We asked John Eskandari, a certified arborist who teaches in the School of Continuing Studies' landscape design and management program, and Jens Jensen, great-grandson of the famous landscape architect of the same name, for some ideas on how to make our lawns and gardens more sustainable. Here's what they had to offer.
• Catch the Rain — Invest in a rain barrel and save on the amount of potable water you use from the tap to irrigate your garden. Rainwater is not only free, it is slightly acidic, which is great for the majority of plants. The energy it takes to purify water for us to drink is staggering — and we use that same water to irrigate the lawn and garden! — J.E.
• Expand Your Garden — Diminish the size of your lawn to reduce water use and fertilizer overuse. Turf is a big feeder and drinker, but native shrubbery and hardy perennials survive spells of drought much better. Look for conifers (generally drought tolerant), grasses and decorative shrubs to add to the ever-growing garden space. — J.E.
• Compost — Composters come in all designs. You just need to find the style that suits you. The amount of leaf and garden refuse thrown in the trash is incredible. Compost is great for plants and acts as a great sponge for water absorption to prevent evaporation. — J.E.
• Go Native — Native landscaping — installing plants native to the region in which you live — in general is more sustainable and environmentally friendly and requires less maintenance, which means less burning of fossil fuels to power mowers, brush cutters, etc. Native plants typically don't require watering or fertilizer after the initial establishment period — usually about six weeks. They can handle the climate fluctuations particular to their area. Native landscaping also implies not planting invasives and removing them when they appear in your yard.
• Soak It Up — Rain gardens, which many times are incorporated into native landscaping, can capture a lot of runoff. This can help with erosion control, water quality and quantity and reduce some of the input to a municipal storm water system. — J.J.
• Porous Patio — Unlike traditional paving, porous paving lets rainwater and runoff percolate through to the soil. Porous paving is constructed of bricks, with small spaces at the corners for water to percolate, and underlain with large diameter gravel that allows for water retention and accounts for freezing expansion in the winter. Homeowners can install porous pavers in their driveways or patio areas. — J.J.
• One Yard at a Time — While many people may say that one yard doesn't make much of a difference, the cumulative impact of people implementing native landscaping can be significant. If a lot of people practice native and sustainable landscaping, there could be significant reductions in water usage and runoff, improvement in water quality and air quality and an increase in biodiversity. — J.J.
John Eskandari is tree and shrub buyer/manager at Chicago's Gethsemane Garden Center. Jens Jensen is an ecologist with Pizzo & Associates. Both attended the School of Continuing Studies' Green City Summer Institute in August.