What Are Eco Friendly Backyards?

garden with natural landscaping

Considering the potentially negative effects of lawns, building an eco-friendly backyard could be a great alternative. Your property will still look amazing, but it will need less maintenance and will contribute to the diversification of the natural habitat. 

In research conducted by the University of Texas regarding the ecological approach to a sustainable lawn, scientists have found that simply switching to a mix of native grasses could substantially reduce watering and eliminate fertilization. 

This process would slow down lawn growth and reduce mowing frequency. Consequently, it would reduce water waste and the carbon footprint.

Eco friendly backyards are, therefore, those backyards that create native ecosystems instead of sterile, artificial ones. 

In fact, a study published in the Canadian Etymologist highlights that weeds and native plants are the most popular source of food for indigenous pollinators. Native plants also increase the butterfly and bird populations in urban areas. 

With this in mind, it’s easy to understand why switching to an eco-friendly backyard is the only solution we have to preserve biodiversity in the urban and suburban areas.

Types of Eco Friendly Backyards

Eco friendly backyards is an umbrella term that covers all types of sustainable landscaping. Practically, you have two options:

1. Natural Landscaping

Natural landscaping, also known as habitat gardening or native gardening, replaces the manicured lawn with plants including trees, shrubs, grasses, and groundcovers indigenous to the geographical area  where you live. 

The choice of native flora brings many benefits. According to Audubon, creating a natural landscape has: 

  • Ecological and habitat benefits: Indigenous plants provide a suitable habitat for native species of pollinators, butterflies, birds, and other wildlife. Due to the abundance of local plants that can be used, natural landscaping also provides variety in gardens. They can also form ecosystems with fungi and microbes necessary to the harmonious development of the garden. 
  • Maintenance benefits: Indigenous plants are habituated to the local climate, soil conditions, pests, and animals. They require few or no soil amendments, little irrigation, and usually no herbicides and pesticides. This makes habitat gardens sustainable and environmentally friendly. 
  • Aesthetics: Unlike imported evergreens, native plants usually bloom in a rainbow of beautiful colors. Besides the beauty of flowers, you will also witness the seasonal color changes from pale green in spring to yellow or red in fall. 
  • Health benefits: Lawns require profuse amounts of fertilizers and pesticides; in fact, an acre of traditional suburban lawn contains on average ten times more chemical pesticides than an acre of farmland. Pesticides not only destroy biodiversity; they can be harmful to humans and pets too. However, growing native plants require little to no pesticides, so your backyard will become a healthier place for you and your family. 
  • Environmental benefits: Besides combating pollution, many native plants combat climate change by storing greenhouse gases. Native long-living trees, including oaks and maples, are the most effective at storing carbon dioxide, fighting global warming.
  • Water preservation: Native plants also help you save water by requiring less of it. Since they are adapted to the local environmental conditions, they usually require no irrigation. 

Natural landscaping usually integrates seamlessly into the local landscape; however, you can also opt for a wildflower garden or rain garden. 

The former attempts to recreate a prairie and consists of native grasses and flowering plants. These gardens usually benefit the local wildlife and act as a shelter for butterflies, insects, and even small mammals. In rural areas, wildflower gardens may also attract larger wildlife including deer, so keep that in mind and integrate some deer repelling plants in your landscape if you want to avoid unwanted visitors.

The latter has the role in absorbing rainwater from gutters and is ideal for plants that thrive in humid environments, as long as they are native plants. 

Undoubtedly, natural landscaping can provide you with an enchanting, educative backyard where life thrives. This type of backyard is more exciting for children too and provides a healthier environment where to grow your offspring.

On the downside, such a backyard may not be particularly suitable for playing some outdoor games, and depending on where you live, the selection of native plants could be restrictive.

2. Xeriscaping

According to the Nevada County Resource Conservation District, xeriscaping refers to water-wise, climate-appropriate gardening. 

The practice, developed in the late 70s, shares some common principles with natural landscaping, but it’s different from it because it emphasizes the selection of plants for water conservation purposes. Thus it accepts the use of non-native species.

Often associated with ugly desert-like landscapes, xeriscaping can be quite colorful and is not incompatible with the European style gardening or natural gardening. 

Indeed, when properly designed and implemented, xeriscaping can help you create an eco-friendly backyard; it can significantly reduce maintenance, and it is estimated that it can reduce water use by up to 60%. 

As highlighted by the Habitat Network, xeriscaping has seven fundamental principles: 

  • Superior landscape design and planning: Create a diagram of all landscape areas, including lawn zones, flowerbeds, trees, and shrubs.
  • Limitation of lawn to appropriate, functional areas: You can have lawn areas as long as they serve a functional purpose. Choose climate-appropriate warm-season or cool-season grasses based on the local climate.
  • Climate-appropriate plant selection: You can use both native and non-native plants as long as they are climate-appropriate. For instance, if you live in California, you could integrate many Mediterranean plants into your landscape. Native plants are often preferred though.
  • Extensive mulching: Mulching helps keep soil temperature lower and prevents the evaporation of water. At the same time, it also acts as a barrier against weeds and pests. For a truly environmental friendly backyard, turn grass clippings into mulch when you’re mowing the lawn.
  • Efficient, non-wasteful irrigation: Xeriscaping requires to group the plants based on their water requirements, for efficient irrigation. You should place the plants that require moderate water in drainage areas, low-water plants in dry, sunny areas, and shrubs and perennials in moderately sunny areas. Turf requires the most water, and a drip irrigation system could be your best bet to minimize water waste.
  • Soil amendments for water conservation: You can amend soil water retention by using compost. However, you should always consider the climate, type of soil, and plants in the area where you live. Some species, including cacti, might prefer gravel soils instead of water-retaining soils.
  • Proper landscape maintenance: While xeriscaping reduces maintenance, it doesn’t eliminate it. You should still mow and fertilize the lawn and occasionally prune the trees, shrubs, and perennials. For a truly eco-friendly backyard, turn all vegetal material into compost, so you can always use organic fertilizer for your lawn.

It is easy to understand, therefore, that if you aim to maintain manicured lawn areas for backyard games, xeriscaping could be a more appropriate choice.