6 green landscaping trends in the Northeast

Amanda Maher
Amanda Maher | 6 min. read
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Published on June 14, 2016

Tis the season! Bust out the wheelbarrows and crank up the lawn mowers—it’s time to get your yard in tip-top shape for the summer BBQs that we all love so much.

Not to mention, now is the perfect time to start thinking about how you’ll spruce up the green spaces at your properties. For a few years, it made sense to put off any investments in landscaping. But since the economy has ticked up, there’s more competition in the real estate market, and improved outdoor aesthetics can make a huge difference for a property’s value.

But it’s about more than just curb appeal. There’s a growing trend to revamp backyards in a way that’s environmentally sustainable.

This is the first in a four-part series where we’ll take a look at eco-friendly landscape and outdoor design trends in various regions across the United States. As you’d imagine, some trends are taking hold across the country. But others are very specific to certain regions. After all, the farther south you venture, the more use people get out of their backyards. Head north and you’ll find people who are lucky if they get a few solid months outside each year.

To begin, let’s take a look at “green” landscaping trends in the Northeast.

Minimizing Lawn Area

New Englanders, in particular, seem to take great pride in their meadow-like lawns. Perhaps it’s because they get such little time outside each year, or maybe it’s because Fenway Park’s perfectly manicured grass has set the bar incredibly high. In any case, more people in the Northeast are starting to realize that the soil structure of New England landscapes actually does not grow lawn seed well; it requires significant fertilizers and pesticides to keep that bright green color. Traditional lawns are also high maintenance, requiring significant time and money. Instead, there’s a growing trend toward using lawn alternatives, such as moss gardens or large planting beds with native trees and shrubs to minimize lawn space.

Plant-Centric Design

“For the past many years, homeowners have tended to center their landscapes around hardscapes rather than the plantings,” says Julie Messervy of Julie Moir Messervy Design Studio in Saxtons River, VT. “With so much interest in natives and edibles and with all the new varieties available in nurseries and home centers, plants are returning to their rightful importance in our backyards.”

The Xeriscape Movement

As people become more aware of the cost and water use that lawns require, we’re starting to see folks in the Northeast really embrace the xeriscape movement (often mistakenly referred to as “zero-scape”). Defined as “quality landscaping that conserves water and protects the environment,” xeriscape involves the use of landscape of materials native to the region and climate, as well as utilizing adaptable plant, tree and turf species to reduce maintenance, fertilization, and irrigation demand and to increase sustainability. Xeriscaping proves to be highly cost-effective over the long-term because plants are more accustomed to the climate (requiring less water), and are typically resistant to local bugs and infestations.

An added benefit? Xeriscaping techniques are much more likely to result in the use of plants and trees that attract local birds, butterflies and other wildlife that are drawn to the native species.

Strategic Planting

“If you don’t like the weather, give it a minute,” folks in the Northeast often quip. And indeed, there are drastic weather fluctuations between seasons—and often, even from day to day! That’s why more and more people are starting to think strategically about plant location. Deciduous trees, for instance, are best planted on the west or south side of the home and can help control both summer and winter energy costs. In the sun, the trees shade homes from the heat of the sun. In the winter, those same trees lose their leaves and allow for bright, warm sunshine to fill the house below.

Upgrading by Downgrading to Concrete

It’s becoming more common for homeowners in the Northeast to trade in the fieldstone and bluestone pavers of yesteryear and replace them with concrete flatwork. Cast-in-place concrete or decorative, inter-locking concrete pavers are a much more eco-friendly material for constructing sidewalks, driveways and backyard patios. Concrete is made locally and only in the quantities needed for each project, making it one of the most resource-efficient materials homeowners can use. The light color of concrete reflects light more easily than asphalt pavement, which helps to reduce the “heat island” effect that’s so prevalent in the Northeast’s dense, urban areas. Foregoing a wooden deck also saves trees and eliminates the need for regular maintenance with solvent-based wood stains and sealers.

The most environmentally conscious of all will strive to take things up one notch further by using an eco-friendly concrete mix that replaces a portion of the limestone material with fly ash, slag cement or silica fume, all by-products from power plants, steel mills and other manufacturing facilities that otherwise contribute to environmental contamination.

Blurring of Indoor/Outdoor Living Space

If you’ve heard how expensive real estate has gotten in the Northeast, this one comes as no surprise: perhaps the hottest trend in Yankee landscape design is crafting spaces that extend indoor living space into outdoor living quarters. Since people often can’t build out their interior space, the only way to add more living area is to go outside. Homeowners are using outdoor space more thoughtfully in the past.

But the large patios, outdoor kitchens and water elements aren’t the only things Northerners are clamoring for: they are also thinking sustainability. Outdoor living spaces are now being designed with permeable paving, fire pits, drip irrigation and LED lighting – features that all promote “green” living. Smart phone-controlled LED lighting is the latest trend: “Many homeowners are aware of the Dark Sky Initiative, and they want to limit nighttime outdoor light,” says Michael Coutu of the Sudbury Design Group.

It doesn’t have to cost a lot of make your outdoor area more environmentally friendly. If you’re thinking about sprucing up the outdoor area this spring, consider these latest trends. You’ll make Mother Nature happy – and residents, too.

Be sure to check out Part 2 of our “green” landscaping guide: the hottest trends taking over the Southwest!

Read more on Maintenance & Improvements
Amanda Maher

Amanda Maher is a self-proclaimed policy wonk who dabbles in real estate law. She holds a B.S. in Political Science and Sociology from Boston University, as well as a master's in Urban and Regional Policy from Northeastern.

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