Summer Landscaping Trends for 2023

CHRISTINA STEVENSON

For many homeowners, keeping grass watered, fertilized, weeded, mowed and edged is a lot of work, and while a well-manicured lawn is beautiful, grass is losing ground, pardon the pun, to more environmentally friendly solutions. Attitudes are changing about other landscaping staples too, and some may surprise you.

The biggest trends have a common theme at their core—moving away from stilted designs, artificiality in any form, and high maintenance landscape plans in favor of outdoor space that celebrates nature in its own right. 

Neat little rows of boxwoods or bushes never really made a home look that good, but they were easy to plant and keep trimmed. Today’s homeowners however don’t want to take something natural and force it into an unnatural shape, nor do they want to coddle plants with special needs that aren’t indigenous or compatible to the area. That’s why grass lawns are beginning to disappear in the desert and in high-population areas with limited water resources. Some homeowners have tried to solve the grass problem by laying down artificial turf, which has improved greatly in quality over the years, but it’s still…not real.

Anything that appears unnatural is falling out of favor. In recent years, layering bark mulch around garden plants and flowers has been popular because it protects plants from water loss. According to the University of Massachusetts, bark mulch is typically made from recycled wood scraps and construction and demolition waste, which are dry and absorbent. To make them more attractive, companies added dyes in a variety of colors. The problem is that lumber waste can have contaminants such as creosote and chromated copper arsenate, a product used in pressure-treated wood. A better flower bed spread might be aged hardwood mulch which adds nutrients to the soil, and it’s a better look than colorful wood chips that could contain ingredients harmful to your children or pets.

Speaking of flower beds, be careful not to overdo hardscaping—brick, iron, or stone that’s used to separate one area of the lawn from another. Your plants should be the focus, with hardscaping that complements them without competing with or overwhelming them. And, if you want to make change down the road, hardscaping can be difficult and expensive to tear out. If you’re unsure about the correct ratio, go with the 70/30 rule for an attractive outcome – 70% plants, flowers and ornamental grasses to 30% pavers, steps, risers, borders, and dividers.

Lawn ornamentation is a cultural phenomenon. From plaster garden gnomes and plastic pink flamingoes, to trickling stone fountains and angel-winged statues, lawn art can be kitschy or classy, depending on how you do it. Neither kitschy or classy are garden flags or other signage that tells others what to do, think or believe. Are your choices a true expression of your tastes and attitudes? Or, are they supposed to be whimsical and humorous? With either answer, moderation is advised—or save it for the back yard. 

What to do instead? The key phrase for what’s trending in landscaping is natural sustainable beauty, using plants, flowers and grasses that are native to your area. In much of the country, water is an issue, so drought-tolerant landscaping, also known as xeriscaping, festooned with succulents, flowers, wildflowers, hardy shrubs, cacti, and other thorny ornamental plants can be attractive and easy to maintain. The idea is to feature native plants that can grow and thrive under the typical annual rainfall in your area without additional watering needed. You’ll also have fewer pests and less need for fertilizer and weed killers.

To start a xeriscape of your own, group plants and flowers with similar watering requirements in zones, so that any watering you need to do becomes more efficient. The key to a successful xeriscape is the same as any other landscape, and that’s paying attention to the site’s shape, size, slope, sun, shade, and other conditions. Add a natural mulch to accent the plants and flowers, as well as to provide a healthy root environment, which also reduces the need for extra watering. No matter what part of the country you live in, you can adopt the principles of xeriscaping to create a more naturally beautiful landscape for your home.

Another way to take advantage of rainfall is to create a rain garden. Rain gardens are typically created on a natural slope in the yard using native shrubs, perennials and flowers that are planted to hold and absorb rain water runoff from non-permeable areas such as gutters, roofs, lawns, and driveways. According to the Groundwater Foundation, rain gardens allow water to pool and can help absorb 90% of nutrients and chemicals and up to 80% of sediments from rainwater runoff, allowing 30% more water to soak into the ground. While it seems counterintuitive, rain gardens “typically hold water only during and following a rainfall event. Because they drain dry within 12 to 48 hours” and are dry most of the time until it rains again, “they prevent the breeding of mosquitoes.” They can also prevent gullies from scarring your yard.

Making a rain garden is easy. Advises Thisoldhouse.com, it should be located at least 10 feet from your house and 40 feet from a septic system. Flag the shape you want. Scrape off visible roots and grass from the depression, dig approximately 18 inches, pour a layer of coarse sand and then pour a fast-draining soil mix on top of 1/3 coarse sand, 1/3 compost, and 1/3 undyed bark mulch. Plant species in the middle that are the most water tolerant, then surround those with plants that can handle occasional standing water.

In keeping with the low maintenance theme, one of the biggest trends is creating gardens that attract birds for entertainment. Todayshomeowner.com calls this trend “rewilding” or “nature spacing.” You can start modestly with a birdbath, or a watering hole with featuring water plants like taro, water lettuce, or creeping jennies. Add an ivy or foliage-covered pergola for a pleasant place to sit and enjoy the antics of splashing birds, or foraging deer, frogs, lizards, and squirrels. Be sure to include plants for bees and other pollinators such as “coneflowers, lavender, daisies, and marigolds.” 

While you’re feeding and watering the wildlife, be sure to include a “kitchen garden” for yourself. Many foods and herbs are easy to grow, and may come in handy in the event of another pandemic. Be sure to include plants that produce “vibrant flowers like squash, okra, peas, lavender, radishes, and sunflowers.” You can also produce edible flowers like dandelions for your table. 

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