Look at environmental landscaping as the best way to solve people's problems and meet their needs; present it in that light, rather than with an eco-crusade or a save-the-world message.

A few examples:

  • Problem: Can’t grow turf grass because of shade and tree roots
  • Traditional Solution: Over prune or remove shade-causing trees + lime and over-fertilize soil + re-seed every year
  • Results: Expensive, harmful, poor results
  • Eco-savvy Solution: Create mulch bed, plant beautiful, shade-tolerant native wildflowers and/or showy, shade-tolerant flowering native woodland shrubs and understory trees.
  • New Results: More attractive, less long-term costs and maintenance, less fertilizer and mowing

  • Problem: Can’t grow turf grass because of dry, poor soil
  • Traditional Solution: Bring in top soil + lime + fertilizer + install irrigation system
  • Results: Expensive, high-maintenance, waste of water, fertilizer run-off
  • Eco-savvy Solution: Create pocket meadow or wildflower bed using brilliantly-colored native meadow flower species that thrive in poor, low-nutrient, dry soils
  • New Results: Brilliant color, very low maintenance and long-term costs, very low water use and zero soil amendments


  • Problem: Pond/lake shore erosion and Canada geese invading lawns
  • Traditional Solution: Bulkhead construction + rip rap + fencing + various goose deterrents
  • Results: Expensive, unattractive, high maintenance, doesn’t work
  • Eco-savvy Solution: Use bio-logs to hold shore-line. Plant bio-logs heavily with attractive,native wetland wildflowers and sedges whose roots stabilize the soil and tall stems act as colorful, attractive, inexpensive, low-maintenance barrier to geese.
  • New Results: Low-maintenance, much less expensive, significantly more aesthetically pleasing and it works!


Look at the environmental benefits as positive by-products, rather than the reason for doing it. Some of your best selling points for using eco-savvy techniques (other than environmental benefits) are:

  • Increased Beauty, Color, Aesthetics, Visual Diversity
  • Reduced Costs
  • Reduced Maintenance
  • Better Long-term Results

Eco-savvy landscape techniques that have worked well in this area and solve many of the common problems, requests and needs that arise on Northern Virginia properties include:

  • Pocket (small, suburban-scale) Wildflower Meadows
  • Shade Gardening with native wildflowers, ferns, groundcovers, shrubs and small trees
  • Biologs and Shoreline Planting
  • Rain Gardens

If you can learn how to master these four landscapes, you will vastly increase you effectiveness, clientele base, project success and customer satisfaction. In addition, you will be ahead of most land management/landscaping professionals.

A few basic principles to remember when dealing with all of these landscapes, as well as any eco-savvy land management projects:

  1. Find a plant to fit the site, rather than altering the site to fit a particular plant that you or your client may have become attached to. E.g., rather than draining a saturated property to suite plants that need good drainage, see it as an excellent opportunity to use colorful,highly desirable native wetland and bog wildflowers (Cardinal Flower, Blue Flag Iris, Wild Hibiscus, Marsh Marigold, etc.).

  2. Work with the existing characteristics (topography, hydrology, sun exposure, existing trees, soil types, etc.) of the site rather than fighting them; view them as assets and take advantage of the opportunities they present rather than altering them.

  3. Create a landscape with long-term, sustainable success/results in mind. Use photos, illustrations, etc. to give people an image of how the property will look, rather than feeling a need to create an “instant landscape” that will fail in three years.
  4. Diversity in the landscape = aesthetics, strength, health, sustainability, and beneficial wildlife species. Use a diversity of native plant species; consider colors, bloom times, heights, forms, textures, seasons, fruit, seed and flower types, etc. Also consider a diversity of features and structures: water, stone and brush shelters, paths, nesting boxes for bats, birds and native bees, etc.

  5. What are the needs, problems and expectations connected with the property in question? Are you solving the problem and meeting the needs of this property or customer?

  6. Consider the landscape’s effect on surrounding properties and off-site issues: adjoining properties, local/regional watersheds, resident and migratory wildlife populations, nearby parks, forests, streams, wetlands, etc.


Check out related resources to get started with eco-friendly landscaping

  1. Plant natives
  2. Plant a native meadow
  3. How to approach eco-friendly land management
  4. Beneficial insects guide -- Stop Before You Spray  (PDF)
  5. For the complete ASNV eco-friendly landscape paper, download this PDF.
  6. Gardening for pollinators
  7. How to plant your yard to attract and feed native songbirds
  8. Shade-tolerant, drought-tolerant, low-maintenance groundcover plants
  9. Ten rain garden plants (PDF)
  10. Other Web resources

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