Five Ways to ‘Green’ Your Landscape

There are several things that developers and property managers can do to incorporate sustainable, green land planning and landscaping into their properties to help mitigate the threat of global climate change and other environmental concerns.Ideally, these practices should be incorporated from the earliest stages of development during site planning and

There are several things that developers and property managers can do to incorporate sustainable, green land planning and landscaping into their properties to help mitigate the threat of global climate change and other environmental concerns.Ideally, these practices should be incorporated from the earliest stages of development during site planning and design. Careful site plans, for example,,position buildings to maximize the insulating capabilities of surrounding trees and minimize direct sunlight, ultimately reducing energy costs. Planning for sufficient open spaces to incorporate more green areas also helps to absorb heat.  It is never too late, however, to implement green and sustainable landscaping to existing projects.  Using native plants, larger trees in the right locations, green roofs, and rain gardens can help mitigate a development’s impact on its environment.The following suggestions that can help you re-think your landscape plans.Proper placement and selection of landscape materialBecause trees absorb CO2 and help to insulate buildings in the area, the selection and placement of plants is critical. For instance, placing trees near paved areas such as parking lots helps to lessen the urban heat island effect, which refers to the absorption of solar radiation by a surface which then emits it as heat. Putting in larger (more mature) trees at the beginning rather than planting small trees and waiting for them to grow creates a more effective canopy that provides better shade and helps to reduce large amounts of carbon emissions.  The use of native plant species is also beneficial because it helps to conserve water as the plants are accustomed to the area’s natural precipitation levels and therefore don’t need to be irrigated as often as non-native plants. Besides being well adapted to local environmental conditions, native plants maintain or improve soil fertility, reduce erosion and often require less fertilizer and pesticides than many non-native plants.  These characteristics not only save time and money, but also reduce the amount of harmful runoff threatening the aquatic resources.Green RoofsGreen roofs are building tops that are partially or completely covered with plants and soil, or a growing medium planted over a waterproof material and may include additional layers such as drainage and irrigation systems.  In addition to providing amenity space for building users, green roofs provide many environmental benefits including helping to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, reducing stormwater runoff, filtering pollutants out of the air and rainwater, and increasing wildlife habitat in built up areas. The plants also reduce the urban heat island effect caused by the paved, reflective roof surface.  Stormwater ManagementRunoff from impervious urban areas such as roofs and paved surfaces causes erosion, water pollution, flooding of storm drains and diminished groundwater. Incorporating strategies to collect the runoff is another way to help the environment through landscape design. One example of a landscape technique that can be used as a stormwater management measure is a rain garden. Besides absorbing stormwater into the ground instead of letting it run into and overflow storm drains and surface waters, a rain garden can also greatly reduce the pollutants that reach aquatic resources. A rain garden is a planted depression designed for this purpose.The above suggestions are small ways in which green and sustainable landscaping can be implemented to help the environment. On a larger scale, creating “Smart Growth” communities will promote a more walkable environment which helps to lessen the impact of emissions from fossil fuels. In addition, including more open and green spaces into your community encourages more family recreational activities that cut down on vehicle use. Proper planning and design of streets, sidewalks, bike lanes, bus lanes and other transportation mediums is also crucial to create a sustainable community.According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, if we don’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the earth’s surface temperature could increase by four degrees, devastatingly affecting our planet. Every effort counts and incorporating any or all of the suggestions above into the landscape design and land planning of your community will have a positive impact on the global environment as well as on the health and well-being of your community and its residents.As a landscape architect, developing sustainable land use policies and incorporating ecologically sensitive design practices has always been a priority. It is more recently, though, that the threat of global climate change as well as the increased attention that the media, government and society at large are giving to environmental issues that has made these practices more crucial to all areas of real estate development and management. David Font is principal of Font Designs Inc., an award-winning landscape architecture firm based in south Florida that specializes in high-end residential including condominiums and single-family homes, mixed-use developments, resorts/hotels, commercial sites and recreational facilities. For more information, visit www.fontdesigns.net.