Gardeners are redefining beauty in the landscape by converting their traditional lawns and yards into natural spaces. In doing so, they are harmonizing with nature, so instead of running the lawnmower in the evening, they now listen to the sound of songbirds.

Natural landscapes include bee- and butterfly-friendly gardens, wildflower meadows, and woodland habitats that attract birds. Gardening with a natural landscape brings back an eco-friendly lifestyle, so you can safely share it with friends and family, as well as the birds, bees, and butterflies.

Are you wondering where to begin? The key is sustainability. When creating a natural landscape, it all starts with sustainable gardening practices.

Creating a sustainable landscape can mean many things, but I define it as creating a place where the landscape can care for itself in terms of food, water, and protection, which is no different from what you do to provide for your family. Simply put, sustainable gardening is the gardening practice of conserving an ecological balance by avoiding the depletion of natural resources.

Under the sustainability umbrella, here are five steps you can begin today:

1. Reduce or Eliminate Pesticide Use

Begin by asking yourself a few questions: “What if I stopped applying pesticides? Would it be the end of the world if I had a few chewed or spotty leaves? What if I stopped using pesticides and waited a year to see what harm came?” I think you’ll find that it’s all good. You can handpick pests as needed, or apply spot treatments using organic products that ward off a specific pest. It’s important to ensure that you’re not killing off the good with the bad. Within a year, your garden will be in balance with nature.

2. Water Wisely

Water Wisely
During the drought of 2007, I learned the true value of watering wisely. There’s a right way and a wrong way to water. The key is to select plants that don’t require supplemental watering, but if they do, then you should group the plants in zones with similar watering needs.

There are three gardening zones in a water-wise landscape design: oasis, transitional, and xeric.

The oasis zone is the area closest to a water source. This area is typically near the spigot or the end of the hose where you can plant thirstier vegetation.

The transitional zone is the area away from the house, about midway between the home and the end of the property. Plantings here should be sustainable, only requiring occasional, supplemental water. This area typically includes island beds, driveway beds, or raised beds.

The xeric zone is at the property’s perimeter. Plants here should be tough, dependable, and drought-resistant, requiring no supplemental water.

3. Properly Prepare and Maintain Your Flowerbed

Remember: It is far better to put a 50-cent plant in a $5 hole than a $5 plant in a 50-cent hole.

The soil throughout North Carolina can range from clay to sand. No matter the type of dirt, you can’t go wrong adding organic matter. Organic matter, such as compost, will break up clay to increase drainage and retain moisture in sandy soil.

Add mulch over existing beds to help hold in moisture, moderate soil temperature, and improve soil texture. Organic mulch will suppress weeds, making the garden tidier, and break down, adding nutrients to the soil.

4. Reduce Lawn Size

There are benefits to grass, such as oderating temperature, so in that regard, it’s better than concrete, but the lawn size doesn’t need to dominate the landscape.

Lawns are heavy feeders and drinkers, and they require chemical cocktails to be kept lush and weed-free. If you want a place to picnic with the kids or toss the baseball with your daughter, leave the grass you need, but then look at your yard with a natural eye. Ask yourself, “What if I plant a tree here or line the perimeter of the property with a native shrub? What if over there, I put in a butterfly garden, so the kids and grandkids can marvel at the joy it will bring?”

5. Diversify Your Plantings 

The more diverse your landscape, the more diverse your ecosystem. Add plants from the ground up to include groundcovers, annuals, perennials, vines, shrubs, and trees. In doing so, you’ll be providing food, habitats, and nesting materials for the birds and pollinators. Each type of bird, bee, and butterfly has different nesting needs, and each flower’s color and shape determines what pollinators will visit it. By providing a diverse planting landscape, you’ll also be supporting a complex wildlife population.

Creating a natural landscape will have you growing more than just grass. You’ll be contributing to an ecosystem that brings beauty and peace of mind.

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Yoest is an award-winning freelance writer and garden stylist. As a gardener, she's curious about plants, soil, design, and how others use these to create their gardens at home.