In regards to soil, grading ​should be minimized when possible to avoid altering the soils natural profile and compacting it.  It's also a good idea to test your soil to determine composition, soil pH, and availability of nutrients and then amend only as necessary.  Testing kits are available at local nurseries.  There is a reason native plants thrive here.  It's because they have adapted to our clay soils and so the last thing we want to do is add a bunch of compost and humus and make the soil too rich for them.  Sand and gravel can be added to improve drainage.  Healthy soil supports life!  Earthworms, insects, and all those beneficial microorganisms that you can't see with the naked eye - they are busy at work in a symbiotic relationship with the soil.

Sustainable design also means planning for natural events and cycles.  It's sad to say but in the summertime 90 degree temperatures along the front range are becoming the norm.  We want to minimize sun exposure during the hot season (by planting deciduous trees or adding an overhead structure) and maximize sun exposure during the cold season (again by using deciduous trees that allow the winter sun to pass through when leaves are absent).  Another unfortunate norm along the Front Range is sustained high winds!  So whenever possible, its a good idea to provide protection from cold-season winds by planning for windbreaks, while maximizing exposure to wind in the summertime.    

Conserving water is probably at the forefront of sustainable design.  It's a good idea for both homeowners and businesses to xeriscape and plant vegetation that uses less water.  Supplemental irrigation should also be designed on the basis of different zones, with zones farthest from a water source requiring the least amount of water.  Native plants are naturally acclimated to our natural precipitation cycles.  Use mulch in your garden beds to conserve moisture.  A beautiful lush green lawn?  Sure you can still have it - but within reason.  Because let's face it - a lawn requires time and input of numerous resources and must be supported by other than natural means to maintain its health and vigor.  Consistent watering, fertilization, pest and weed control, and regular mowing are all required to preserve the appearance that is expected.   Who needs it?  I for one am trying to eliminate the amount of turf in my own yard and adding more garden areas.  

Finally, we should reuse and recycle, salvaging materials on site whenever possible.  And integrate healthy maintenance practices by using only natural, organic fertilizers and eliminating the use of herbicides and pesticides.  Apple cider vinegar and Dawn dish detergent works pretty good as a weed killer if your thorough and vigilant.  Attract beneficial insects to your garden by providing plants that they love!  Incorporate companion planting in your vegetable garden to help your veggies grow and to deter non-beneficial insects.  It's no secret that the decline of the honey bee and the monarch butterfly are due to the overuse of pesticides.  We need to protect our pollinators through the use of healthy sustainable gardening practices.  Integrated Pest Management(IPM) uses biological controls such as predatory insects and scent traps in combination with non-toxic chemicals and cultural controls. 

There's no doubt about it - Colorado is a very challenging environment in which to garden.  But it doesn't have to be. It's actually a lot easier than you think to garden sustainably.  It's a lot less time-consuming to plant something that is going to attract beneficial, predatory insects than it is to go out and spray your yard with pesticides several times over the growing season.  And by doing this, you're not only protecting birds and pollinators, you are protecting your family and pets.  It just makes sense!  We can all work together, house by house, garden by garden to make our environment a safe and healthy one.  

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Copyright 2014 Green Roots Garden Design.  All rights reserved. 

Reference:  Residential Landscape Architecture:  Design Process for the Private Residence.  Fifth Edition.  Norman K. Booth and James E. Hiss.  Pages 61-113.

The Importance of Sustainable Design

So what is sustainable landscape design?  The official definition is "It is a process of creating an outdoor environment that is capable of enduring over time in a self-sufficient manner with minimal expense of energy and maintenance, minimal impact on the land, while supporting the health of all living organisms on a site".   It does not mean a site has to look completely "natural" nor messy or ill kept.  Nor is it isolated to one residential site - all things are interconnected!
Here in Colorado we have varied extremes of high and low temperatures, low precipitation, strong, dry winds, low humidity, and many sunny days.  We also have very challenging soil with which to work with.  It is for this reason that we should try and make the best of it and work with what we have.  One way to do that is to use regional materials and plant native plants.  Not only is it visually harmonious, defining the regional character, but native plants thrive here.  We should also preserve existing vegetation whenever possible.  Existing plants have many roles:  they help to stabilize the soil, retain soil moisture, cool summer air temps, reduce the impact of wind, and remove carbon dioxide from the air and produce oxygen.  They can also be an important habitat for many birds, animals, and insects.  So think twice before removing that old spruce tree.

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