The way we maintain our yards can have a big impact on the environment. Residential lawns make up an estimated 30 million acres of U.S. soil – that’s 30 million acres of thirsty grass in need of regular mowing, fertilizing and watering. As you might imagine, America’s landscape maintenance habits can add up to a whole lot of water used, chemicals released into the soil, fuel consumed and carbon emitted into the atmosphere.

All that just to enjoy a little bit of nature in your backyard.

Sustainable landscape maintenance is about working with nature rather than against it. By planting, watering and pruning strategically, homeowners can cultivate a landscape that contributes to a healthier environment. Here are five landscape maintenance practices to incorporate for a more sustainable lawn and garden:

1. Plant strategically.

A truly sustainable landscape begins in the design phase, by carefully selecting which plants to incorporate. Whenever possible, choose native plants, which evolved to flourish in your local environment. Native plants are generally more drought-resistant and require less watering. They’re also better able to defend themselves against local weeds and pests, meaning you won’t need to use as many chemicals to keep them healthy. Avoid invasive species – they compete rather than harmonize with your native plants – and remove them whenever you find them.

Where you plant also makes a difference. Pay attention to the microclimates in your yard, and arrange your specimens in locations where they’ll have the best chance of thriving. The stronger and healthier your plants are to begin with, the fewer resources they’ll consume in the long run. You can even use strategic plantings to make your home more energy efficient. For example, by planting trees along the south side of your house, you can slash summer cooling and winter heating costs.

2. Fertilize organically.

The chemicals in fertilizers and anti-pest sprays pollute the environment and degrade the quality of your soil. Use only organic fertilizers (composting is ideal, if you don’t already) or hire a landscape maintenance service that uses them. Keep tabs on your soil quality with regular testing to help ensure strong, healthy plants.

You can largely avoid using chemical pest sprays by practicing integrated pest management (IPM), a holistic and sustainable approach to pest control. IPM involves working with biology to limit pest populations; incorporating pest-repellant plants throughout your landscape and encouraging natural predators such as spiders, ladybugs and praying mantis are just a couple of examples. If you hire a pest control company, choose one that employs IPM and other eco-friendly methods.

3. Water wisely.

Reducing the amount of water your yard consumes is another major goal of sustainable landscape maintenance. Conserving water can be as low-tech as collecting roof runoff in a rain barrel or as high-tech as installing a programmable, weather-controlled drip irrigation system. To maximize plant health, water early in the morning and make sure the moisture is delivered at the roots, where it’s needed most – this will encourage deep, strong root systems. Group plants with similar watering needs to avoid over- or under-watering.

4. Prune strategically.

Selective pruning makes trees and shrubs stronger and more efficient, whereas shearing them into shape simply weakens them. Learn proper pruning techniques – including when, how and how much to prune – or employ a sustainable landscape maintenance service with a professional arborist on staff. Pruning by hand (rather than using power tools) is best, for both the natural growth of your specimens and the environment as a whole.

5. Minimize fuel consumption.

Lawn mowers, leaf blowers and other fossil fuel-consuming power tools pollute the environment. When manpower won’t cut it, look for hybrid models or alternative fuel sources. If you hire a landscape maintenance company, find one that is committed to using the cleanest energy possible.

Article provided by Landscape East & West, an award-winning full-service landscaping and irrigation systems installation and repair company based in Portland, Ore.