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Create Sustainable Landscapes -

Sustainable landscape design is primarily focused on minimizing maintenance requirements, and preserving resources.
Simply put, a sustainable garden emulates our natural world, and seeks to minimize inputs and encourage our landscapes to work with our natural systems rather than against them.

Conventional landscaping often relies on large lawns, non-native plants, abundant irrigation and heavy use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. It also requires frequent mowing, blowing, trimming and removal of plant debris. These practices destroy beneficial organisms, consume significant resources, pollute air and water and deplete soil of organic matter and nutrients, degrading soil health. The result is an increased production of plant debris, increased dependency on fertilizers and irrigation, as well as greater storm water runoff, erosion and pollution of local waterways.

Sustainable landscapes are designed to work with nature to reduce waste, protect watersheds and safeguard the health of humans and other species. These are the core principles of sustainable landscaping:

Construct resource-efficient landscapes :

Conventional residential landscapes are often designed without regard for climate and soil conditions. Typically, they require high inputs of water and chemicals and produce excessive plant debris from pruning and mowing activities. Invasive plants used in landscaping often escape into natural areas, where they can spread rapidly, crowd out native plants, degrade wildlife habitat and increase the wildfire fuel load. Landscaping at multifamily developments typically favors ornamental over edible plantings and rarely provides areas where residents can grow food. Resource-efficient landscapes use plant and techniques that are better suited to local soils, wildlife and climate.

Minimize turf areas :

Lawns (or turf) are useful for recreation and relaxation, but turf requires frequent cutting, watering and application of fertilizers or other chemicals to stay green during California’s long dry season. Replace decorative lawns with water-conserving California native or Mediterranean groundcover or
perennial grasses, shrubs or trees. If turf is desired or needed for recreational uses, specify no more than 25% of the total landscaped area as turf or substitute turf with varieties requiring low watering, such as Carex pansa or Carex pragracillis available at many local nurseries. Do not specify turf for street medians or any areas less than 8 feet wide. Avoid planting turf on slopes exceeding 10% or in irregularly shaped areas that cannot be irrigated efficiently.

Plant trees :

Trees help lower cooling costs, increase comfort in the summer, provide beauty and habitat, slow storm water runoff, help stabilize slopes, and absorb carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.

Group plants by water needs - Hydrozoning :

Different plants have different water requirements. Hydrozoning involves dividing the landscape into zones of low, medium and high water use to prevent over watering.

Install high efficiency irrigation systems :

Efficient irrigation systems apply only the amount of water that the plants need with little or no waste through runoff, over watering or over spray. Design the irrigation system to meet or exceed the requirements of your local water conservation ordinance. Install drip, subsurface or low-flow irrigation systems in place of standard systems for all landscape applications.

Design and install irrigation systems to achieve an irrigation operational distribution uniformity of 70% or greater in all turf areas and 80% in all other landscaped areas. Operate the irrigation system at no more than 72% of reference evapotranspiration for the irrigated area. Also:

Incorporate compost to promote healthy topsoil

A robust, living soil with sufficient organic content is the foundation of a water-conserving, resource efficient, low-impact landscape. Adding good quality compost before planting brings life to the soil and feeds existing soil organisms, fueling many natural processes that supply nutrients, minimize disease and improve soil quality. Incorporate 2 to 4 inches of compost into the top 6 to 12 inches of soil, or as much as is required to bring the soil organic matter content to 3.5% for turf and 5% for planting beds, except for plant species that will not thrive in such soils. Stabilized compost has been properly matured and can be safely handled, stored and applied to the soil. Loosen all planting and turf areas to a minimum depth of 6 inches prior to final landscape grading. Occasionally topdress with compost on turf and around established shrubs and trees.

Mulch all planting beds. Mulch is any material spread evenly over the surface of the soil. Organic materials, including chipped landscape debris, are preferable over inorganic materials because they supply nutrients over time and provide wildlife habitat.

Use fire-safe landscaping techniques

California’s hot, dry climate makes fire protection an important consideration for landscape design, especially because new residential developments are increasingly located adjacent to areas that may be prone to wildfires. Simple landscaping design practices can help defend the buildings by reducing fuel accumulation and interrupting the fire path.  Many "Fire Safe" plant lists are available from various local agencies and Fire Safe Demonstration gardens can be found in Santa Barbara and elsewhere through California.

For sites adjacent to fire-sensative open space or wildlands, identify critical fire vectors, including:

Specify mitigations to fire vectors including the establishment of a defensible zone immediately surrounding the structure that uses one or more of these firescaping strategies: