"I have always worked with the idea of creating ecologically sound landscape design, but my ideas have evolved over time. I just have taken things a step further," says landscape architect Sue Reed. Reed is the author of "Energy-Wise Landscape Design," and she specializes in helping customers create beautiful and sustainable/energy-saving landscapes.

While those who work professionally in the field of ecological landscape design usually are certified in LEED and other related certifications, Reed stresses that the average homeowner or gardener can achieve significant results in energy savings and sound ecological practices on their own.

"My book is oriented to the average homeowner — people who just want to take a few steps," Reed says. "Most of my suggestions are low- to no-cost." Reed suggests the following to homeowners who want to up the sustainability factor of their lawns and gardens.

1. Mow less lawn to save energy

"If you have lawn, pick an area that you stop mowing, or only mow once a year. It may turn into a meadow. Or you may want to mow that area once or twice a year for a more relaxed look," Reed says. She adds that annually about $1 billion is spent on gasoline to mow lawns in America. "You also spend less personal time taking care of the lawn. Let nature do some of the work for us," Reed says.

"You can also replace your lawn with wildflowers, berry bushes, a vegetable or flower garden, or even moss in some areas," Reed says.

2. Use trees to your advantage

If you already have trees on your property, instead of spending money on wood chips or mulches, just use the leaves the tree drops to mulch around the base. "You can chop the leaves or just leave them whole and leave them for a year or two. It’s the best possible mulch for your trees. That’s how nature takes care of them," Reed says. Reed adds that using the tree’s own leaves saves trips to the garden center. "This is really easy to do with no investment."

Reed also discusses the advantages of shade trees on your property. Reed says that shade trees can make your home up to 10 degrees cooler, saving on cooling costs, and the placement of the trees to the southeast and southwest of your house is key to their effectiveness. "Shade trees work even better planted by the side of your home when you have windows also facing southeast or southwest," she says.

Reed notes that it is best to plant deciduous as opposed to evergreen trees so you can also reap the solar (heating) benefit in the winter when the leaves fall.

3. Cool the ground with lush vegetation and permeable surfaces

Reed suggests having as much lush vegetation around your home as possible. "Lush gardens absorb the heat, cooling the area around your home," she says. "When I say 'lush foliage', I mean plants such as ferns, not lawn," she adds. Reed says that lush foliage cools the air by means of "evapotranspiration." In other words, the plants absorb heat and moisture from the air, leaving the surrounding air cooler. "They take the heat from the air to power their own life process," she says.

If you have nonpermeable surfaces such as patios or driveways, the more trees and foliage you plant in proximity to them keeps them and you cooler. "That way, they can’t absorb so much heat," Reed says. She adds that if you have the option of deciding where the driveway or patio is placed, it is best to incorporate plenty of vegetation.

4. Use native plants

"I try to use native plants [plants that would normally grow in one's region] as often as possible. The energy and ecological savings are indirect. But in the larger picture of the regional ecosystem, native plants tend to be more self-sustaining," Reed says.

5. Be aware of water

Reed says that how much you water your landscape affects both energy and ecological savings. "We have to remember that it takes electricity to pump the water out of the ground," Reed says. Besides energy costs associated with pumping water, most homeowners in urban areas pay for water from the city or town, regardless of whether it ends up in the ground or the sewer system.

Reed concludes with, "We can make a difference on our own little property. Gardening is a hobby many people already love, and it can be done in a way that puts more money in your pocket."

This article was reprinted with permission. It originally appeared here on