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Eco-Friendlier Landscaping

Thinking about giving your outdoor space a little more love this spring? Here’s how to make all that green even, well, greener.

Monrovia’s La Barbe Bleue Caryopteris

What’s the number one way to get your garden growing without guzzling water or begging for a chemical fix? Return it to its natural state! You’ll reap the rewards in a landscape that pretty much maintains itself, says horticulturist Derek McKay of Ted Lare Design Build & Garden Center in Des Moines, Iowa. In the Southwest, sustainable landscapes thrive with little watering; in the Midwest, they soak up spring downpours and hang tough through dry spells. And from coast to coast, indigenous plants give sustenance to pollinators and wildlife. Here’s how to get there:

Ask Around

“The United States is a very diverse ecosystem,” McKay says, but since the “ideal lawn” is pretty homogeneous, we may have lost what makes our neck of the woods different. Seek out local experts, like your county extension service or garden-center manager, to learn what works best in your area.

Play the Long Game

Try swapping lawn grass for a tallgrass garden to prevent washouts on a slope. While traditional grass reaches just 2 to 4 inches into the soil, native grasses’ roots extend 8 to 12 feet deep, says McKay. “They hold more water and they create little tunnels that direct rainwater down into the soil more quickly.”

Think Variety

Mix up your plantings for a healthier garden, says Georgia Clay, new plants manager for Monrovia Plants in Salem, Oregon. “Biodiversity helps to create a robust ecosystem that will be better at naturally retaining nutrients and fighting disease and insect pressure,” she says.

Support Fauna

Look for plantings meant to attract pollinators. We like Monrovia’s La Barbe Bleue Caryopteris (above), with its deep blue blooms and yellow leaves—and so do bees! And get yourself some native grasses. Not only are they meant to live in your climate, but birds feast on their ripened seed heads in winter.

Add Personality

That’s what makes your landscape your own. In McKay’s backyard, an 8-foot-tall metal Tyrannosaurus rex named Little Lucky stands in the trillium while Rusty, his colorful 4-foot counterpart, explores Indian grass in the prairie garden nearby. Statuary is always eco-chic!

“Healthy landscaping is a win-win! It’s an extension of your living space, plus it’s great for your mental well-being.”


By Ann Hinga Klein | Photography by Doreen Wynja© for Monrovia

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