Ideas for your green thumbs
Your landscaping decisions can affect how much enjoyment you get from your garden and outdoor living areas, and how much time and effort you need to spend watering and maintaining the garden.
You also need to consider the impact of landscaping on managing stormwater, particularly in paved areas.
What to consider
Good landscaping involves thinking about your site as a whole. Firstly you need to have a clear idea of what your household wants to use the outdoor areas for. Popular uses are:
- space for a pet
- privacy or a sheltered spot for reading and relaxing
- an attractive outlook from inside the house
- growing fruit, vegetables and flowers.
Some of the factors that can affect your landscaping decisions include:
- house placement
- soil type
- landforms and waterways
- other local conditions.
Sun, shade and shelter
When you're planning outdoor areas, it's worth considering:
- how much sun and how much shade you want (too much shade in winter might make your home cold and damp)
- the direction and angle of the sun in summer and winter
- the size of any existing plants and the fully grown size of any you want to include
- the location of trees in relation to your home and any outdoor living areas
- whether your plants and trees will block neighbours' sun.
Plants or screens between your home and any sources of neighbourhood noise can also be used to lower noise levels to a more tolerable level.
Ways to make a difference
Shrubs and trees
Shrubs and trees can be used to provide privacy, shade and wind protection for your home and outdoor living areas. Deciduous trees and shrubs will provide shade in summer but allow the sun through in winter. Evergreens can provide year-round shade.
Designing for your climate has more information on creating a microclimate in your garden.
Plants, often combined with fencing or trellis work, can be used to provide privacy and shelter from wind.
For really windy locations, choose tough plants that are acclimatised to your area and are compatible with each other. Plant them close together so they filter the wind.
It's a good idea to avoid planting rows of trees that will eventually be tall and clean-trunked (solid trunks speed up the wind through the gaps).
Deciduous trees can be very helpful in areas with hot summers and cold winters. Plant deciduous trees on the northern and western sides of the house – they will keep the summer sun out but allow the winter sun in.
Passive heating and Passive cooling have more information.
Planting for local conditions
If you choose plants that are suitable for local conditions, your garden will be easier to look after and might not need as much water. Choosing native plants that are endemic to the area will give you a very low maintenance garden.
Talk to your neighbours and see what works for them. Your local or regional councils may have a list of suitable plants for your area. They sometimes provide free plants from their nurseries or have sale days. Garden centres can also help.
The type of soil you have will determine the kinds of plants that will do well.
If you have little topsoil because the site has been excavated, seek advice from a garden centre and check out what the neighbours are growing. Compost and potting mixes can be used to substitute for topsoil or to cover a heavy clay soil.
You don't need to have high-quality topsoil to establish a productive vegetable garden. If you are on clay or an excavated location, try no-soil methods or raised garden beds and plant into a mixture of compost, bagged soil or potting mixes.
Moist or dry? Sunny or shady?
Some plants thrive in wet, shady conditions while others prefer lots of sun. Consider each part of your site – how sunny or shady it is, and how moist or dry it is – before deciding what to plant.
Also consider the watering requirements of your plant choices. Moisture-loving plants will need a lot of summer watering – if you live in an area with dry summers, you may have summer watering restrictions and be better off selecting plants suited to dry conditions.
Fencing and shelter
Slatted and trellis fences, often combined with plants, make better windbreaks than solid fences, because they filter the wind flow and reduce its force. A solid fence directs the full might of the wind upwards and increases the turbulent wind flow on the other side.
Fences can also have an impact on crime prevention and neighbourhood safety. Low front fences, which allow you to look out onto the street, can improve the safety of pedestrians and parked cars.
If you’re thinking about adding or changing a fence, check the rules that apply to your property. As well as needing to consider your neighbours, you might need to comply with any council rules about fences that face the street. If a fence is taller than 2.5m it will require a building consent. There are special requirements for fences around pools and spa pools.
Safety guidance for pool owners on the Building Performance website has more information.
Selecting my location and neighbourhood has more information on safety.
Planting for food
You will be surprised how much food you can grow, even on a small urban section. For many people, collecting food from your own garden to eat fresh is one of life's great pleasures. Fruit trees and a vegetable garden can also cut your food bills.
If space is a problem, ask your council if there’s a community garden or orchard in your area where you can rent a plot or volunteer. You might be able to take home some fruit, fresh vegetables, cut flowers or seedlings for your efforts.
Your local garden centre can advise you which fruit trees grow well in your conditions. Surpluses can be preserved, swapped or given away.
Erosion and stormwater control
How plants protect against erosion
Trees and shrubs provide some protection against stormwater erosion, partly by reducing runoff and partly because their root networks hold the soil together. Planting trees to protect against erosion is a particularly good idea if your site is near a stream or on the coast.
Ask your local council whether they have planting guides for erosion prevention. A good example is Christchurch City Council’s Streamside Planting Guide
Paving can increase runoff
Paving reduces the amount of water filtering into the soil and causes flooding, erosion and pollution. If you pave or concrete large areas of your property, you may be increasing the risk of flooding on your and your neighbours' properties.
Permeable surfaces such as wood chips, stones or pumice, or permeable paving with gaps to allow stormwater to soak through, can be used as alternatives to paving.
Consider a rain garden or swale
Rain gardens absorb the run-off from your roof and paved areas and reduce the risk of erosion.
Managing stormwater has more information.
Some soil types retain moisture more than others – for example, clay soils retain more moisture than sandy soils and therefore need to be watered less often than sandy soils.
Use mulch and compost
Mulch such as bark, untreated wood chips or shredded garden waste reduces water evaporation from bare soil by up to 70 per cent. It also suppresses weed growth.
Adding compost to your soil also increases water retention.
Plant carefully and group plants together
You can include plants that don’t require much water. Also, to save you wasting water on plants that don't need it, group together plants with similar watering requirements, and site them in suitable areas of the garden.
Water carefully – you can be more precise with watering cans or hoses with triggers to manage the flow than with sprinklers.
Keep your garden sheltered
A hot, dry wind can quickly evaporate moisture from the surfaces of leaves. If you shelter plants you can limit exposure to wind.
Consider a rain garden or swale
Rain gardens absorb and use run-off from your roof and paved areas.
Managing stormwater has more information.
Collect your own rain water or divert greywater
If you collect water from you roof into a barrel or tank you can use this to water your garden. You can also recycle greywater by diverting your shower and bath water and washing machine outflow to the toilet or garden. Greywater is not right for all soil types, or regions of New Zealand, so check if your council allows it. In any greywater system, it is essential to use ‘plant friendly’ products – those without salts, enzymes, boron, or chlorine bleach. Also be aware that greywater tends to be alkaline. Choose your plants accordingly.
Collecting and using rainwater and Reusing greywater have more information.
Greywater systems on the BRANZ Level website also has information.
Pesticides and fertilisers
Pesticides can be washed off plants and soil and enter waterways. You can avoid the use of pesticides by using plants which are naturally resistant to insect pests, or by techniques such as companion planting.
If you do use pesticides, use the least toxic ones (check at your local garden centre). Be particularly careful if you use them around waterways, as many pesticides and herbicides will kill native fish. Also select pesticides that don’t kill bees – many plants rely on bees for pollination, but bee populations are declining because of the use of pesticides.
Excessive fertiliser use can cause algal blooms and oxygen deficiency in streams, rivers and lakes. Natural fertilisers such as lime, blood and bone, horse manure and seaweed are organic and nutrient rich. However, some plants may be intolerant to such fertilisers. Compost is generally safe.