As summer rapidly approaches and stay-at-home measures remain in effect, our backyards are more important than ever. They offer a respite, a dose of much-needed nature, and an ongoing project to occupy our time. But before we start dropping plants in the ground, we had to consider environmental impact.

As an extension of our “Beginner’s Guide to Landscaping”, head landscaper of Tilly Design, Blythe Yost, walks us through some sustainable approaches to building a backyard sanctuary.  From no-mow lawns, to native plant life and biodiversity, here’s how to keep the planet top of mind.  

Can you explain why native plants are a more sustainable route to landscaping?

As close as you can get to recreating the natural ecosystems in your area, the better! Of course, that’s not entirely practical for how we live our lives, so the design process will always have that tension built in.

Native plants are more likely to thrive in their natural environmental conditions, which means there is less need for excessive watering, herbicides, pesticides, and other unnatural treatments that can strain resources, pollute waterways, and cause harm to people, pets, and other critical species.  

What are some other ways to stay environmentally conscious while planning out a backyard?

Keep it local. Just like your food, there are so many reasons to use local materials — from your plant selection, to your compost (a nutrient-rich soil that helps plants grow) and mulch. Similar to favoring local, native plants, the same goes for compost. If you can create your own, that’s the best option!

From plant selection to soil, use local materials when creating your backyard

Otherwise, try not to go too far when sourcing compost. You might end up introducing foreign pests and diseases that could threaten the health of your plants. Another benefit of using local materials is the limited transport required, which reduces your yard’s carbon footprint.

Consider your environmental conditions. A lush green lawn may thrive in the Northeast with limited support, but requires significant water just to survive in western regions. For more arid, desert-like climates, consider investing in drought-resistant plants, like succulents, which require very little water and love heat and direct sunlight.

Limit chemical treatments. There are serious health considerations when it comes to chemical treatments for your yard. Do your research before buying your next herbicide, and if you use an outside company for landscape maintenance, ask which products they use before hiring them.

Support pollinators. Our bees and butterflies are in trouble! More than just a pretty element to have in your garden, they are critical to our food system and maintaining biodiversity. Find out which flowers they love in your area (like milkweed for butterflies or lavender for bees), and plant as many as you can.

Lavender is a natural pollinator

What are some no-mow solutions for lawns? Is this a more environmentally friendly approach?

Yes, no-mow solutions can be much better for the environment and also less maintenance for you, saving time and money. There are a lot of great alternatives these days to standard grass lawns, like ground covers such as white dwarf clover, creeping thyme, or creeping mazus.

No lawn here! Neighborhood Showroom in San Diego, CA

There are also some great turf options available as well as “No Mow” Fescues that require minimal maintenance. Sand or stone are also options and look particularly natural in the Southwest and West.

We hope you find inspiration in these tips, and of course, get to admire some of your hard work from the comfort of an Outer sofa. Show us how your garden grows by tagging us @liveouter on Instagram.

Check out this post on Tilly’s blog for more in-depth information and inspiration around no-mow lawns and eco-friendly landscaping practices.