THE GRASS IS ALWAYS GREENER
…On Your Side of the Fence
Story by Randi Jo Gause
It turns out Kermit the Frog had it all wrong when he said, "It's not easy being green." While many people stop at the door when it comes to eco-friendly home design, creating a sustainable surrounding is easier than you may think.
And with the beautiful Alaska landscape right in our own backyards, we owe it to ourselves and Mother Nature to keep our yards a little "greener." With the help of our expert advice, you can make energy-saving changes that will conserve resources, improve the health of your yard and leave your neighbors green with envy!
Despite the delightful variety of foliage found in native plants, many homeowners opt for plants that come from the Lower 48, where they are grown in soils or climates not at all like Alaska's. Recreating the conditions the plant needs can mean wasted resources and added pesticides that damage the environment.
"By educating themselves on native and Alaska-compatible plants, Alaskan homeowners can reduce landscaping losses, and help our environment and community as a result," explains Anvy Crawford, assistant at Faltz Landscaping.
Hardy plants require less maintenance, and are more resistant to the harsh Alaskan elements, pests and diseases. "Find out where the plants came from – native species or not – and make sure that the plant you purchase will thrive without the help of extra nutrients and water," Crawford adds.
For some good examples of native plants, check with The Alaska Native Plant Society, www.aknps.org, or the state Division of Agriculture's directory of sources at dnr.alaska.gov/ag/NEWnative_directory.htm.
One energy-saving tip requiring minimal forethought, and in some cases no thought at all, is planting – or leaving – strategically located trees in your yard. "On new site developments, I take count of all the trees and their health and then assist with building layouts on the property so as to minimize tree removal. Every tree does matter," says Tania Krawchenko, from Inspiring Spaces Alaska.
Cherish your trees, and your trees will love you back. Deciduous trees, which drop their leaves in the fall, shade your home during the summer, and allow sunlight in during the winter, while evergreens block winds to preserve heat during the winter. Not only will you make your yard a little greener, but you'll save some green on energy bills.
Mulching is another eco-friendly yard-care tactic, designed to create a protective layer atop soil for enrichment and protection. By using natural mulching materials such as bark chips – or especially other materials you generate grooming your grounds such as grass clippings – you can reuse natural material that would otherwise require energy to dispose of.
"(Homeowners) can return valuable nitrogen back to the soil through mulching, chipping of larger green waste and use of composting," Crawford explains. "This can reduce the amount of energy and cost used to transfer and dump it."
Krawchenko adds, "You can use fallen limbs and Christmas trees over straw, hay or other mulches to protect your plantings. When placed in a criss-cross pattern, they moderate soil temperature and protect your lawn from the wind." Mulching can also create microclimates for perennials or similar plants, allowing plants that normally grow in a slightly warmer climate, or zone, to thrive naturally.
Down the Drain
One of the most significant energy waste offenders in yard care lies in wasted water. And before you point to your plants for guzzling all the precious water, keep in mind these resource-saving alternatives.
For a simple irrigation alternative, incorporate drip hoses with perforated holes to lead water directly to the soil, as opposed to typical sprinkler systems that shoot water into the air.
"Greywater," or water that travels down the drains in your home, can be reused a number of ways to feed your plants. Those methods can be as simple as bucketing rainwater outside, or intricate as developing an automatic diversion or system to lead greywater outside.
Processed pest and weed control products work well. So well, in fact, that many can wreak havoc on the health of your plants – and the environment. "Pesticides are bad for wildlife and people," says Krawchenko. "Compost and manure is the best natural approach."
Before you run for chemicals, take a minute to correctly identify the problem. Is there a way to manage it without using chemicals? Many products on the market nowadays offer organic deterrents to kill weeds and repel mosquitoes, insects and wildlife. Not only will your yard stay beautiful, but you can leave the earth a little greener as well.
From the Ground Up
You can avoid the hassle of tending to a yard altogether without sacrificing style by using alternative landscaping options. "Substituting a traditional lawn (that may require fertilizer and chemical weed killer) with a rock garden, extensive ground cover, or aquatic feature (mini-waterfall, pond, fountain, etc.) is one option," explains Crawford.
Eco-friendly artificial turfs are also available now, and are more natural looking than their predecessors. "I have used artificial, eco-friendly turf grasses in many of my designs. But be careful to choose artificial turf that has eco-friendly composite and a soy backing," adds Krawchenko.
"The best advice I can give is to look at where you live and your surrounding natural landscape," searching for features that lend themselves to efficient landscape design, sums up Krawchenko. In doing our part to reduce carbon footprints, we can ensure that not only the buildings on our property maintain their value for our future generations, but the earth under them as well.