The Four Principles of Sustainable Landscaping
Green Life Studios believes four basic principles stand at the core of sustainable landscaping: using Local Resources and Local Talent, protecting Healthy Soil, selecting Responsible Plants, and Smart Watering.
By engaging each of these four principles, sustainable landscaping reduces non-point source pollution in urban runoff; protects community resources, water and talent, which strengthens local economies; conserves water, and increases the lifespan of structures and infrastructures. In the shared interest of cleaner, healthier and more sustainable living, we hope others join Green Life Studios in its mission, by striving to incorporate one or all of the four principles, to share them with others, and to praise the efforts they see.
Favoring the use and purchase of locally produced landscape products and materials minimizes the air pollution and energy consumption associated with their transportation.
For example, local enterpreneur Milo Lou Shammas created the first Pro-Biotic organic fertilizers in the Bay Area and now produces them and countless other green gardening products at his ranch in Winters, California. Through local retail nurseries, Milo's company, Dr. Earth sells fertilizers that re-introduce essential living organisms to your soil.
You can find a wealth of information, such as how run-off containing phosphorus affects our waterways, on his website at www.drearth.com.
Hiring local professionals minimizes pollution and energy waste from transportation too, while keeping local money local. Supporting local talent builds the local knowledge that wise landscape choices are based on. Finally, hiring local professionals and using local materials -- new or re-used -- helps communities develop their own landscape style, build future historic value, and convey to other communities their unique character or “sense of place.”
Healthy, percolating soil stores water, oxygen, nutrients and the essential living organisms that good plants need and that weeds flourish without. Self-sustaining, healthy soil requires less supplemental water and, often, little or no fertilizer. Protected, permeable soil that contains these ingredients helps desirable plants outcompete their tougher counterparts -- weeds. The processes that produce healthy soil --mulch included-- even starves weeds by driving weed seeds and runners deep undercover, where they are unable to germinate and grow. (Read more about weed-loving soil in our blog, Weeds Hate It, Plants Love It. What Is It?
As the world's gigantic carbon-laden water purifier, healthy soil neutralizes pollutants in water. Absorbing water where it falls, healthy soil reduces the erosion-causing runoff entering local streams and rivers. Any property owner who's been forced to spend upwards of $40,000 for an engineered retaining wall, to keep their backyard from sliding into an eroded creek, understands this concept all too well. When mulch and compost are added or returned to a landscape, that landscape's need for fertilizer, herbicide and pesticide is reduced. In the case of lawn, mulch means "grass-cycling" --that is, essentially, "bagless" mowing-- a practice already in use for years by hundreds of California landscape maintenance crews.
Grass-cycling is the very easy method of lawn mowing which blows shredded grass clippings back down to the soil surface. Replacing the bag on conventional mowers with a grass-cycling converter pays for itself in short order by reducing a lawn's fertilizer needs by 30%. On large scale lawned properties, grass-cycling means additional savings for someone, because it requires fewer charges for hauling greenwaste to the landfill. The kicker is, the less fertilizer that is used, the longer a lawn lasts. Healthy soil resulting from less fertilizer and pesticide use decomposes thatch. Thatch is that thick, insidious mower-scalped patch that turns brown by hosting fungus during hot weather. While healthy soil as a landscape support is so underappreciated, it may soon be recognized as the least expensive form of property protection from drought, flood, erosion, landslide, toxic runoff and fire damage. You can find out more and watch videos showing grass-cycling by touring Central Contra Costa Solid Waste Authority's website at www.wastediversion.org.
Established plants and trees save energy by providing shade and evaporative cooling to buildings and soil. Already more drought tolerant and pest resistant than newer or younger plants, established plants can form the visual foundation for a new design, while helping to maintain a property's value. Interplanted with smaller plants, larger established ones shed leaves that each year can be used as mulch or converted to compost. Meanwhile, new plants, carefully chosen and spaced, often require less water and pruning while contributing fresh forms, textures and colors against the green backdrop of larger, established plants. Established or not, however, invasive plants and hedges should be removed and avoided, to reduce the clearing and shearing that produces unnecessary greenwaste -- allegedly the number one contributor to sediment and plant-choked urban streams.
Read about Responsible Plants:
Blooming Now! In San Diego
Preparing Home and Landscape for Fire
Without meaning to, and for many reasons, California property owners typically overwater their landscape by 40%. The resulting runoff means that clean water crucial to other activities is wasted. Residual fertilizer in runoff causes oxygen-consuming algae blooms in streams, while residual pesticides and herbicides embed themselves in aquatic plants, fish, wildlife and, of course, in the water that runs to lakes or bays. When drained and channeled, excess water cannot be stored where it's sprinkled (on nature's largest water purifier -- healthy soil) but far away from the water districts that produced it. You can view here one high school student's winning video from the EPA's Water Quality Video Contest about urban runoff.
While means exist to keep natural water on site, "smart watering" refers to the mechanical methods and practices we employ to "add" rainfall -- namely, irrigation systems. Smart watering is the best means to prevent overwatering and all of its undesirable consequences. Smart watering starts with grouping plants that have similar water needs, then installing an irrigation system to apply only as much water to the group as is needed, using schedules and flow rates that optimize soil absorption and plant water uptake. To be as smart as its owner, however, an irrigation system requires at least yearly inspection and tune-up to eliminate 50% of overwatering. The successful irrigation system tune-up does these things: corrects inadequate sprinkler head spacing, replaces clogged or broken sprinkler heads, repairs leaks and redirects or adjusts sprinkler head flow.
Today, the most cost-effective drip irrigation options are "spaghetti-less." In-line drip tubing, or "matrix drip", with its built-in emitters, is buried underground where it stays in place. Matrix drip is easily spliced into conventional drip tubing so its emitters are placed nearer the roots of plants. Quality matrix drip contains a check valve at every emitter, designed to clog less than regular spaghetti tube emitters, and prevent root penetration, so it can last much longer than conventional drip. Contractors and property owners who use buried, in-line / matrix drip agree that these innovations are the most durable, fuss-free and attractive choice for irrigating plants other than lawn. Meanwhile, adjustable low-flow "bubblers" may be a flexible way to retrofit above-ground spray irrigation, especially where established plants with differing water needs occur on the same circuit. Last but hardly least, for their uniform coverage, durability and impressive water reducing results, there are Hunter's MP Rotators. These thoughtfully engineered low-flow stream nozzles are designed to fit into the spray heads of existing spray heads, including spray heads from other manufacturers.
Non-changing irrigation schedules are responsible for the other 50% of overwatering. Thus, smart watering includes a programmable irrigation controller that many irrigation systems already have, but only when that irrigation controller is properly programmed to account for plant needs and soil absorption rates. Many property owners see their water usage increase with the installation of an irrigation controller, because sufficient care is not applied to its programming. Thus, too many California property owners water lawns and landscapes virtually every day, or in amounts needed only during the hottest months -- July and August. Besides being the most common cause of landscape overwatering, un-adjusted watering cycles promote shallow root growth, undermining every plant's ability (including lawn's) to withstand heat and drought stress and the soil's capacity to hold oxygen, nutrients and essential organisms.
Weather-based controllers self-adjust according to seasonal and historical records or real-time weather information made cheaply available by satellite. Additionally, most weather-based controllers are "plug and play", meaning that they can be plugged into an existing controller box and its wiring. Arguably the biggest benefit of weather-based controllers is that when landscape plants are watered more closely to their actual needs, they are primed to ward off pests, disease, drought stress and overgrowth, which translates into fewer applied chemicals.
Absolutely every property owner -- whether commercial or residential -- deserves an opportunity to enjoy the enduring beauty and cost-conscious benefits that abound in sustainable landscaping. Sustainable landscaping is merely the first way in which Green Life Studios will be helping others design new lifestyles that maintain a clean environment for themselves and future generations in a more world-conscious, meaningful and beautiful way.