Native Landscapes: Benefits & Considerations for Success

Our Changing Landscape

Before agriculture and urban development, the Midwest landscape was primarily comprised of prairie vegetation for thousands of years.

Due to large, robust root systems, native plants cultivated rich soil with high organic content and space within the ground that allowed for easy infiltration of rainwater. The landscape acted similar to a sponge, easily able to absorb rainwater with little runoff into rivers, lakes, and streams.

In stark contrast, today’s turf and concrete landscapes are impervious and compacted.

Runoff is a common occurrence with rainfall and snowmelt, contributing to poor water quality, erosion, and elevated flood risk. For years, native plants and landscapes only existed along waterways, or in wetlands, prairies, and nature preserves. However, as more people discover the significant benefits they provide over traditional landscaping, native plants have become common everywhere from parks to residential developments and large, institutional campuses.



Benefits of Native Landscapes

In a world where natural habitats struggle to survive, the return of native plants to our everyday landscape is an aesthetically pleasing change that offers unique benefits.

  • Native plants promote biodiversity, serving as a crucial source of food and shelter for birds, butterflies, and other wildlife.
  • Naturally accustomed to climate and soil conditions, native plants flourish without the use of fertilizers or pesticides and rarely need to be watered once established.
  • The initial cost of installing a native landscape is comparable to traditional lawn and shrub landscapes. However, significantly less maintenance time and cost are involved long-term.
  • Dense, deep root systems of native plants hold soil to prevent erosion and allow for better absorption of rainfall, reducing urban runoff that’s harmful to water quality.
  • Colorful, diverse plant material is aesthetically appealing. It also attracts wildlife and pollinators.

Aspects to Consider

By drawing upon the knowledge and experience of our design team, we’re able to guide the success of native landscapes for our clients. As with any landscaping decision, there are many factors to consider during the planning process, which are well-known and practiced by our landscape architecture team.

  • Concept Development: Each project is tailored to meet the needs of our clients and their landscape goals.
  • Site Conditions: Planting and seed specifications are suited for many factors including soil, sun exposure, and climate conditions.
  • Construction and Planting Plans: Native plantings are typically completed in spring when temperatures are mild, and soil moisture is high to allow for the greatest survivability. However, planting can occur at any time during the growing season, but a watering schedule may be required. Dormant seeding in late fall is also an option when needed. No matter what time of year planting will occur, plans are created in phases with varying levels of complexity to guide the establishment process.
  • Maintenance: Mowing, weeding, and burning are aspects of initial maintenance to control invasive species that are often overlooked. We can assist with the development of maintenance plans to foster the health and establishment of the landscape.
  • Monitoring: It may take anywhere from 2 to 5 years for a native landscape to become well-established. As the landscape matures, additions to the site or changes to maintenance may be necessary. We can provide long-term monitoring and recommendations as the landscape progresses.

Key Takeaways and Tips

Keep the following aspects in mind to help guide the successful establishment and sustainability of your native landscape.

Installation & Establishment:

  • Plant in spring or fall.
  • Tailor seed mixes to individual site preferences.
  • Maintenance is critical for the first three years.
  • Mow multiple times per year from May through September.
  • Remove invasive plants regularly.

Long-term Maintenance

  • Mow to a height of 4 to 8-inches once a year and remove clippings.
  • Controlled burning is useful for larger areas instead of mowing to remove undesirable species and increase sun exposure to promote new seed growth.
  • Remove invasive and unwanted species a few times each year.

By taking a comprehensive approach, the Landscape Architects at Snyder & Associates have completed a wide variety of successful native landscape projects over the past 15 years.

From one-tenth of an acre to 200-acres and beyond, when it comes to native landscapes — we guide our clients every step of the way.

 

 

For additional information, please contact Tim West, PLA, LEED AP