Green from the Ground Up Best Practices

  • Survey the lot carefully for native vegetation before starting construction.
  • Understand local climatic conditions - wind speed and direction, exposure to sunlight, seasonal variations in temperature, rainfall and snow amounts. Plant accordingly.
  • Disturb the site as little as possible during construction. Stockpile topsoil for later use.
  • Let trees already on the site contribute to energy conservation by leaving conifers on the north side of the house to block wind in winter and deciduous trees to the south to block the summer sun.
  • Avoid using potable water for landscaping.
  • Look for alternatives to grass that needs constant attention, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and watering.
  • If some watering is necessary, invest in timers and moisture sensing devices that regulate water use.
  • Use water permeable materials for walk-ways to minimize runoff.

Green Landscaping Resource

Good green landscaping doesn't have much to do with hydro-seeding a lawn when construction is complete. Landscaping for green homes involves:

  • careful assessment of what's on the site
  • a construction plan that minimizes disruption to natural features and vegetation
  • an emphasis on native plants that work in harmony with the house

See Chapter 16 on Landscaping in the Green from the Ground Up book for more details or contact us about training.

Green Site & Landscaper's Transition Guide

Preserve existing mature trees whenever possible

  • Existing trees can provide shade which saves on energy bills. Trees help control soil erosion and increase property value.
  • Construct a temporary fence around the drip line of the tree to protect the root system.
  • Preserve and nourish existing mature plants on site.

Plant deciduous trees on the south side of the home

  • Deciduous trees provide shade in the summer, but allow sunlight to heat the home during the winter.
  • Determine which species are appropriate for your climate. Keep trees at least 15 feet from south wall.
  • Many deciduous trees are suitable but climate specific.

Plant coniferous trees on the side of prevailing winter winds

  • Coniferous trees help block prevailing winds all year. This will help cut energy loads by reducing air-infiltration.
  • These trees are hardy and grow well in all climates

Use organic mulch in flower and tree beds

Organic mulch is safer and more environmentally friendly than inorganic material. It supplies nutrients and reduces weed growth.

Use a minimum of 2-3 inches of mulch.

This mulch should be available at your local garden store. If not, contact a local manufacturer and request that they carry it.


Plant native grasses and plants

Native grasses and plants use less water

Invasive species should be removed from the site.

Talk to your local nursery about appropriate species for your climate zone to replace bluegrass


Install drip irrigation

  • Regular sprinklers waste a lot of water through evaporation and spray indiscriminately.
  • Drip irrigation applies water to the soil at the plant root at the rate that the soil can absorb it.
  • Determine water requirements for the species planted. Group plants by similar water needs. Use a rain sensor when possible


Install a rainwater collection system

Rainwater can be gathered, stored and then used as needed in either an above-ground cistern or underground tank.

The project can be as simple as a large barrel with a lid  placed at the end of a gutter.

The cistern can have a spigot that can be connected to a hose for ease of use.


Consider using gravel or permeable paving instead of asphalt

Impervious ground covering like pavement leads to water runoff which clogs storm sewers and in-turn pollutes rivers or other water sources.

The earth acts as a natural filter. If rainwater is not given the opportunity to be absorbed, it runs into the storm sewer unfiltered. Try to avoid concrete pathways and minimize asphalt or concrete driveways.

Flagstones or concrete tiles look great and work well as walking surface. Pervious paving can be used in many milder climates.


Protect the top three inches of top soil and reuse it

  • Topsoil is precious and should be preserved for planting.
  • Minimize the disturbance of the topsoil. If there is extensive excavation needed, designate a specific place on the site for the topsoil to be stored.
  • Use fencing to protect areas of the site from construction traffic.


Control erosion using biofiltration strips and silt fences


  • Erosion should be avoided because it strips the nutrient filled soil from the site.
  • Silt fences are simple to construct and should be in place during construction, especially on sloped sites.
  • A silt fence consists of a piece of synthetic filter fabric held in place with stakes. Biofiltration is a pollution control technique using living material to capture and biologically degrade process pollutants.


Encourage composting and create a composting zone

  • Composting helps keep trash out of the landfill and put it to an excellent use.
  • Composting brings life to the soil and feeds existing soil vital micro-organisms.
  • Composting can increase permeability and water-holding capacity. This helps reduce irrigation needs.


Design On-site Storm water management

Keeping rain water on site reduces loads on storm sewers and reduces watering loads.

Ponds or vegetated swales can be constructed to help hold water during heavy rain. This water can be used to irrigate when there is less precipitation.

Ponds are not permitted in all regions. Check with your local building department.