Sustainable Plant Management

Proper plant selection and management are the foundations of sustainable landscapes. Landscapes that contain a variety of plants that are well-adapted to the local climate support wildlife and pollinators and help create healthy ecosystems. They also support climate resiliency by producing oxygen, sequestering carbon, and conserving energy. Properly designed landscapes also help manage stormwater, reduce heat island effects, and cool cities and neighborhoods.


Site Analysis

  • Assess the client’s goals for the area – think about the way areas of the site will be used.
  • Consider the soil type and drainage on your site. Does it drain well or are there areas that might hold water?
  • Note areas of sun and shade on your site as well as solar exposure, orientation, the yearly average of minimum and maximum temperatures, potential heat islands, and slope and grades, and consider how these patterns will change through the seasons.
  • Develop and execute a preservation plan for trees and vegetation targeted to be saved.
  • Identify invasive plants located on the site and plan for removal.
  • Keep structural limitations and obstructions in mind. For example, utility lines, irrigation pipes, and telephone lines, both overhead and underground, which help you determine where to locate trees and shrubs.
  • Consider how site design can support wildlife habitat and pollinators by providing water sources, food resources, and habitat.

Plant Selection

  • Select plants based on your hardiness zone and eco-region.
  • Use native plants, keystone plants, or those well adapted to the local climate. They require less water, and fewer pesticides and provide resources for beneficial organisms.
  • Choose locally grown plant material when and where feasible.
  • In areas with drought conditions, use low-water-use, drought-tolerant plants.
  • Use low-maintenance plants suited to your site that require little pruning (or use natural pruning technics) to maintain the desired form. Consider dwarf varieties.
  • Use plants that are diverse in size, color, blooming season, and both deciduous and evergreen. Your site will be less prone to pests and diseases, and you’ll provide a more diverse wildlife habitat with seasonal interest.
  • Select plants for their ability to serve as green infrastructure.
  • Plant host and nectar plants for butterflies, hummingbirds and/or other pollinators.
  • Install plants that produce fruit, nuts, and berries to support insects and animals.
  • Plant a variety of trees, shrubs, and groundcovers that increase vertical layering of vegetation.
  • Turfgrass is the optimal landscape element for places where we walk and play because of its ability to tolerate foot traffic. Plan turf areas to be functional and easy to maintain and consider whether the area is too shady or dry to support healthy turfgrass.
  • Choose the best variety of grass for the climate and for site usage.


Plant Placement

  • Soil preparation is a critical pre-planting activity that should not be overlooked.
  • Group plants according to their growing requirements, soil type, fertility, and watering needs.
  • Know the mature height and width before placing plants so they won’t block windows, walkways, and views as they mature. You’ll save time on pruning later.
  • Avoid the urge to overcrowd or over-plant to make a landscape look mature faster. It increases disease pressure and increases maintenance needs in the long run.
  • Consider whether plants can do the work of gray infrastructure.
  • Conserve water by hydrozoning or grouping together plants that have similar water requirements.
  • Use groundcovers where turfgrass is difficult to grow or maintain.
  • In areas prone to fire install fire-retardant plants.
  • Place plants to improve air quality and noise reduction.
  • Place plants in locations that will reduce energy consumption by providing cooling and decreasing heat loss including reducing urban heat by shading pavement and buildings.
  • Plant foundation shrubs so that the main leader of the shrub is at least 2.5’ from the foundation of buildings.


  • Maintain 2-3 inches of mulch around trees, shrubs, and plant beds (no mulch volcanoes)
  • Mulch should not touch the trunks of trees.
  • Natural, untreated mulch should be used including recycled yard materials (grass clippings, leaves, etc.) and natural co-products of the forestry industry.
  • Use natural pruning techniques and consider leaving the bushes’ lowest layers where many birds find shelter and food.
  • Allow plants to grow to their natural form, don’t over prune. If feasible, allow plants to overwinter so pollinators in the area can use dead stems for shelter.
  • Mow to maintain turfgrass health. Don’t cut grass too short, taller grass tolerates heat and drought better.