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Sustainable Landscaping

Sustainable landscaping yields many benefits

There are many ways to make your landscape more sustainable, such as rain-barrels, planting in vertical layers, and mulching the soil. Sustainable landscaping can be beautiful, lower maintenance, and keep our waters healthier for people, fish, and other critters.

Pollution from common yard care products such as fertilizers and pesticides makes its way to our lakes, streams and other water ways.

Sustainable landscaping practices reduce common sources of pollution and restore soil health. Healthier soils not only help your landscape plants thrive, but they also help to keep our waters clean by absorbing and filtering rainwater. To learn more about why this matters, check out this short video:

Solving Stormwater by the Nature Conservancy and WSU


The Magic of Soil

With simple practices, you can build and protect healthy topsoil that supports healthy plants and helps keep waterways clean.

To learn more about the value of healthy soils read: Why Build Healthy Soil?

Or check out chapter 1 of WSU CAHNRS, Landscape Maintenance: Healthy Plants while Minimizing Pesticides. Video. “Chapter 1 Sustainable Soil Care Practices”

Woody mulch helps to build healthy soils, saves water, and also keeps weeds at bay. To learn more about the benefits of woody mulch read:

Chalker-Scott, L. (2015). Using Arborist Wood Chips as Landscape Mulch. Washington State University. Retrieved November 17, 2020, from


Lighten Your Lawn Load

A healthy, attractive lawn is possible without pesticides, wasting water or fertilizer run-off.

Check out WSU King County Extension’s lawn tip sheet:

If you’d like to shrink your or eliminate your lawn, check out:

How to get rid of your lawn. WSU Horticulturalist Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott on Garden Professors blog

To learn more about sustainable lawn care practices, see:

Lawn Care. Saving Water Partnership.


Reduce Runoff

Rain barrels and rain gardens can help keep polluting runoff from roofs & driveways out of our lakes and streams.

  • To learn more about Rain Barrels:

– Rain Barrel Setup: Skagit County: Washington State University. (n.d.). Retrieved November 17, 2020, from

– Construction Plans – Rain Barrel Setup: Skagit County: Washington State University.

  • To learn more about Rain Gardens check out the many excellent resources here:

– WSU Extension Rain Gardens

And if you are interested in an online raingarden training you can find one here:

– Online Rain Garden training course for Non-Professionals (Property Owners, LID Enthusiasts)


Vertical Layers

Vertical canopy layers such those created by trees and shrubs can be beautiful landscape features that also create great bird habitat.

National Audubon Society (2018, January 26). How to Make Your Yard Bird-Friendly. Retrieved November 17, 2020, from


Reduced Maintenance

Many sustainable landscaping practices can actually reduce your garden chores.

For example, you can nourish healthy soils by:

Leaving the leaves – decomposed leaf litter nourishes the soil,

Applying mulch – a 4” deep layer of woody mulch not only enhances soil health, it saves water and also suppresses weeds, and

Grass-cycling – instead of bagging and disposing of grass clippings, you can leave clippings on the lawn where they will supply some of your lawn’s nitrogen needs for free!

Note that if you live in the Lake Whatcom watershed, you’ll want to be extra careful to avoid adding nutrient pollution to the lake. For guidance on sustainable landscaping in the Lake Whatcom watershed and a great list of low-phosphorus mulch, compost, and soil products for your yard, look here:

And, with a little research, you can choose plants that are naturally pest resistant, plants that will thrive where you put them – in shade, or sun, or in lousy soils, drought-tolerant plants that will look good with less watering, plants that are the right size for your space and won’t need ongoing pruning work, and you can avoid noxious weeds and other invasive plants that might try to take over your garden.


Cheryl Lovato Niles
Water Resources Educator
(360) 778-5812

Learn more:

Hellebore Morocco Flower
Hellebore Morocco Mole CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Gardening Green Courses

WSU Whatcom County Extension is currently offering a self-directed online Gardening Green course to help you learn how to make your yard lower maintenance, healthier, and beautiful.



A fantastic overview of Sustainable Landscape Practices:

WSU CAHNRS, Landscape Maintenance: Healthy Plants while Minimizing Pesticides.

Chapter 1 title card of video

Chapter 1
Sustainable Soil Care Practices

Chapter 2 title card of video

Chapter 2
Choose the Right Plant for the Site and Purpose

Chapter 3 title card of video

Chapter 3
Proper Planting Techniques

Chapter 4 title card of video

Chapter 4
The Power of Wood Chip Mulch

Chapter 5 title card of video

Chapter 5
Mulch Around Trees in Turf

Chapter 6 title card of video

Chapter 6
Water Deeply and Efficiently for Drought-Resilient Landscapes