Eco-Scaping: The Greenest of Gardens



Most homeowners take great delight in having a beautifully manicured, artfully arranged, aesthetically pleasing yard, but such perfection can wreak havoc upon the environment, not to mention the pocketbook. The climate change crisis brings with it loss of habitat, dwindling natural resources, and increased water conservation measures, and the imperative need for environmentally healthier alternatives must begin at home. Homeowners can contribute to a greener, safer world by eco-scaping at home in yards and gardens. Eco-scaping, also sometimes called greenscaping, is the careful, conscientious art of creating a harmonious, ecological balance between people and nature that preserves the delicate integrity of the environment while satisfying the desire for visual beauty.

Eco-scaping primarily involves the use of native and non-invasive species of plants, trees, and shrubs. This simple practice makes perfect sense on many environmental and economical levels. Native species are much more hardy and sustainable than non-native types, reducing plant loss and the need for costly replacement planting. Native flora also requires much less water to sustain growth and fewer to no chemical applications of harsh fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides. This is especially important to protect waterways from harmful chemical run-off that pollutes and upsets the ecological balance of streams, rivers, marshes, lakes, and estuaries.

Planting native flora also promotes biodiversity and provides important natural habitat for several species of animals, birds, and insects. These natural habitats serve as safe havens, breeding grounds, and food sources for several beneficial species, and they are especially encouraging for threatened bee colony populations and for other insects essential for cross-pollination.

Eco-scaping is also an effective, efficient way to conserve energy, another important factor in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency encourages homeowners to “Plant Right for the Site” in its GreenScapes program. Planting trees and shrubs strategically to maximize or minimize sun exposure is one way to achieve this; for example, planting deciduous trees on the west and southwest sides of a home or building provides cooling shade in summer months and allows solar warmth and sunlight through the bare branches during colder seasons. Planting tall evergreens shrubs and trees on the north sides provides a living windblock, another energy-saving measure.

Composting yard waste is another important eco-scaping technique. “Grasscycling” means leaving the grass clippings on the ground after mowing, which replenishes the soil with essential nutrients and nitrogen. Adding composted yard waste and grass clippings directly to the lawn helps sandy soils retain water and nutrients and can help to loosen clay soils. It also stimulates healthy root development, enabling lawns and gardens to better withstand harsh weather episodes, such as summer heat waves, windy falls, and winter temperatures.

Some professional landscapers now offer eco-scaping along with their traditional services, but homeowners can easily achieve a beautifully eco-scaped yard themselves by choosing environmentally friendly species to plant and practicing lawn care methods that have minimal environmental impact. As the EPA’s GreenScapes Program Manager Jean Schwab emphasizes, we can best green our gardens by “working with nature instead of against it.”

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