University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
Dr. Leonard Perry,
University of Vermont
or undesirable sounds, and noise pollution are receiving increased
once again online (www.noiseoff.org), in articles, and books (such as
ones by George Prochnik or Garret Keizer).
An often cited report by the World Health Organization in 1999, and
recent one in 2009, list many diverse health effects from noise on
addition to hearing impairment, excessive noise may cause behavioral
including negative ones, sleep disturbances, cardiovascular
impaired task performance. While the
options for reducing noise from off our properties are limited, there
ways we can reduce noise in our landscapes and gardens.
is a misconception that landscape plantings will significantly reduce
coming from off our properties. To be
really effective at reducing noise, a planting of tall evergreens would
be perhaps 50 feet wide. Similarly, walls
and fences really need to be 8 feet high or more to have much impact on
reduction. More important than the
material is its construction, as sounds will flow through gaps and
fences. To be really effective, fences
and walls must be higher and more solid than most budgets or town
may allow. Distance between you and the
source is the best way to reduce noise, but least practical in most
landscape plantings, berms, walls and fence may reduce the noise from
small amount, their main effect is from visually screening the source
noise. Psychologically we perceive less
noise if we don’t see the source. One
rule of thumb is that if you can see the source of noise, you can hear
means to reduce our hearing of noise from off our property is by
with sounds we like, or at least providing a distraction, such as from
music. Just make sure, if music through outdoor speakers,
that what is pleasing to you doesn’t travel off your property as
of the most popular garden features to add pleasant sounds is water.
This can be as simple as a manual well, small
recirculating pump, and lined whiskey barrel half. I have such a
feature near a window, so I can
appreciate the running water from inside. Of course cascading
water makes a gentle
background sound. Put in a waterfall or
fountains for more water music. Such constant water sound is on the
frequency as many undesirable noises, but it is more desirable and if
will dominate—termed “white noise”.
preserving and enhancing those desirable natural garden sounds you
may not have noticed, such as a babbling brook.
Encourage more and different birds for their songs. To do this, provide
nesting and protected areas, food year round, water, and other
attractions. To me, one of the best garden sounds is the
wind blowing through pine trees. Or think of the rustling leaves of
oak, which cling to their branches long into winter.
considering sounds in your garden, leave no stone unturned. You should
think about your path surfaces and the sounds made by walking on gravel
ornaments for sound include all sorts of whirligigs--those features on
that move in the wind--such as birds rotating their wings or men sawing
The plastic circular ones are popular with children and are colorful as
Wind chimes are popular, too, with some tuned to various notes. If you
seacoast, consider the triangular metal chimes that sound like buoys.
be able to appreciate such pleasant sounds, and to reduce the noise
that can be
unhealthy to you
and annoying to neighbors, here are ten questions to ask.
your mower have a good muffler? If
you’re looking for a new mower, consider a less noisy, electric,
or manual reel
type if not a large area.
you really need to mow so often, or as much area? If a large
area, try mowing the high traffic
parts and zones near drives and your home more often, the rest only
twice a year. Consider putting more lawn
into perennials, shrubs, and groundcovers.
you really need to have edges of beds so neat?
If so, perhaps you can use the string trimmer or power edger a bit less
often? Of can you use manual edge
trimmers? Consider pavers or other
edging products to keep grass from beds.
grass clippings get on your walks and drives when you mow? Then
consider a mulching mower, or just
changing the direction you mow and clippings are discharged, rather
getting out the power blower. What about
just using a wide push broom?
cleaning gravel from lawns, especially in northern landscapes after
plowing of gravel drives, can you use just a rake instead of a power
you really need to use power blowers for leaves? If just a few on
a lawn, they’ll turn into
nice recycled organic matter with the next mowing. With our
penchant for neat and tidiness, we
feel such look messy rather than just a natural process. If many
leaves, and a small area, will a rake
work rather than power blower or vacuum?
If lots of leaves over a large area, this means trees and shade and
perhaps other plants growing better there than lawn. I recently
saw a neighbor sucking leaves with
a power vacuum from between rocks in a roadside ditch. Perhaps
the rocks should be replaced with
grass, native plants, or a permeable pavement?
need pruning? Will a handsaw do the job
rather than chain saw?
need shearing? Will hand loppers work
rather than electric or power models?
right plants at the beginning, with the shape you want, and with plenty
to grow, and you may not need to shear.
So often those cute small plants we bought grow to cover windows and
doors, so need major surgery. If a plant
grows to the right height, with a desirable shape, consider just
alone. Shearing doesn’t need to be a
rite of spring or summer.
you really need to use the power tiller so much, or at all, in your
garden? This traditional garden tool
does a great job bringing weed seeds to the surface, and breaking down
matter which is so important to soil health.
Consider if mulches in rows could be used instead. Just cleaning
beds in spring and raking, but
with no-till, often works just fine.
you have a larger property, do you really need a gas-driven power cart
around, haul tools, or move bulk materials?
Would a garden cart and wheelbarrow suffice? If not, what about
using an electric and quiet
golf cart? Electric trimmers and tillers are less noisy than gas ones.
If you really do need to use some
power equipment, consider how you might reduce their use. In
addition to reducing the impact on the
hearing of you and others, and related health issues, using manual
in health benefits of increased exercise, less use of expensive fuel,
A truly appealing garden appeals to
all our senses, including the often overlooked one of hearing.
your eyes and listen. Does your garden sound as pretty as it
If not, make some design changes or add some
features to create the paradise you want.
Assess whether your gardening practices are contributing to noise
pollution and, if so, how you might reduce this often overlooked