Should Landscaping Improve Our Environment?
Summit is committed to improving our environment. Our goal is to provide environmentally sound design all of our projects. The landscape business in the past has more often than not contributed to environmental degradation. Invasive plant species have been introduced and the biodiversity has been limited. Summit realizes the huge impact the built community has on our natural environment and is taking steps to do our part to improve biodiversity and water quality.
What Contributes to Water Pollution?
When rain falls on impervious surfaces (roofs, roads, sidewalks, driveways, lawns, etc.) it collects chemicals, heavy metals, fertilizers, and loose soils. Historically, rain was collected and removed from the site as fast as possible. This practice, however, reduces the quality of our lakes, streams and groundwater. By utilizing on-site storm water management practices through natural process, storm water can be treated before it enters our waterways.
How Can I Integrate “Green” Landscape Design on my Site?
Rain Gardens — Rain gardens collect, clean and cool storm water runoff. Runoff quantity is also reduced through plant uptake and evaporation. Native plant species are typically utilized in rain garden plant design because of their tolerance to fluctuating water levels and large root structures to aid in infiltration.
Green Roofs — Green roofs act similar to rain gardens. Because they are located on the roof of a structure there is added insulation to the structure and the life of roof materials can be doubled. Rather than having an exposed roof surface contributing to the urban heat island effect, a vegetated roof maintains the ambient air temperature.
Responsible Irrigation Practices — When irrigation is required, many new technologies can be integrated into the landscape design. Weather monitoring systems collect data recorded by satellites and use the information to determine frequency and duration of the daily irrigation cycle. Utilizing drip irrigation in planting beds can increase the irrigation efficiency by eliminating overspray. Using drip irrigation also helps create better root structures by causing roots to grow vertical rather than horizontal. Sub-surface drip irrigation for lawns can be as much as forty percent more efficient than spray heads. Traditional ways to collect rainwater are also very practical. Installing a rain barrel at the end of a downspout can collect roof runoff that can be used in planting beds around the yard. Not only do these practices help to reduce storm water runoff and improve water quality, but they can also reduce water bills for the landscape.
Native Plants — Native plants are plants that were naturally occurring in the area prior to the 1800’s. Using native plants is important because native animals prefer native plants for food, shelter, a part of their life cycle, etc. Native plants are acclimated for the local climate and thrive in Michigan’s environment. Native plants can be used in wet areas in the yard, dry areas in the yard, hedgerows, winter interest and many other ways. Native plants have higher disease and insect tolerance than introduced species as well. These plants and insects have spent thousands of years together and have developed a symbiotic relationship; this can reduce the amount of pesticides needed in the landscape. Many prairie plants found in Michigan have deep root systems that improve soil infiltration and aeration. When prairie plants become dormant, one-third of their root system dies and replenishes soil nutrients. Incidentally, this is the reason the plains states had such fertile soils; thousands of years of prairie plants replenishing soil nutrients created very rich soils for agriculture.
Right Plant for the Right Place — Be educated on plant material that will be used in the landscape. A plant that requires full sun will not survive on the north side of a structure; a White Pine will not like being planted at the base of a slope where water tends to collect. Know the soil type that is found on the site, many plants will struggle in heavy or very loose soils.
Reduced Turf Grass — Where ever there is high foot traffic for outdoor activities the traditional lawn is ideal. If there are large areas of lawn that are not used, consider alternatives to turf grass. A native prairie can be one-fifth the cost of turf grass over a ten year period; it can provide a more interesting view as well. There are also other options: Lily turf, Bella Bluegrass, Eco Turf, Buffalo Grass, Pennsylvania Sedge, and others.
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