Sustainable landscaping saves time, energy and money

Is your garden a sustainable landscape? Ideally, it should be. By “sustainable” I mean that it is in balance with the local climate and requires minimal resource inputs such as fertilizer, pesticides and water.
Take pesticides for example. One survey indicates that homeowners use ten times more pesticides per acre than farmers and two thirds of household users dispose of excess pesticides in the trash or down the drain. Detectable limits of pesticides have been found in 5% to 10% of wells as a result.
When it comes to your pocketbook, a single acre of lawn will cost you between $400 and $700 per year to maintain. And approximately 75,000 people require medical treatment every year for mower-related injuries.
Perhaps because of these factors, many homeowners are turning to a more naturalistic garden design. A naturalistic landscape requires less maintenance, reduces environmental harm, can benefit wildlife and still provides seasonal interest.
One way to create a successful naturalistic garden is to focus on native plants. Native plants are those that grow naturally in your geographic area rather than plants that are introduced from other parts of the country or from overseas.
Native plants are best adapted to local conditions and thrive with minimal care. Generally, native plants won’t harm natural areas. In a book titled “Wildflowers Across America,” Mrs. Lyndon Johnson wrote, “Wherever I go in America, I like it when the land speaks its own language in its own regional accent.”
A basic rule of thumb for a naturalistic sustainable garden is to select the right plant for the right place. By that, I mean it’s important to assess the site conditions, such as soil type, sun and shade and rainfall, and then select plants that thrive under those conditions.
I often hear from readers who say they have a sloping area of land that is experiencing soil erosion. The ideal solution is to plant some native groundcover plants that require little or no maintenance. The roots of groundcover plants hold the soil in place and also hold water, creating a healthy environment that prevents soil erosion and doesn’t need dangerous or risky mowing on a slope!
If you have a soil erosion issue or a hilly, sloping area that is hard to mow, a groundcover plant would probably be you best solution. You are welcome to send me an e-mail at with some brief details of your situation and your geographic area and I’ll be happy to respond with some suggestions.
Meanwhile here are a couple of groundcover “idea starters.”
Bronze Ajuga Sometimes known as Ajuga reptans or Carpet Bugle, this evergreen plant produces crowns and spreads by horizontal above-ground stems called stolens. It grows only to a height of 6” to 8” and produces spikes of attractive purple-blue flowers each spring.
Grass Carex Pennsylvania Sedge When readers ask me what they can plant beneath trees, I often recommend Pennsylvania Sedge. It’s a native plant from West Virginia to Georgia to Alabama and forms soft, grass-like, 15 inch clumps of very narrow bright green leaves.
Heucheras Plum Pudding This little guy won my heart! It grows well in shade and around trees. It’s a tough, long-lasting perennial that requires little maintenance.
Additionally, if heating and air conditioning costs are a concern, remember that trees on your landscape can lower energy bills by about 25% .
Recently, I’ve been traveling to some East African nations to assist in developing plans for sustainable agriculture that will boost their economy while growing much needed plants for the world market.
While in Ghana, I saw people carrying sturdy, colorful baskets that were so much better than the plastic or paper bags we use here to bring home groceries from the supermarket. I found that they are called Bolgatanga Market Baskets. They are hand-woven by Ghanaian artisans to provide income during the dry season. I brought home several baskets and now Cheryl and I use them constantly. If you’re interested in owning one or two of these baskets, drop me an e-mail and I’ll give you some shopping information.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to and for resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve’s free e-mailed newsletter, visit
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