What does it mean to go Green in the Living Landscape?

Green means Sustainability, creating and maintaining a landscape which conserves and preserves our energy, our water, our natural resources, our air quality, our environment and our way of life, and promoting an environment that will endure and provide into the future.

A sustainable environment will meet our needs in the present without compromising our ability to meet the needs of future generations.

Green landscape is one which contributes to sustainability and does not put stresses and pollutants  into the living landscape; this includes best practices which have  little to no carbon footprint, one that does not make many common mistakes in gardening practices which do everything from polluting and contaminating  the air, soil and water and even the food supply in our own gardens and the environment.

It means planting the right plant in the right place and using safe products in the landscape and incorporating canopy trees and naturescape style plantings that provide for desirable wildlife in the landscape.
Our landscaping plays a vital role in the natural systems which sustain and support life through our environment. We must not jeopardize these natural systems, though landscapers, gardeners and homeowners often make mistakes in garden practices and maintenance, often unknowingly, which are costly and do in fact put our environment, our sustenance, the future of our natural systems, and therefore our future and that of our progeny, and future generations at risk.

It is paramount that we understand the nature of the interdependence of the human and natural environment. It is understanding this connection that will bring about a true sustainability. It is incumbent upon us all to think globally and act locally by living green in our environment in order to ensure the success of sustainability. Even our founding fathers recognized the importance of an intergenerational philosophy and the belief that each generation has a moral obligation as stewards of the environment. Thomas Jefferson discussed the problem of topsoil depletion when he “Asserts that each generation has the right to inherit, undiminished, the same topsoil capital that its predecessors enjoyed”, according to the Stewardship Doctrine found at this wonderful website on Constitutional Law, here.

A Green Gardener, seeks the natural balance of nature in the living landscape. As the Gaia hypothesis, promulgated by James Lovelock, states the Earth and its species make up one living, interactive, organism. Tampering with the balance of the superorganism, Gaia, by destroying the earth: polluting the air, water and soil, depleting the ozone layer or altering organisms through genetic engineering threatens the Earth’s survival, sustainability, and Us, humanity.

In Britain, the Natural Environment Research Council funded a study which supports these concerns. The earth they say has had five mass extinctions in the history of the planet. They are presumed to have been caused by extraterrestrial events: comets crashing to earth and the likes. A recent study now concludes that the “matural world is experiencing the sixth, major extinction event in history.” (Lovell 2004) This extinction begun, is not caused by extraterrestrial events. According to a study author, Jeremy Thomas, “As far as we can tell this one is caused by one animal organism – man.”

What is Green Landscape?

A green landscape is one which incorporates the tenets of organic gardening and naturescaping and contributes to the environment in a positive way. It is one that does not constantly turn on the power tools to keep it in shape, avoiding a carbon footprint and keeping toxic waste out of the soil, air and water. It contributes to the environment in a positive fashion without putting added stress on the environment. it maintains healthy trees and plants in a healthy soil, and hosts desireable wildlife. It does not contaminate the water supply and provides the healthy of roots of big trees to help clean keep soil and water clean and provides oxygen and shade canopy. It is maintained without making the many common mistakes that harm the environment.

Many common mistakes made in the landscape put the environment under stress.  It is important to understand that a landscape or plants under stress do not contribute in a positive way to the environment. Green gardening is practical and easy to learn. If you can’t do everything that makes a garden green right away, do as much as you can and aim toward ultimately doing all the things that make a difference.


*Trees – Plant More Canopy Trees – Benefit (Plant as many as possible – a few in the swale and others in the front and back yard, as large as possible) for a sustainable environment. Spend the most on your trees as they play a major role in the landscape.

Canopy Trees are much more important to plant than palm trees. While palms create a lovely architecture and contribute to the tropical look, they don’t offer all the benefits that a canopy shade tree does. Canopy trees supply oxygen, remove carbon dioxide (the major greenhouse gas), trace metals, and other industrial pollutants from the air we breathe. Trees absorb rainwater from frequent intense summer storms. This holds moisture on your property and prevents storm water runoff which often carries pollutions such as fertilizers, and other chemicals we use on our gardens and lawns off our property down storm drains and into our bays and estuaries. Proper tree shading can reduce air-conditioning costs and mitigate temperatures, even alleviating the island heat affect of cities when enough are properly planted. Trees provide shelter, food and homes for urban wildlife. Many migratory birds rest and live in trees. Trees are long-lived, the longest lived plant in a landscape so that planting one not only enhances your property and its value now, but has a positive aesthetic and ecological impact on your neighborhood and the overall environment far into the future.

*Soil Quality – Amending soil with Composted Manure  helps create the basic element of soil quality, fertility, and health –  it adds important microorganisms to the soil – reestablishing biological activity in the soil and encouraging the symbiotic relationship between microorganisms and fungi in the soil and plant roots, helping to create healthy roots and therefore healthy plants – avoiding nutrient deficiencies and over time allowing a landscape to perform well without the use of fertilizers and chemicals.

*Mulching with organic mulches to help hold moisture in the soil. Mulches add important organic content to the soil as it breaks down.  Avoid non organic mulches like rubber, which only add stress to the plants and offer nothing in the way of organic content to the soil. Avoid dyed and recycled mulches – many have been found, by researchers at the University of Miami and University of Florida, to contain unsafe levels of arsenic and formaldehyde.

*Irrigation – drip irrigation is more effective and after plants are established, 6 months or so, water less often – 1 x week for 30 minutes as opposed to 2 or 3 times a week for 20 minutes which most people do (conservation of water) water less often with long deep waterings which reach down deep to the roots encouraging deep root growth, rather than just wetting the surface of the soil.

*Plant the right plant in the right place. This means know your plants – do they need shade, sun, a lot of water, or are they succulents or highly drought tolerant. If you live near the coast are your plants salt tolerant. You wouldn’t want to place a high water needs plant on top of a high area such as a mound where much of the water runs off to the lower areas. You wouldn’t want to plant something that needs full sun on the north side of a house where it gets shade all winter.

*Place plants with similar water needs in groups together.

*Plant Natives and non-pest exotics – learn all the great ornamental natives and include as many as you like. (In the interest of preservation include some plants on the endangered list to help avoid their extinction and contribute to the preservation of the plants and the wildlife which requires it for its survival.)

*Plant a wide variety of plants to help with conservation and preservation of biodiversity in plants and animals. Be sure to include flowering plants and plants with berries for wildlife. A wide variety keeps a landscape resistant to pests and diseases.

*Layering plants – planting in groups with plants of different sizes, using trees, shrubs and ground covers to create a natural naturescape, and provide habitat for desirable wildlife, birds, butterflies, lizards, and such.

*Avoid overuse of chemicals – use as many organic methods as possible to treat problems such as plant pests – a good rule of thumb – if a plant requires as many as 3 applications of pesticide or fungicide in a year – rip it out and replace it with a plant more suited to the environment and less susceptible to problems in our environment. Many easy care plants that do well in our environment are native and Caribbean plants. We have far too many chemicals leaching into our water supply already.

* Remember that landscapes which are maintained weekly with gas mowers, trimmers, blowers and the likes are creating a carbon footprint. Maintain plants and gardens in their natural habit and use hand pruners and trimmers. Pick up the broom rather than the blower. Remove grass where it’s unnecessary. Plant ground covers, put down pavers or flagstone or mulch and create natural paths that don’t require gas operated machinery.

* Make appropriate use of your land – don’t just have a high water needs, high chemically enhanced yard.

*Grow your own herbs, fruits and vegetables organically. Use heritage seeds that have have not been genetically engineered.

* Make efficient use of limited natural resources, water effectively. It’s better to water for longer periods of time than shorter ones. Often people only water the surface of the soil, never watering long enough for the soil to be saturated and for the water to reach down deeply into the root. If you will do this, you will find you don’t have to water as often, once plants are established. Less, longer waterings, not more shorter waterings!

* Enhance human health – spending time in gardens or living in a garden like setting has proven to help people’s state of mind – it’s good for the soul. Create outdoor rooms in your garden where you can spend time and entertain.

* Use non-toxic, local materials to assist the local economy, and prevent pollution.

* Preserve plants, animals, endangered species, and natural habitats, create your own habitat landscape, provide water for wildlife.

* Learn about and stay away from products labeled as green or recyled that are not actually so. Read labels. Many such products are actually causing harm to the environment; either through the ingredients in the product or through the industrial  processes used to manufacture the product (sometimes producing pollutants and putting them into the environment.

* Recycle when possible – Create your own Compost. It’s easier than you think. Using compost as top dressing on gardens creates a healthy soil.

*** Avoid stress to the landscape – (which can cause the landscape to deteriorate and cause harm to the environment rather than positively serve the environment)

These are some Common Mistakes Which Create Stress on Plants and the Landscape and cause a landscape to harm rather than enhance environment.

*Planting plants too deeply – burying part of the branches or tree trunk. The top of the root should be even with the soil.

*Over pruning – puts plants into stress leaving them without enough leaf for photosynthesis, and not allowing seed, fruit, berries and flowers to grow on plants due to pruning

*Using non-organic mulches and products – which can cause plants to suffer by holding even more heat in our already hot climate and not amending the soil as an organic mulch would, or using mulch with unsafe levels of chemicals in them.
(while recycling is often green – when the product doesn’t break down in the soil or has unsafe levels of arsenic etc then recycling is not green) Organic material contributes to soil fertility.

*Ineffective and wasteful Watering Practices – with sprays that water the sidewalk, the road, or other areas which don’t absorb the water, watering often but not long enough to water deeply.

*Not amending the soil with organic composted manure – to reestablish the biological activity in the soil and encourage the symbiotic relationship between microorganisms and beneficial fungi which help to create strong healthy plant roots and soil fertility.

*Chemicals – using chemicals regularly, every time you have a problem in the landscape.

*Not planting a wide variety of plants including natives.

*Not layering plants.

*Not planting the right plant in the right place, i.e. grouping plants together by water needs, sunlight needs, soil requirements.

*Failing to actually shade your AC unit by planting a row of tightly clipped shrubs beside it, rather than shading it with a small canopy tree. Use the shrubs to screen the AC. Use a small canopy tree to cool it.

*Not planting enough canopy trees in the landscape.

*Damaging and cutting trunks of trees by whacking them with a string trimmer, which causes injury to the tree and allows disease to enter through the wounds and puts trees into stress. (Plant trees in planting beds and borders or at least plant them with a 3 foot ring of mulch around them to prevent string trimmers from cutting them.

*Using plastic, black or synthetic landscape fabrics. The synthetics and plastic are not organic and do not easily break down in the landscape and add nothing to your landscape or plants. Plastic and black fabrics also conduct heat, intensifying hot days and causing the plants to be in stress. With most of these products nutrients such as top dressings of compost or composted manures cannot reach the plants to provide nutrients to the plants and soil. Some products may even block rain water from reaching your plants.

Photo below: Majestic Native Live Oaks at Ft. Lauderdale Home. Plant a canopy tree like this today for tomorrow! Some thoughtful person planted these before I was born. They have survived many hurricanes and provide magnificently to the home, residents, nature and the environment.

**NOTE: Please read the important information about Chemical Fertilizers under Maintenance and Composting