How to create an easy-care landscape

Yesterday I ran a workshop for landscapers on “Landscapes in Transition.” It was inspiring to see landscapes that had been changed to make them easier to maintain without pesticides. I was also great to hear landscapers talk about how they are moving their clients toward sustainable or organic landscapes.

While transitioning a landscape can be tough, using a few basic principles with a new landscape will lead to much fewer problems later.

  1. Amend the soil with compost or other organic matter. Plants won’t grow well in many native soils, such as clay. You need to give them a head start so they’ll be strong and healthy.
  2. Choose the right plant for the location. This doesn’t have to be native plants; there are many easy-care plants. But a plant that likes shade will never be happy in full sun, or one that likes dry soil won’t survive with wet feet.
  3. Don’t plant a monoculture. It’s more interesting to look at, weeds are less visible, and diseases and insects are less likely to spread.
  4. Use thick layers of mulch to keep down weeds, reduce watering and feed the soil.
  5. Water plants regularly the first two or three years so they develop deep, strong roots. They’ll better survive drought and weather stress later.

How can we green our shorelines?

I’m working on a project to help create softer shorelines in Lake Washington for baby Chinook salmon. Most people have bulkheads on their property, and the concrete walls provide no shelter. That’s just one reason the Chinook salmon are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

My challenge is to “sell” homeowners on the idea of a softer shoreline, such as a beach and native plants. When people see pictures of these green shorelines, they like the way they look. But it’s a tough sell: it may be expensive, permitting is slow, and they want to make sure their shoreline is protected from erosion.

I plan to use stories from homeowners who like their green shorelines, along with great photos. Personal stories will convince people in a way that facts and data won’t.

Here’s a link to the Green Shorelines guidebook for homeowners.

LEED for landscapes? One step closer

Green building has been a growing industry for the last several years. It’s great that buildings are using less energy, better materials and such. But what about the landscape? Plenty can be done to reduce a landscape’s footprint, but we didn’t have standards to help decide what to do. Until now.

Last week the Sustainable Sites Initiative announced the launch of its web site at You can find the nation’s first rating system for sustainable landscapes, along with case studies. You can sign up to be a pilot project.

As a communicator, I especially like “The Case for Sustainable Landscapes.” Did you know that in the US we use more than 7 million gallons per day to water landscapes? Or that workers who can see natural areas take fewer sick days? Or that preserving forested or natural areas can save up to $10 per square foot over conventional landscapes? Pretty cool stuff.