Earth Day is not only an annual celebration of environmental awareness, but a much-needed reminder to do our part in keeping the planet healthy and inhabitable for future generations. As a landscape architect at Harrison Design, I’m always mindful of integrating ways to reduce our carbon footprint, even in our own backyards.
Plant a tree. Planting a shade tree, such as an oak or maple, on the southern side of a residence provides shelter from the heat during the summer, effectively reducing energy usage and cooling costs. In addition, large trees provide sanctuary to wildlife.
Don’t fear bees — save them. Bees play a pivotal role in the lifecycle of most of the world’s plants, flowers and crops, as they provide the cross-pollination necessary for plants to reproduce and thrive. Planting a mix of long-blooming perennials, such as sedum, beebalm and zinnias, provides bees with a longer collecting season — and adds a wonderful seasonal pop of color to your garden.
Capture rainwater for irrigation. Using rainwater as a means of natural irrigation is an excellent way to reduce water use. While you can invest in a more sophisticated water collecting system such as an underground cistern, a simple rain barrel attached to a roof leader allows water storage for times of drought, considerably reducing the cost of traditional irrigation.
Limit paving. It’s crucial to limit the amount of outdoor paved surfaces to allow the ground to absorb as much rainwater as possible. Permeable paving limits surface runoff and allows rain through to replenish the underground aquifers.
Go native. Native plants are already acclimated to your surroundings and require less care than non-native species. Local plants survive on the existing climate’s rainfall without demanding additional irrigation. Examples of plants native to the New York area are junipers, blueberries, shadbush, ornamental grasses and pine trees.
Phytoremediation. Phytoremediation is the use of particular plant species to clean contaminated soils sediments and water. This is a cost-effective way to reduce the toxic effects of contaminants in the environment, such as lead, cadmium chromium and arsenic. Mustard plants, sunflowers and switchgrass are all local examples.
Replace or reduce your lawn. Consider synthetic turf or alternative seed-blend lawns that require less water, fertilizer and overall upkeep. Front lawns especially are rarely used and are an excellent opportunity to experiment with different low-maintenance grasses.
Plant a vegetable garden. Transporting food has an adverse environmental impact. An extremely effective, and rewarding, way to reduce your carbon footprint is to grow many of your herbs and vegetables in your backyard. As an additional benefit, you control what chemicals come in contact with your crops.
Joseph Piscitelli is Design Director for Landscape Architecture at Harrison Design, a national architecture firm that specializes in high-end residential architecture, interior design, and landscape architecture, which has an office at 1047 Old Northern Blvd. in Roslyn. For more information, go to www.harrisondesign.com or call 516-626-2800.