Our Changing Landscape & Environment
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 allowing for easy infiltration of rainwater. The landscape acted similar to a sponge, easily able to absorb stormwater 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 naturescaping 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 plant landscaping design has become common everywhere from parks to residential developments and large, institutional campuses.
Benefits of Native Plantings
In a world where natural habitats struggle to survive, the return of native plants to our everyday landscaping is an aesthetically pleasing change that offers unique benefits whether practiced in place of or in addition to traditional landscaping.
- Biodiversity – Native plants promote wildlife habitats, serving as a crucial source of food, cover and shelter for birds, butterflies, and other wildlife.
- Low Maintenance – Selecting plants that naturally thrive in the project location’s climate and soil conditions, allows the naturescaping to flourish without the use of fertilizers or pesticides and rarely need to be watered or frequent cutting once established.
- Money Savings – The initial cost of installing native plant landscaping is comparable to traditional lawn and shrub landscapes. However, significantly less maintenance time and cost are involved long-term. The naturescape essentially takes care of itself and is designed to do so.
- Water Quality – 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. Traditional landscaping typically utilizes synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, during rain events these chemicals often run off into public water supplies causing contamination.
- Enhances Livability – Colorful, diverse plant material is aesthetically appealing. It also attracts wildlife and pollinators. An ecologically functional native plan landscape design offers imagination in contrast to sterile, static landscape.
Native Plant Landscape Design Considerations
Drawing upon the knowledge and experience of our landscape architects and environmental scientists, 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 design professionals.
Design Concept Development
Each project is tailored to meet the needs of our clients and their landscape goals. Each landscaping project is uniquely designed to suite existing site conditions, the clients goals and the utilization of appropriate plant selection.
Site Conditions & Preparation
Site preparation is significantly dependent on the existing conditions of the project location and varies widely from tree and invasive plant specie removal to amending and restoring damaged or compacted soil. The planting and seed specifications are selected based upon many factors including soil, sun exposure, and climate conditions.
Construction & Planting Plans
Native plantings are typically started in the spring when temperatures are mild and soil moisture is high, allowing for the greatest chance for surviving the summer months. 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 necessary. No matter what time of year the planting occurs, planting plans are created in phases with varying levels of complexity to guide optimal plant establishment.
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 your naturescaping.
It may take anywhere from two to five years for a native landscape to become well-established. As the naturescaping matures, additions to the site or changes to maintenance may become necessary. We can provide long-term monitoring and recommendations as the landscape progresses.
Native Plant Landscape Tips
Keep the following aspects in mind to help guide the successful establishment and sustainability of your native plant 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
- Mow to a height of four to eight-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
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 were interested in a beautiful, low-maintenance naturescaping for our Ankeny campus and often receive compliments on the appearance.