Making an Earth-Friendly Landscape: Taking Xeriscaping to the Next Level



Much ado has been made about native landscaping or Xeriscaping, that eco-friendly process of creating landscapes from native plants that reduce or eliminate the need for supplemental water. 

By taking some of its principles and designing virtually maintenance-free landscapes, apartments have an opportunity to not only green their properties but go really green. Earth-friendly landscaping is a way to reduce landscape pollution in the form of overuse of natural resources, waste, and energy.

Earth-friendly landscaping is taking root

Texas A&M University’s AgriLife Extension program has been among the big players in promoting earth-friendly landscaping through its Earth-Kind Landscaping program. The objective is to combine the best of organic and traditional gardening so the landscape is a good steward to the earth. In effect, it’s creating landscaping that helps reduce the carbon footprint. This program helps limit the use of not only water, but damaging pesticides, fertilizers, waste and energy in the form of gas-powered lawn equipment.

The cycle of landscape maintenance can be no friend to Mother Earth

So think about the vicious cycle of landscape maintenance as we may know it today. Traditional lawns, trees, bushes, and shrubs are planted. As they grow, they are fertilized, watered, mowed or trimmed, maybe fertilized again, watered and mowed or trimmed again. Emissions are produced from the lawn equipment, grass clippings or trimmings are bagged and dumped in landfills and the sprinklers sometimes overwater. And so the cycle continues, cluttering and harming Mother Earth.

The Environmental Protection Agency says lawn mowers can emit up to 25 percent raw unburned fuel and large amounts of air pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, and particulate matter. Such toxicity has sent the EPA on a mission in recent years to reduce the carbon footprints of lawn mowers. Just last fall, the agency awarded $45,000 in grant last fall to three student teams at the University of California-Riverside to be used in part to develop a lawn mower that will emit less air pollution.

Earth-friendly landscaping takes green to whole new level

Help is on the way. Earth-friendly landscaping is taking conservation and being green to whole new level. Earth-Kind Landscaping is built around four principles: water conservation, reduction of fertilizer and pesticide use, energy conservation and reducing of landscape wastes entering landfills. The big picture idea here is to use right-sizing with the selection of plants, bushes, trees and grasses that require minimal maintenance, and eliminate that vicious landscape cycle.

Xeriscaping - Earth-Friendly

For example, if a garden is three feet wide and has about four feet high of growing space – like in the front of the leasing office – a selection of plant life that grows to that space at maturity is the best choice. Thus, a plant that grows no taller than four feet won’t have to be frequently trimmed by gas hedge clippers, and the amount of excess branches and leaves that are bagged and sent to the landfill by diesel-guzzling trucks will be reduced.

Ideally, plants that grow to 20 feet in size are not good candidates for such a space restricted area. And those tightly rowed hedges so popular in residential landscaping may not be what’s best for the environment if they have to be trimmed twice a month. By using plants that require lower maintenance, you’re polluting less and improving the carbon footprint of the property.

An eco-friendly way to have a great landscape

But Xeriscaping and earth-friendly landscaping sounds drab and boring, right? No. There are numerous varieties of plants that have color and sparkle to create the luster for curb appeal that apartments require to attract new residents and keep existing tenants. There are even colorful Earth-Kind roses.

Earth-Kind Landscaping’s Plant Selector is a good tool for creating landscapes that look great and are environmentally responsible. The on-line tool is designed to provide educational information on a wide range of plant materials to help make landscape decisions.

Whatever form your landscape takes, it will always need some sort of maintenance. Bushes and trees will need to be pruned to remove winter damage or dead branches. But repetitive maintenance for that water-grow-trim cycle can be significantly reduced with the right plant choices and design.

It’s a great way to have a stellar landscape and help out Mother Earth at the same time.

(Image Source: Shutterstock)


President, Earthworks

author photo two

Chris Lee is President of Dallas, Texas-based Earthworks, which specializes in multifamily housing landscaping. He is a contributing author to Landscape Management magazine, licensed irrigation specialist and a Toro Intellisense certified technician. Chris studied business at the University of Arkansas from 1990-94 and horticulture and landscape design at Tarrant County College from 1999-01. He has been employed at Earthworks since 1998.

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