In the Eastern states, including Wisconsin, approximately 30% of household water usage goes to keeping lawns alive. Using water systems, or landscaping with plants that require less supplemental water, can greatly reduce the monthly utility bill.
In Western states, where up to 60% of household water usage is spent on lawns, water systems are often not legal. However, the desert states are home to a wonderful variety of drought-tolerant native plants. Landscaping with these species conserves water, reduces monthly expenses, and restores a unique sense of place.
Landscaping choices can affect heating and cooling bills too. A mature shade tree can significantly reduce summertime temperatures in a neighboring building, while letting sunshine in to warm the building in colder months. A row of trees or bushes can block winds that pull heat out of a home in winter.
In summer, even smaller plants that don’t provide shade can cool a home through their processes of exchanging water with the air. A yard full of healthy plants is like a green air conditioner!
Finally, a natural yard can often be cared for with minimal use of motorized equipment, which saves gas and electricity. Letting nature work for us can improve our comfort and quality of life, while keeping money in our pockets.
Today a young Red-shouldered Hawk passed through That Yard. It perched briefly in a nearby snag before moving on.
There were a number of small animals in the area at the time, but there was plenty of cover available, and they all successfully hid from the hawk. The bird of prey had to look elsewhere for its next meal.
A region’s climate is made up of its precipitation patterns, average temperatures, and number of sunny or cloudy days. A microclimate consists of similar components, but refers to a very small location.
A microclimate is similar to site conditions, but doesn’t include features of the soil. Instead, it includes factors such as shadiness and wind.
A small urban yard often includes many microclimates. The spot under the leaky gutter will get much more precipitation than the average for the region, while the strip under the eaves will be dry and shady all year round.
Just like with site conditions, matching plants to microclimates will help them thrive. Simple observation can reveal microclimates in a yard: observe which areas are dry or wet after a rain, or watch to see where snow melts first and where it lingers longest.
Plants respond to microclimates, but also help to create them. Adding or removing plants changes patterns of shade, wind movement, and water flow. Installing a plant that can tolerate a currently-existing microclimate can thus help create favorable conditions for adding a more sensitive plant later.
Microclimates can create other interesting opportunities as well. The warmest spot in your yard may be a suitable location for a plant that would not normally survive in your hardiness zone.
Water systems are methods for guiding the movement of water across a landscape.
In addition to soil type and pH, a spot’s site conditions are also described by how much water is present. The scale ranges from wet to dry, with moderate dampness often referred to as “mesic”.
Plants prefer different levels of moisture, and even a small yard can offer a variety of situations. Putting a plant in the right spot will help it to thrive without supplemental watering.
Changing the moisture conditions on a property can be as easy as moving a downspout. Pointing a downspout onto the driveway sends all the water collected from the roof out to the street, from where it goes directly to the lakes, along with any pollutants it picked up along the way. Aiming the downspout into a rain garden or other planting bed will keep plants happy, as well as safely filtering and storing pollutants.
A downspout can also be used to fill a rain barrel. A rain barrel is simply a container that stores water. The water can be used later to help plants through a dry spell. Along with being less expensive than municipal water, stored rain is also better for plants, which don’t like the chemicals commonly added to tap water.
A more advanced type of water system is a swale, a type of shallow channel that moves water across a landscape. This can be used to absorb water that flows down a hill, to spread out water that collects in a low spot, or to otherwise redistribute rain as it falls on a yard.
Water systems can add dynamic movement to a landscape, as well as allowing the property owner to maximize use of a valuable resource. As we will see in the next post, our yards can provide for us, rather than demanding constant expensive inputs. This is just one way in which natural yards bring wealth into our lives.