Do less to get more

Want to be more sustainable? Do less. Less-thirsty or fewer plants, no or greatly reduced lawn, and less frequent or shorter watering. Embrace this strategy and you’ll build capacity to endure a drought, leave more for the next generation, AND save water, maintenance, and waste.

A garden\garden case study by the City of Santa Monica in partnership with Santa Monica College and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California proved the value of sustainable landscaping practices. Ten years after redoing two adjacent 1,900 square foot front yards, they concluded their sustainable garden used 83% less water, required 68% less maintenance, and generated 56% less green waste than their traditional one did.

Familiar sustainability strategies are lawn removal, drought-tolerant plants, and drip irrigation. Just as important but not as obvious are these four game plans to do less to get more:

  • Design with room to breathe. Dry-climate plants offer a cornucopia of possibilities. Agaves or aloes in a gravel bed, or live oaks or olive trees unadorned with small plants, can be stunning. And cost and water use is much less than older-style dense designs.
  • Pay attention to mature sizes when buying and placing plants. Overplanting with twice the perennials, succulents, or groundcover needed means twice the initial cost, twice the ongoing water use, and too-frequent pruning.
  • Not every space needs regularly-irrigated plants. Viable alternatives include mulch, stone or gravel terraces, native plantings, or even bare. One-third of our property is untouched, with a mix of old trees and other hardy souls. Although scruffy, it takes no water or maintenance.
  • Do not fertilize or prune during drought conditions. Fertilizer stimulates growth which demands more water, and its salts injures roots when moisture is limited. Pruning stresses plants and trees which increases disease and insect susceptibility.

Sustainability is defined by SITES (Sustainable Sites Initiative), the partnership of the American Society of Landscape Architects, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and United States Botanic Garden, as:…design, construction, operations and maintenance practices that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs

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