-eating aphids.

Use hand- or electric-powered lawn equipment. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that gas-powered push mowers emit as much nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, and hydrocarbons per hour as 11 cars. Riding mowers emit as much as 34 cars.

Fertilize naturally. Leave grass clippings and leaves on your lawn or turn them into compost (regular mowing will help prevent grass clippings from clumping on the grass). By doing so you can supply nutrients without chemical fertilizers, avoid carbon-emitting trips to the dump, and create less landfill waste.

Written by: Union of Concerned Scientists.


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