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Landscape Design can be Environmentally Friendly
by Dan Gill
by Dan Gill


Dan Gill earned B.S. and M.S. degrees in horticulture from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, and is an Associate Professor in Consumer Horticulture with the LSU AgCenter.

He is the spokesperson for the LSU AgCenter’s Get It Growing project, a statewide educational effort in home horticulture utilizing radio, Internet, TV and newsprint. Gardeners throughout Louisiana read his columns in local newspapers, watch his gardening segments on local TV stations and listen to him on local radio. In the New Orleans area, Dan appears weekly on the Channel 4 Morning News, writes a weekly gardening column for The Times-Picayune and hosts the Saturday morning WWWL Garden Show, a live call-in radio program.

Dan is co-author of the Louisiana Gardener’s Guide and author of Month-by-Month Gardening in Louisiana. His “South Louisiana Region Report” and “Only in Louisiana” columns appear monthly in the Louisiana Gardener Magazine.

April 25, 2010

Landscape design combines art and science to create a functional, attractive landscape that meets the needs of the family and complements the home and other structures.

To be environmentally friendly, landscapes should also be created and maintained through practices that minimize adverse effects on the environment and benefit the environment when possible. The concept of sustainable, minimal-input landscaping is also a part of developing an environmentally friendly landscape.

Reduce inputs

Choose plants that are native to Louisiana or the Gulf Coast when they are available and suitable for a location in your landscape. In addition, many well-adapted, non-native plants require minimal water, fertilizers and pesticides in the right growing conditions. So plant selection should focus on native plants but also could include introduced plants that are relatively free from insect and disease problems.

Choosing resilient plants will reduce the use of pesticides and fertilizers and help minimize non-point source pollution, which is defined as runoff from urban and suburban yards that ends up in surface bodies of water after rains. In addition, reducing the use of commercial fertilizers and pesticides is more sustainable.

In a sustainable landscape, it also is important to reduce water and energy use. Plants that don’t require much irrigation once they’re established minimize the need for irrigation. Flowering annuals, on the other hand, should be minimized where reducing water use is a goal.

Instead of bedding plants, provide color with flowering trees, shrubs and ground covers to reduce maintenance – weeding, deadheading, grooming, bed preparation, planting – reduce watering and reduce fertilizer use. With careful selection, trees and shrubs can provide spots of color in the landscape through the year.

Reduce energy consumption by minimizing the use of power equipment, such as mowers, string trimmers and hedge trimmers, by reducing lawn areas – replace grass with beds of low-maintenance shrubs and ground covers – and by choosing shrubs that stay the desired size without pruning. Most pruning is done to control the size of shrubs that are too large for where they’re planted.

Plants that benefit the environment

Environmentally beneficial plants – especially natives – provide food for wildlife and other benefits that are particularly appropriate in environmentally friendly landscapes. Urban and suburban landscapes planted with native wildlife food plants that produce fruits, nuts or nectar can help replace what is lost to development. So can providing water with birdbaths and water features.

It’s also preferable to cooperate with pre-existing natural conditions instead of altering them or changing them to suit the gardener’s desires or needs of plants not suited for those conditions. For instance, you can landscape damp, soggy areas with plants that like poorly drained conditions rather than change the situation with fill or drains.

Managing pests

To reduce the use of insecticides and fungicides, try to tolerate a higher level of damage in the landscape and focus on reducing pest problems with techniques such as plant selection, plant location and proper plant care. If the pest is not life-threatening or will not cause serious damage, pesticide use could be optional.

Use pesticides only when necessary. Always follow the label directions carefully and chose the least-toxic products that will do the job. When spraying, spray only the plants that need it, not the whole yard.

When it comes to weed control, attend to weeds regularly and frequently to avoid major problems. The best defense for weeds in beds is mulch – also a great way to recycle leaves and grass clippings your landscape generates. And using these is more sustainable than purchasing mulch. Keep beds well mulched about 2 inches thick.

Keep your lawn healthy and thick by mowing properly, not fertilizing excessively and watering only when needed. Overfertilization and overwatering are leading causes of lawn diseases that weaken grass and allow weeds to invade. Tolerate some weeds, particularly cool-season annuals that will not be around during summer when we expect our lawns to look their best.

So, when it comes landscaping, you need to think about creating a landscape that functions well and provides for your family’s outdoor activities and needs. But when designing a landscape to be more in harmony with the environment, you also should consider what you can do to help maintain a healthy environment for us and native wildlife. To that end, our landscapes can provide food, habitat and water for wildlife while minimizing fertilizer, water and pesticide use and reducing the use of power equipment and water runoff.

These and other principles of environmentally responsible landscaping are beautifully presented in the LSU AgCenter’s “Louisiana Yards and Neighborhoods” book. Copies can be purchased from the LSU AgCenter Web site at  and clicking on publications for sale under the publications link at the top of the homepage.

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