Sustainability is more than a buzzword, with many homeowners making design and purchase decisions based on their personal environmental impact. For builders and trade contractors designing outdoor living areas, that means analyzing the impact that plant selection has on local wildlife.
Larry and Mimi Elmore, owners of Wild By Design in Lyons, are a voice in the industry for creating not just sustainable landscapes, but also wildlife habitats that attract birds, butterflies and bees in their designs.
“While xeriscapers handle one issue, which is water wise, they totally negate the responsibility the landscape industry has on a whole to plant flowers, shrubs and trees that support our wildlife,” says Larry, adding that he and Mimi are careful to plant native flowers and shrubs that attract native species.
Studies have shown that a region’s native plants are four times more likely to attract native bees than ornamentals from another country or region, according to Colorado State University Extension.
“If you plant a European species of flower, the chance is more than likely that [it] will only support European insects,” Larry says. “By planting European or alien species, you’re not feeding your native wildlife.”
Landscapers have historically used alien plants in gardens because they’re colorful or low maintenance, says Mimi. But by using native plants that naturally use less water, gardens become even more sustainable.
“By planting [non-native] plants, they are essentially planting sterile plants and have eliminated the major support network for native bees, butterflies and birds,” says Mimi.
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They also use only organic products in their soil treatment and pest control. They improve the soil’s microbiome by sprinkling each plant with mycorrhiza, a mushroom bacteria that attaches to the root structure, improving water and nutrient absorption.
For hard-to-kill weeds, they use a 20% solution of industrial vinegar and water or the iron product, Pulverize.
“We selectively poison by spraying individual plants, but there are intractable weeds that will work their way into your garden whether you want them or not,” Larry says.
The Elmores also work with homeowners who request hardscapes in their landscaping design, such as patios, outdoor kitchens, stairways and water features.
“Consequently, we’ve been able to develop a real skill level in creating multidimensional outdoor living environments that support our wildlife,” he says.