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The Ten Best “Green Cars” for the Price

If you actually heed John Edwards’ suggestion to give up your SUV, you probably won’t look for the least expensive green car on the market. SUV prices range anywhere from $16,005 for the 2007 Chevrolet HHR to $107,500 for the 2007 Mercedes-Benz G-Class. If you have the budget to afford any car in that range, then you won’t flinch when faced with the $19,692 – $23,220 price tag for the world’s number one selling hybrid car, the Toyota Prius. Nor will you hesitate to dig until you find the price of the fastest green car to date, the Dodge Viper SRT10 Roadster that runs on E85, a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.

Unfortunately, prices remain high across the board for any environmentally friendly car. The least expensive green car currently on the American market is the 2007 Hyundai Accent GLS 4-Door with a price tag that carries a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of $12,925. But, according to Yahoo’s “Top 100 Cars by Green Rating,” the Hyundai comes in at number 22 with a green rating of 75. This car is gasoline-powered, as are all the cars listed below (which means your gas reward cards will still earn points). This screening shows that a frugalist may have to bite the bullet and spend more than $18,000 for a hybrid.

Until you’re ready for that financial trauma, you can assuage your environmental guilt with the following ten gasoline-powered yet “green” vehicles that are all priced under $19,000. The following list is offered in order from least to most expensive based upon Yahoo’s MSRP. Information about engines, horsepower, torque, mph in city and on the highway, and fuel tank capacity and range are all included with each vehicle.

1. 2007 Kia Rio SX (MSRP $13,495)

2007 Kia Rio SXAlthough the Rio shares its platform with the Hyundai Accent, it feels sportier, thanks to subtle chassis tweaks. Other additions include a new alloy wheels design, new shift knobs for the manual and automatic transmissions, and an illuminated ignition surround. The Kia Rio SX (Manual) was last redesigned in 2006; no information is currently available on upcoming changes. For a bare-bones car with a low price, it’s surprisingly roomy, refined, and good-looking front-engine, front-drive, 4-door, 5-passenger sedan. The Kia Rio SX ranks at twenty-one on the Yahoo 100 list, with a green rating of 75.

  • Engine: Standard 1.6-liter DOHC 16-valve inline-4
  • Horsepower: 110 @ 6000 RPM
  • Torque (lb-ft): 107 @ 4500 RPM
  • City (mpg): 32
  • Hwy (mgp): 35
  • Fuel-Tank Capacity/Range: 11.9 gal/381 mi

2. 2007 Toyota Yaris S (MSRP $13,525)

2007 Toyota Yaris SAll new to the U.S. in 2007, the front-engine, front-drive; 4-door, 5-passenger sedan Yaris is Toyota’s cheapest machine in Toyota’s green lineup. The gasoline-powered Yaris S sedan, unlike the three-door Yaris hatchback and the four-door Yaris sedan, gets extra body cladding, bigger 15-inch wheels and a CD stereo with an auxiliary input jack. The 5-speed manual overdrive is standard, with an optional 4-speed automatic overdrive. This car ranks at seven out of 100 at Yahoo with a green rating of 77.

  • Engine: Standard 1.5-liter DOHC 16-valve inline-4 (Toyota’s latest VVT-i technology)
  • Horsepower: 106 @ 6000 RPM
  • Torque (lb-ft): 103 @ 4200 RPM
  • City (mpg): 27
  • Hwy (mgp): 34 – 37
  • Fuel-Tank Capacity/Range: 11.1 gal/377 mi

3. 2007 Kia Rio5 SX (MSRP $13,750)

2007 Kia Rio5 SXThis Hyundai Accent clone is the smallest of Kias offered on the market this year. You’ll find hatchback utility in this front-engine, front-drive, 5-door, 5-passenger sedan. The Rio5
is among the lowest priced vehicles sold in the U.S., but Kia strives to offer a full-feature vehicle with a stylish appearance. The Kia Rio5 SX ranks fifteenth out of 100 on the Yahoo list, with a green rating of 75.

  • Engine: Standard 1.6-liter DOHC 16-valve inline-4
  • Horsepower: 110 @ 6000 RPM
  • Torque (lb-ft): 107 @ 4500 RPM
  • City (mpg): 32
  • Hwy (mgp): 35
  • Fuel-Tank Capacity/Range: 11.9 gal/381 mi

4. 2007 Honda Fit Sport 5-Spd MT (MSRP $15,170)

2007 Honda Fit Sport MTNew to the U.S. market, the front-engine, front-drive; 5-door, 5-passenger Fit wagon leads a growing platoon of new subcompacts intended to keep soaring fuel prices at bay. The gasoline-powered Fit blends agility with a roomy, upscale interior and clever cargo versatility. The Fit is a popular model in Japan and Europe, where it is sold as the Honda Jazz. The 5-speed manual overdrive is standard, with the 5-speed automatic overdrive as an option. The Honda Fit Sport 5-Spd MT ranks fourteenth out of 100 on the Yahoo list, with a green rating of 76.

  • Engine: Standard 1.5-liter SOHC 16-valve inline-4
  • Horsepower: 109 @ 5800 RPM
  • Torque (lb-ft): 105 @ 4800 RPM
  • City (mpg): 33
  • Hwy (mgp): 38
  • Fuel-Tank Capacity/Range: 10.8 gal/356 mi

5. 2007 Toyota Corolla LE (MSRP $15,515)

2007 Toyota Corolla LEToyota has successfully and consistently sold the Corolla in the U.S. since 1969, and this car remains one of the most popular Toyota vehicles. Although not fast or extremely exciting to drive, it is very predictable. Expect a redesign for 2008. This 2007 front-engine, front-drive, 4-door, 5-passenger sedan comes with a 5-speed manual overdrive with optional 4-speed automatic overdrive. The gasoline-powered Toyota Corolla LE ranks thirteenth on the Yahoo 100 list, with a green rating of 76.

  • Engine: Standard 1.8-liter DOHC 16-valve inline-4
  • Horsepower: 126 @ 6000 RPM
  • Torque (lb-ft): 122 @ 4200 RPM
  • City (mpg): 32
  • Hwy (mgp): 41
  • Fuel-Tank Capacity/Range: 13.2 gal/422 mi

6. 2007 Honda Civic Sedan DX 5-Spd AT (MSRP $15,810)

2007 Honda Civic Sedan DX ATThe eighth generation of this perennial bestseller was introduced last year, but the cost-cutting that was apparent in the most recent Civics is nowhere to be seen in the new offerings. The Honda Civic DX AT is a gasoline-powered, front-engine, front-drive; 4-door, 5-passenger sedan. The 5-speed automatic overdrive is standard in the AT sedan, but no manual overdrive is available. The Honda Civic Sedan DX 5-Spd AT rates sixteenth out of 100 on the Yahoo list, with a green rating of 75.

  • Engine: Standard 1.8-liter SOHC 16-valve inline-4
  • Horsepower: 140 @ 6300 RPM
  • Torque (lb-ft): 128 @ 4300 RPM
  • City (mpg): 30
  • Hwy (mgp): 40
  • Fuel-Tank Capacity/Range: 13.2 gal/396 mi

7. 2007 Kia Spectra SX (MSRP $15,995)

2007 Kia Spectra SXLoaded with features, the gasoline-powered Kia Spectra SX received new front fascia styling with integrated front spoiler this year, including a revised grille, headlights, bumper and new standard 16-inch alloy wheels. Additionally, the Spectra doesn’t feel like a compact economy car. The SX comes with 5-speed manual overdrive, but now has a new 4-speed automatic transmission available as an option. The SX is roomy with great road manners for a front-engine, front-drive, 4-door, 5-passenger sedan. The Kia Spectra SX ranks twentieth out of 100 on the Yahoo 100 list, with a green rating of 75.

  • Engine: Standard 2.0-liter DOHC 16-valve inline-4
  • Horsepower: 138 @ 6000 RPM
  • Torque (lb-ft): 136 @ 4500 RPM
  • City (mpg): 25
  • Hwy (mgp): 33
  • Fuel-Tank Capacity/Range: 14.0 gal/350 mi

8. 2007 Ford Focus 5-Door Hatchback SES (MSRP $16,775)

2007 Ford Focus Hatchback SESFord offers a combination of a formal station wagon and a five-door hatchback with this front-engine, front-drive, 5-passenger sedan. The 2007 gasoline-powered Ford Focus 5-door hatchback is a carryover from 2006. A 5-speed manual transmission with overdrive is standard, and a 4-speed automatic transmission with overdrive is optional. This car ranks five out of 100 at Yahoo with a green rating of 77.

  • Engine: Standard 2.0-liter DOHC 16-valve inline-4
  • Horsepower: 136 @ 6000 RPM
  • Torque (lb-ft): 136 @ 4250 RPM
  • City (mpg): 27
  • Hwy (mgp): 37
  • Fuel-Tank Capacity/Range: 14.0 gal/378 mi

9. 2007 Hyundai Elantra Limited (MSRP $16,895)

2007 Hyundai Elantra LimitedThe fourth-generation gasoline-powered Elantra follows Hyundai’s success formula in its all-new 2007 version. Even base models come with standard ABS, power mirrors, power windows, and six airbags. The latest front-engine, front-drive; 4-door, 5-passenger sedan Elantra Limited is bigger than the previous edition, and it seats four adults comfortably. The Hyundai Elantra Limited ranks eleventh on the Yahoo 100 list, with a green rating of 76.

  • Engine: Standard 2.0-liter DOHC 16-valve inline-4
  • Horsepower: 138 @ 6000 RPM
  • Torque (lb-ft): 136 @ 4600 RPM
  • City (mpg): 28
  • Hwy (mgp): 36
  • Fuel-Tank Capacity/Range: 14.0 gal/392 mi

10. 2007 MINI Cooper HT (MSRP $18,050)

2007 MINI Cooper HTThe new gasoline-powered MINI for 2007 is remarkably similar to the previous model. The major differences in the 2007 model are the new 2.36” longer body that was changed to meet European Union pedestrian impact standards, a steering system that is now electrically assisted, and a sports suspension with up-rated springs, dampers and anti-roll bars available for any model. You’ll also see new sheet metal, chassis, and safety equipment. Interior space is increased everywhere except for rear seat passengers. A 6-speed manual transmission with overdrive is standard, and a 6-speed automatic transmission with overdrive is optional. The MINI Cooper HT ranks tenth out of 100 on the Yahoo list, with a green rating of 76.

  • Engine: Standard 1.6L 118 hp I4 (utilizes technology from parent BMW)
  • Horsepower: 118 @ 6000 RPM
  • Torque (lb-ft): 114 @ 4250 RPM
  • City (mpg): 32
  • Hwy (mgp): 40
  • Fuel-Tank Capacity/Range: 13.2 gal/356 mi


Yahoo doesn’t carry the last word on green vehicles, as other ratings exist that will show that the Prius is, by far, the best environmentally-friendly car for the price. This vehicle combines an electric motor with a powerful engine to create a car that runs like any other conventional vehicle. Yet, you can see returns down the road with its exceptional fuel efficiency.

Other vehicles, like the Volkswagen Touran, provide green efficiency to European countries, but not to U.S. citizens. Many Volkswagen Tourans have a fuel cell drive system that do not create exhaust emissions. While a bit pricier than the cars shown in the list above, the price tag for this car may be just a bit more than the Prius if it were sold in America. As with any supply-demand economic situation, the best green cars cost more because there are fewer in existence. As demand rises, the price may come down, but don’t expect that situation to occur within the next year or two.

Posted:October 10th, 2007 in Green Transportation No Comments

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How to Beat the Heat Without Breaking Your Budget

The hottest time of the year is upon us and, unfortunately, rising temperatures lead to rising energy costs. The solution to your outrageous electric bills isn’t as simple as nixing the air conditioner, however. Most of us can’t stand to go without air conditioning in the summer and, in parts of the country, this lack of cooling could be downright dangerous. Don’t spend this summer maxing out your AMEX card on rising energy bills. There are some frugal adjustments you can make to your life that will chill you out, both figuratively and literally.

Cool Down Your Body

Drink Water – Are you drinking your 8-10 glasses a day? If you are like most people, then probably not. When you’re sweating a lot during the summer months, you should drink even more. Regular hydration helps to regulate your body regulate more efficiently. Even if you are just slightly dehydrated, your body will heat up.

A good rule of thumb is to drink a glass of water every hour or two. Even if you don’t feel thirsty, your body needs it. Some people think they can quench their thirst by consuming ice tea or a similar drink, but that isn’t true. Any kind of sugar or caffeine will only dehydrate you more. If you really want to cool down, plain water is the key.

Eat Smart - You can help your body stay cooler with the things you eat. Large, heavy meals can increase your body temperature. Try to eat more meals throughout the day that are smaller in portion. This is also a good weight loss technique, especially when combined with extra water intake. Cool snacks, such as Popsicles and fruits are always good to have on hand in the summer.

Wet Yourself – With water, that is. When you aren’t drinking it, you can submerge in it. Even a little bit of water can help. Whether it is a cool rag on the back of the neck or a splash to the face, ‘agua’ is your friend throughout the summer months. Here’s an interesting fact: applying water to pressure points on your body, such as your temple or wrists, will cool you down faster.

Swimming is also a great way to stay cool and is one of the best ways to get into shape, which is an added bonus. You may not have a pool, but there could be a community pool in the area. The most frugal option, however, is going for a dip in a natural body of water, be it a lake, river or ocean. Baths will also do the trick, but excessive bathing to stay cool will only drive up your water bill.

Dress Appropriately – Just because The Fonz wore a leather jacket year-round doesn’t mean you will get away with it, too. In the hottest part of the year, dress appropriately to keep yourself cool. Even a dark t-shirt can overheat you. If you are out and about, stick to light colors and thin materials. Also, keep in mind that natural fibers will breathe easier than synthetic materials.

Much of your body heat escapes through your feet and head, which is why you need to cover both areas in the winter and leave them bare in the summer. In situations where you can’t go without footwear, opt for something open-toed. As for hats, they will insulate your head and drive up your body temperature. Hats are only necessary in the summer if you are going to be in direct sunlight for extended periods and need protection from UV rays. If you need to wear a hat, choose a light weave straw or natural fiber hat to allow ventilation.

Stay Out of the Sun – Yes, there are some activities you will want to partake in outside, but try to stay indoors during the hottest part of the day, about mid-afternoon. Early morning and early evening are the most bearable daylight hours, though you may want to invest in some mosquito repellent. If you are outside when it is scorching, take some water with you and try to stay in the shade.

Cool Down Your House

Close the Blinds/Curtains – You need to keep your house as insulated as possible in the summer. Heat comes in through windows very easily if they aren’t covered. Sure, it’s pretty outside, but your air conditioner will work overtime if you draw your curtains/blinds. Make sure that everyone in the house knows to keep the windows covered. This simple rule will save you more money than you realize.

Keep the Doors Shut – “Close the door, we can’t afford to air condition the whole neighborhood!” Many of us heard that or something similar from our parents at one time, and they weren’t just being old grouches. They were struggling to pay their high electric bill every month, just like you are now. Don’t let anyone in the house leave the door open for extended periods. If you are speaking with someone at the front door, step out and close the door or let that person in. Leaving the door open just a minute or two can really heat up the house.

Some people think that opening doors or windows will let a breeze in, thus cooling off the house. You won’t be letting the breeze in – you will be letting your cooler air out. For as long as your air conditioner is operating, it will always be cooler inside than it is outside.

Use Ceiling Fans – Using your ceiling fans is a great way to stay cool and save money. By circulating cool air, the fans will allow you to keep your thermostat at a reasonable level. Your air conditioner running at a moderate rate, combined with the use of ceiling fans, should make you feel quite comfortable during the summer. On that note, reversing the blades on your fans will assist your heater during the winter. Used wisely, ceiling fans can help you save money throughout the year.

Invest in Solar Screens - Although you are searching for ways to stay cool while saving money, this purchase will actually do both in the long run. Solar screens, affixed to the outside of your windows, will block the heat of the sun better than blinds and curtains combined. This is one of the cheapest ways to make your house more “green“, costing several hundred dollars for a modest-sized home.

If you live in a warm climate, these screens will probably pay for themselves with money saved in just one summer by reducing your energy costs. Still concerned about the initial price? Charging the screens to a low-interest rewards card should reduce the sticker shock. Also, you will be able to deduct the cost of the screens from your taxes the following year, so save that receipt!

Weatherstrip Your Doors and Windows – Weatherstripping your doors and windows will allow for even more insulation, which is helpful in both summer and winter. You may not even realize that cool air is seeping out of your house during the summer through tiny gaps around the doors and windows. Likewise, the cool air seeps back into your house during the winter. Weatherstripping is a simple DIY project that will cost a nominal fee when compared to the money you will save each month. Combining weatherstripping with solar screens is optimum and you will be able to see the difference in your energy bill as soon as the first month.

If you are having a rough time sweating it out in the hot sun this summer, then your rising energy costs probably don’t make you any happier. However, there are simple ways to make both your body and your home more relaxed. The above tactics will not only improve your personal comfort and reduce your monthly bills, they will help you protect the planet by conserving energy. It is a winning combination for everyone.

Posted:September 12th, 2007 in Energy Savings Green No Comments

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How to Save Money with Xeriscaping

It is estimated that the average person uses 123 gallons (466 liters) of water per day and water resources are becoming more precious even in areas never before affected by shortages. Shortsighted water usage in the past has resulted in an all-time high in water dependency. If Americans are to enjoy the luxury of inexpensive water in the future, the practice of employing water efficiency practices must begin now.

Fortunately, specific steps can be taken to relieve pressures on water supplies around homes and in businesses without detriment to quality of life. Because the largest single use of municipal water may be in the landscape, it is an excellent place to begin water reduction demand. Professionals and homeowners can take an aggressive and positive attitude toward water conservation in landscape design and management. When basic horticultural principles are employed with an emphasis on water efficiency, landscapes use much less water because they’re drought tolerant, and home and business owners can save money in the long run.

Seven Xeriscape Steps to Save Money

The combination of water conservation techniques with landscaping is a concept known as Xeriscape or “dry landscape.” Xeriscape is a term that was coined in a Denver, Colorado program designed to promote water conservation in the landscape. While the idea began in the Western United States where landscapes can be truly dry, the same water-saving principles can apply to any landscape practice no matter the location. The seven basics Xeriscape principles include:

  1. Careful planning and design
  2. Appropriate lawn areas
  3. Thorough soil preparation
  4. Effective and efficient watering methods
  5. Use of mulch on trees, shrubs, and flowerbeds
  6. Proper landscape maintenance
  7. Appropriate use of plant materials

The greatest water efficiency is realized when all seven principles are used in combination. This translates directly into money savings for any homeowner or business, although some costs will be incurred on the front end (use a cash-back or reward credit card to save further, especially if you can pay off the expenses immediately). The combination of lower maintenance costs with greater survivability of landscape plants in times of water shortage, a Xeriscape is economically attractive.

Xeriscapes need not consist of dry-looking cactus and rock garden concoctions, as the gardener can employ existing principles of landscape design, construction, and maintenance to create water-efficient landscapes. Xeriscapes employ basic techniques to create state-of-the-art landscapes that save money and are beautiful.

1. Planning and Design

When you design a new landscape or renovate an existing one, it’s best to begin that plan on paper with a site analysis. This practice will save you time and money as you begin to learn how to best utilize your space. When you walk through the site with a pencil and piece of paper, you can sketch the following with notes:

  1. A layout of the existing walkways, buildings, decks, patios, and driveways.
  2. Note any existing trees, shrubs, and flower beds.
  3. Also note sun and wind exposure, topography, and drainage.

Once you’ve made these notes, consider the relationships among all the site features. Modifications that require grading, paving, or construction should be planned at this stage, but you might plan to keep the most desirable features within that landscape. Existing shade trees should remain wherever possible, because shady landscapes are cooler and need less water than sunny areas. If you can leave these trees or other features, your plans will save money. Other points to consider in your planning:

Decisions should be made about what size lawn area is needed, if any. Lawns usually take more water than any other feature within the landscape, so reduce the lawn size if possible. You can also save money on watering if you switch to a more drought-tolerant lawn species like Bermuda grass.

The site’s “microclimates” should be outlined on your plan as well. Microclimates are areas within a landscape design that have environmental conditions that differ from adjacent areas, such as the cool, shady north side of a building. One microclimate would be the hottest places in full sun on the south side of a building. Areas that receive more water, such as rainfall runoff from a roof or low spots that collect water are considered separate microclimates. Coastal residents must also consider the effects of salt spray as it greatly affects some plants.

These microclimates will influence your plant selection in all areas. A large shade tree on the south side of a house will lower temperatures and reduce water demands on an otherwise hot and sunny area. Cooler, shady areas on a building’s north side provide good environments for shade-loving species. Some plants thrive in cool morning sun with an eastern exposure, and other plants will work well in hot afternoon sun and western exposure.

To achieve the greatest water efficiency, your landscape plan can incorporate “hydrozones” or areas within a design that receive either low, moderate, or high amounts of water. All plants within a given zone maintain the same water requirements and can be watered as a group. For example, if you place high-water-use plants in a group, you can concentrate your water usage in just one area as needed.

High-water-use plants should not be placed near entryways or close to buildings, as you can create significant moisture problems and damage, especially to a building’s foundation. Low-water-use zone plants near building foundations will help to alleviate extensive mildew problems and moisture damage. Additionally, placement of dense shrubs near building foundations frequently blocks foundation vents that were installed to allow good air circulation beneath a structure’s floor. Finally, excessive moisture applied to plants near a building’s foundation also may promote pest problems. Research has shown [PDF] that termites, carpenter ants, and roaches thrive in moist locations.

Shade is also an important consideration in a water-efficient landscape. Surface temperatures can cool up to an average of thirty-six degrees in the five minutes following the arrival of the shadow line from overhead foliage. Lower temperatures mean less water loss by plants. However, plants placed directly under a shady tree face tree root competition, which may decrease water availability. “Dry shade” is a problem that must be considered when planting within a tree’s root zone. Shade is created by trees, but also by “hardscape” features such as walls, fences, arbors, and trellises.

2. Appropriate Lawn Areas

The concept of an appropriate lawn area is key to Xeriscape design. Lawn areas usually receive more water and require more maintenance than any other area in the landscape; therefore, you should select grasses carefully depending upon location, use and desired maintenance programs. Irrigated turf areas should be limited to the highest impact locations in the landscape.

Common Bermuda grass is among the best of all grass choices for Xeriscape design, especially in the south. This grass requires very low irrigation regimes and tolerates high sun. Several other warm-season greases become dormant and may wilt or become brown during severe water shortages if they aren’t irrigated, but they will often “green up” as soon as rain returns. Buffalo grass, Fine Leaf Fescue, Kentucky Bluegrass, among other grasses can be used in various climates depending upon traffic, weather, and temperature tolerance.

One technique that will help you to determine when a lawn needs irrigation, no matter which grass you’ve planted, is the “footprint” method. Walk across a lawn that isn’t covered with dew and examine the area behind you to see if you leave footprints. Footprints often appear when the grass plants contain low moisture. When you press grass blades with your foot, low water levels in the leaf tissues prevent the leaves from springing back. If your footprints remain for an extended time, the lawn should be thoroughly irrigated. This method will help to save money on irrigation when it isn’t needed.

Mowing the lawn at a proper height will help improve turf grass drought tolerance as well. Maintain cool-season turf such as tall fescue at three to three and one-half inches, and keep warm-season grasses such as Bermuda and centipede grass at one to one and one-half inches. Leave the lawn clippings on the lawn to mulch the turf and to reduce fertility requirements. This practice will also cut your water bills.

3. Soil Preparation

Soil is the medium for root growth and a reservoir for water and nutrients, so it’s basically the life support system for landscapes. Properly conditioned soil is vital for healthy landscapes and for saving money. Thing to look for in your soil include:

  • If the soil is porous and will drain freely, yet it retains water and nutrients in a form that’s available to plants, then it’s a good soil that needs little additions.
  • Soils that are hard and compact don’t allow water and air to penetrate to the root zone, and irrigation water is often wasted as runoff.
  • Sandy soils dry out quickly and water and nutrients usually drain away before plants can use them.

If you’re unsure about the soil contained in your landscape, you can always take samples to a local county extension office so they can provide an analysis for you and recommendations for improvements.

Not all soil needs additions for improvements, but addition of organic matter probably is the single most important method to improving soil structure. Organic matter increases water and nutrient capacity, aeration, and drainage. Plants and grasses that are planted in healthy soil are more vigorous and maintain greater disease and drought resistance.

Types of organic matter that you can use include sphagnum peat moss, pine bark, decomposed wood chips, and composted matter. As a rule of thumb, a minimum of four inches of organic matter should be tilled into the pant bed to a depth of one foot (12″). It’s important to enrich an entire flower or shrub bed, not just individual planting holes, so plants can form extensive and healthy root systems.

Trees and lawn areas don’t need extensive amendment; however, if you do amend your lawns, they will establish rapidly and grow stronger root systems. The type of tree also dictates soil amendment, as flowering trees like dogwoods prefer a richer soil than trees such as pines that will grow with little soil improvement. Finally, mounding the soil around a tree, shrub, or garden and sloping the bed will improve drainage and better survival of plants susceptible to drainage problems. This practice can also provide winter protection for many plants during a cold winter season.

On the other hand, mounding soil can often disrupt oxygen and water levels especially if you mound mature shrubs and trees. Conduct research on the plants that you plan to modify to learn more about how mounding and berming will affect those particular plants. A list of general tree and shrub care, for instance, can help to choose the trees and shrubs you need for your Xeriscape in advance. You can save money and time by learning more about your choices in advance rather than wait to be surprised by the bills wrought by unhealthy and inappropriate choices.

4. Watering Methods

A technique inherent to Xeriscape methods is efficient irrigation systems that provide appropriate amounts of water only at critical times. This irrigation system is designed to correlate directly to the hydrozones that you planned in step one. Turf areas, for instance, need to be irrigated by a separate system or by using timers to control the water amount the turf receives versus the requirements for shrubs, trees, and gardens.

Placement of the irrigation system also allows you to take drought conditions into consideration. Soil texture will influence your placement and the type of irrigation systems you choose. Drip and microsprinkler irrigation systems have many advantages, including that of saving money. They’re precise, they keep foliage dry, they’re simple to install, and they reduce erosion and water loss due to evaporation. They also reduce splash-transmitted soil-borne diseases associated with traditional sprinkler systems and they reduce mildew and decay on house foundations because they’re easier to control.

The amount of water that drip systems use is measured in gallons of water per hour, whereas the traditional sprinkler is measured in gallons of water per minute. That fact alone should help you decide which irrigation system to use if you’re budget minded. The drawback is that drip irrigation systems aren’t appropriate for lawn or ground cover plants.

You can also retrofit an existing traditional sprinkler system to serve as a drip and microsprinkler system, or you can use a soaker hose as an economical alternative to the drip system. If you want to spend a little more money as you design your Xeriscape, you can install a subsurface system that will eventually save money in the long run. Evidence suggests that the subsurface system can save up to 60 percent in water use, and because the water is placed directly at the root zone, wet/dry cycles are reduced. This system results in deeper root growth and healthier plants. Finally, all but the traditional irrigation system contains a low profile in the landscape, so vandalism can be eliminated.

After you’ve designed and installed your irrigation system, monitor the flow so that you don’t develop puddles or runoff. If you notice excess water, change the timing of the watering or split it so that the soil has time to absorb the water. A well designed watering system can save tons of money, but one error can wipe out those savings. But, the time and money you spend on proper irrigation will conserve needed water, reduce plant replacements, and will lower maintenance costs.

5. Mulching

As much as 75 percent of the rainfall landing on bare ground is lost to evaporation and runoff. You can help prevent this loss by using proper mulch on your shrubs, trees, and flowerbeds. Mulch helps to insure plant survival and it’s an important component in Xeriscapes.

Two basic types of mulches are organic and inorganic. Examples of organic mulches include pine straw, pine bark mini-nuggets, wood chip mulch, composted leaves and grass clippings. Inorganic mulches include pebbles, gravel, black plastic and other landscape fabrics. While you can choose among many materials for mulches, price, availability, and aesthetic appeal will dictate your choice.

The best mulches are usually fine textured and non-matting organic materials, as these mulches allow runoff to percolate down through the soil. Any organic mulch should decompose slowly, be free of weeds, and should not be washed away easily by rainfall. Mulches that decompose quickly (such as grass clippings) are less desirable, but will help if you run out of mulch and need something to stand in for a substitute. Despite organic materials’ ability to decompose quickly, the benefits include an increased capacity to hold water in the soil, and the ability to reduce the amount of water lost by runoff and to moderate extreme soil temperature fluctuations.

Woody landscape plants need an application of three to five inches of any good mulch. This mulch should be applied under the plant and at least out to the drip line, because root systems can extend two to three times the spread of the plant. But mulch should be pulled away from the trunk of the plant to keep the bark dry. Since mulch increases the soil’s ability to hold water, the mulch should be six inches below any untreated wood siding along a building and at least eight inches below untreated wood structural members such as sills, joints, and plates.

One of the most important features to mulch is that it helps to regulate soil temperature. Summer heat is dissipated by mulch and the soil also is insulated from winter cold. Plants use less water when they’re not stressed by temperature modifications.

Weeds also compete with plants for water, and mulching can smother existing weeds and prevent new weed growth. Plus, when you reduce weeds by mulching, you reduce the need for fertilizer or weed killing applications. If you use landscape fabrics under organic mulch, this practice can reduce weeds even further.

Some considerations can help you make decisions about which type of mulch to use for your Xeriscape. Black plastic, for instance, can restrict water flow to plant roots and cause a heat buildup. Gravel can reflect heat to a plant’s canopy and increase that plant’s need for water. On the other hand, the consistent use of organic mulch can add humus to the soil, and humus increases a soil’s nutrient-holding capacity. Finally, mulches can provide a pleasing aesthetic to a garden, whether fully planted or not. Mulches can be used to create clean lines between planting beds and lawn areas or added to beds that are empty to create a pleasing contrast to surrounding growth.

6. Maintenance

Xeriscape principles can reduce maintenance as much as 50 percent through reduced water loss and soil erosion. Xeriscape designs also reduce mowing by limiting lawn areas, fertilization through proper soil preparation, and weeds through proper mulching. You can also reduce water use through proper irrigation systems, and costly damage to buildings through proper placement of those systems.

When you consider the contours of your property in your site planning and design, you also created hydrozones and microclimates that reduced the amount of water needed overall. You save money, time, and water when you planned your landscape to “fit” within these zones. When plants aren’t over watered, you can eliminate time spent pruning trees and shrubs. When you allow soils to dry between watering, you also encourage root systems to grow deeper. This Xeriscape technique helps plants to withstand periods of drought, as root systems are deep within the soil and closer to available moisture. Mulching will help to keep that moisture available even during periods of extreme drought.

7. Appropriate Plants

While you might think that cactus and gravel landscapes are the hallmark of Xeriscapes, lush green landscapes and seasonal colors are also components to Xeriscaping. With all Xeriscapes, careful planning and plant selection are important to insure your investment and the longevity of your landscape plants.

Basically any plant is a candidate for Xeriscapes. The key to success is how the plant is used. Your greatest successes will be achieved when plants are placed in environments most similar to the plant’s native habitat. With that said, many plants are adaptable and can perform equally well in different situations. You can determine a plant’s adaptability with research into that plant’s cultural requirements.

Coastal residents face the most challenges, because they must consider the influence of ocean breezes laden with salt. Salt spray and wind cause the foliage of many plant species to dry out, which results in severe damage or death. Additionally, beach soils are sandy and can retain little water and nutrients, while soils slightly inland may be heavy and poorly drained. Another problem for coastal residents is the poor quality of available irrigation water. Salts can penetrate underground aquifers, and these salts can injure landscape plants in a manner similar to the harm caused by ocean spray.

If you choose plants native to your area and group them in hydrozones to regulate irrigation, you should have a low maintenance and budget-friendly landscape. You must also consider the microclimate, soil structure, and light or soil temperature when you choose your plants. Ultimately, soil conditions will help with your choices. If you combine proper plant selection with other basic Xeriscape principles such as soil improvements, mulching, and proper maintenance, you’ll maximize your water savings.

Finally, remember that plants that are naturally drought resistant may grow stronger and faster when they receive extra water. Just because a plant is drought tolerant doesn’t mean it has to be used in a dry spot in your landscape. But drainage is important, and careful attention should be given to placement of species that require good drainage. Plus, it’s important to note that many drought-tolerant plants become tolerant only after they become established in the landscape.

The following list contains only a small fraction of the many Xeriscape plant lists you can find online. Plus, you can check out books at local libraries, visit a local county extension office or a university’s Master Gardener program, or a local botanical garden to learn more about native plants you can grow in your landscape. As you can see from the list below, you might include the area where you live when you search for Xeriscape or drought resistant plants online:

Finally, check to see if you can receive a rebate for your Xeriscape plans and developments. For example, Aurora, Colorado’s water company offers its Aurora Water account customers a rebate for Xeriscapes up to 6,000 square feet, and Albuquerque’s water authority offers rebates as well. Mesa, Arizona offers a Grass-to-Xeriscape rebate program, and the San Antonio program has taught residents how to measure water lost to evaporation from the soil and transpiration (breathing) from the leaf. The latter program has reduced lawn watering by 25 to 30 percent, potentially saving 29,000 gallons a year per household. If you can estimate how much money you can save if you conserve 29,000 gallons of water per year, then maybe you’ll understand Xeriscape’s value. Jump online, do a little research, and contact you local water board and other professionals who will be happy to help for little to no cost. Then you’ll be on your way to a drought resistant, beautiful, and money-saving landscape project.

Posted:August 6th, 2007 in Gardening Green 7 Comments

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The Beginner’s Guide to Going Green: 8 Painless New Habits

For a lot of people, going green is a lot like losing weight. You keep saying you are going to do it, but too many excuses get in the way of your goal. No one ever said that doing the right thing is easy. However, there are many simple measures you could be taking right now to help the environment. Below are eight easy habits you should adopt for the sake of the planet. Not only will this help you start a new life as a conservationist, you will also save quite a few dollars.

  1. Use Your Ceiling Fans
    Ceiling fans are designed to circulate both cool and warm air. Most newer fans come with two directions: forward and reverse. During the summer, conserve energy by turning the air conditioner to a reasonable temperature and setting your ceiling fans to the forward position. In the winter time, you should do the opposite: keep your heater at a modest temperature while running your ceiling fans in reverse. By utilizing your ceiling fans correctly, your air conditioning and heating unit will have a lot less work to do.
  2. Turn Off Unnecessary Lights
    If your parents ever nagged you about leaving on too many lights in the house, it’s because they were the ones paying the utility bills. Now, as an adult, you probably feel a little pain every time that bill comes to your door. A very easy way to save energy is to turn off all unnecessary lights. Never leave a room empty without making sure the lights are off. Also, utilize smaller lights, such as a desktop lamp. A small lamp will use much less wattage than the giant bulbs on an overhead light fixture.
  3. Buy Energy-Saving Light Bulbs
    Energy-saving light bulbs, also known as compact fluorescent lamps, use a fraction of the wattage of normal bulbs. These bulbs do a lot for the environment and will save you hundreds of dollars a year in energy costs. Granted, these bulbs come with a higher price tag, but they are an investment that will pay off within a month or two, especially if you have a home improvement rewards card. Not only that, energy-saving bulbs can last years before going out, making life even more convenient for you.
  4. Manage the Thermostat Wisely
    Most people don’t think twice while adjusting their thermostat. However, a few degrees too high or low may result in unnecessary energy loss. Get to know your thermostat and set some house rules about what temperature it should remain at during the winter or summer. Ceiling fans will help you year round, as will installing a programmable thermostat. If you are gone for long periods during the day, you should turn down the air conditioner or heater. After all, the house doesn’t need to remain a comfortable temperature if no one is in it.
  5. Carpool With Co-workers / Classmates
    Carpooling is a great way to save money on gas and to reduce outdoor pollution. Whether you are going to work or school every day, there should be a small handful of people around who are interested in a carpool arrangement. Many cities have special carpool lanes on the freeway, so you may even be able to avoid some nasty traffic.
  6. Check Your Tire Pressure
    You should check your tire pressure regularly, as unbalanced tires can affect your car’s performance and waste fuel in the process. Not only will this habit conserve gas, it will reduce your chances of having a blowout, which is both dangerous and bad for the environment. After all, shredded remnants of tire are hardly a good thing to leave on the road.
  7. Buy a Good Doormat
    Doormats aren’t just for keeping dirt out, they are for keeping pesticides and other toxins out, too. Always keep a good doormat by all outside doors, particularly if you have small children and pets. You can track in a lot of invisible, hazardous waste from the outside. For that reason, a lot of green homes have a “no shoes policy“, which means you leave your footwear at the door. If you aren’t ready to commit to such a policy, however, the doormat should help quite a bit.
  8. Clean With Baking Soda
    Baking soda is a household item that can be used for practically everything. It can serve as antacid, toothpaste and even a cleaning product. Since many cleaning products contain chemicals that are harmful to humans and the environment, you should opt for a more natural solution. Baking soda, which is safe for human consumption, works well on counter tops and windows. It is also a lot less expensive than buying different kinds of cleaning products. So, cleaning with baking soda will give you peace of mind and save you some money.

The suggestions above can serve as your initiation to living green. If you practice these habits, then you will see how easy it is to make adjustments for the betterment of the environment. Another motivating factor will probably be the money you will save by following these tips. Indeed, green doesn’t have to be expensive. Frugal people can be the most eco-friendly people in the world. With a little practice and a small attitude adjustment, the painless habits listed above will only be the start of your new, environmentally conscious life.

Posted:July 18th, 2007 in Green 4 Comments