Sustainable Landscaping For Dummies®

Table of Contents


About This Book

Conventions Used in This Book

What You’re Not to Read

Foolish Assumptions

How This Book Is Organized

Part I: Sustainable Landscaping: The Basics

Part II: Good Design: The Key to Sustainable Landscaping

Part III: Water, Water, Everywhere: Water-Conserving Irrigation and Drainage

Part IV: Hardscaping Made Easy: Creating Awesome Features without Wrecking the Environment

Part V: Great Greenery for a Green Garden

Part VI: The Part of Tens

Icons Used in This Book

Where to Go from Here

Part I: Sustainable Landscaping: The Basics

Chapter 1: Landscaping the Sustainable Way

Getting Up to Speed on Sustainability

What the heck is sustainable landscaping, anyway?

Why sustainable landscaping matters to the environment

What’s in it for you

Doing Your Part: What It Takes to Make a Sustainable Landscape

Taking the time to do things right

Using your skills to lower your bills

Getting a grip on costs

Scheduling your project

Planning and Design: The Keys to a Sustainable Landscape

Getting to know the site — and your needs

Scoping out sustainable avenues of research

Developing a design

Putting Your Plan into Play

Gathering the tools and materials you need

Ensuring success along the way

Maintaining the Land Nature’s Way

Minimizing the effects of maintenance, on- and off-site

Cutting out the chemicals

Keeping costs down

Chapter 2: Making Good Decisions about What to Include in Your Landscape

Using Materials and Resources Wisely

Getting the Most Out of What You Put Into Your Landscape

Building materials: Turning one person’s trash into your landscaping treasure

Maintenance materials: Planning ahead to reduce upkeep later

Generating Few (or No) Outputs

Green waste

Polluted runoff

Air pollution

Noise pollution

Paying Attention to What’s in the Materials You Buy

Opting for Biological Solutions before Technical Ones

What Does It Do? Bringing Purpose to Each Element of the Garden

Chapter 3: Deciding Whether to Do It Yourself or Call in the Pros

Assessing Your Skill Set: Are You Ready for This?

What are your design skills?

What are your construction skills?

How hard can you work?

Determining the Time and Money You Can Devote to a Project

Considering the amount of time you have

Keeping cost in mind

Looking into Your Toolbox: Stuff You Need

Creating a plan with some design tools

To arms! Grading, earthmoving, and planting tools

Handling hardscape: Construction gear

Water workhorses: Getting the irrigation tools you need

Gathering tools for sustainable maintenance

Turning to Landscape Professionals

Identifying the players

Finding green professionals

Part II: Good Design: The Key to Sustainable Landscaping

Chapter 4: Getting Better Acquainted with Your Property

Meeting Your Yard: Site Analysis

Using a lawn chair, the world’s best design tool

Making a record of your impressions

Taking a Closer Look at Your Land

Don’t call it dirt: Soils and geological features

Over the river and through the woods: Terrain and landform

Considering the path of the sun

Assessing your water situation

Greenery and flowers: Examining existing plants

Room with a view: Making the most of your surroundings

Eyeing existing structures and development

Designing around nice and not-so-nice neighbors

Paying attention to privacy

How’s the weather? Closing in on climate

Deciding What You Want from Your Property

It’s all about you: Identifying your needs

Out of my way: Identifying and overcoming problems and limitations

Determining how much maintenance work to create with your design

Chapter 5: Brushing Up on Design Basics

Getting an Introduction to Design

Unity: All the pieces working together

Balance: Formal versus informal

Repetition: Following nature’s lead

Contrast and variety: The spice of life

Shape and form: One big happy family

Line of sight: Getting all your ducks in a row

Focal points and vantage points: Grabbing people’s attention

Texture: Feeling your way around

Color: Letting your landscape’s true colors shine through

Picking Up On the Design Secrets of the Pros

Controlling people’s feelings and behaviors with your design

Designing outside the box

Paying attention to the sequential experience of the landscape

Considering style

Sticking with your garden over time

Chapter 6: Plotting Your Sustainable Landscape

Deciding What Plans You Need

Making the Fundamental Decisions

Creating a bubble diagram

Laying it out on the ground: Field design

Taking Your Plan Drawing to the Next Level

Measuring your site the easy way

Using your measurements to create a base sheet

Creating a concept plan

Planning for Particular Needs

Grading and drainage plans

Planting plans

Irrigation plans

Getting Down to the Nitty-Gritty with Construction Details

Remaining within the Law: Considering Legal Issues

Part III: Water, Water, Everywhere: Water-Conserving Irrigation and Drainage

Chapter 7: Surveying Your Watering Options

Relying on Mother Nature: The Fully Adapted Landscape

Saving Your Own Rainwater: Harvested Water Systems

Nonstorage systems

Storage systems

Graywater systems

Considering Other Sustainable Ways to Water

Watering by hand

Using portable sprinklers

Deciding Whether to Use a Permanent Irrigation System

Considering the pros of irrigation systems

Weighing the cons of irrigation systems

Choosing a Permanent Irrigation System

Sprinkler systems: Spritzing water everywhere

Drip irrigation: A smarter way to water

Adding an automatic irrigation controller

Chapter 8: The Nuts and Bolts of Water Harvesting, Irrigation, and Drainage

Making Your Property a Home for Rainwater

Follow the water

Picture the possibilities

Think safety

Make a sketch and check it twice

Creating a Nonstorage Water-Harvesting System

Grading your property

Factoring in the right features

Planning your work

Working your plan

Storing Harvested Water

Assembling the components

Developing a cistern system

Recycling Water with a Graywater System

Choosing a graywater system

Building a graywater system

Getting a Bird’s-Eye View of a Permanent Irrigation System

Hooking up: Point of connection

Keeping it clean: Filtration

Delivering the goods: Pressure mains and hose bibbs

Keeping it safe: Backflow prevention devices

Reducing your pressure: Regulators

Gaining control: Zone valves

Sending water to the sprinklers: Lateral pipes

Applying the water: Sprinkler and drip systems

Timing it right: Irrigation controllers

Applying Sustainable Watering Concepts to Your Permanent Irrigation System

Sprinkler distribution uniformity

Drip on a grid versus drip at the plant

Including Sustainable Drainage Systems

Designing your drainage system

Installing and maintaining your drainage system

Chapter 9: Managing Water: The Other Half of the Irrigation Equation

Developing a Water-Wise Landscape

Picking climate-compatible plants

Thinking long and hard about plant placement

Considering turf and mulch

Creating a Watering Plan or Schedule

Discover the truth about roots

Figuring out how much water your landscape needs

Setting the watering schedule

Watering Wisely: Some General Tips

Chapter 10: Maintaining Water-Harvesting and Irrigation Systems

Keeping Your Water-Harvesting System in Shape

Taking care of nonstorage systems

Checking out storage systems

Monitoring graywater systems

Inspecting and Maintaining Your Permanent Irrigation System

Backflow prevention devices

Pressure regulators

Zone valves


Drip filters and regulators

Drip tubing and emitters

Sprinkler systems

Coping with Special Irrigation Situations

Caring for wells and treatment systems

Treating special water problems

Part IV: Hardscaping Made Easy: Creating Awesome Features without Wrecking the Environment

Chapter 11: Preparing Your Site

Safety First and Nobody Gets Hurt

Locating Utilities before You Dig

Calling your state’s locating service

Tracking down private utilities

Getting Down and Dirty with Demolition

Practicing sustainable disposal

Protecting existing land and vegetation

Making the Grade: Doing Your Earthwork

Grading the ground sustainably

Importing and exporting soil

Outsmarting the Weeds on Your Site the Organic Way

Understanding why you should avoid herbicides

Practicing sustainable weed control

Chapter 12: Exploring Basic Hardscape Elements and Outdoor Rooms

Getting Floored: Surveying the Many Flooring Options

Floors 101: The basics

Using safe, sustainable materials

Considering maintenance

Choosing between a patio and a deck

Dividing Space Using Walls, Fences, and Other Barriers

Free-standing walls

Retaining walls

Fences and other barriers

Topping Off Your Hardscape with a Ceiling

Constructed ceilings

Living ceilings: Trees

The living ecoroof

Moving Around Your Landscape with Paths and Steps

Striding along sustainable paths

Level changes: Sustainable steps and ramps

Using Sustainable Hardscape Features to Build an Outdoor Room

Living and entertaining space

The outdoor kitchen

Recreation and sports

Personal spaces

Chapter 13: Spicing Up Your Hardscape with Other Fun and Functional Elements

Including Fine Furniture Without Felling Forests

Keeping Lighting Environmentally Friendly

Water Features: Ponds, Streambeds, Waterfalls

Elements of sustainable water features

Passive versus active water features

Caring for your water feature

Discouraging critters from checking out your water features

Working with and around natural water features

Incorporating Storage Spaces and Work Places

Animal Plan-It: Chicken Coops, Rabbit Hutches, and the Like

Poultry in motion: The chicken tractor

Doin’ the bunny hop

Other oddball animal habitats

Chapter 14: Sustainable Hardscape Construction

Fossil-Free Construction: Forgoing the Heavy Equipment

Managing Your Site

Storing materials and equipment safely

Noise and dust control

Erosion Protection during Construction and Beyond

Controlling surface erosion

Preventing landslides

Creating Paved Surfaces for Patios, Paths, and More

Making a concrete patio

Placing unit pavers on a subslab

Positioning unit pavers on sand

Installing vegetated paving systems

Spreading loose paving materials

Opting for mulch

Tips for Constructing Steps Sustainably

Raising Earthen Garden Walls

Getting the soil right

Building a solid foundation

Plastering your wall

Putting your wall together

Holding Back: Retaining Structures

Living solutions to retaining challenges

Piling up stone retaining walls

Assembling block retaining walls

Building earthen retaining walls

Erecting wood and timber retaining walls

Chapter 15: Hardscape Maintenance

Sustainable Surface Care: One Big Secret

Hosing, Blowing, and Sweeping: Keeping Things Clean

What’s Noshing on My Deck?


Dry rot

Other deck-care issues

Caring For Other Hardscape Elements

Weeding pavers

Sweeping and recompacting decomposed granite

Testing lighting systems

Cleaning and maintaining drainage and erosion control features

Staying Safe: The Site Inspection

Part V: Great Greenery for a Green Garden

Chapter 16: Planting the Seed: Sustainable Plant Basics

Making Sustainable Plant Choices

Discovering which plants are sustainable and why

Loading up on plant information

Size does matter: Giving plants room to grow

Starting off on the right root: Choosing healthy plants

Selecting plants that naturally thrive in your area

Avoiding invasive plants

Developing a plant palette

The Secret’s in the Soil

Soil management myths and misunderstandings

The soil food web: Bringing life to your soil

Soil testing: Chemistry versus biology

Diagnosing internal soil drainage

Fertilizers 101: Opting for organic

Break It Down: Composting Plant Tissue

Reasons to compost (and reasons not to)

Fancy-pants composting technology and the supplies you really need

Composting step by step

Solving compost nuisances and problems

Giving a New Plant a Good Home: Planting Basics

Mulching: The Sustainable Garden Miracle

Mulch ado about mulch: Benefits of mulching

Surveying the types of mulch

A lesson in mulching

Dealing with mulch problems

Chapter 17: Introducing Beneficial Trees and Shrubs to Your Landscape

Appreciating the Many Benefits of Trees

Determining Which Trees Meet Your Needs

Giving New Trees a Solid Start

Selecting the right-size tree

Finding a healthy specimen

Planting a tree properly

Tree care during the early years

Shrubs in the Sustainable Landscape

Considering types of shrubs

Knowing what shrubs can do for you

Buying quality shrubs

Working with shrubs

Chapter 18: Enhancing Your Landscape’s Sustainability with Smaller Plants

Planting Perennials for Beauty and Habitat

Making pals with perennials

Choosing and using perennials

Adding Annuals and Biennials for Color and Wildlife

Considering the sustainability of annuals and biennials

Selecting and using appropriate annuals and biennials

Brushing Up on Bulbs and Bulblike Plants

Walking on Living Carpet: Perennial Ground Covers

Getting Ornamental with Grasses

Understanding ornamental grass basics

Integrating grasses sustainably into the landscape

Keeping your garden from becoming a pain in the grass

Walking a Vine Line

Understanding nature’s di-vine strategy

Letting vines feed you, too

Seeking the Super-Sustainable Succulents and Cacti

Getting the scoop on succulents and cacti

Knowing what to consider for the succulent garden

The Best Use of Land: Growing Food

Picking through food-plant principles

Bringing in perennial food plants

Discovering the secrets of savvy farmers

Growing Specialty Plants for Sustainable Uses

Making Use of Potted Plants

Knowing when to pot and when to not

Determining the best plants for pots

Caring for potted plants

Chapter 19: Exploring Lower Impact Lawns and Sustainable Lawn Alternatives

Getting the Dirt on Lawns

Minimizing the Impact of the Lawn

Reducing its size

Changing to low-maintenance grasses

Improving water management

Exploring Lawn Alternatives

Playing with the meadow idea

Choosing walk-on ground covers

Covering an area with mulch

Thumbs down: Avoiding phony grass

Chapter 20: Examining the Essentials of Sustainable Garden Care

Understanding the Importance of Sustainable Maintenance

Minimizing Maintenance with Sustainable Design

Purging Your Power Equipment to Please the Planet

Understanding the effects of power tools

Adjusting to alternatives for power garden equipment

Going with green cleanup gear

Pruning Established Plants

Examine the subject

Do the big stuff first

Pay attention to details

Prune to increase density

Treat fruit trees differently

Shear your hedge with the proper tools

When it’s grown: Involving an arborist

Forgoing Fertilizer: The Fine Art of Chop and Drop

Weeds Be Gone: Managing Weeds without Hurting the Environment

Getting to know weeds

Creating an unfriendly environment for weeds

Trying out types of weed controls

Bundle Up: Winterizing Your Plants

Chapter 21: Pest and Disease Control the Sustainable Way

Integrated Pest Management: The Smart Way to Deal with Problems

Controlling Creepy-Crawlies

Understanding problems with conventional pest control

Beneficials are your buddies: Getting to know the good insects

Making use of microbial controls

Using least-toxic pesticides carefully

Dealing with common pests: An insect-by-insect guide

Critters! Sensible Vertebrate Control

Gophers, moles, and voles

Rats! (and mice)

Raccoons and other medium-size critters

Deer and other macrovertebrates

Putting Yourself on Disease Control

Fungi good and bad


Chapter 22: Opting for Organic Lawn Care

Putting Healthy Conditions First

Fertilizing the Sustainable Way

Aerating and Renovating Your Lawn

Giving Your Lawn Just Enough Water

Smart Mowing Means Good Growing

Mowtown: Alternatives to fossil-powered mowing


Fighting Lawn Pests and Diseases without Chemicals

Controlling lawn pests: Grubs, bugs, and other subsurface lurkers

Treating lawn diseases

Whacking Weeds the Natural Way

Replacing an Old Lawn

Part VI: The Part of Tens

Chapter 23: Ten Projects That Pay You and the Environment Back Big Time

Make Your Lawn Smaller

Tune Up Your Sprinkler System

Reprogram Your Irrigation Controller

Install a Smart Irrigation Controller

Axe Your Overgrown Plants

Pull Up Sissy Plants

Dump Your Chemical Arsenal

Trade Your Power Tools for Hand Tools

Mulch Your Beds

Grow Food

Chapter 24: Ten Totally Nonsustainable Landscaping Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Making Hasty Decisions

Not Giving Plants Room to Grow

Ignoring Growing Conditions When Planting


Using Chemical Fertilizers

Being Hooked On Pesticides

Applying Harsh Chemical Herbicides

Choosing Power Tools When Hand Tools Would Do

Tilling the Soil

Unimproving the Soil

Appendix: Planning for Special Situations

Sustainable Landscaping For Dummies®

by Owen E. Dell


About the Author

Owen E. Dell

Owen Dell got his first serious exposure to landscaping in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, where he spent his childhood afternoons gamboling about instead of doing his homework. After a brief career in electronics, which taught him where his affections really lay, he turned to horticulture. Two charismatic college botany professors opened his eyes to the wonders of nature. Class field trips made it clear that the gap between the way nature handled landscaping and the way people did was huge — and that it was the people who needed help.

In 1971, Owen went on to start his own landscaping business, which was devoted to developing native-plant gardens for California homeowners. After a brief period of hauling rubbish and landscaping mobile homes, he found a niche for himself. As his career developed, his vision expanded, aided by a series of natural disasters that illuminated the need to make landscaping smarter, safer, and more environmentally friendly. Wildfires led Owen to become an expert in firescaping (a term he coined). Droughts taught him the value of water conservation. The impacts of fossil-fuel use led him to found the Fossil-Free Landscaping Group. Each catastrophe led to a wider vision of what landscaping could and should be.

Today, Owen is an internationally recognized and widely admired expert in sustainable landscaping. He has written numerous articles for Sunset Magazine, National Gardening Magazine, Southern California Gardener, Pacific Horticulture, and many others. He’s an international speaker who has presented hundreds of truly rousing lectures, classes, and workshops to homeowners and professionals. Owen is also the co-writer and co-host of the popular Santa Barbara, California, television series Garden Wise Guys (, a sustainable-landscaping sitcom. His other book, How to Start a Home-Based Landscaping Business (Globe Pequot), has helped thousands of budding professionals get a healthy start on their careers.

Owen’s work has been featured on HGTV, Peak Moment Television, and NBC and in The Wall Street Journal, Fortune magazine, Landscape Architecture Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and many other publications. He has won numerous awards for his work.

In his spare time, Owen putters in his own garden, hangs out with his cats, spends quality time in wild places, cooks a mean meal from homegrown produce, and dabbles in political and social activism.

Visit Owen’s Web site at


I dedicate this book to those who strive to make the world a better place by starting in their own backyards. What you do matters very much.

Author’s Acknowledgments

Let me tell you about my neighbor. I don’t want to assume he’s eager to see his name in a book, so I’ll call him Jack. He’s lived in his house for nearly 40 years. He has the same furniture as when he moved in. The same Harvest Gold appliances. The same dial phone. The same 1967 car. And yes, the same landscaping. Far as I can tell, Jack buys food and occasionally some clothing. He’s not poor; he just likes to live simply. When I think about how much stuff I’ve gone through in that time, I’m truly humbled. True, his stuff is not environmentally cool. His car pollutes more than my Prius, and his appliances don’t have Energy Star labels. But when you look at the overall impact of our lives, I bet his footprint is way smaller than mine. Jack is the most sustainable person I know, but he doesn’t see himself that way. He’s my hero, but he doesn’t know it. He’s just a guy living his life, but he has inspired me to do better, and that inspiration led, in part, to this book. Thanks, Jack, for keeping me honest. You’re the best neighbor a person could have.

Many people have helped me become (I hope) worthy of the task of spreading the word about sustainable landscaping. Lacking the space to name them all, I tip my hat to those who have devoted their careers to this worthy work and who have inspired me and taught me so much. My esteemed colleagues — Ken Foster, Misty Gonzales, Billy Goodnick, Alison Jordan, Mark Wisniewski, and many others — provided feedback, information, resources, and encouragement while this book came into being. My staff was consistently supportive as I neglected them to find time to write. Kudos to Bonnie Barabas for keeping the office in one piece and to Octavio Toscano for keeping things together out in the field. Your good work ensured that I have a business to go back to now that the writing is done.

Thanks to my friends for tolerating my reclusive behavior. Special thanks to my sweetie, Jan, for her encouragement, patience, and loving kindness as I subjected her to regular episodes of distraction, inattention, and anxiety.

The staff of the For Dummies series was a delight to work with. More than that, they consistently encouraged me not to hold anything back, to create a first-class book filled with substance and solid information. Thanks, Alissa Schwipps and Mike Baker of Wiley. You guys ain’t half bad. And I’m grateful to the illustrators, Kathryn Born and Stacey Isaac, for their lovely contributions to the book. What a team!

Publisher’s Acknowledgments

We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments through our online registration form located at For other comments, please contact our Customer Care Department within the U.S. at 877-762-2974, outside the U.S. at 317-572-3993, or fax 317-572-4002.

Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:

Acquisitions, Editorial, and Media Development

Senior Project Editor: Alissa Schwipps

Acquisitions Editor: Mike Baker

Copy Editors: Jessica Smith, Kathy Simpson

Assistant Editor: Erin Calligan Mooney

Editorial Program Coordinator: Joe Niesen

Technical Editor: Ben Falk

Senior Editorial Manager: Jennifer Ehrlich

Editorial Assistants: David Lutton, Jennette ElNaggar

Art Coordinator: Alicia B. South

Cover Photos: © Owen E. Dell

Cartoons: Rich Tennant (

Composition Services

Senior Project Coordinator: Kristie Rees

Layout and Graphics: Reuben W. Davis, Melissa K. Jester, Christine Williams

Special Art: Kathryn Born, Stacey Isaac

Proofreader: Broccoli Information Management

Indexer: Sherry Massey

Special Help: Elizabeth Rea, Danielle Voirol

Publishing and Editorial for Consumer Dummies

Diane Graves Steele, Vice President and Publisher, Consumer Dummies

Kristin Ferguson-Wagstaffe, Product Development Director, Consumer Dummies

Ensley Eikenburg, Associate Publisher, Travel

Kelly Regan, Editorial Director, Travel

Publishing for Technology Dummies

Andy Cummings, Vice President and Publisher, Dummies Technology/General User

Composition Services

Gerry Fahey, Vice President of Production Services

Debbie Stailey, Director of Composition Services


It’s a lovely fall day. I’m looking out the French doors that separate my office from the food forest outside. I see lemons, oranges, and tangerines ripening on (what an amazing coincidence!) my lemon, orange, and tangerine trees. A tall stalk of amaranth, a welcome volunteer, is topped by an outrageous pompom of red flowers swaying in the gentle afternoon breeze. Leeks, onions, fava beans, several kinds of basil, sage, bell peppers, hot chilies, blueberries, and a couple dozen other edibles are within my view. There’s even a water chestnut plant growing happily in a tiny water garden.

All in all I have more than 130 kinds of edible plants in my very compact yard, along with four water features; what must be hundreds of kinds of ornamental plants; lots of beneficial insects, butterflies, and hummingbirds; and a couple of cats snoozing in the shade on my little meadow of native sedges. I have half a dozen inviting outdoor rooms for entertaining and quiet contemplation, plus a welcoming entry area, a street-side native garden, and plenty of intimate views and surprises. I feel so fortunate to be able to enjoy this place every day.

I guess you could say I’m in love with my garden. I’d do just about anything for it, but the truth is that I hardly work on it at all. A couple of hours of work a week is sufficient to keep it in beautiful condition. It requires very little water, almost no fertilizer, and never, ever any pesticides. It generates almost no waste or bad karma. It feeds me, shelters me, entertains me and the others who experience it, delights all my senses, and provides habitat for many wild things — and it does all this with very little negative impact on the environment. It’s an efficient living system that really works.

This amazing spot didn’t happen by chance, of course. I spent 28 years creating a sustainable, beautiful garden. And landscaping is my profession, so I do have a leg up on the ordinary Joe. But having spent my adult life creating similar gardens for thousands of clients, I know such a place is within your reach — and you don’t have to wait a quarter century to have it.

This book shows you how to develop your property for maximum enjoyment, at minimal cost, and with a net positive impact on your surroundings. That outcome may sound like magic, but then, gardens are full of magic. You just have to know the tricks of the trade, and that’s what Sustainable Landscaping For Dummies is all about.

About This Book

You may have already struggled and felt overwhelmed with the complexities of creating a landscape, especially if you yearn for something that’s good for the environment as well as for you. Admittedly, landscaping is complex — a lot more complex than most people realize. Yet when taken step by step, creating a sustainable landscape isn’t difficult. This book does a thorough job of filling you in on the principles of sustainable landscaping and on the all-important details that make the difference between a garden that’s just okay and one that will blow everybody away with its beauty and usefulness.

Now, I happen to believe that anything worth doing is worth having fun with. Gardens should be fun, and so should reading about them. You can expect to find some silliness here, the occasional bad pun, and a light touch. But the fun doesn’t come at the expense of substance. You’ll find all you need to know here — perhaps more than has ever been compiled in one place on this subject. This book isn’t fluffy. But I like to believe it isn’t tedious, either.

Like all For Dummies books, you can dip into the book anywhere to get what you need. You don’t need to start at the beginning unless you want to. Go for what attracts you, and move around as you want. You’ll always get what you need, quickly and easily (the table of contents and index can help). When I just don’t have the space to cover everything, I refer you to handy Web sites or to some of the other gardening and landscaping books in the For Dummies series. I don’t want to leave you hanging.

Conventions Used in This Book

The following conventions are used throughout the text to make things consistent and easy to understand:

New terms appear in italics and are closely followed by an easy-to-understand definition.

Bold highlights the key words in bullet1ed lists and the action parts of numbered steps.

All Web addresses appear in monofont.

One thing you should know is that I use the terms landscape and garden interchangeably. It’s easy to argue about semantics, but for most people, the space around their home is their garden or their landscaping. To some degree, the term you prefer to use depends on how you manage things, with garden having a more active flavor than landscape. But hey, there’s really little or no difference, and frankly, I figure that reading the words landscape and landscaping over and over would be a little irritating after a while.

What You’re Not to Read

Every now and then, a special situation comes up in this book: I tell you something that’s interesting but not necessarily important to everyone. For instance, the fine details of how to make a handsome retaining wall out of chewed-up dog toys are quite fascinating. But surprisingly, most people probably don’t care much about this matter, despite the fact that our very way of life is dependent on it. Unfortunately, I think the dog-toy info ended up on the cutting room floor. But those are the type of fun but unnecessary facts that are placed in sidebars, which are boxes with gray backgrounds to separate them from the regular text. I don’t take points off for skipping these, and hey, don’t mind my feelings. I’ll be okay. Really.

Foolish Assumptions

I’ve been thinking about you. I think I may have your number when it comes to your gardening interests. See whether I’m right:

You own a single-family home or hope to. It has some land around it, a little or a lot, and you’re wondering what the heck to do with it. You’re intrigued by the idea of messing around with land but don’t have a lot of background in gardening or landscaping.

You care a lot about the environment, and you realize that this is your chance to do something really good — or to really mess things up. You realize that your yard is part of the real world and that what you do there isn’t just about your needs and your family’s needs. You take your responsibilities seriously.

You like tackling do-it-yourself projects, not just to save money but because they’re fun. You’re no all-star landscaper, but you can dig a hole without ending up in traction, and you like physical work.

You may have some gardening experience, but you’re facing a project that’s bigger than anything you’ve tackled before. You’re maybe just a teeny bit intimidated. You need a friend in the business.

Then again, you may be a pro — a landscape contractor, gardener, or builder who’s looking for cutting-edge information on sustainable landscaping. You’ve come to the right place! Pull up a wheelbarrow and have a seat.

How This Book Is Organized

Each part of this book covers a particular major chunk of information. Take a minute to look them over before you dive into the wonderful world of sustainable landscaping.

Part I: Sustainable Landscaping: The Basics

That word sustainable is everywhere these days. It has a warm-’n’-fuzzy feeling, but you may not really understand what it means when applied to landscaping. Part I is the place to find out. It helps you understand what makes a landscape sustainable, what a sustainable landscape looks like, why it matters, and what it’s going to cost you. It also introduces you to the sustainable materials, practices, and principles that go into a landscape system. Finally, Part I helps you decide what you can do yourself and when to call a pro.

Part II: Good Design: The Key to Sustainable Landscaping

Part II gives you in-depth details on designing a landscape. You discover site analysis (a fancy term for looking at stuff with your brain in gear); screening for sustainable features; and basic principles of landscape design, including some of the tricks the pros use to create those killer gardens in the fancy magazines. This part provides information on how to handle special situations and how to stay safe and out of trouble. It also provides you with plenty of information on creating a great landscape plan.

Part III: Water, Water, Everywhere: Water-Conserving Irrigation and Drainage

Most landscapes require some kind of watering system, if only to get new plantings established. Even native plantings need a little water at times. A watering system can be as simple as a hose or as complex as a fully automated irrigation system with a smart controller that gets its programming from outer space (no kidding). Here’s where you find out how it all works. In Part III, you see how to manage watering for maximum conservation and how to maintain your irrigation system. You also get up to speed on the all-important, ultra-sustainable topic of water harvesting. Finally, I provide a bit of info about drainage systems. Wear your swim fins while reading this part.

Part IV: Hardscaping Made Easy: Creating Awesome Features without Wrecking the Environment

Even though sustainable landscapes rely primarily on plants and other elements of the biological world, you inevitably need some of the hard stuff: concrete patios, stone retaining walls, fences, arbors, steps, and lighting systems. Here, you find out how to assemble sustainable hardscape elements into outdoor rooms to serve your family’s needs as well as how to construct and maintain them. Just to show you that I’m not all business, this part also addresses fun stuff, such as art, water features, outdoor kitchens, and facilities for animals — all done with minimal nasty impacts.

Part V: Great Greenery for a Green Garden

When most people hear the word landscaping or garden, they think of plants. Plants are the heart of the garden, and with the underpinnings out of the way, the fun of populating your property with trees, shrubs, perennials, and other plants begins in this part. Here you see how to design gorgeous plantings that also really work, demanding little care and few resources. You get the dirt on soil, composting, and mulching. You find out how to buy, install, and care for plants. And of course, you read all about lawns — but not just any old lawns; you find out about alternatives to conventional lawns and lawn care.

Part VI: The Part of Tens

Mere mortals with nongreen thumbs will love the list of ten easy, quick, and inexpensive (or free) projects that can almost instantly hurtle your existing landscaping into the world of sustainability. And everyone should have a look at the ten big mistakes to avoid.

Don’t stop there! If you have special interests or needs — such as making your home safer in a wildfire, developing an edible landscape, or making the most of rainfall — check out the appendix, which includes detailed drawings of realistic projects you can create. You also find sections on attracting wildlife to your property, developing a drought-tolerant landscape, and creating a landscape that saves energy by keeping your house cooler in summer and warmer in winter.

Icons Used in This Book

To make this book easier to read and simpler to use, I include some icons that can help you find and fathom key ideas and information.

Tip.eps I know a few landscaping pointers, and I’m not holding any of them back. Paragraphs with this icon next to them are places to get the inside scoop on doing things right.

Remember.eps Some stuff is more important than other stuff. This icon signals you to listen up, because if you blow this topic, you’ll regret it. So don’t skip any paragraphs marked with this icon.

Warning(bomb).eps Sustainable landscaping isn’t for sissies. You can get smacked down in lots of ways. Heed the warnings, and nobody gets hurt.

Where to Go from Here

Many sustainable processes don’t just make things less bad; they make them a lot better than how they started out. If you really take this advice far enough, your landscaping will go beyond sustainability to become a net producer of great stuff — food, fresh air, cooler homes, more wildlife, happier people, and more.

And now you’re on your way. Maybe you feel like you’re stepping off the plane in an exotic foreign land: a bit excited and a bit disoriented. If you’re the linear type, like me, just keep reading. I think it’s important to at least absorb the basic principles in Chapters 1 and 2. But you may have a particularly urgent need, such as getting an existing irrigation system back on its feet (Chapter 10), building a sustainable water feature (Chapter 13), or growing more food on your land (Chapter 18 and the appendix). Go for it.

To make navigation as easy as possible, the table of contents comes in two flavors: Contents at a Glance, which covers the major headings, and a full Table of Contents that spreads everything out. Don’t forget the yellow Cheat Sheet in the front of the book and the appendix in the back, which provide some neat special projects. Something for everybody — that’s my philosophy.

All kidding aside, I consider it an honor to share my lifetime of experience in — and passion for — sustainable landscaping with you. I wish you the most fun ever in making your dreams come true. Best of luck!

Part I

Sustainable Landscaping: The Basics


In this part . . .

What the heck is a sustainable landscape, anyway? What does it look like, and what makes it tick? You may wonder how to get one (and how much it will cost). If you’re unfamiliar with this kind of landscape, you may also wonder whether it really makes any difference to the environment or to you. Finally, you may not know whether you can create a sustainable landscape yourself or have to hire a professional.

Start with this part to make sense of all these concerns and more. It’s a great jumping-off point for the rest of the book, because it gives you the core ideas behind sustainable landscaping. It’s kind of like a road map for what’s to come. You’ll feel a lot better after you read these chapters.