My last blog was about the virtues of minimizing the amount of grass, to make your landscape more eco-friendly. Even the New York Times recently reported on this topic, as the average lawn becomes smaller.
This time, I want to blog about the virtues of trees. My love of trees may make be biased – they are my favorite part of a landscape, and the older and craggier they are, the better I like them. Salon just posted a slide show about some of the world’s great ancient trees.
Fortunately, well-selected and sited trees are a key to designing an eco-friendly landscape that is also beautiful and functional.
(caption: This mastic tree in its prime frames the view of the house, anchors the front yard landscape, and creates a woodland-like setting for the understory plants.)
If you live in an older neighborhood, you may be fortunate to have the blessing of trees planted by someone wise enough to leave behind this legacy for you to enjoy. Full-grown trees, more than any other part of the softscape, announce that the landscape has come into maturity. If you are particularly fortunate, those trees will have been well cared for and properly selected and sited: growing to a desirable size, and providing the right about of shade at the right time of the year.
Often though, you are left to deal with a tree that has grown to overwhelm your landscape, takes too much water to thrive, is messy, hard to garden under, cracks concrete features with greedy surface roots, or invades the water and sewer lines with feeder roots. Reduction pruning and thinning can be done to alleviate some of these problems, and avoids the drastic solution of removing the entire tree and waiting for the replacement to grow and takes its place as a better citizen in your landscape.
(Caption: These pines were “threaded,’” opening up the view, and taking their part in a water-wise landscape.)
Owners of new homes in recently built developments face the challenge of a bare landscape and the time it will take for trees to grow, but also benefit from the opportunity to choose and site trees carefully. Designs must be done to account for the full-size tree: the space it will take up vertically and horizontally, and the shade it will eventually provide. Planting the biggest box size possible can help to achieve an “instant landscape,” but, with the exception of adult-size palms that can cost tens of thousands of dollars, it still takes time for even the fastest-growing tree to come into its full potential.
As the trees grow, your landscape will slowly evolve. Privacy will develop, unpleasant views will become filtered, and pleasant views will begin to be framed by the spreading canopy of branches. That canopy will also provide relief from the relentless sun. The trees will bring shade that will expand the livable areas in your landscape. The shade that develops over planting beds will also provide the opportunity to grow a wider array of shrubs, perennials, bulbs, and groundcovers.
The designers and horticulturalists at Eco Minded Solutions select trees for landscape plans with utmost care. The selected trees must be the right size for the site at maturity. It is tempting to plant that cute little conifer you see at the nursery, unaware that it will eventually grow to perhaps 80 feet tall and 40 feet wide. We avoid these problems by selecting trees for the size of the property and how they relate to the other design elements. Many old favorites and standard selections are simply too big for today’s lot sizes.
(Caption: This pine, planted too close, is already overtaking the house.)
The palette of trees for San Diego is changing, partly because of this issue. There are many small and medium sized trees that we make use of in our designs. A tree in a patio corner may be selected to be only 12-15’ tall, and a tree selected to provide a larger shade canopy may still only grow to 20-30’ tall. A properly selected tree will not require expensive reduction pruning.
(Caption: Crepe myrtle serves as a small-scale focal point for this front yard patio.)
We also keep in mind the amount of shade that a given tree will develop. Some species provide a dense cover and complete shade that may be desirable for effective screening. Others have more naturally open branching and/or smaller leaves that cast a more dappled shade. These lighter-textured trees will not require thinning that is often done on San Diego’s coastal trees, where dense canopies create cold spots and block desirable views.
(Caption: Pepper tree, introduced from Peru during California’s mission period, is delicate-looking, yet tough. )
Any tree must be considered for its strengths and faults, and how it will fit its desired role in a landscape. It must also be attractive to your eyes. All these considerations are important as the range of landscape styles diversifies, from formal and contemporary designs to rustic and cottage designs, from eastern-influenced zen gardens to western-influenced courtyard gardens, from edible landscapes to those that are strictly decorative, and from the tropical-themed landscapes that came to be standard in post WWII San Diego, to more water-wise landscapes that make use of a surprisingly wide array of plants from around the world.
We advocate choosing trees that are water-wise. San Diego’s water restrictions have been made permanent, and water prices are likely to keep going up. One strategy to use water wisely is to design a landscape with a mini-oasis: a spot that features the thirstier plants, including a favorite tree or two that you must have. This oasis should be where you spend the most time in your landscape: a lounging and dining area. Away from this oasis, the plant selections become less water-demanding. Such a landscape will be practical and affordable to maintain as water costs increase and availability becomes more limited. Water-wise trees can cut your water bill, as they shade they provide reduces evaporation from the soil. The protective canopy of trees becomes more important the farther you are from the coast, with its higher temperatures and lack of cloud cover.
With a thoughtful selection of trees and other plants, you can look forward to a shady, restful retreat, and not end up with a parched landscape that requires yet another makeover. Eco Minded Solutions is here to provide you to plan for the future by providing you with a landscape that will be beautiful and sustainable for a lifetime of enjoyment.
When many people envision their ideal home landscape, they picture grass as a wall-to-wall carpet that covers most of their property. Front and backyards that are based on turf are traditional – an idea imported from the eastern United States, where grass is easier to grow with abundant summer rainfalls. The love for turf goes back further, to the estates of the European royalty that presented opulent and highly controlled landscapes as potent symbols of their status and wealth. Versailles, the pleasure palace of Louis XIV, was hugely influential in influencing tastes in landscapes for the middle class, who copied on smaller scales the formal and symmetrical designs with sheared hedges, shrubs and trees, all framed by a perfectly maintained carpet of grass.
This look evolved into the traditional American landscape with its foundation shrubs in front of the house, two shade trees on either side of the sidewalk to the front door, and Kentucky blue grass framing it all. The post World War II suburban housing boom featured this idealized landscape as part of the American Dream of home ownership, domestic bliss, and financial security. American grass seed and fertilizer companies heavily promoted the prospect of a perfect lawn as the status symbol of success. Husbands spent hours every weekend preparing soil, planting seed or laying sod, watering, fertilizing, weeding, and reseeding to cultivate their lawn for their neighbors’ approval and envy.
This aesthetic was as present in San Diego as in Cleveland or any other American city. However, many factors are creating a change in the ideal American landscape, particularly here in southern California. The most important one is that rain is rare to nonexistent for 6-10 months of warm weather, water prices keep going up, and droughts result in water rationing. San Diego recently made permanent its restrictions on water use for landscapes. Lawns that used to be green and lush now turn brown in the summertime.
However, there are many alternatives to either accepting parched grass, bare dirt or gravel, or paying for expensive water (and risking fines for illegal use of that water). One solution is to install underground irrigation, which is not covered by San Diego’s restriction on overhead watering to a 3-day-a-week and morning-only schedule. This updated irrigation can be installed at the same time the high water-use grass species is swapped out for a more water-wise one. Yet another possibility is artificial turf, some of which now look good enough to fool even us at first glance.
The best solution of all for you may be to consider why a landscape dominated by grass is even desirable or necessary. Lawns are useful for homes with kids and pets as areas for play. For those who still need lawns, consider reducing its area to that which is actually used. One study found that the average home only needs around 600 square feet of grass for recreation. Many landscapes that we have designed provide even smaller areas of grass – enough for the pet dog to lounge in the sun, for example. This patch of grass is featured in the back yard.
However, the front yard lawn in particular is rarely used by anyone anymore – it’s just there for show. Fortunately, landscaping aesthetics are evolving away from the requisite carpet of green. There are many different styles to choose from, many of which include more naturalistic designs that reflect the real look of southern California. These designs easily make use of the diversity of plants from California and areas around the world with similar climates. We use plants that are water-wise to reduce your water and maintenance bills, and provide an array of colors and textures to your landscape. Your landscape can be just as leafy and lush, and present you with year-round interest that will make you forget that the grass was ever there, and why you thought you ever needed so much of it in the first place.
Although eco landscape design concepts have been around for decades, an increasing number of property owners are adopting green gardening ideas to limit their use of the earth’s finite resources. Whether you are completely redoing the landscaping scheme on your property, or want to gradually convert your yard into a more environmentally friendly space, these are the guidelines that you should follow.
1. Conserve Water
There are many ways that you can reduce your outdoor water use, including use of:
- Professional irrigation assessments
- Drip or another type of irrigation system
- Rain barrels or cisterns
- Native plants
- Fescue grass or artificial turf
2. Limit Use of Chemical Fertilizers
Eco landscape professionals avoid use of harsh chemical fertilizers that do more damage than good to the environment. Natural, organic fertilizers can be used as an alternative.
3. Minimize Energy Use
In addition to conserving water, eco landscape principles also promote reduced use of gas and electricity in the yard. This can be achieved with:
- Muscle-powered lawn mowers
- Energy efficient lighting
- Solar pool and spa heating
4. Choose Plants Carefully
Use of plants that are native to the region in which you live can significantly reduce the amount of water that you use and the amount of time that you have to spend maintaining your yard. If you have a lawn, consider replacing it with artificial turf or fescue grass.
When doing yard work, or cutting back plant life, be sure to add garden scraps to a compost pile rather than throwing it away in the trash where it will be sent to a landfill.
Having a pool is a luxury that most people wish they could afford. However, pools and spas that rely solely on use of traditional heating equipment can become expensive to keep warm, especially on a year-round basis. Solar heating allows property owners to keep pool and spa water at a comfortable temperature without using so much energy. This eco landscaping concept translates into a number of benefits for consumers.
Reduced Carbon Footprint
In San Diego, we enjoy sunny weather most days of the year. So why not take advantage of the power of the sun and use it to heat up your pool and spa? Solar heating panels can be placed on the roof of your property or another area that is in full view of the sun. As water filters through the solar panels, the water gradually warms up. Instead of using gas and electricity to heat your pool, you let the sun do the work, reducing your strain on the earth’s resources.
Decreased Energy Bills
Homeowners that have solar panels installed in their homes can expect a decrease in their monthly utility bills because they are not using traditional energy sources to keep pool water warm.
Warmer Water Temperatures
Solar heating can get water to the comfortable 70-degree range, making your pool more inviting to you and your guests.