This is a pic of my house. It’s a New England Victorian circa 1875 – we just had it painted last year and I am loving her even more now – BUT this landscape is what Kim Eirman would call a “green desert.” This landscape is not giving back to our ecosystem and it is definitely not combating climate change so I talked to Kim to see what changes we could make here.
Kim of Ecobenefical.com is an environmental horticulturist, specializing in ecological landscapes and native plants. She teaches at the New York Botanical Garden, Brooklyn Botanic Garden and The Native Plant Center and speaks nationally on ways in which we can improve the environment by making small changes in our landscapes.
Here’s the scoop!
Climate change is happening and we are seeing this through:
- Increased flooding
- More extreme weather events
- More frequent droughts
- Increasing temperatures
What can we do to offset these changes?
Plant more trees – so simple, so important.
Trees are nature’s air conditioners – there is an extreme difference in temperature from sun to shade. In aggregate, think of all the cooling this brings to our climate – an easy and effective way to combat global warming. The evaporation from one mature tree can equal the cooling impact that eight room-sized ACs would provide.
Trees counteract carbon emissions by taking in gasses like carbon dioxide and producing oxygen. One mature tree can provide a day’s worth of oxygen to four people.
Trees help prevent erosion from stormwater runoff. Planting well-adapted native trees and shrubs around your house can reduce flooding in the basement as these plants intercept rain drops and take up moisture from the soil. This reduces runoff and water pollution created from runoff which helps protect our water supply.
Decrease impermeable surfaces.
One of the biggest things we can do to decrease water pollution is to keep stormwater onsite in our landscapes. In addition to planting more deeply rooted plants, we can reduce the number of impermeable surfaces like cement walkways and asphalt driveways.
Walkways and driveways can be replaced with permeable pavers or permeable asphalt. These permeable surfaces allow for the penetration of rainwater and prevent stormwater from carrying pollutants into our watershed. You can even use simple solutions like brick paths with gravel (not cement) joints or gravel driveways or walkways. The whole point is to keep rainwater onsite. Consider reducing the area of impermeable surfaces overall.
Reduce your lawn and tolerate imperfection.
Keeping a large lawn actually worsens the impacts of climate change. Turf grass requires constant mowing – much of which is done with gas mowers, which increase carbon emissions. Lawn irrigation accounts for a large percentage of our household water use – not a good idea when extreme droughts are becoming more common.
Kim calls the perfect green lawn “The Green Desert – an ecological wasteland.” It contributes very little in terms of ecological impact and it is really poor at handling big storms with lots of rain. Grass has shallow roots and is poor at holding rainwater. Your will often see pooling on your lawn in low spots during large rain events. Consider reducing the area of turf lawn to only what you really need and use.
Or consider replacing the lawn (which consists mostly of non-native grasses) with a variety of native plants. For New England, Kim recommends a “meadowscape” – a mixture of native grasses and perennials that will support pollinators and other wildlife, while keeping stormwater in place.
For any lawn that you keep, tolerating some weeds is a great idea. People will pull dandelions and clover until they are blue in the face but this is not a great way to help the environment. Both of these happen to be plants from Europe but they attract many bees with nectar and pollen. Many years ago, lawn seed mixes used to be sold with clover in them. This is because clover is a nitrogen fixing plant and IMPROVES the soil around it.
Consider maintaining your lawn organically. If you have been using chemicals like those six step lawn care programs, it will take you years to filter out the pesticides, fungicides and herbicides to truly have an organic lawn however it is possible and it supports a healthier ecosystem.
Here are a few simple tips for a healthier lawn that do not involve chemical treatments:
- Cut higher (3 inches or more)
- Over-seed twice a year- in spring and fall
- Do a light top dressing of compost twice a year
There are also some landscapers who practice organic lawn care- they take it very seriously and they do it well. For more information about organic lawn care check out these resources:
Choose shrubs, plantings and trees that are native to your area. Plantings are not interchangeable and it matters what we choose to pant in our landscapes especially to our native wildlife, like pollinators and songbirds.
For example, in New England you may want to plant a non-native double-flowered cherry tree. Don’t! Go with a native Black Cherry instead which is an ecological workhorse. It’s simple but beautiful. White blooms attract many pollinating insects with loads of nectar and pollen. It also supports native wildlife with its fruit and it is a host to dozens of species of butterfly caterpillars. The double-flowered cherry tree does not offer any of these ecological benefits.
Making these small changes can have have a huge impact in aggregate on our environment.
Take a minute to consider what you can do in your own landscape to help improve the environment around you. As Kim says, “You depend on the environment and it depends on you.”
For more about how we can be positive environmental stewards check out Kim’s website: ecobeneficial.com
And for more on what to consider when buying outdoor plants check out my previous talk with Kim here.
And if you need someone to pick out stunning paint colors for your house, look no further than Bonnie Krims – she is a color genius and works by email. She is available to consult for interior, exterior or even just to help pick a new door color. You won’t be disappointed!