7 Sustainable and Eco-Friendly Lawn and Garden Ideas

With more time at home in 2020, people here in Chicagoland and across the country got busy working on their lawns and gardens. With the rise in gardening has come a renewed interest in sustainable gardening practices — which can provide you with the lush, invigorating, and relaxing outdoor oasis of your dreams, while minimizing any negative impacts on the environment.  Sustainable and eco-friendly gardening can mean adopting any number of practices, from avoiding chemicals that contribute to pollution, to opting for manual lawnmowers rather than gas-powered models. Broadly speaking, sustainable gardening really means adopting a mindful mindset and choosing methods, materials, and resources that can lessen your impact — and even benefit the local ecosystem. Feeling inspired to create a garden that gives back to the amazing natural world we call home? Here are seven simple sustainable gardening ideas to try out in your Chicagoland home this summer:

1.) Add a Rain Barrel

One of the best ways to reduce the impact that your lawn and garden has on the environment is to take steps to conserve water, wherever and whenever possible. A rain barrel is a simple DIY project that can make a big difference — potentially saving up to 1,300 gallons of water during the hottest and driest months of the year. While there are different variations, a rain barrel is essentially a large basin that collects the rainwater that flows through your gutters and downspout. Once you’ve collected this water, you can tap into it to water your plants and lawn. You can learn more about setting up a DIY rain barrel from Family Handyman

2.) Opt for Low-Water Options

In addition to collecting and reusing water, think about designing an outdoor living area that requires less H2O in the first place. There are lots of ways to minimize the need for water, particularly by reducing the amount of grass in your lawn in favor of permeable pavers and eco-friendly gravel, ornamental perennial grasses, shrubs, or easy care groundcovers. When gardening, you can also choose aesthetically pleasing rock formations, as well as high-tolerance plants, which require less water to remain healthy. You can also make simple substitutions, like utilizing larger pots to store water more effectively, and by adding environmentally friendly mulch strategically around your lawn and garden; mulch helps soil retain moisture while preventing weeds from growing. 

3.) Upcycle and Recycle

One of the biggest goals for many sustainable households is to reduce the amount of waste generated, indoors and out. One of the best mindsets to adopt for environmentally friendly gardening is to find ways to recycle and upcycle, whenever possible. This can take many different forms! For instance, you can get more value out of your plantings by collecting and storing their seeds at the end of the season, saving them, and then planting them when it’s time to grow back next season, rather than buying new seeds and starters. Similarly, you might be shocked by how many household products and goods you can upcycle into gardening tools — from refashioning old wood and furniture into planters and organic fences; to transforming kitchen dishes into pots and hanging baskets; to leveraging plastic bottles as seed protectors or DIY watering cans.  Smart ways to save water in the summer

4.) Create a Compost Pile

Composting is an incredible practice that can nourish and enrich your garden, while simultaneously reducing waste and creating a happier planet. Simply put, composting is all about collecting kitchen scraps and lawn trimmings and transforming them into nutrient-dense food that can be mixed in with your soil. Adding compost to soil helps produce healthy microorganisms, while also improving water retention. Best of all, it’s easy to get this green practice started. Check out this guide to “Composting at Home” from the Environmental Protection Agency for ideas, methods, and common “do’s and don’ts” you can use to begin creating your own compost. 

5.) Water Efficiently

When it’s time to water your plants and yard, think about how you can do so strategically and efficiently. For instance, consider making it a point to water your garden during a cooler time of the day, so that more water can seep into the ground rather than evaporating. Apply water near the roots of plants, rather than sprinkling the leaves. If you use a sprinkler, be conscious that most of the water is indeed hitting the areas that matter, rather than concrete or siding. 

6.) Go Local

Sustainability is all about enriching your local community, so adopt this locally focused mindset when gardening. This might mean shopping for plants, seeds, and gardening supplies from local vendors who are rooted in your community, which can reduce the need for waste and emissions from extensive shipping and transportation. You can also plant locally, choosing native plants that are indigenous to our Chicagoland region. As Better Homes & Gardens notes, these plants,

take less work, usually require less water, and thrive better than other perennials because they are already suited to your climate, rainfall, and soil types. Additionally, native plant species provide food and shelter for the native insect and bird populations.

You can find more information about native plants perfect for cultivating in Chicagoland with this handy resource from the Chicago Botanic Garden. 

7.) Embrace Biodiversity and Wildlife

Sustainable gardening and landscaping isn’t just about flora, but fauna. Think about how you can use your garden to sustainably support the animals that call Chicagoland home, from bugs to birds. For instance, you could focus on cultivating plants that help protect pollinators like bees; experts recommend choosing bright, showy blooms with open faces that “flower throughout the year.” You can also install bird feeders to attract native flyers; bug hotels to protect beneficial local insects; hedges to provide homes to birds and small mammals; and a small pond to support many different varieties of wildlife at once. 

When Home Means More, You Need a Team With More to Offer

Is your home working for you? For many of us, the way we think about our homes has changed — and that might mean you’re ready to make a move to find one that better fits where you are now. After all, home is about so much more than just four walls. Sometimes, you need more of what’s outdoors. Buying or selling a home is a big deal, and with everything we experienced in 2020, our homes have never been more important. That’s why your local Baird & Warner agent is with you at every step of the way, with the tools and support you need to make your real estate journey easier — including in-house connections with local experts in mortgage and title.  So whether you’re looking for more space to run and play or just enough for a seat in the sun, your Baird & Warner agent can help you through every part of the buying and selling process to find the place that’s just right.  

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