Sustainable Landscape Management

01/31/2012 | By Jennie Morton

Extend eco-friendly practices to your exterior greenery with sustainable landscape management.

Upgrade part of your turf lawn to native grasses to dramatically cut down on fertilizing, watering, and mowing. Rainwater and soil sensors can also improve water usage.

Your landscaping may be green in color, but is it green in practice? Lawns and flowerbeds are prime targets for a sustainable makeover. Use these five holistic approaches to minimize the use of harmful chemicals, frequent mowing, and excess water consumption.

1) Go Native
Consider how much mowing, watering, and fertilizing your turf requires. Native grasses are a hardier option because they grow deeper and can tap into reserve moisture, explains Ruth Fox, ASLA for Ruth L. Fox Landscape Architecture and Planning.

“Find some areas where you can put in native grasses yet to retain your desired customer image for your business,” Fox says.

Not only do they cut down on irrigation, but native grasses don’t require fertilizers or pesticides, can withstand your region’s climate, and can be mowed two to three times a summer.

Native grasses can be an image change for some businesses, so Fox recommends edging native landscaping with a mowing strip so the plants look planned and not like weeds.

2) Swap in Organic Fertilizers
While a lush green lawn is the product of vigilant fertilizing, it may be causing untold damage to nearby water systems and creating a potential chemical hazard.

“The first step is to take a soil test and use the results to give your soil only what it is lacking,” advises Jenna Messier, program director for the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) Organic Land Care. “Soil may not need all of the lime and nitrogen you’ve been religiously applying to it.”

Once you’ve established the needs of your lawn, look for natural fertilizer and pesticide options. These organic soil amendments have different application rates and schedules, but they won’t contain any synthetic chemicals that can disturb surrounding environments, animal life, or human health.

3) Upgrade Irrigation
Make sure your irrigation system has proper controls so it doesn’t create a false dependency on constant watering, Messier says.

It’s better to water less often but more deeply so the soil holds more moisture, such as switching from watering for 20 minutes three times a week to watering once a week for an hour.

You can also install soil sensors in conjunction with rainwater sensors. Soil sensors measure how much water your site retained after a rainfall. This allows you to gauge if a downpour actually penetrated your soil or if a dry spell has affected it.

4) Ask for Outside Help
Fox finds building owners generally don’t think about paying for landscape maintenance, even though they’ll contract services for cleaning, snow removal, or pest management.

“Landscaping is an investment – why wouldn’t you expend money on your environment?” asks Fox.

Particularly if you’re switching to organic turf management or don’t have knowledgeable staff with green thumbs, professional care may be in order.

Even your trees may need a little attention. They’re easy to take care of, but it may take a forester or arborist to get them to really flourish, says Fox. A professional can also help you protect trees from common diseases or make recommendations for planting saplings that will contribute to energy efficiency.

5) Reclaim Pavement
Look at the percentage of your parking lot that’s used – even on your busiest days, is it ever really full? Reclaim that valuable square footage by replacing it with landscaping.

While this is a more expensive option, the benefits are more than aesthetic. Whether you plant grasses or add a bioswale, each will help filter water runoff from the parking lot.

You could also replace a portion of the lot with permeable paving, recommends Fox, which allows rainwater to infiltrate to the soil.

Sustainable and Healthy
Like many green upgrades, sustainable landscaping requires an initial investment but results in lower costs once established. Despite the upfront expenses, Messier asks:

“Are you willing to pay more for a sustainable system that reduces water pollution and health risks, increases biodiversity and wildlife habitats, and offers a naturally beautiful landscape?”


Jennie Morton ( is associate editor of BUILDINGS.


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