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Design for sustainability

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The renewed interest in the environment in recent years is not slowing with the pace of the economy. Homeowners and businesses are looking for ways to reduce maintenance and input costs, and a sustainable landscape design is one way to do that.

Green roofs are an example of a growth area that owes its popularity to environmental awareness. From reducing heating and cooling costs, to improving air quality and lowering city temperatures, the benefits of green roofs are becoming too obvious for many city planners to ignore. Landscapers can learn the specialized skills needed to install green roofs themselves, or find partnering opportunities with progressive roofing companies who are installing the structures needed to top cities with green. The USDA maintains a site that links to more green roof information.

The focus on reducing our environmental impact by buying locally sourced products is a boon to local growers, nurseries and landscapers. It’s also an opportunity to market the benefits of native plants. Mixing native species in with more traditional cultivars can help lower the need for inputs and maintenance.

Not sure which plants are native to your area? Check out the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center database, which allows you to search 7,219 native plants by scientific or common name, state and plant requirements.

“The key to creating a sustainable landscape is understanding that the design process should be considered first,” according to the University of Minnesota’s Sustainable Urban Landscape Information Series (SULIS). “Plant selection, implementation, and maintenance build on the design process, each having sustainability as a major consideration.”

The SULIS site provides a wealth of information for landscape designers, including design tips that cover each step of the process — from making a sustainable design plan to plant selection, implementation and maintenance.

But even small changes can open the eyes of homeowners to sustainability’s benefits. Installing rain water barrels that can be used to irrigate beds, or planting bioretention cells that collect rainwater runoff in low areas are good first steps.

If you need some inspiration to get started, check out the American Society of Landscape Architects’ (ASLA)Designing Our Future: Sustainable Landscapes site. It includes 30 case studies, educational resources, and videos related to sustainable landscaping.

While the economy is showing signs of recovery, many homeowners are likely to think twice before investigating in a new landscape design. Explaining the benefits — both to their wallets and the environment — of a sustainable landscape can help drive business in 2012.

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