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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Sustainable Landscape Design

By Michelle Talsma Everson

In the desert, we’re all aware that water is a precious resource when it comes to our landscaping. But what other elements are there to consider when striving to keep your landscape sustainable year-round? Whether you’re in the market to update your own landscaping to be more sustainable, or just want to learn more about the topic, there is so much more to sustainable landscaping than meets the eye. 

What is sustainable landscape design?

According to the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), “Sustainable landscapes are responsive to the environment, regenerative, and can actively contribute to the development of healthy communities. Sustainable landscapes sequester carbon, clean the air and water, increase energy efficiency, restore habitats, and create value through significant economic, social, and environmental benefits.”

In a shorter summary, the ASLA shares that sustainable landscape design is, “The design, construction, and maintenance practices that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Per the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix (DBG.org), sustainable landscape design encompasses a wide range of topics, including water usage, plants native to the area, and even the ability to provide habitats for wildlife when it’s safe to do so. 

“How we design, construct, and maintain our gardens can impart a wide range of ecological, economic, and health benefits to homeowners and the surrounding communities,” according to DBG. 

Plant selection, as well as the management and care of the soil, water, and plants themselves can provide environmental benefits like cleaner air and water, erosion control, better soil health, mitigation of heat islands, and minimization of  potable water use.

LandscapingNetwork.com, an educational resource for homeowners, landscaping professionals, architects, and designers, shares these principles of sustainable landscape design:

  • Conserve water and keep it clean — With proper design and plant selection, the need for irrigation can be reduced or eliminated. 
  • Maintain your soil —  Runoff caused by compacted soils is one of the main sources of water pollution.
  • Utilize native plants — Invasive, non-native plants should be removed and replaced with those that are indigenous to the area.
  • Reduce/reuse material resources — When constructing your outdoor space, select building materials carefully and use locally sourced materials when possible. Any waste should be reused or recycled. Work to reduce yard waste by selecting appropriately sized plants.

Sustainable Landscaping in the Desert

Perhaps the largest concern when it comes to landscaping in Arizona and other desert regions is water conservation. 

According to DBG.org, up to 70% of potable (drinking) water is used to water landscapes, and 50% of water used in residential irrigation systems is wasted due to inefficiencies in the system or irrigation methods.

Per the Arizona Department of Water Resources, “Water use in all landscapes can be significantly reduced by using efficient and regionally appropriate designs, plant selection, and irrigation practices.”

To help Arizona residents obtain the most sustainable landscaping possible, there are many resources available, including:

  • The Arizona Municipal Water Users Association: The AMWUA’s membership consists of ten large municipalities in Maricopa County. At www.amwua.org/landscaping-with-style, the organization provides a step-by-step guide to xeriscaping, or landscaping that reduces the need for irrigation. On this website, AMWUA shares the seven principles of xeriscaping and takes readers step-by-step through planning and design, plant selection, maintenance, and more. 
  • Desert Botanical Garden: While its website is a treasure trove of information, DBG is also hosting multiple classes this fall on landscaping, design basics, and desert plants. Classes are available in Phoenix and online. A full list of classes can be found at www.dbg.org/learn/dls.
  • Water — Use It Wisely: The Water – Use it Wisely campaign has been around since 1999, so it may sound familiar. Multiple Valley municipalities and cities use their resources for water conservation education for Arizona residents. By visiting www.wateruseitwisely.com, you can find educational resources on water saving tips, including sustainable landscape design, and you can also visit their blog and events calendar to see where conservation workshops are happening across the Valley.
  • The Arizona Department of Water Resources: Arizona residents can access a variety of sustainable landscaping design resources, including information about native plants, xeriscaping, and more at www.new.azwater.gov/conservation/landscaping.
  • The Arizona Native Plant Society: With nearly a dozen chapters across the state, the Arizona Native Plant Society promotes the education and conservation of plants that are native to the Grand Canyon state. Visit www.aznps.com to find a bevy of resources on native plants and how to maintain them. 
  • Maricopa County Master Gardeners: This volunteer organization offers gardening outreach and education tailored to the Arizona ecosystem to locals across Maricopa County. On October 23, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., the organization will be hosting its 2023 fall festival and plant sale at Metro Tech High School in Phoenix for those looking to get started on their sustainable landscaping journey. To learn more, visit www.extension.arizona.edu/maricopamg.
  • Watershed Management Group: This organization provides an amazing array of environmentally friendly resources, but one particular area of interest might be its Conservation Kits designed to help you conserve water, grow native and edible gardens, and tend to your soil. Learn more at www.watershedmg.org/services/home.

Additionally, most municipalities have their own sustainable landscaping education resources which can typically be found by visiting your city’s official website. 

Small Steps, Big Impact 

While there are a lot of tools and information at locals’ fingertips for creating a sustainable landscape design, it might be overwhelming and daunting at first. But, with the right resources and small, everyday conservation steps, Arizona residents can create beautiful landscapes that are sustainable now and into the future. 

Read more Design articles from Green Living.

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