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The 5 considerations of sustainable landscape design

Brown rectangular rain barrel beside a window of a wood sided home and surrounded by green shrubs and perennials.
A rain barrel surrounded by plants can make your landscape both environmentally sound and visually pleasing.

Our home property has served as my outdoor laboratory for landscape projects, constructing features and growing all sorts of plants. Over the 30 years living here, I’ve had many successes, but also my share of failures and few real bummers - plants, structures, even a pond. It’s always an experiment!

Before beginning a project, it’s important to do some planning and collect some data. The five considerations of sustainable landscape design are a great starting point. 

The first thing to consider is how your landscape must function for you. Bring a clipboard outdoors and make a list of what you want and need to do in your yard and garden (don’t forget about good access around your property). 

Woman and toddler planting a rock garden in a container.
Functional considerations include the kinds of activities, such as container gardening, that you and your family might want to do in your landscape.

Next think about how your landscape is maintained year-round: mowing, shoveling snow, pruning, etc. Make note of such things as:

  • Narrow turf areas that should be wider or disappear altogether.
  • Where snow is stored after removal.
  • Plant spacing so you can maintain buildings on the property adequately. 

Having a positive impact on the environment entails planting habitat and food resources for pollinators, reducing water run-off, and choosing plants that are suited to your current growing conditions and that will not just survive, but thrive! 

Assess your budget for new and ongoing landscape projects. Remember to also budget your time. 

  • Do you have a high interest level in gardening? 
  • Do you enjoy spending a lot of time caring for your yard and garden? 
  • Or are you mainly interested in a minimal maintenance landscape that functions well and looks good in general?

Last but not least, think about what you’d like to see as you look around your yard and garden. More trees? Fewer trees? Flowering shrubs? The colors purple and orange? A water feature? Open up your view from your living room windows? This is the visual appeal and it’s really up to you.

The important thing to remember is that if a landscape functions well, is maintainable, creates a healthy environment, and is affordable, then it will be visually pleasing.

The end of the growing season is a great time to reflect on what worked or didn’t work this year, and what you’d like to change next year. 

  • Watch these videos from Extension.
  • Compile pictures of the landscape areas you want to concentrate on, ideas from online and hard copy sources, and ideas you’ve been considering. 
  • Talk to others who live with you about their needs and desires. 

And have fun discussing, drawing and dreaming together as the snow flies outside!

Julie Weisenhorn, Extension horticulturalist

Related topics: Yard and Garden News
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