If you’re like many homeowners, now is the time to start thinking about how you’ll spruce up the back yard. For many years, homeowners put off making big investments in landscaping. But now that the economy is ticked up and there’s more competition in the real estate market, people are once again starting to think about outdoor aesthetics and how this influences a property’s value.
What’s more, people are starting to think about landscaping as more than just curb appeal. There’s a growing trend to revamp backyards in a way that’s environmentally sustainable.
Here are some of the “green” landscaping trends taking root in Minnesota this season.
Minimizing Lawn Area
Minnesotans seem to take great pride in their meadow-like lawns. Perhaps it’s because they get such little time outside each year, or maybe it’s because Target Field has set the perfectly manicured lawn barrier so high. In any case, more people are starting to realize that the soil structure of Minnesota landscapes actually does not grow lawn seed well; it requires significant fertilizers and pesticides to keep that bright green color. Traditional lawns are also high maintenance, requiring significant time and money. Instead, there’s a growing trend toward using lawn alternatives, such as moss gardens or large planting beds with native trees and shrubs to minimize lawn space.
“For the past many years, homeowners have tended to center their landscapes around hardscapes rather than the plantings,” says Julie Messervy of Julie Moir Messervy Design Studio. “With so much interest in natives and edibles and with all the new varieties available in nurseries and home centers, plants are returning to their rightful importance in our backyards.”
The Xeriscape Movement
As people become more aware of the cost and water use that lawns require, we’re starting to see folks in Minnesota really embrace the xeriscape movement (often mistakenly referred to as “zero-scape”).
Defined as “quality landscaping that conserves water and protects the environment,” xeriscape involves the use of landscape of materials native to the region and climate, as well as utilizing adaptable plant, tree and turf species to reduce maintenance, fertilization, and irrigation demand and to increase sustainability. Xeriscaping proves to be highly cost-effective over the long-term because plants are more accustomed to the climate (requiring less water), and are typically resistant to local bugs and infestations.
An added benefit? Xeriscaping techniques are much more likely to result in the use of plants and trees that attract local birds, butterflies and other wildlife that are drawn to the native species.
Upgrading by Downgrading to Concrete
It’s becoming more common for homeowners in Minnesota to trade in the fieldstone and bluestone pavers of yesteryear and replace them with concrete flatwork. Cast-in-place concrete or decorative, inter-locking concrete pavers are a much more eco-friendly material for constructing sidewalks, driveways and backyard patios. Concrete is made locally and only in the quantities needed for each project, making it one of the most resource-efficient materials homeowners can use. The light color of concrete reflects light more easily than asphalt pavement, which helps to reduce the “heat island” effect that’s so prevalent in the Twin Cities’ dense, urban areas. Foregoing a wooden deck also saves trees and eliminates the need for regular maintenance with solvent-based wood stains and sealers.
The most environmentally conscious of all will strive to take things up one notch further by using an eco-friendly concrete mix that replaces a portion of the limestone material with fly ash, slag cement or silica fume, all by-products from power plants, steel mills and other manufacturing facilities that otherwise contribute to environmental contamination.
Blurring of Indoor / Outdoor Living Space
If you’ve heard how expensive real estate has gotten in Minnesota, this one comes as no surprise: perhaps the hottest trend in landscape design is crafting spaces that extend indoor living space into outdoor living quarters. Since people often can’t build out their interior space, the only way to add more living area is to go outside. Homeowners are using outdoor space more thoughtfully in the past.
But the large patios, outdoor kitchens and water elements aren’t the only things Minnesotans are clamoring for: they are also thinking sustainability. Outdoor living spaces are now being designed with permeable paving, fire pits, drip irrigation and LED lighting – features that all promote “green” living. Smart phone-controlled LED lighting is the latest trend: “Many homeowners are aware of the Dark Sky Initiative, and they want to limit nighttime outdoor light,” says Michael Coutu of the Sudbury Design Group.
It doesn’t have to cost a lot of make your outdoor area more environmentally friendly. If you’re thinking about sprucing up the outdoor area this spring, consider these latest trends. You’ll make Mother Nature happy – and residents, too.