submitted by Don Janssen, Extension Educator
Plants can be used to create "living walls".
Most residential landscapes include a combination of hardscapes (patios, decks, walkways, and driveways) and ornamental plants. As you think about the design, construction, and maintenance of your landscape, consider how sustainable each component is and how it could be modified to be more sustainable.
Hardscape materials vary in their effect on the environment. For example, pavement prevents water from soaking into the soil, thus increasing runoff, which can carry contaminants into streams. Porous materials, on the other hand, allow water to soak into the soil.
When considering hardscapes it is easier to evaluate the initial cost of construction materials than their long-term costs. However, the long-term maintenance costs of some building materials can be significant. Before choosing a product, research its initial and long-term costs as well as its recommended uses.
Porous paving material can be used for driveways, walks, or patios. It allows water to pass through to the soil, while providing a solid surface for human and vehicular traffic.
Bricks are durable, and almost 100 percent of fired brick is usable. Factory seconds and used brick can be crushed and recycled for mulch or for pathways. When bricks are laid on a sand base, rain and irrigation water can pass through the joints, preventing runoff.
Concrete pavers share many of the advantages of bricks. They are durable, easy to install, have minimal maintenance costs if installed properly, and allow water to pass through the joints if laid on a sand base.
The setup for pouring a concrete slab can be labor intensive, but concrete itself is relatively inexpensive. However, the slabs are susceptible to cracking and are expensive to repair.
"Plastic lumber" products have recently become available to homeowners, but have been commercially available for a long time. Their composition varies, depending on the manufacturer. In general, they all resist rot and insects and can substitute for preservative-treated wood. They generally are not engineered for structural purposes.
Plants can be used to create "living" fences and walls, which often are more attractive and sustainable than fences made from wood or metal. Plants should be chosen carefully to minimize the amount of fertilizer, pesticides, and water required to keep them healthy. Selecting plants that don't require extensive pruning to keep them in bounds can significantly reduce long-term maintenance costs.
Thoughtful consideration of hardscapes and plants can significantly increase the sustainability of a landscape. Remember that a landscape is a long-term investment. You must consider up-front and long-term costs when you design and construct your landscape.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office