Environmentally friendly landscape design can refer to a variety of topics, which we will discuss further below. A sustainable garden, on the other hand, requires very little water, pesticides, fertilizer, labor, building materials, and maintenance.
Sustainable landscape design ideas frequently contradict traditional design principles, which frequently rely heavily on excessive water usage, exotic and non-native plants, and environmentally harmful construction materials and practices.
Sustainable landscaping is also simpler than you might expect. Responsible landscapes are not just environmentally benign; they are also low-maintenance by definition. They can also be a lot more cost-effective! However, sustainable landscapes necessitate much planning and knowledge. Before you get started, consider the following concepts.
1. Use native plants
Native plants – plants that grow and thrive without human intervention in your microclimate – are inherently better for the environment:
- they’re used to the local soil and weather conditions
- they won’t need any fertilizers to survive
- they’re rarely invasive
- they’re unlikely to need supplemental watering or irrigation (ie, they conserve water)
- they’re naturally low maintenance
- they preserve biodiversity
2. Create a rain garden or bioswale
Rain gardens and bioswales make effective use of rainwater and stormwater runoff by using slopes and berms to direct water. They dramatically conserve water by ensuring even distribution of water to all plants, and by ensuring that the thirstiest plants are physically placed in such a way that they get all the water they need. Rain gardens also act as biological filters, helping clean dirtied water before it returns to lakes, rivers, and watersheds.
3. Use minimal concrete
The chemical process by which concrete is made is incredibly wasteful; to throw it away is even more so. The use of concrete in landscapes is extremely common – patios, pathways, retaining, walls, and columns are especially prominent – but their environmental drawbacks are rarely discussed. Consider using landscape elements that are a little more eco-friendly.
4. Reuse and re-purpose whenever possible
If you must build with concrete, try re-suing from different areas whenever possible! That old pathway can be pulled up, pressure washed, and then re-installed in the form of a patio. Those old slabs can be made into a pathway. The possibilities are endless.
5. Permeable hardscapes
Simply put, a permeable hardscape is an alternative to traditional concrete that allows water to filter through into the ground unimpeded. When water can seep naturally into the ground, the burden on storm drains and building infrastructure to manage rainwater decreases significantly. Permeable pavement is often cheaper and easier to install, reduces the need for costly drainage systems, and is quite durable.
6. Rain barrels and catchment basins
If your primary aim is to conserve water, rain barrels and catchment basins are a must-have. Rainwater from gutters can be easily collected and reused to water your plants and lawns.
7. Green roofs
Vancouver is well-known for its green roofs; the Vancouver Convention Center, most notably, has an extensive green roof. Because a green roof helps manage and absorb rainwater, it’s a perfect option for mitigating flooding and conserving water in the rainy Pacific Northwest.
8. Erosion control
If your property is situated on a hill, you’re likely familiar with soil erosion, in which nutrient-rich topsoil is worn away by rainwater. As a result, the soil becomes less fertile and stormwater fills with dirt particles before returning to watersheds. Concrete or wooden retaining walls can be used to effectively halt erosion, but there are organic methods for battling erosion as well, such as planting shrubs, perennials or trees with thick, shallow root systems (such as salal, which naturally assists with soil erosion prevention in BC’s many mountainous rainforests).
9. Drought-tolerant landscapes
Drought-tolerant landscape design – also known as xeriscaping – isn’t just for hot climates. In Vancouver’s case, a drought-tolerant garden or yard would simply refer to a landscape that requires little to no water, which involves removing plants that require supplemental water – including lawns – and replacing them with plants that are likely to survive on their own. Other elements include the use of rocks and mulches to help conserve rainwater.
10. Rock gardens
Rock gardens are a popular element of drought-tolerant, sustainable landscaping. They’re an excellent option if you’re hoping to make a modern, yet natural-looking garden that still allows water to flow freely. Rock gardens can also stifle weed growth and limit soil erosion.
11. Attract wildlife and pollinators
By planting pollinator plants such as lavender, butterfly bush, and cranesbill, you’ve effectively employed animals to be your assistant gardeners. Drawing pollinators into your garden comes with an obvious plethora of advantages, not the least of which is a healthy, natural landscape.
How to Start a Landscaping Business
The $82 billion landscaping sector makes it an appealing alternative for ambitious entrepreneurs. Furthermore, it allows individuals to work outside, improve the appearance of their homes and local businesses, and even help the environment. If you want to establish your own landscaping business, here are some crucial measures to follow, as well as insights from industry associations and landscaping business owners.
Gain Experience in the Industry
Before actually jumping into business ownership, it’s a good idea to actually learn the trade. Find a job working with an existing landscaping business so you can hone your craft, see how the business side works, and make valuable connections.
Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs at the National Association of Landscape Professionals said in a phone interview with Small Business Trends, “I would suggest that anyone with a passion for working outside and working with people and the environment should explore this industry. There are incredible career opportunities available. So if you’ve not yet worked in the industry but are interested in learning the skill set and how to manage a business, go and work with a landscape professional who really understands the business so that you can hone your craft, find a mentor, learn and soak in all of the intricacies that go into running a business in this industry.”
Learn About the Business Side
It can also be beneficial to do some extra research before actually jumping into business ownership. You can do this by talking to other business owners, reading online resources, or taking business courses.
Jim McCutcheon, CEO of HighGrove Partners in Atlanta, GA said in an email to Small Business Trends, “I have always considered myself to be a life-long learner so I decided to speak with someone smarter than me about business. He is the father of one of my friends who was a very successful businessman. He had me develop a list of all the things I did know and felt confident about. But, the most valuable part was developing a list of things that I did not understand about running a business. Of course, he had to give me most of the list. From there, I developed a plan to learn about each of those things. I gained the knowledge through studies on some and hard knocks on the others.”
Get Licensed and Insured
The licensing requirements for landscaping businesses vary by state, with some also required at the federal level depending on the actual services offered. However, Henrickson acknowledges that most businesses will need some type of licensing, with some even requiring ongoing certification. She also says that business and liability insurance can be beneficial.
Secure Equipment and Financing
You may be able to get by early on with just a couple of lawnmowers, a truck and a few other small tools. However, if you do want to make a bigger investment, it could be worthwhile to build relationships with bankers to secure financing for those items.
Shayne Newman, founder of YardApes, Inc. in New Milford, CT said in an email to Small Business Trends, “When starting off, I worked with a banker to secure capital for investments in equipment and vehicles. It takes cash flow to grow a business, so a solid relationship with your loan officer is very important.”
Determine Your Rates
You also need to determine what you’re going to actually charge for your services. Several factors go into this decision: how much time will a particular job take you, how much should you make hourly, what do you pay employees, and what equipment is needed? But just make sure that your rates are going to allow you to continue to operate and grow while actually earning a profit.
McCutcheon says, “Running a landscape business is first and foremost a business. You must understand the foundations of a successful business and give it equal footing to the landscape work you want to do. This means you must make money. You must understand how you make money and make decisions about estimating, pricing, hiring, operations, etc., accordingly.”
Consider a Specialty
Some landscaping businesses choose to have a very particular specialty, like lawn maintenance or landscape design, while others offer a wider array of services. According to Henricksen, this decision ultimately comes down to the entrepreneur’s preferences, experience, and access to the equipment necessary to complete each type of job. In some cases, businesses might even choose to start out with just one type of offering and then add in other services as they’re able to pay for the equipment and bring on employees with the necessary skills.
Join Trade Associations
Getting a landscaping business off the ground requires a lot of resources and expert input, from employee training to marketing plans. One great way to get access of those resources is to join some trade associations.
Newman recommends, “Join state and national trade associations like The National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP). NALP has been instrumental in the growth of my business and has given me and my employees the guidance and courage to become true professionals. The association also provides templates for training, safety plans, marketing and PR ideas, human resource help, legal advice and much more. Being a member of the NALP has also offered unbelievable networking opportunities. My employees and I have met so many passionate and experienced landscape professionals who share the same struggles that my company has experienced, is experiencing or will experience in the future. This type of networking is invaluable to a small business owner.”
Create a Marketing Plan
Marketing your business is essential to growing your base of landscaping customers. The actual tactics you take can vary based on your resources, target customers, and specialty. You might focus on local SEO or put up some flyers around your community. But whatever tactics you choose, make sure they’re consistent so that potential customers can recognize your business across platforms.
Newman says, “Marketing and branding should be consistent and constant. If potential customers don’t recognize you, it’s hard to develop new leads.”
Develop Relationships with Customers
Once you start to actually build that customer base, you need to actually build relationships with those customers to keep them happy and make sure that they continue to utilize your services.
Build Your Team
To scale your business, it may also become necessary for you to bring on some employees. But Newman cautions business owners to only hire and keep the employees that show motivation and perform up to your standards. It may be difficult to turn down or let go of team members, but in order to be a successful landscaping business, you need to have the right people in your corner.
There are quite a few tools used in green building practices that help meet some of these key sustainable landscape principles. Quite a few of these design tools can help you better manage stormwater on your site.
A rain garden, for instance, features deep-rooted native plants that collect and allow stormwater to soak slowly into the ground, rather than simply rush into the nearest storm drain, filtering pollutants from the water as it flows.
You can even create a system on your site to direct stormwater to preferred channels to ensure it enters a bioretention basin. Think of this as a more advanced rain garden that includes drainage systems. Water naturally runs more quickly along concrete pathways. Using surfaces like gravel or permeable pavers helps reduce this rapid water flow and allows for more natural filtration throughout your landscape.
In areas of the country that lack water, using drought-tolerant and water-conserving plants in a xeriscape design can also reduce maintenance and costs while keeping your commercial site looking well-maintained.