Sustainable home landscapes

Want to make your yard and garden more " natural," but not sure where to start? Start by changing your perception of your yard and its relationship to the natural areas in your community.

In ecological restoration, such as the woodland restoration undertaken at The Morton Arboretum, a natural area is more than the sum of its parts. So, a woodland is more than just a collection of trees. It's an ecosystem, where plants, insects, and animals have evolved together for thousands of years.

Start thinking about your slice of land as part of an ecosystem—a woodland, savanna, or prairie, for example—and read about the types of plants that belong there. Then plant a few plants that are native to that kind of ecosystem and are suited to the conditions in your yard, and see how they do. You may never plant another thirsty petunia again!

More adventurous gardeners can try natural or sustainable landscaping:

  • The term describes many schools of thought, but the idea is to use deep-rooted native and hardy non-native plants that are adapted to urban settings.
  • Natural landscaping recognizes that some non-hardy exotic plants have high maintenance requirements that enlarge your carbon footprint and use more water resources.
  • It's truly an American aesthetic, distinct from the English lawns and formal French gardens we inherited from Europe.
  • Natural landscaping makes the most of the environment that exists now, attempting to create a better balance  but recognizing that we'll never be able to return to the natural state that we disrupted over the past two centuries. We can, however, learn from what nature shows us.

You will find many helpful links in our Restoration resources page.

Hardy plants for home landscapes

So you love the idea of native plants, but don't have the space for a 75-foot bur oak in your front yard? Would a hedge of hazelnut shrubs overtake your garden in a heartbeat? No worries! There are native plants to fit any home landscape. The Arboretum also promotes the use of hardy non-native plants that can fit into an attractive design that works in harmony with nature. The Morton Arboretum’s Plant Clinic can always provide advice on choosing native plant s and shrubs for your specific conditions.

Natural tree care 

Treat your trees with "TLC"–Tree Loving Care! While well-meaning, many homeowners don't realize that some common lawn care practices can damage trees. Think about the forest floor, where trees naturally thrive. One of the "greenest" things you can do is mulch your trees to the drip line. Learn other tree care basics to give them the best shot at a long, healthy life.

Habitat gardens

While most city or suburban lots are too small to be considered "ecosystems" you can design a home landscape that attracts and nurtures wildlife. By providing water and native plants that can be used for shelter and food sources, you can make a home for birds, butterflies and other pollinators, small mammals, fish, and amphibians.

Rain gardens 

Water conservation and quality, as well as storm water management are growing problems in urban areas. You can do your part by creating a rain garden. It's like your own mini-wetland that captures water in your yard and helps it filter back down into the water table. Rain gardens are not only functional, they are also very attractive.

Landscaping ordinances 

Many landscaping covenants and ordinances prevent natural landscaping. Citizens can lobby their municipalities to make changes that allow for tall grasses and mass plantings. Some communities are going beyond that and writing rules that promote the planting of natural landscapes.