Why practice beneficial landscaping?
Traditional landscaping and current landscape maintenance practices, while frequently meeting human needs and aesthetics, often have harmful impacts. The clearing of native woodlands and other natural habitats for urban/suburban growth and subsequent planting of grounds with vast lawns and manicured arrangements of exotic ornamental plants place a heavy toll on ecological and human health. This type of landscape compels us to use mechanical equipment extensively, consume large amounts of water and fossil fuels, frequently apply fertilizers and pesticides, and generate large quantities of solid waste. As a result, we pollute our surface and ground waters, cause more frequent and destructive flooding, compromise the air quality and tranquility of our neighborhoods with noisy, polluting landscape maintenance equipment, and consume our landfill space with yard waste. One of the saddest outcomes is that we diminish the biodiversity of our ecosystems with the clearing of native habitats and the introduction of invasive exotic plants.
Did you know that...
The Benefits of Benficial Landscaping
- Gasoline-powered landscape equipment (mowers, trimmers, blowers, chainsaws) emit over 5% of our urban air pollution?
- The rate per acre of residential application of pesticides is typically 20 times that of agriculture?
- Yard wastes (mostly grass clippings) comprise 20% of municipal solid waste collected and most still is sent to landfills?
- A lawn has less than 10% of the water absorption capacity of a natural woodland -- a reason for suburban flooding?
The practice of beneficial landscaping enables us to avoid or lessen these negative effects while meeting our needs for function, beauty, and many other benefits. Here are a few:
- Environmental benefits
The health of our air, water, and land are protected through pollution prevention; solid waste reduction; energy conservation; water conservation; ecological restoration; and wildlife habitat protection and enhancement.
- Economic benefits
We save time and money for more enjoyable pursuits when we prevent pollution, use less landfill space, conserve energy and water, maintain and restore ecological integrity, and reduce the need to purchase fossil fuels, lawn chemicals, and power maintenance equipment. Plus, if they are left undisturbed on site, native plants are free!
- Aesthetic benefits
Our native flora is naturally beautiful and pleasing to the senses, and our native wildlife species are adapted to and dependent upon it for food, cover, and shelter. This means we enjoy more wildlife near our homes and workplaces.
How to practice beneficial landscaping: Principles and Practices
Beneficial landscaping, sometimes referred to as "natural" or "native landscaping" (though it is more than that), contains a number of principles that focus on meeting our needs and sense of beauty while maintaining or restoring healthy natural ecosystems. These principles are:
- Protect existing natural areas to the greatest extent possible (woodlands, wetlands, meadows, stream corridors, and shorelines).
- Select regionally native plants to form the foundation of the landscape. Select appropriate plants for each site (every plant species has its unique requirements, such as, for soil moisture, sun and shade; most sites have a variety of conditions). While there's not usually a problem with occasional use of exotic plants, native plants have evolved to local conditions over millennia and are integral to the life cycles of native wildlife. Native plants also establish each area’s unique sense of place.
- Reduce the use of turf. Instead, install woodland, meadow or other natural plantings. Where lawns are needed (such as play areas), follow best management practices available from your county's cooperative extension agent to reduce harmful impacts and compost the clippings.
- Reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides. Practice organic gardening or integrated pest management. Cooperative extension agents can help with natural alternatives to pesticides.
- Compost and mulch onsite to eliminate solid waste, control weeds, restore nutrients and organic matter to your soil, and reduce or eliminate the need for fertilizer and herbicide applications.
- Practice soil and water conservation. Stabilize slopes with natural plantings, mulch around plants, and install drought-tolerant species. If irrigation is used, use drip irrigation or other water conserving techniques, and water in the early morning or evening hours.
- Reduce the use of power landscaping equipment. Shrinking the size of the lawn and planting appropriate native species in less formal arrangements will reduce the need for extensive use of power equipment.
- Use plantings to reduce heating or cooling needs. Deciduous trees planted appropriately along the south sides of buildings can reduce air conditioning costs by up to 20%; in winter they allow the sun's rays to warm buildings. Coniferous trees planted to block prevailing winter winds can reduce heating costs. Trees planted to shade paved areas reduce the summer heat-island effect that makes parking lots inhospitable.
- Avoid the use of invasive exotics that outcompete native plants and result in declines in biodiversity. Check with your county extension agent for species of local concern.
- Create additional wildlife habitat to help compensate for land lost to urban/suburban development. This is especially important along streams where the vegetation can filter runoff, aid in flood control, and provide wildlife corridors.
Where can beneficial landscaping be used?
Beneficial landscaping can be applied in any area experiencing human activity and existing or planned development. These include: residential yards and gardens; industrial complexes; commercial establishments; agricultural settings; government owned and managed lands; parks; roadsides and rest areas; school grounds; buffer strips; other private grounds; and more.
Public officals are encouraged to install beneficial landscaping on new and existing public sites; adopt or amend local weed ordinances and development regulations to encourage natural landscaping; provide information about beneficial landscaping to residents, businesses, developers and civic organizations; identify natural areas within the community that need to be preserved or restored; sponsor demonstration projects and award creative efforts.