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9 Ways to Rethink Your Landscaping for Severe Weather

Maintaining a yard isn’t for the faint of heart anymore. Severe weather means rains are heavier and more intense. Droughts last a long time and can be dangerous. Then there’s the trickle-down effect. Rising temps are causing more aggressive weeds, and longer frost seasons are giving insect pests more time to reproduce (shudder). But some homeowners have figured out how to change their landscaping to sync with area weather patterns and their desire to do other things than manage their yard and lawn. Here are nine tips from varied sources to help you win over weather – and go low maintenance at the same time. 

#1 Pick Several Species of Plants.

Gardens and landscapes with several different species of plants can better resist pests, diseases, and just plain prolonged bad weather. Native plants are an excellent choice because they’re hardy and can support native wildlife. – Environmental horticulturist Kim Eierman, founder of EcoBeneficial!, from HGTV’s “Climate Change in Your Own Backyard” 

#2 Replace or Reduce Your Lawn.

Some pros call exotic turf grasses “green deserts,” because the grasses have shallow roots and require a lot of work. Consider replacing them with native grasses that have deep roots. Little bluestem holds a lot of moisture but also tolerates periods of drought. – Kim Eierman

#3 Nix the Lawn, Opt for Ground Cover.

Step away from that lawnmower. Use ground cover instead of lawn and say goodbye to mowing. Ground cover retains carbon in the soil, tolerates drought, and prevents both erosion and invasives. More important, it renourishes the soil so you don’t have to continually fertilize it. – Susan Nugent, climate reality project leader, from “South Florida Sun-Sentinel”

#4 Create Rain Gardens.

Plants that need more water can be used in a rain garden, a wet area in your landscaping. Water-loving plants can bloom near a downspout with a rain barrel attached. During droughts, you can add stored water. – Susan Nugent

#5 Plant Pollinators.

They support about 35% of our food supply. When selecting plantings, use biodiversity – differing types of plants to benefit birds, butterflies, and bees. – Susan Nugent

#6 Choose Natural Mulch.

Like cedar, natural mulch keeps insects away. Pine bark mulch is often sold as nuggets, but the shredded form covers better and looks great throughout the season. It decays fairly quickly, enriching soil over time. – Tata & Howard, specialized water, wastewater, and storm water consulting engineering firm

#7 See the Pluses of (Some) Weeds.

Creeping Charlie is one weed hated by lawn-lovers because it can “spoil” a nice lawn and spread like crazy in part shade. But it’s a native plant with attractive flowers, and bees love it. – Henry Homeyer, blogger at gardening-guy.com, “Gardening: Give ‘Rewilding’ Your Lawn a Try,” from “Providence Journal”

#8 Add Stone or Gravel Pathways.

They work as firebreaks and reduce rain runoff. – Bob Vila, from “The 12 Biggest Landscaping Trends for 2022”

#9 Use Boulders and Large Stones.

It doesn’t get much lower maintenance than boulders and large stones. Plus, they conserve water. And they’re versatile and can be arranged in clusters, stacked as a retaining wall, or used to accent changes in elevation. – Ryan Plank, “How to Landscape with Boulders,” from “Lawn Starter”

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5 Ways to Keep Severe Weather from Doing a Number on Your Yard

Contrary to what many may believe, severe weather doesn’t just beat up on the other guy. Mother Nature can wallop anyone’s home and yard.

That doesn’t mean you’ll have to watch your house reduced to briquettes by a wildfire or flooding test your home’s capacity for flotation. But your yard may lose some of its curb appeal if you let nature take its course and you experience events like drought, flooding, hail, high winds, or other uninvited elements. If severe weather is persistent or paired with deficient maintenance, it can set your yard back years. 

It may be time to rethink your ideas about traditional yards and landscaping. Consider new ideas that will stand up to new challenges but still leave you enough time to enjoy your yard – and your life. Here are five tips to get you started.

1. Counteract Drought Devastation

Continuous lack of water is a serious threat to cultivated plants, says Bryan McKenzie, landscape designer and co-founder of the blog Bumpercroptimes.com. Drought slows plant growth, affects the structures of plants, makes them more susceptible to disease, and can even deep-six entire root systems.  

Unless you want to relive the Dust Bowl, understand that drought can have a negative impact on soil. “If you’re in a drought situation, you’re exposing the soil to the sun,” says Joe Raboine, director of residential hardscapes for Belgard in Atlanta. “[Soil] will bake, dry up, and turn to dust. Pesticides in the dust will be dispersed through the air.” 

To thrive, grass lawns need to quaff at least one inch of water weekly, says Luke Lee, a London-based real estate professional who helps homeowners with landscaping design choices. If your home is in an area gripped by frequent drought, consider installing artificial turf (AstroTurf is one type). It will help conserve water and put a damper on grass fires, Lee says.

Another option: Use drought-resistant plants or mulch on the land to protect the soil and allow the soil biome to thrive, Raboine says. One other possibility is edible landscapes, including blueberry bushes. “Blueberries can be planted from the South to far North and thrive in many different and even fairly harsh conditions,” he says. “There’s receptivity to new ideas about how to cover your land, which are really old ways that predate the arrival of lawn mowers to cut your grass.”

2. Prevent Damage from Excessive Precipitation

Too much precipitation from rain and snowfall can damage both plants and soil, says  the marketing director of Manchester, Conn.-based Green Building Elements. Monsoon-like downpours can unleash a torrent of stormwater pollution, which can kill plant roots.

Flooding can rob landscapes of large volumes of nutrients and also choke them from lack of air. If plants remain in standing water too long, growth can be slowed, or they may die, McKenzie says.

Many homeowners grade the soil on their properties rather than accentuating the natural landscape, says Tom Monson, owner of Monson Lawn & Landscaping in Mendota Heights, Minn. When combined with extreme weather like heavy rains, this grading can lead to erosion.

Homeowners in areas with severe weather need to consider where water drains, Monson says. “Many homeowners have installed customized draining systems to protect against flooding. But many have not installed drainage systems, and [their yards] are at risk.”

Water running off a yard can carry oil and debris, which end up in waterways. To avoid getting the evil eye from the Environmental Protection Agency, consider installing permeable pavements in your yard. Two such coverings are interlocking concrete pavers or amended soils. 

Permeable pavements can prevent both pollutant runoff and flooding, says Raboine. They capture the water in the substrate. There, microbes break down pollutants before they can enter the aquifer. 

“The storm water from a driveway can be collected in a tank in the same way water was once collected in a cistern, and later used for irrigation purposes,” he says. 

3. Secure Your Yard from High Winds

Gusts strong enough to propel Dorothy back to the Emerald City seem more common these days. As threatening as they may be to houses and cars, those gusts are also no friend of your landscaping. Strong sustained winds can rip smaller plants from the ground. After a windstorm, distribution of leaves, pine needles, and small branches, as well as large fallen trees, can make your yard look like a disaster zone. Even milder winds can accelerate soil erosion. That’s destructive to landscaping and brings slower growth.

Landscape experts urge several steps. Prune trees and bushes of loose or dead branches. Before an impending storm, tie down any other loose foliage, and secure furniture or decorations, which can be blown around your lot as well. Think about planting fewer ornamental shrubs or trees, and avoid trees that are easily uprooted by heavy winds. Even ponder cutting down a few trees and foliage vulnerable to high winds.

4. Prepare Your Yard for Extreme Heat

Statistics suggest the weather pattern most deadly for humans is extreme heat. It can be just as lethal to the yards of humans. This weather pattern can cause loss of foliage, dormant lawns, stressed shrubs and trees, and insect and disease infestations. So says Owen Mosser, Maine-based garden expert at online publication The Golden.

To keep your lawn green in spite of the summer heat, replacing some areas with water-wise plantings will make your yard more tolerant. Possibilities include Spanish lavender, African daisy, aloes, pride of Madeira, rockrose, and Juniper.

“Pruning dead or infected limbs will keep plant diseases from spreading to the healthy parts of your yard,” he adds. Detect infected plants by spotting abnormal growth or appearance of disease-causing organisms such as insect larvae or bacterial slime. Leaves are also visibly yellow leaves with white blotches, and the stems may become a bit mushy.

5. Protect Your Landscaping From Harsh Winters

Long cold stretches, when combined with the kind of gusts that send wind chills plummeting to minus zero territory, can leave your yard’s future on thin ice.

Prevent this by overseeding your lawn to generate stronger, healthier grass and keep your lawn safe during the winter months, Mosser says. Incorporating mulch also provides insulation, regulates root and soil warmth, and keeps your plants healthy.

“Don’t forget to remove dead leaves and debris,” he adds. “Doing this will prevent your plants from suffocating and infesting fungus and diseases. Mother Nature can be unforgiving sometimes . . . preventive landscaping is key.” 

Bottom line? Make the time and money you spend on your yard a strong investment against severe weather. Preventive landscaping can help ensure your yard stays green. That could also save you some green by fixing problems that could have been avoided.