Feel that heat? It was still technically winter a few short weeks ago, and just like that it’s almost summer. That means it’s time to get out there and get your yard in tip-top shape—after all, lawns are supposed to be verdant examples of ecological splendor. But harsh chemicals, wasteful watering habits, and poor land management can all contribute to environmental decline, even in these natural sanctuaries. These tips will help you turn your backyard into an eco-paradise—and get your space all set for summer growing. Be sure to consult your board, manager, or governing documents if you're unsure about whether any of these items are allowed in your community.
Mulch the Environmentally Friendly Way
Mulching a garden helps root out weeds, protects plants from extreme temperatures, and reduces soil compaction. But buying it also increases logging in local wooded areas, further shrinking already at-risk forest areas. Green mulch is the answer—and you don’t have to look far to get it. Fallen leaves, dry pine needles, peanut shells, and even coffee grounds all make good alternatives to store-bought mulch. If none of those are readily available, grass clippings can also do the job. However, if you really like the look of traditional hardwood mulch and can’t see your garden without it, try to look for products labeled “bark mulch”—the majority of the material comes from tree bark, rather than felled wood.
Ward off Pests with Green Alternatives
Before there were dangerous chemical pesticides, farmers used their knowledge of local flora to keep bugs off their beds. They planted known pest deterrents, like marigolds, near gardens to keep soil pests and flying insects at bay. Or they unleashed the power of birds—a bird feeder placed nearby can attract fowl that will help you conquer snails, slugs, grubs, and caterpillars. Or make your own, safer pesticide: water mixed with hot pepper or soap does quite well.
Install a Rainwater Barrel
You know what they say about April showers. And never does the saying ring more true than when you use a rainwater barrel to harvest water for your garden and lawn. With many parts of the country experiencing dangerous drought conditions, the pressure is on growers to keep their water footprints low, and collecting rainwater is one of the smartest ways to do it. Of course, standing water will attract mosquitoes, but you can get a pest-preventing boost by planting citronella around the base of the barrel.
Consider Alternatives to Traditional Lawns
A lush carpet of green grass looks nice, sure. But irrigating that lawn comes at a heavy price for your local water supply. In fact, we use a national average of 9 billion gallons of water a day just to keep those thirsty yards looking nice. Instead of sowing another sprinkling of ryegrass, consider switching up your yard for a more eco-friendly option. If your lawn is small, turn the whole thing into one large garden bed, planted with native species. If you have more ground to cover, herbs like yarrow or ground covers like salvia do a wonderful job transforming your land without looking ragged. Or, consider hardscaping—laying down rocks, pebbles and stones in beds for a cool alternative look.
Install a Retaining Wall
When we dig up the earth for a garden or bed, we increase the chance that loose soil will get carried off by a hard rain, contributing to soil erosion. Stop soil runoff by installing a natural, dry-stacked retaining wall—stone siding is a perfect choice for a rustic look. After selecting your location, make sure to dig down in the area and pack with gravel first, then start placing the stones, as this will fortify the wall. And if you want to give the Earth an extra boost, try using reclaimed concrete pieces, instead of freshly quarried stone. These can be scavenged from demolition sites, which means one less thing going into the landfill—and one more way you can save the environment right in your backyard.
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