Spring is the perfect time of year to make plans for your lawn. But before you rev up the lawn mower or pick up the herbicide, consider a different approach this year. Conventional landscaping practices may make yards look pretty, but that comes at a high price, given the use of powerful chemicals and resource-inefficient methods. By adopting ecological lawn care practices instead, you can cultivate a space that’s beautiful to the eye and beneficial to the environment. You’ll also build resilience in your landscape, so it can withstand the weather’s unpredictability.
To explore better-for-the-planet alternatives, we spoke with Brandy Hall, the founder and managing director of Shades of Green Permaculture in Atlanta and an expert in regenerative landscape design.
“We can impact health through the landscaping choices we make—and not just our own health, but our community health and our environmental health,” Hall says. “Many of the things you can do to become more sustainable in your yard really have to do with doing less rather than doing more.”
Here, Hall shares her top tips for creating a modern yard that looks good and benefits your local ecosystem, too.
1. Lose the Lawn
Immaculately manicured lawns may have been the signature style for decades, but it’s time to leave them in the past. Care and upkeep requirements are high with conventional lawns—watering, mowing, treating with powerful chemicals—which take time and money, not to mention a toll on the environment. Embrace the wilder lawn look and transition your landscape to one that has fewer input requirements and promotes biodiversity, such as one of these grass alternatives.
“Design plant communities that are native and regionally appropriate and useful,” Hall says. “This helps build soil and boosts habitat for wildlife, threatened songbird populations, and threatened pollinator populations.”
2. Prioritize Function
When considering what types of plants to add to your yard, think about plants that will serve double duty—not just offer beauty but also utility. One way to do this is transform at least part of your space into a vegetable garden. With the current economic climate, there is an added benefit in terms of cost savings.
Hall also recommends edible landscapes, like culinary and medicinal herb gardens, fruit orchards, and native edible plant communities. She says these spaces “help balance out the peaks and valleys of environmental impact.” That’s true for economic impact, too.
3. Retain Rainwater
Current rainwater management has gotten us into a perpetual cycle of floods and droughts. Rather than seeing rainwater as a burden, recognize it as a gift by harvesting it and managing it wisely. Rain gardens, rainwater cisterns, and earth contouring techniques direct the water through the landscape rather than allowing it to run off.
“Instead of funneling your water to the stormwater system, you’re sending it to earthworks within the landscape,” Hall says. “It’s watering the plants where you want it, then it’s sinking into the soil.”
Excess water can be stored like a reservoir. This method decreases the impacts of flooding and drought on your property and on your community.