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Ecoscape your yard to reduce water use

How to ecoscape  |  Examples  |  Blog  |  Plant list

Create more beauty with less water.

ph-UT-ecoscape-example-yard-210x150.jpgMore and more residents in Strathcona County are ecoscaping - an alternative method of landscaping that saves water. There are many reasons to ecoscape your yard - and many benefits.

What is ecoscaping?

Ecoscaping combines healthy soil with native and drought-tolerant plants, trees and shrubs to create attractive, low-maintenance, and water efficient landscapes which leave a small environmental footprint. 

Why ecoscape?

  • It's easier to maintain than conventional landscaping. There's less watering, weeding, mowing and fertilizing required. 
  • It saves money - from the homeowner to the water treatment facilities.
  • It saves water. Ecoscaping can achieve at least a 50-per-cent reduction in water use compared with conventional landscaping practices.
  • It's attractive and functional.
  • It reduces the demand for water during the peak growing season, thereby helping to lower the demand on the system and the need for a water ban.
  • During drought, ecoscaped yards are more likely to survive than more conventional yards.

If the only time you walk on your lawn is to mow it, you probably don't need it!

How to ecoscape?

ph-UT-tall-lungwort-with-bee-210x150.jpgYou can ecoscape your whole yard at once, or do it gradually, one area of the yard at a time. 

Take stock

Walk around your yard with a pencil and paper. Identify areas with more sun or shade, dry or damp soil. Note unused or damaged areas for improvement and highlight spaces for sitting, reading, playing or walking. Will you want a vegetable garden or a composter? Where will your rain barrels be located? Creating a detailed landscape plan is essential for installing and maintaining your future space.

Pick your plants

Choose plants which suit climate conditions in your area.  Zone 2 and zone 3 plants grow well in Strathcona County’s climate. For visual appeal, select plants that bloom at different times of the growing season. Group plants by water and light needs for effective plant health and ease of maintenance.  

Choose drought-resistant plants for sunny spots as heat and evaporation may damage less hardy species. 

Create a lush rain garden to absorb rain water into your soil. First, choose a low spot in your yard where water often collects, then dig a layer of rock or gravel at the bottom of the low spot. Finally, cover with healthy soil and some of your favourite perennial plants. 

Some plants require more moisture than others. Let your roof runoff water plants by aiming your downspout toward thirsty flowers, tree or shrubs. 

Native, perennial plants adapted for our climate are more resistant to drought and require less maintenance than non-native. Visit your local greenhouse or farmers market for a wide selection of native plants and seeds. Trade plants with friends and neighbours to expand your perennial collection.

Get your hands dirty

Remove any unwanted sod. Keep the original topsoil in your yard, it is healthier than you think. 

There are many methods to remove sod such as rototilling, shovelling or sheet mulching. Break up sod and toss it into your backyard composter, or flip sod, soil side up, and lay beside your backyard composter for future use. Transport larger amounts of sod to the Clover Bar Landfill for disposal. 

Respect our community, never dump sod on private land or natural spaces. 

Prepare your soil for healthy plants by checking the depth first. Having 25 to 30 cm of soil on top of clay will provide ultimate water retention, nutrient management and oxygen transport. 

Healthy soil is a mix of air, water, a little organic matter and a lot of minerals. To create a healthy soil base in your yard mix: 

 

  • one-third topsoil (weed free) to add minerals
  • one-third sand for water and air to flow easily
  • one-third compost for your organic matter

If your soil is missing some of these elements, try mixing them in or amend as needed. Be careful to avoid pushing down or compacting soil, as plants need oxygen to grow. 

Compact soil is often a concern in newly built areas, where heavy machinery may have been used.

Protect your plants

When planting your new grasses and perennials, you may notice a lot of space in between each plant. Over time, the plant will grow and the spaces in between each plant will slowly disappear. But before that plant is full grown, there may be spots for weeds to grow through and areas of soil which may dry out in the sun. Protect your plants from heat, wind and weeds by adding 7.5 cm (three inches) of mulch in your planting 
beds. Leave a space clear of mulch around plant stems and tree trunks for sufficient air circulation.

Mulch can be made up of: 

  • wood chips 
  • bark chips
  • straw
  • leaves
  • plant litter
  • grass clippings
  • rock
  • gravel

Organic mulches such as wood chips or leaves will add nutrients as they break down and protect against heat damage more effectively than rock.

Check out these ecoscaped yards

Flickr photo album

Blog

Read our blog to find out how our Watershed Specialist transformed her yard and the yard at work into a beautiful ecoscaped oasis.

Examples of plants recommended for ecoscaping in our region

Take this list with you when you shop for plants.
Printable plant list (83.2 KB)

  • Lawn alternatives
    • Blue grama grass – Bouteloua gracilis
    • Phlox – Phlox spp.
    • Sheep fescue, blue fescue – Festuca spp. 
    • Woolly thyme – Thymus pseudolanuginosus
  • Low-water perennials
    • Bergenia – Bergenia cordifolia
    • Blue flax – Linum lewsii 
    • Feather reed grass – Calamagrostis spp.
    • Gaillardia, Blanket flower – Gaillardia aristata
    • Golden Margeurite  – Anthemis tinctoria
    • Globe Thistle  – Echinops ritro
    • Johnny-jump-up – Viola tricolor 
    • Lilac Penstemone  – Penstemon gracilis
    • Poppies – Papaver spp. 
    • Purple coneflower – Echinacea spp.
    • Salvia – Salvia spp.
    • Showy Fleabane  – Erigeron speciosus
    • Silver brocade artemisia – Artemisia stellerana 
    • Stonecrop – Sedum spp.
    • Tall Blue Lungwort  – Mertensia paniculata
  • Native grasses

    • Awned Wheatgrass – Agropyron subsecundum
    • Big Bluestem – Andropogon gerardii
    • Blue Grama – Bouteloua gracilis
    • Canada Wild Rye – Elymus canadensis 
    • Carex Carex praticola
    • Common Reed Grass – Phragmites communis 
    • Fringed Brome – Bromus ciliatus
    • Green Needle Grass – Stipa viridula
    • Hair Grass – Agrostis scabra
    • Indian Rice Grass –  Oryzopsis hymenoides
    • Little Bluestem – Schizachyrium scoparius
    • Prairie Muhly – Muhlenbergia cuspidate
    • Sheep Fescue – Festuca ovina
    • Slender Wheatgrass – Agropyron trachycaulum
    • Switchgrass – Panicum virgatum
    • Timber Oat Grass – Danthonia intermedia
    • Tufted Hair Grass – Deschampsia  cespitosa

  • Low-water shrubs
    • Canadian Buffaloberry  – Sherpherdia canadens
    • Cinquefoil – Potentilla fruticosa 
    • Chokecherry – Prunus virginiana 
    • Golden Current  – Ribes aureum
    • Honeysuckle – Lonicera spp.
    • Juniper – Juniperus horizontalis
    • Lilac – Syringa spp.
    • Pincherry – Prunus pensylvanica 
    • Saskatoon berry – Amelanchier alnifolia 
    • Snowberry – Symphoricarpos occidentalis
    • Western Sandcherry – Prunus besseyi
    • Wild rose – Rosa woodsii
    • Wolf willow, silver berry – Elaeagnus commutata
  • ph-UT-hens-and-chicks-210x150.jpgHens and chicksLow-water groundcovers

    • Bearberry, kinnikinnick –  

      Arctostaphylos uva-ursi 

    • Creeping phlox – Phlox subulata
    • Hens and chicks – Sempervivum spp.
    • Lamb’s Ear– Stachys byzantina
    • Maiden Pinks– Dianthus deltoids
    • Mother of thyme – Thymus serpyllum 
    • Potentilla – Potentilla spp.
    • Pussytoes – Antennaria spp
    • Snow in summer – Cerastium tomentosum
    • Yarrow  – Achillea millefolium
  • Vines
    • Bittersweet - Celastrus scandens
    • Clematis - Clematis alpinum
    • Honeysuckle vine - Lonicera x brownii
    • Morning Glory - Ipomea spp.
    • Purple peavine - Lathyrus venosus
  • Deciduous trees
    • Amur maple – Acer ginnala 
    • Aspen poplar – Populus tremuloides
    • Balsam poplar – Populus balsamifera 
    • Manitoba maple – Acer negundo
    • Mayday – Prunus padus 
    • Russian olive – Elaeagnus angustifolia
  • Coniferous trees
    • Colorado Spruce - Picea pungens
    • Jack pine - Pinus banksiana
    • Lodgepole pine - Pinus contorta
    • White spruce - Picea glauca

Our thanks to Greenland Garden CentreSalisbury Greenhouses, Bedrock Seed Bank and Strathcona County staff for supplying the plant list. For more information, contact your local green house.

Did you know?

  • Grass is the highest water consumer in landscaping.
  • Strathcona County receives an average of 473 millimetres of precipitation per year.
  • During the summer months, residents of our community use up to 50 per cent more water - mainly for watering lawns and gardens.
  • Street runoff from over-watered lawns is one of the most common signs of outdoor water wastage.
  • Landscaping offers a high return on investment when making home improvements.

Further information
780-467-7785
watersaver@strathcona.ca

"No plot of ground is too small...to sow the seeds of change."
-Evergreen Foundation

Last updated: Wednesday, September 04, 2013
Page ID: 40109