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Yard smarts
How to create a more eco-friendly landscape


May  2014

Want to live a more environmentally friendly life? Start in your own backyard. The harsh weather, water shortages and pervasiveness of pests make it a good idea to think "green" when it comes to landscaping our gardens and yards.

Let it Rain

When rain and melting snow run off roofs, driveways and lawns and flow down the storm drain and right into our rivers and lakes, they carry with them pollutants like oil, salt, fertilizer, pet waste, transportation chemicals, and all sorts of other things that shouldn’t be in our fresh water. "By planting a rain garden, we can try to keep some of that water on our property rather than getting into the sewer system," according to Gary Urban of Hawks Landscape Inc. in Elm Grove. "A rain garden consists of taking a specific area in the lawn and lowering it maybe a foot and a half to catch the water. Native plants planted in the rain garden also help to soak up the water, while the roots will break up hard soil and let the water infiltrate the soil," he explains.

Urban says an easy thing to do is place a rain barrel beneath a downspout to collect rain water so it can be recycled to water lawns and plants.

Be Informed

"Many people use lawn maintenance companies to treat weeds, fertilize their lawns and mow them. I know from personal experience that the various chemicals used to treat weeds and pests can also destroy some of the creatures that benefit a lawn," says Carl Merisalo of Century Landscaping in Hartland. "For example, some chemicals can wipe out earthworms that are natural aerators in a lawn. So, it’s good to know what is being used," he says.

Minimal Maintenance

Putting plants in the appropriate location can make a big difference in the condition of our lawns and gardens, says Bill Wandsnider of Wandsnider Landscape Design in Menomonee Falls. "What we want to do is select the right plant for the right place, such as drought-resistant plants for shady areas. At the same time, certain plants can attract birds, which can mitigate insect problems. Native plants such as viburnums, dogwoods and serviceberry provide a wide range of seed, cover and a place for birds to live," he explains.

Merisalo agrees. "With the advent of some of the pests that are becoming more prevalent in this area, installing appropriate plants is becoming more important to reduce the amount of chemicals we use. For instance, with the increase of Japanese Beetles we, as a landscape installation company, are trying to minimize the use of plants that are very susceptible to this bug," he says.

Another way to preserve the soil, If you have the correct space for it, is to consider going natural, Urban says. "Reduce your lawn space and add low-maintenance native plants where you can," he says.

Keep Your Cool, and Warmth

Proper planting also can protect your home from the elements and keep it cooler in summer and warmer in winter, Urban says. "Plant shade trees on the south side of your home to shade it in the summer. Make sure they are deciduous trees that drop their leaves in winter so the sunlight can get through and help warm the house," he says. "Shading your air-conditioning unit helps it run cooler, too."

Encourage Healthy Soil

"Where homes are located, we usually see highly disturbed soil. Plants won’t grow right, and that means more chemicals and more water," Wandsnider says. To encourage healthy soil, he suggests composting. "Composting is not a new idea, but it is still very important. Nature creates compost without human intervention, such as lawn clippings, leaves and other plant waste." M


This story ran in the May2014 issue of: