7 ECOLOGICAL LANDSCAPE DESIGN BASICS
1. Conduct a site analysis of the property.
Site analysis is the first step in planning a sustainable landscape. This will determine the sunny and shady areas, wind patterns, soil type, and moisture levels in your yard. By observing existing drainage patterns, you can get clues as to potential problems or “opportunities.” Notice where water collects after a rain and where there is potential for erosion. It is also useful to make an inventory of existing trees and shrubs.
2. Choose native plants from plant associations that mimic the conditions in your yard.
Plants that grow in association need the same environmental conditions. They have similar requirements for light, soil type, temperature, and moisture. By observing natural areas, you can get a feel for which plants grow together, and then use these combinations in the garden. Because native plants have adapted to local conditions, they need less water, fertilizer, and pesticides. That is not to say these species are maintenance free, but they are less demanding and less susceptible to pests. Reducing water usage and the use of pesticides is not only ecologically sound these practices can also save you money.
3. Layer your plant material.
Picture the multi-level woodland with its tree canopy, lower flowering trees, shrubs, and groundcover. This matrix should be our model. It is visually interesting and provides habitat and biodiversity. Fallen leaves create organic matter, which increases moisture absorption and retention. Our aim is to create gardens that work with, not against, existing natural systems.
4. Plan natural patterns in your design and mass plants.
Take cues from nature by planting in easy curvilinear lines. Planting large groups of diverse species will better accommodate a range of wildlife. Do not include invasive plants in the landscape.
5. Decrease lawn and impervious surfaces.
Lawn is the equivalent of asphalt. It is impervious and interferes with the recharging of ground water. Lawn also requires herbicides and fertilizers, which end up in our streams and rivers after it rains. Most of us have more lawn than we need. Turn just a portion of a lawn into a naturalized planting-- it makes a difference!
6. Keep rainwater on-site.
Rain gardens retain water and increase filtration. Instead of diverting polluted water into storm drains and on into the bay, the water filters through the soil and plant roots, replenishing pure ground water. Decreasing run-off also preserves streams and native ecosystems. Rain barrels connected to down spouts collect run-off from the roof, capturing water to reuse in the garden. As stewards of the earth, we want to treat water with respect.
7. Design wildlife areas within your garden.
Habitat that includes food, cover, water, and open space, should be part of the garden plan. For example, instead of taking a dead tree down completely, leave 15’-20’ standing for woodpeckers and insects. Plant trees and shrubs that provide fruit, nuts, or seeds for wildlife. Native flowering plants are magnets for butterflies. The leafy forest floor provides habitat for frogs and salamanders. Ideally, home gardens should reflect our local eco-systems.
copyright Natural Resources Design, Inc.