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Bay-friendly gardens: Little maintenance, lots of fun

Photo Courtesy Of Astrid GaiserBay-friendly gardens preserve the environment, require little maintenance and provide enjoyment.


Bay-friendly landscaping, an initiative of the Alameda County Waste Management Authority and Alameda County Source Reduction and Recycling Board, is becoming a brand name around the Bay Area. Some municipalities include Bay-friendly guidelines in their green building programs.

Bay-friendly gardens are good for the environment, and good for you. They are so well adapted to the environment that they require little maintenance compared with the enjoyment they offer. Who wouldn’t prefer to sit in the shade and relax or play with the children instead of mowing the lawn or clipping a hedge?

Following are the principles on which the program is built.

Landscape locally

Garden where you are located. Don’t try to force nature.

Why plant a water-needy shrub from a different climate zone if you can have the same result with a plant adapted to the local environment? Select a California native or Mediterranean plant and you will enjoy water savings, lower maintenance, better plant health and the beauty these plants add to your garden.


Landscape for less to the landfill

Reducing waste starts with not generating it. Take the hedge – would you prefer a hedge that needs clipping every month (producing extensive debris) or one that grows to the size needed and stays there with only minimal pruning? Sensible watering and fertilizing keeps the plant from growing too rapidly and saves green waste.

Reuse plant trimmings as mulch, leave grass clippings on the lawn after mowing (grass-cycling) and use your own compost to improve soils, create healthier landscapes and keep materials out of landfills. I think you can already see the common denominator: Less work and expenses for you, better for the environment.

An important factor in landscaping is the prudent use of materials. Using recycled content, salvaged, durable or local materials conserves resources and reduces the amount of energy used.

Reuse what you already have. A new layout with existing materials may yield results that can look like a new landscape.


Nurture the soil

If you take care of your soil, it will take care of your plants. Regular application of organic matter (like compost) will feed the soil naturally, keeping your plants healthy and eliminating the need for extensive fertilizing.


Conserve water

It’s important to save water, and it’s doable.

• Install and maintain high-efficiency watering systems and make every drop of irrigation water count – if you water your sidewalk, request an irrigation audit.

• Create drought-resistant soils by adding compost and mulch.

• Grow plants adapted to the local climate: California natives or Mediterranean plants. Group them by watering needs so that you can irrigate them more efficiently.

• Your lawn is beautiful and you love it, but could it be smaller and have a more pleasing shape at the same time?


Conserve energy

There are two major ways to conserve energy. Primarily use materials harvested locally. If you must have imported stone, use it as an accent. Make use of natural shade. Plant deciduous trees on the south and west sides of your house that act as natural air conditioners in summer and let in the sun in winter. Keep paved areas shaded to reduce the “heat island” effect and make your patio more comfortable – which in turn saves on air-conditioning costs.


Protect water and air quality

Minimize the amount of contaminants washed into the Bay by increasing onsite infiltration of rainwater to reduce runoff. When water moves into the soil, biologically diverse organisms break down pollutants and naturally filter them out before the water reaches groundwater or waterways.

Air pollution from power equipment used in conventional landscaping with lots of lawn to mow and hedges to clip takes an enormous toll on the environment. Gas-powered garden tools emit 5 percent of the nation’s air pollution. Plant debris is hauled to the landfill in vehicles that pollute the air, and, once there, the materials decompose without oxygen, emitting greenhouse gases in the process.


Create wildlife habitat

Garden responsibly. To attract native pollinators, beneficial insects and other organisms that reduce the need for pesticides:

• Diversify your plants and choose native plants first.

• Provide water and shelter and avoid pesticides and herbicides.

• Conserve or restore natural areas on the outskirts.

Birds and butterflies will flock to a healthy garden.

For more information, visit www.stopwaste.org.

Astrid Gaiser is a landscape designer, horticulturist and Certified Green Building Professional. For more information, call 224-2895, e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. or visit www.astridgaiser.com.

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