9 Tips to Have a Sustainable Yard in Alberta
Our yards can have a significant impact on the local environment as well as on water and energy use. Traditional lawns can be quite damaging due to the lack of biodiversity and habitat; the use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides; the large amount of water they require; and the energy used for mowing.
However, even with a traditional lawn, there are ways to be more sustainable. Here are nine ways to have a sustainable yard:
- Improve your mowing techniques
- Reduce your lawn space
- Plant native and/or edible plants
- Ensure proper drainage in your yard
- Use mulch
- Improve your watering techniques
- Don’t use chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides
- Choose energy-efficient and renewable energy for outdoor lighting
Many Albertans have a large lawn, and you may not be able to transition away from this traditional look. Cost may be a factor or there may be bylaws or other rules to contend with. Or you may simply love your lawn! There are still ways you can improve your yard’s sustainability.
Improve Your Mowing Techniques
A major contributor to pollution and unhealthy lawns is mowing techniques. Get a better lawn and improve your yard’s sustainability by:
- Using an electric mower or an old-fashioned push mower.
- Never mowing shorter than three inches.
- Leaving grass clippings on the lawn (this helps fertilize the grass and retains moisture).
- Never mowing when the grass is wet.
- Mowing in the morning or evening when it’s cooler or on a cooler day – not during the hottest part of the day.
- Keeping your mower blades sharp, as you’ll get a better cut and it’s less damaging to the grass.
Reduce Your Lawn Space
One of the most effective ways to have a sustainable yard is by reducing your lawn space. Instead, your yard can include:
- Tiered or raised-bed gardens or planters.
- Native plants, shrubs and trees.
- Low-growing turf grasses (fescues).
- Xeriscaping with rock gardens and permeable pavers.
If you really like the look of a traditional lawn or still want lawn space, the best option is native fescue. These grasses will require less water and deal with our climate and soil better than regular grass as well. There are also a variety of ground-covering plants that can give a similar look or feel to a traditional lawn.
A bonus of reducing your lawn is your yard’s drainage is often improved. This can help protect your home from water damage by better absorbing rainfall and snowmelt.
Plant Native and/or Edible Plants
Native plants are adapted to live in Alberta’s soil and climate. They require less water and are typically hardier. In many cases, they are also fire-smart and bee-friendly!
Edible plants can help you save money and enjoy delicious home-grown food.
Understanding the sun and shade, wetter and drier areas of your yard can help you figure out where to put each plant. It’s also a good idea to group plants with similar water needs together.
If you’re planting trees in your yard in Alberta, it’s advised to plant coniferous trees to the north or any direction you want a strong windbreak. These trees provide wind protection and greenery year-round. Deciduous trees provide shade in the summer while allowing sunshine in the winter; they’re great to have on the south side of your yard but can go anywhere. Just make sure to not place trees too close to your house or powerlines.
Here are some places you can find native plants in Alberta:
- YardSmart plants (calgary.ca)
- Bow Point Nursery
- Homepage – ALCLA Native Plants
- ALBERTA WILDFLOWER SEEDS – Wild Flower Seeds & Plants: Wild About Flowers, Alberta, Canada
- Drought Resistant Trees, Shrubs and Perennials | City of Edmonton
Ensure Proper Drainage in Your Yard
Proper drainage benefits your sustainability efforts by reducing the amount of water needed for your yard and helps protect your home and other property from water damage. While removing your lawn and replacing it with native plants, gardens and xeriscaping will usually improve your yard’s drainage, there are other steps you can take, including:
- Regrading your property.
- Creating a rain garden (small depression with plants).
- Installing run-off channels, weeping tile, and other drainage aids.
- Directing eavestroughs to drain towards trees and shrubs.
- Rain harvesting to collect water for later use.
Compost is an excellent organic fertilizer and helps improve your yard’s sustainability by reusing organic materials and helping your plants grow. Many Albertan municipalities have composting programs (usually a green bin), but you can also compost yourself. Green Calgary has an excellent guide to composting including how to use it in your yard.
Mulch is organic matter used to reduce soil evaporation and erosion, prevent weed growth and naturally fertilize gardens and plants. It can also help reduce the damage of winter on plants. Mulch helps with sustainability by reducing the amount of water and chemical fertilizers and herbicides used.
You can combine compost with bark, wood chips, small stones, leaves and other organic materials. There are premade options available, or you can make it yourself.
Improve Your Watering Techniques
Yards can demand a lot of water. While reducing your lawn space, having proper drainage and planting native plants can help reduce water demand, there are still many ways you can improve your watering technique to reduce consumption.
If you have an irrigation system, inspect it regularly to ensure it is working and there are no leaks. It should not water the driveway or sidewalks (or as little as possible). Consider a smart control system or only watering when required to waste less water.
Drip irrigation is the most effective and efficient watering method, saving both energy and water. For most plants, single deep watering once a week are better than daily light waterings (it encourages plant roots to grow downwards).
Make sure you’re watering the plant itself, not the whole garden bed. Watering in the early morning or late evening is best, as more water will be lost to evaporation during other times in the day. Avoid overwatering your plants and make sure you understand your plant’s individual water needs.
Rainwater harvesting is great for sustainability. Rain barrels or cisterns store rainwater or meltwater for future use. Just be sure they have proper overflow drainage. You can learn more about rainwater harvesting here.
Avoid Chemical Fertilizers, Herbicides and Pesticides
These chemicals can contaminate water sources, contribute to greenhouse gases and harm local plants, bugs and animals that are not the intended target. A sustainable yard uses alternatives first, such as:
- Using compost, weed tea, grass clippings and other organic materials for fertilizer.
- Mulching to discourage weed growth and fertilizing.
- Using ground-cover plants, rocks, pavements or otherwise eliminating bare soil and delineating garden bed edges.
- Planting a variety of species and planting specific species (such as garlic, marigold, etc.) to discourage pests.
- Rotating crops if any area of your yard has annuals (including edible plants).
- Hand weeding (easiest after rain or watering, try to pull weeds when they’re young).
- Using physical barriers like stones and eggshells.
- Opting for organic and environmentally friendly spray products (often vinegar, salt, soap or oil-based).
- Hanging birdhouses and feeders to attract helpful animals and bugs.
Tip: In the spring for annual or edible garden areas, after tilling you can put down newspaper underneath your new topsoil.
Choose Energy Efficient and Renewable Energy for Outdoor Lighting
The most sustainable option for outdoor lighting is using LED bulbs and powering any lighting with electricity. If you can use solar or wind to power any lighting or other gadgets you have in your yard, this will save you money and energy!
A sustainable yard helps you save money, protect the environment and can even help reduce water damage to your home. Even doing a few things can make a difference.
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