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Save Time, Money, and Work

by letting your landscape work for you

Using thoughtful landscaping techniques can make your yard more efficient. Using the shape of the land to direct water runoff toward planted areas reduces supplemental water needs. Vertical layering reduces weed seed germination. Replacing lawn areas with trees and shrubs reduces maintenance needs. Best of all, these same techniques also help reduce stormwater runoff problems.

Stormwater runoff has become increasingly problematic in recent years, particularly in urban areas. Increased volumes of stormwater runoff caused by the increase of impervious surface area and compacted soils have resulted in overloaded drainage systems and a variety of issues such as sedimentation, erosion, pollution, and bacterial contamination of waterways, but even making small changes in our landscape can reduce the problems significantly.

Rain water falling on barn flows into rain garden and down into soil

Municipalities are now using stormwater infiltration practices that slow waterflow so that infiltration can occur. This approach contrasts with conventional stormwater strategies that rely on gutters and pipes that increase the velocity of runoff and do nothing for water quality.

Plants play a variety of important roles in the success of stormwater infiltration practices.

Plant roots help with water infiltration, soil stabilization, and the filtering of pollutants. Plant stems help slow runoff which in turn cause some suspended solids, sediment, etc. to settle out of the water.

A man sitting in a chair reading a book in the shade of trees.

Additionally, plant's leaves improve air quality through the uptake of gaseous pollutants and help reduce the urban heat island effect through evaporative cooling and shading.

Stormwater Infiltration Practices come in a variety of forms, but their overall goal is to slow, retain and/or detain stormwater during and after a storm event. The complexity of the stormwater system depends on site conditions and the amount of water that needs to be restrained.  Installing stormwater systems can reduce up to 100% of storm-water pollution, but even just using simple gravity and slope to direct water into planted areas away from buildings and roads can help reduce the amount of surface water runoff pollution.

Curb cut rain garden

A “curb cut” is a type of Raingarden

that is a revision of the traditional stormwater system which was designed to channel water off site. Instead, the curb cut diverts water from the road and into a raingarden or Bioswale, preventing water from leaving the area and allowing water to be absorbed into the soil.

Raingardens require very little maintenance once established, even during the summer when it’s dry.

diagram of water infiltrating a swale

There are many ways to put the landscape to work by using the natural shape of the yard (or if needed, shaping the yard to direct water appropriately).

Front yards incorporating shrubs and flowers


Directing water runoff into planted areas can reduce the need for supplemental watering, maintenance, and chemicals and at the same time reduce surface water runoff and water pollution.

If you have excessive lawns, consider reducing the size of it.

Since lawns are only slightly better than pavement for slowing stormwater runoff and require more chemicals, fertilizers, and water then other landscaping, replacing lawn with trees, shrubs, and other plants reduces costs and time.

A good place to start is with areas already established with shrubs and trees. They can be expanded in width and include ground covers, xeriscape plantings, perennial flower beds, and/ or tiered shrub plantings. Choose the least functional lawn areas to replace. Look for areas of lawn which are least used, and those which are hardest to mow such as corners of the yard, beneath trees with low branches, etc.

Images yards with reduced lawns

Vertical layering (such as planting groundcovers, under shrubs, under trees) increases the variety of plants in an area which is not only beautiful, but can provide more food for pollinators, wildlife and people and more habitat for beneficial wildlife.

Keeping the soil covered by plants and mulch will greatly reduce the amount of water transpiration, soil erosion, and weeds that will germinate in your garden.

The more bare ground in your garden, the more you will be fighting invasions of weeds.

You might think that filtration areas should be planted with wetland plants, however most planted stormwater practices will likely be inundated for only a few minutes after a small storm event and up to a day or two for a larger event. “Unlike most permanent or semi-permanent wetlands, these areas remain relatively dry most of the time. Because of this characteristic, plants that can handle both temporary inundation and relatively protracted drought are the best choices for a low-maintenance planting.” (Dr. Nina Bassuk Urban Horticultural Institute at Cornell University Woody Shrubs for Stormwater Retention Practices) which opens a lot of possibilities for beautiful landscaping. (SCD Native plant list)

images of flowering native plants
Mahonia aquifolium flowers

Replacing lawn with beds of native plants is among the easiest and least-expensive lawn-reduction methods.

Native plants thrive in the regional climate and soil and are more likely to survive without lots of water and fertilizer. To top it off, many native butterflies and bees depend on them for food and habitat and they are beautiful too.

When possible, maintain the natural flow of the land and protect native soils and vegetation. Planted areas should be somewhat lower than pathways to keep paths clear of water.

The overflow area from the planted area should be sloped to move water slowly to other areas of infiltration and should have stones or pavers to protect it from erosion during excessive water events.

Water can cause damage, so care needs to be taken when changing the landscape. Planning is important.

Using thoughtful landscaping techniques can make your landscape more efficient (saving time and money), help maintain available onsite water, and reduce stormwater run off and pollution.

Learn more about ways to make your landscape more efficient at our free workshops such as “Backyard Conservation Short course” and "Raingarden Care and Function”. or

A city street lined with native plant in a curb cut rain garden

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