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Getting Started with Sustainable Landscaping: Tips from the Field

by Gary Krause

Sustainability in Landscape has many different meanings. Some define a sustainable landscape as a discipline that emphasizes plant health, soil condition, water quality, and resource conservation. To be sustainable does not mean the elimination of fertilizers, synthetic compounds, petroleum based products and gas powered equipment. Rather, sustainability means the creation of outdoor spaces that utilize the three R’s, ‘reduce, recycle, reuse’. A sustainable landscape creates a balanced relationship between the natural and manmade environment.

The Approach

Each year millions are spent on designing, building, and maintaining landscapes that use too many unsustainable resources. This is wasteful and depletes our water, contaminates the soil and water table, and pollutes the air from the use of gas-powered equipment. These problems can be avoided or reduced by practicing sustainable landscape design and construction. Using sustainable practices will reduce greenhouse gasses by conserving resources, energy and minimizing fertilizer and pesticide use. A sustainable landscape will also reduce labor costs, making it less expensive overall to implement and maintain.

Gary’s Sustainable Landscaping Guidelines

  1. [For new planting areas] add 6″ of compost to the soil and use a rototiller to incorporate the compost into the top 4″.
  2. Mulch and top dress with 3″ of compost.
  3. Design low volume irrigation by installing low volume nozzles and subsurface drip system to reduce water use and increase soil moisture. Install an Evapo-Transpiration (ET) controller to reduce over watering. ET controllers use weather data to calculate ET.
  4. Install drainage systems to eliminate storm water contamination and add rainwater harvest systems to reclaim run off and collect rainfall. This can be then pumped or gravity feed to the irrigation system.
  5. Construct retaining walls, block or vegetative to prevent run off and erosion. Segmented retaining walls are a good way to prevent run off and erosion and allow for drainage behind them. They are engineered and can be built to over 4’. This wall system can keep soil and debris out of the storm water systems.
  6. Plant lawn on level ground to prevent run off and conserve water. Always encourage clients to plant turf on the level (see #7)
  7. Reduce amount of lawn and instead use ground cover plants or synthetic turf.
  8. Practice prudent use of synthetic fertilizers and pest controls. Use Mechanical and natural methods as part of an integrated program. There are polymers on the market that will aerate the soil and combine with a liquid compost product to get great results.
  9. Remember use products and materials that are part of Reuse, Reduce, Recycle practices

About the Author

Gary Krause, a Licensed Landscape Construction Professional ( L.C.P.) since 1994 with a degree in design, has 30 years experience in gardening, landscape design, construction and maintenance. Gary is a ‘Certified Sustainable Landscaper’ through