What Is Sustainable Landscaping? (10 Tips for a Sustainable Yard)

It seems only natural that with global emphasis on environmental sustainability that this ethos should extend to our outdoor spaces and yards. 

What Is Sustainable Landscaping (10 Tips for a Sustainable Yard)

For those who want to reduce the negative impact they have on the planet, sustainable landscaping is a great way to help reduce your carbon footprint. From design to construction and maintenance we will look at how you can do just that. 

Definition Of Sustainable Landscaping

Sustainable landscaping uses multiple strategies to allow a landscape to thrive with minimal interference. This includes the design, build and maintenance of home and commercial gardens. 

By creating a climate appropriate landscape the impact on the environment will be reduced, and the local ecosystems will be better preserved.  

10 Tips For A Sustainable Yard

Choose The Right Plants 

The first step is to choose appropriate plants for the climate. In places suffering from drought like California local plants such as cactus are preferable as they require less water. Exotic plants that are water intensive will require much more maintenance. 

The relationship between plants in a close environment is also important. Native plants develop relationships with each other and with local pollinators thus helping the ecosystem to thrive. 

Native plants will also produce their own defense against diseases and pests and will not require pesticides. This in turn reduces the impact on the soil and the groundwater. Local plants and insects will attract native wildlife such as small animals and birds. 

The right plants can serve as the building blocks for your sustainable yard. 

Look After The Soil

If the plants are to thrive then you will need to look after the soil, but this too must be done sustainably. To do this you need to use organic composts instead of synthetic fertilizers. The compost will feed soil and the soil will in turn feed your plants. 

As well as feeding the soil you need to protect it from drying out and eroding. Do this by using mulch which retains soil moisture as well as using cover crops which protect bare soil.

Aerating the lawn helps nutrients to penetrate the soil and keeps the grassroots strong. 

Avoid compacting your soil to keep water and nutrients flowing through and set the mower to high when you cut your grass to just remove the top third of the blades. 

Manage Irrigation

Water management is key to a sustainable yard. By monitoring, maintaining and managing the irrigation of your yard you will be able to reduce water usage and cost.

Make sure you are irrigating for the soil type as well as the plant’s needs and your climate. 

Using mulch reduces the need for extensive or prolonged watering, and it helps to retain the moisture in the soil for longer. It’s also beneficial to zone similar plants together according to their water needs. 

A sustainable, natively planted yard will be drought tolerant and reduce the amount of watering needed by 85% per year. You can help conserve water by using rain collecting devices to then irrigate your landscape. 

Responsible Pest Control

Pest control is still going to be an issue even in a sustainable yard, but there are responsible ways to deal with it. If you have native plants these will be more able to withstand local pests and diseases than any non-native species. 

Chemical pesticides should only be used if they are absolutely necessary and care should be taken when applying them. This is to protect you but also the environment around the plant being treated. 

It’s also a good idea to know which insects are beneficial to your yard so that you can avoid treating something as a pest that may actually be of help to your plants. 

Create Wildlife Habitats

The domino effect of using and maintaining local plants is that it creates a natural habitat for local wildlife. Small animals and birds will make their home in and underneath trees and shrubs.

They will feed on the insects that live in the plants or those that pollinate them. 

Flowers that provide pollen and nectar will support bees and hummingbirds amongst others. They will also eat insects that might otherwise harm plants in your yard.

Leaving some areas to grow naturally without cutting back will also encourage a diverse range of wildlife. 

A water feature in your yard is a wonderful way to sustain wildlife. So if you have a stream or brook it will provide a habitat for some creatures while giving essential water to others. 

Hardscaping Choices

Choosing the right hardscaping materials is also an environmentally responsible way to aid sustainability. Something as simple as installing solar lights to illuminate your yard will add to the aesthetic while using only natural energy. 

Lots of recycled materials can be used or items can be upcycled to add to your yard’s appeal. Scrap lumber or metal can be used as features or to create borders while second hand patio furniture will save you money while avoiding adding to landfill. 

It’s not advisable however to use recycled railway timbers as these will most likely be coated with creosote which can leach into the soil.

For irrigation piping to be used in landscaping avoid PVC and try to buy recyclable HDPE pipe. PVC is not biodegradable and its production creates a lot of emissions. 


Adding organic compost to the soil has many benefits. One benefit is that nutrients are put back into the soil to help plants grow and stay healthy.

But compost also adds texture to the soil. This added texture allows water to penetrate the soil and reach plant roots. 

Cow manure, blood meal and compost all give soil an organic boost particularly after a long summer or winter. Clay soils need about two inches of compost while light or sandy soils will benefit from two to three inches.

The compost should be dug into a depth of six inches. 

High nitrogen and quick release fertilizers can be damaging to water and soil life. Making your own compost pile is more sustainable and eco-friendly. 

Conserve Energy

A great way to save energy through your garden is to plant deciduous trees to the south and west of your home. They will provide shade in the summer to keep your home cool and in the winter will let in more light and heat through solar heating. 

What Is Sustainable Landscaping (10 Tips for a Sustainable Yard) (1)

Using hand tools such as a push reel mower or hand clippers instead of gasoline powered equipment will reduce the amount of energy that you use. Lawn mowers use over a billion gallons of gasoline every year in the United States. 

Provide air conditioning units and paved areas with shade by planting trees or shrubs around them. Make sure when planting that you leave enough room for the full sized mature plant.

This reduces the need for pruning and allows the tree to grow unrestricted. 

Lawn Management

One of the principles of sustainable landscaping is to limit the amount of turf that requires irrigation.

This can mean only having a small lawn in an area of the yard that you are going to use rather than expanses of grass that will require regular mowing and watering. 

It is also important to select a species of grass that thrives in your location rather than choosing one for its aesthetic appearance. Aerating the lawn twice a year is recommended for good drainage and nutrient absorption. 

Use grass cycling which is the practice of leaving the grass clippings where they fall on the lawn during mowing. The cut grass will decompose and release nutrients back into the soil. 

Sustainable Maintenance

Maintaining your landscape should also be done with sustainability in mind. Eco-friendly fertilizers can be used occasionally to give a little bit of extra nourishment to your soil and plants at certain times of the year. 

You may sometimes need to get rid of pests that are a bit stubborn, but that doesn’t mean you have to use chemicals. Homemade pesticides can be very effective but harmless to the environment. Examples are soap, vegetable oil or neem oil sprays. 

Diversify your planting and this will encourage a multitude of different organisms to maintain the landscape such as insects and birds. Single species plantations are less sustainable and prone to spread of disease. 

Final Thoughts

With prolonged droughts, rising temperatures and increasing forest fires we cannot ignore the need for a more sustainable way of life.

If we think twice before taking the car rather than walking or refuse to buy bottled water then having a sustainable yard seems a logical step. 

The process in itself is very simple and not particularly expensive. Most things are possible to achieve on a low budget or by recycling. All that is really needed is the will to do the right thing by the environment, have a plan and see it through. 

We hope this guide has given you some help and inspiration to develop your own sustainable yard and do your bit to help the planet.

Mike Noren