As the [population] grows, communities use more resources and generate more waste. Environmental
agencies are looking closely at urban landscapes for solutions to long-term pollution problems.
Consequently, legal restrictions are being placed on landscape design and maintenance practices.
Role of Landscape Managers
Landscape contractors and site managers can efficiently manage resources so as to reduce waste and
prevent pollution. With forethought, they can design and maintain sustainable landscapes that are
cost-effective and environmentally sound.
What Are Sustainable Landscapes?
Sustainable landscapes are managed with practices that conserve limited, valuable natural resources,
reduce waste, and prevent pollution of the air, water, and soil. The goal is to provide as much value as
possible with the least environmental impact.
What Are the Benefits of Sustainable Landscaping?
Traditional landscaping often requires a great deal of water, energy, labor, and other resource — in
which case environmental and economic costs might outweigh the natural benefits of urban
landscapes. By contrast, sustainable landscapes (a) rely on healthier, longer-lived plants that (b)
require little or no chemical pesticide and fertilizer use, (c) dramatically reduce water use, and (d) cut
back on waste generation and disposal. Sustainable landscapes also need less maintenance and do not
pollute ground water.
Using Sustainable Practices
Sustainable landscapes need not be hot, dry gardens of cactus and gravel. They can include beautiful
flowers and other plants, shrubs, and trees that reduce maintenance costs while protecting the
environment. Using sustainable landscape maintenance practices makes good business sense. They
decrease (a) resource depletion, (b) waste generation, and (c) pollution problems, at the same time
rehabilitating the landscape in a picturesque and cost-effective manner.
Build Healthy Soils
Healthy soils are essential in urban landscapes. Organic matter additions (compost or humus) can
transform poor soils into a fertile growth medium that supports healthy plant growth while reducing
water and fertilization requirements. Healthy disease- and pest-resistant plants improve landscape
appearance and increase property values.
Use shredded or chipped plant materials with the necessary wood content as a mulch cover over the
soil in planting beds and other bare areas in the landscape. Mulch will
(a) insulate plant roots, (b) prevent weed growth and water loss, and (c) control erosion, dust, and
mud. Mulch decomposition conditions the soil and adds nutrients.
Don't waste water! Overwatered plants may grow too fast. The runoff contributes to ground-water
pollution. Use water-efficient irrigation systems, such as drip or low-output sprinkler heads, that
deliver a precise volume of water to plant root zones. Develop watering schedules based on historical
or actual weather data. Use soil probes to monitor soil moisture before watering.
Use precisely the right amount of fertilizer at the right time. If you fertilize correctly, plants won't
grow too fast and will instead be healthy and disease- and pest-resistant. Fertilize according to the
needs of the individual plant. Use slow-release or organic formulas based on nutrient needs verified by
soil testing. This will reduce growth spurts that increase the need for pruning and mowing.
Grasscycle Turf Areas
Use mulching mowers that leave grass clippings on the lawn as you mow. They decompose quickly and
release valuable nutrients back into the soil. You'll use less water and fertilizer, reduce maintenance
costs, and create no waste. If you've been mowing often enough, the clippings will be short and won't
cover the grass.
Excessive and haphazard pruning of shrubs and trees is wasteful and unhealthy. Pruning should be
used only to maintain natural growth patterns. Hedging, topping, and shearing of landscape plants into
formal shapes only encourage excessive new growth. Using natural pruning techniques at the proper
season will promote healthier plants and also reduce “suckering” and stabilize growth.
Reuse Organic Materials On-Site
A chipper at the landscape site can mulch prunings and clippings from woody shrubs and trees, and you
can then apply the mulch on the landscape. Trimmings and clippings from lawns, trees, and shrubs from
large landscape sites can become feedstock for on-site composting operations, reducing the need for
outside soil amendments.
Recycle Organic Materials Off-Site
If lawn clippings, shrub and tree trimmings, or prunings must be removed from landscape sites, take
them to a local composting facility or green waste processor for recycling. When buying mulches and
composts, look for products with the highest recycled green-waste content to support and sustain
long-term market demand.
Practice Pollution Prevention
Landscape managers: Use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) so that you'll rely less on chemical
pesticides and herbicides, which can eventually make their way off-site and contribute to nonpoint
source pollution (pollution not traceable to a single location). As much as possible, use nonmotorized
equipment to reduce emissions and noise pollution.
Retrofit Inefficient Landscapes
As established landscape sites age or grow beyond their intended use, you'll need to redesign them so
as to integrate resource efficiency, site function, and aesthetics. Reduce turf areas and establish new
landscape plantings of low-maintenance and drought-tolerant plants. Retrofit irrigation systems. Enrich
depleted soils to save water and promote healthy plant growth.
Amend Contract Specifications
A good landscape-maintenance program requires a contract that provides for and promotes sustainable
practices. Site managers and contractors should develop and use sustainable landscape maintenance
contract specifications that are resource-efficient. They should include good cultural practices, water
management, green waste management, and preventive maintenance management clauses.
Think Recycle/Buy Recycled
Recycling materials from the construction, installation, or upkeep of landscape sites will reduce waste.
Wood waste converts to mulch. Plastic pots can be recycled for landscape use. Buying recycled-
content landscaping products, such as plastic edging or lumber, conserves natural resources and
strengthens markets for these recyclable materials.