DEFINITION OF SUSTAINABLE LANDSCAPING
It’s based upon three key considerations; social, environmental, and economic. The goal is to create healthy, regenerative landscapes that are economically viable. The result is reduced labor and materials and lower long term maintenance costs. Sustainable landscaping saves money while also saving the environment.
The sustainable movement started in the 1980’s and inspired the United States Green Building Council to issue the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program for new building construction. The Sustainable Sites Initiative (SSI), a national coalition of green industry professionals, is working to develop a similar program to apply the same principles to the landscaping part of a development. Locally, the Illinois Landscape Contractors Association (ILCA) is working to generally define what makes a landscape sustainable and specifically demonstrate how to design, install, and maintain that landscape using sustainable practices.
WHY SUSTAINABLE LANDSCAPING IS A STORY
Sustainable landscaping is part of a growing national effort in the landscaping industry to create aesthetically pleasing landscapes while improving and conserving the environment and saving money. Many homeowners, property managers, and municipalities demand environmentally sensitive landscaping but the recent economic downturn has made it difficult to justify the cost. Sustainable landscaping provides that justification with immediate and long term savings. It teaches clients and landscapers alike that beauty, the environment, and cost savings can all work together. After all, landscaping is the “original green industry.”
Sustainable Landscaping produces many environmental and economic benefits. It benefits the environment by growing healthier and longer living plants. Selecting the right plant for the right place makes the plant that is less susceptible to disease and insects. Thus the plant requires less fertilizer, pesticides, fungicides, and water. Sustainable landscaping also requires less maintenance thereby reducing long-term costs. Sustainable landscaping also provides an economic benefit. Using less water, labor and chemicals saves money. Using the composted debris from the site saves on soil amendments, disposal costs and the fuel for transporting all that material. These savings add up throughout the lifetime of the landscape.
FEATURES OF A SUSTAINABLE LANDSCAPE
Compact fluorescent light bulbs, high efficiency appliances, and better insulation are a few examples of green ideas that have caught on with consumers inside the home. Through sustainable landscaping, homeowners no longer have to leave these environmentally conscious practices at the front door.
Soil is the most important element of a sustainable landscape. A sustainable soil will support healthy plant growth, absorb water, and filter pollutants. In heavily constructed urban areas existing soils must often be renovated to support a healthy landscape.
Water conservation is the planning, development, and distribution of the optimal use of water resources. Water conservation can save money by reducing construction costs and limiting potable water use.
Irrigation is an integrated approach to developing and utilizing water resources for landscapes to meet current needs while preserving water resources for the future.
Rainwater harvesting helps reduce fresh water use in a landscape by catching rainwater and reusing it in areas such as irrigation and water features. Reducing fresh, potable water use in the landscape helps to recharge local aquifers.
A rain garden is planting water-loving plants in low lying areas that will filter and absorb water and keep it from running off to our waterways and storm drains.
Permeable pavement allows rain water to be absorbed back into the earth via the pavement rather than overtaxing storm drains that can cause flooding.
Green roofs are vegetation planted on a roof which helps to reduce storm water run-off, give buildings additional insulation, and protect the roof. This helps reduce heating and cooling costs, cools ambient air, and can add to the overall value and extend the life cycle of a building.
A responsible plant choice is a plant that will grow well in a given site’s conditions. It is not invasive or aggressive and accomplishes both the functional and aesthetic goals of the planting. Plants native to the Midwest can be a successful solution due to their adaptability and drought tolerance. Planting a shrub that grows to a maximum of 8 feet beneath a six foot window requires annual maintenance and is not sustainable.
Gone are the days of scheduled blanket spraying of pesticides and insecticides. Integrated Pest Management programs attacks pests and disease only when identified. Natural lawn care uses organics that refresh the soil without chemicals.
Applying sustainable practices to the maintenance of a landscape greatly improves the health and appearance of the property while also reducing the long-term cost of maintaining the grass. If you manage grass clippings correctly it produces less waste and requires even less water and fertilizer. Removing invasive species and dormant pruning reduces the amount of trimming with carbon-emitting machines. The maintenance of a property is just as important as the design and installation of a property.