Your landscape does matter, and here’s why

By Jane Gates
Signal Staff Writer

More and more homeowners are letting their gardens die out into dried-out, crispy dust bowls (which become populated with stringy weeds only after rain). Or they cover the space with gravel or cement blocks thinking it removes the problem and saves them money on their water bills.

Unfortunately, quick fixes too often lead to worse consequences. Neglected and poor landscaping is a perfect example of solutions that can do more harm than good.

First, green is good.

Plants add oxygen to the air, mediate humidity and moderate temperatures. This means when you let your lawn and garden areas die or you cover everything with stone, you are creating what are called “heat sinks.” Dead plants and bare soil absorb heat from our intense sun, as does cement and rock. The heat then radiates back into the air, heating up your house and the climate around your home.

Picture increasing numbers of Santa Clarita homes pouring more heat into the atmosphere in addition to the existing reflected warmth from roads and parking lots. (Santa Clarita only has a few months a year of cool weather.) You may think global warming has nothing to do with you, but your landscape may actually be making it worse. And if that isn’t important to you, consider the fact you will be seriously increasing your air conditioning costs just to keep your home livable when a garden could have done much of the job for a fraction of the cost. (Those big AC bills from last June and July will return.)

Until recently, Santa Ana winds used to blow from Halloween through early December. They now visit us year-round. If you have an all-gravel, stone, dead lawn or bare soil landscape, plan to be dusting your home year round. Oh, and that tiny grit will not only be covering all your furniture, you will be breathing it along with the rest of your family. Also, dried lawns and dead trees are very flammable should a cinder from a wildfire blow your way. Green stuff is good for your health and safety.

Apart from how ugly and unwelcoming your home can look when the landscape is dull or neglected, you won’t be enticed to use your yard, either. You’ll be denying yourself a chance to calm your nerves and detach yourself from daily indoor stress and demanding technology. Plus, you’ll be paying taxes on land that doesn’t even pay for itself. Add the wasted tax money to the cost of trying to keep your house healthy and livable – which will easily surpass the water bill you would be paying for a garden.

Gardens to the rescue

But there’s good news. There is a wealth of “fixes” for today’s landscapes. Yes, you can still use whatever stone you want — or other non-living materials. Yes, you can have easy-care, home, health and eco-friendly gardens. You can even save on water bills without increasing other utilities. And you can have a gorgeous looking yard as a bonus.

Take another look at landscaping. In a world that’s growing more and more angry, stressed, unpredictable and out of control, you can carve out your own haven (and save on therapy bills). You can expand your living space outdoors where you can exercise, play games, invite over friends and family to relax, meditate, grow your own food, have fun with children and pets — and do so much more (cutting down extra travel/vacation expenses).

Winter is the perfect to start making these changes.

How?

Put back the green. Then add your favorite colors!

Blend non-living materials into productive, fun and useful spaces. Fill the in-between areas with colorful, drought-tolerant flowers, shrubs and groundcover plants, including useful or decorative small patches of lawn, if you want. Add some splashes of colored gravel or a boulder or two for climbing, seating or just for artistic effect.

Turn your yard into an extension of your living space and irrigate it automatically with any of the many new gadgets that will keep your water use low and focused only where it is needed.  Add trees for cooling shade. Cut a few flowers to put in a vase and save money on buying expensive bouquets. With the cost of just about everything going up, landscaping may seem like a poor choice in your spending priorities. But if living in a physically, emotionally, psychologically healthy environment is not at the top of your list, you may want to ask yourself what should be more important?

Santa Clarita is located inland in a fragile, mostly chaparral environment experiencing annual increases in temperature, winds, dry air and rainfall. It’s happening  so drastically that even the native flora (after thriving here for hundreds of years), is dying off. We can choose to ignore what we see or we can choose to live better, even if it does require us to think a little differently and change some of our habits.

Our landscapes impact our lives. We can do something about them. At minimum we can make our homes and the lives we live in them better. At best, working together, we might help slow or even turn around some negative local effects of global warming. Either way, we can make a difference. Or we can turn a blind eye until things are no longer fixable. Which way do we have more to lose?

Yes, our landscapes do make a difference. Maybe even a critical, life or death difference. At the very least they’ll make a quality-of-life difference. So, why not take another look at your landscape to see how much of a difference you can make?

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