Back to Nature
According to Jeffrey Carbo, fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and founding principal of Carbo Landscape Architects, the yard is evolving into “a beautiful undoneness” that melds controlled and naturalistic elements to meet the needs of both people and wildlife. This progression is reflected in these top trends for 2020 that can help you transform your yard into a welcoming, low-maintenance, eco-conscious oasis.
To get the most out of their landscapes, whatever the weather, homeowners are incorporating elements like outdoor heaters, pergolas, and awnings, according to the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP). As well, landscapers are focusing on trees and shrubs that offer multiseason interest in the way of flowers, fruit, attractive textures, and fall color. For example, serviceberry, dogwood, and panicle hydrangea are excellent choices, particularly effective at providing structure and low-maintenance beauty around the patio or deck.
Blue Will Be Everywhere
The 2020 Pantone Color of the Year, Classic Blue, will not only inspire color schemes inside the home, but will also set the tone (or should we say hue?) for the garden. Expect the silver-spotted leaves and blue flowers of lungwort to brighten up shadier spaces and blue-bejeweled sun lovers like hyssop, blue star, catmint, and May Night salvia to attract plenty of pollinators.
With so many vegetable options, food-loving gardeners are venturing outside the traditional realm of beefsteak tomatoes and bell peppers, and treating friends to lesser-known varieties not often found in the produce section. According to Carbo, home gardeners want unique vegetables that appeal to both the eye and the taste buds. “They want beauty and productivity,” says Carbo. “They’re wondering about plant composition and how a certain lettuce will look planted near a particular tomato.”
Plants that are adapted to the climate and soil conditions where they naturally grow—in North America, for instance, natives like liatris, asters, and goldenrod—don’t require extra coddling to thrive. What’s more, they supply our pollinators with much-needed food and habitat. Susan Cohan, a fellow of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD), says she’s seen an uptick in interest in native plants among her clients. “They want a more natural landscape with less maintenance,” says Cohan. “I believe it’s due to a better awareness of climate change and a desire to plant responsibly.”
Year of the Lavender
Lavender checks all the boxes for what an eco-friendly plant should be: fragrant, low maintenance, water wise, and pollinator-friendly. The National Garden Bureau, a nonprofit organization providing plant-specific garden tips and inspiration, is so enamored of it that they’ve named 2020 the Year of the Lavender. Place it at the front of a border in a dry, sunny spot with excellent drainage, or add lavender to container arrangements with other sun-loving plants. Lavender Blue Spear from PanAmerican Seed is pictured.
Water districts across the country are limiting water consumption for landscape-related use. Drought-tolerant plants like Russian sage, lantana, and succulents are great for injecting color and texture into water-poor landscapes without the risk of a hefty water bill or a fine from the authorities. Check out the U.S. Drought Monitor to find out if you live in a drought-prone region.
As pollinator plant populations dwindle, pollinators are forced to travel greater distances to find the plants they need to complete their life cycles. To help them out, homeowners are incorporating plants like milkweed, the only host plant for monarch butterfly larvae, and nectar-rich plants like coneflower, Joe Pye weed, and bee balm (monarda) for adult monarchs, birds, bees, and countless other insects. “Having a colorful view from the window is great, but buzzing activity is even better,” says Katie Rotella, spokesperson for Ball Horticultural Company. “Planting flowers that attract helpful pollinators has so many benefits, and the plant choices today offer long bloom times, textures, and plenty of color.”
Small spaces aren’t stopping people from capitalizing on vertical opportunities, according to Tim Pollak, outdoor floriculturist at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Homeowners are "growing up," using creative approaches like trellising to soften walls with vining plants or wall-mounted containers to grow herbs and vegetables near the kitchen.
Homeowners are thinking beyond just the shape, size, and location of their patios and walkways to incorporate more sophisticated, intricate design. Permeable pavers and bricks laid in chevron, basket-weave, or lattice patterns are turning up underfoot. These more complicated patterns, once seen primarily in interior decor, are now warming up and softening the hardscaping of outdoor living spaces.
Have you ever seen an in-ground sprinkler system watering a yard during a rainstorm? High-tech irrigation systems are putting an end to such foolish wastefulness, transforming the way homeowners use water in the landscape. With smart irrigation, homeowners are saving money and conserving water—and it’s happening with just the touch of a button on a smartphone app.
Plant Breeding for the Modern Garden
Plant breeders are combining the genetic material of related plants to produce new plants with desirable traits like adaptability, increased flowering, and improved disease resistance. For example, today’s petunias are self-cleaning, which means they keep flowering without any deadheading. And plants like the succulent mangave, a new cross between the agave and manfreda plants, are faster growing, have fewer sharp leaves, and are more forgiving of wet environments than their parent plants.
Once night has fallen, what good is an outdoor living space without light? Outdoor lighting is all about ambience, and homeowners are increasingly illuminating their landscapes in subtle ways with cost-effective LED and solar-powered options. From planters with built-in lighting on the patio to low-profile pathway lights that hug the edges of the walkway, outdoor spaces now transition seamlessly from day to night with lighting that enhances without overwhelming or detracting from the design of the space.
Related: The Best Ways to Light the Backyard
Planting to Discourage Wildlife
Maintaining your landscaping can be expensive, especially if you’re constantly replacing plants that deer and rabbits can’t resist. To cut down on these losses, landscapers are setting the table with plants that wildlife tend to pass up, such as daffodils for the spring garden and aromatic summer-flowering plants like Russian sage, lilac, lavender, and allium. That said, Susan Cohan of the APLD points out that it’s a challenge to create low-maintenance, naturalistic landscapes in areas where deer are an issue. No plant is ever truly safe from a hungry deer.
Related: 8 Ways to Combat Garden Pests
Not enough cash for a professional? Homeowners are downloading free landscaping apps to guide them through a design or redesign of an existing space. The apps provide 2-D and 3-D layouts based on your property's measurements, with an extensive inventory of plants, trees, and shrubs that you can select and place into your design. With apps like these, you can be sure you're armed with a plan before you pick up a shovel.
Outdoor Furniture That Lasts
As the adage goes, you get what you pay for. Cheap outdoor furniture that's constantly exposed to sun, wind, and rain won’t last for long. Homeowners are increasingly willing to spend a little more up front for quality furniture and fade-resistant fabrics that will stand up to nature and provide more years of enjoyment.
Fertilizers aren’t the cure-all for an ailing landscape. The key to healthy plants is to start with soil full of good bacteria and plenty of nutrients. Homeowners are finally catching on and considering ways to rebuild their soils with composted kitchen scraps, mulches that add nutrients to the soil as they decompose, and new approaches like no-till gardening.
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