Livable Ecosystems: A Model for Suburbia

What is a suburban livable ecosystem?

It’s a landscape that takes advantage of natural processes while providing tangible benefits to its owner. When we think of home landscapes as ecosystems, we can start to see the opportunities to produce ecosystem services right in our yards; services such as cleaning water, increasing plant and animal diversity, cooling the environment, saving energy, sequestering carbon, and enjoying landscapes for the pleasure they can provide.

Ecosystem services are goods and services received from natural resources contributing directly and indirectly to human welfare (de Groot, Wilson and Boumans, 2002). This brochure focuses on these services, the benefits they provide and the strategies that can be used in home landscapes to produce them.

Because much of our native mid-Atlantic ecosystem is developed, suburban home owners can play an important role in redesigning landscapes to provide vital ecosystem services. The traditional home landscape contains a limited palette of plants, has large areas of regularly mowed lawn, and provides relatively few ecosystem services. Forests and meadows, on the other hand, provide many ecosystem services. By using more plants, planting more natives, planting to conserve energy, and incorporating managed meadows and forest fragments into yards, suburbia can become a valuable substitute for the long-gone, predevelopment forests and meadows.

While one homeowner can’t expect to fix the world, each person can make small improvements over time that add up to positive change. If you want to make a difference, this brochure will tell you how! Read on to find out about planting more shade trees, reducing lawn, recycling grass clippings, using leaves as mulch, planting dense groundcovers, and incorporating native plants into your landscape. If you’ve been planning a large scale project where you live, work or play, consider planting a rain garden, a windbreak or a wildlife habitat garden—this brochure will help you get started!

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