Northwood News ♦ June 2015

How to Choose the Right Green Landscape Designer

By Carole A. Barth

General Questions to Ask

  • What proportion of your business involves using green best practices or conservation landscaping?
  • Are you familiar with Rainscapes, Rain Check Rebate, River Smart Homes, and other regional incentive programs?  Have you attended any training classes for those programs?
  • Are you familiar with the 8 Essential Elements of Conservation Landscaping and the Sustainable Sites Initiative?  [www.chesapeakelandscape.org/resources/the-eight-essential-elements, www.sustainablesites.org]

Questions for Designers

  • Will you perform a soil test?  Answer:  Testing the soil will let the designer pick plants that will thrive in the existing soil conditions, which saves you from having to buy expensive soil amendments.
  • Do you use regionally native plants?  Answer:  Native plants have been naturally present in the region since the last ice age.  Properly sited native plants are already adapted to our local conditions.  Once established, they require little or no watering, fertilizing, or pesticide use.  Native plants also support native pollinators, birds, and butterflies.
  • If you use nonnatives, are they regionally appropriate and not invasive?  Answer:  Native plants are preferred.  If nonnative plants are used, they should be a good match for both regional and site conditions.  For example, a tree like the Silver Birch, which requires cool summers, will not perform well in our region.  Some nonnatives are invasive, meaning they escape cultivation and damage natural ecosystems.  For example, garlic mustard spreads rapidly in local forests, displacing native wildflowers.  Chemicals in the plant are toxic to native butterfly larvae, so, as garlic mustard spreads, the butterflies decline.  Invasive plants should not be used under any circumstances.  [www.nps.gov/plants/alien/pubs/midatlantic/index.htm]
  • Have you designed projects which qualified for Rainscapes or other incentive programs?
  • How much experience do you have designing rain gardens, BayScapes or Baywise conservation landscapes, pervious hardscapes, and green roofs?
  • Do you design easy-care landscapes?  Will your design be tailored to how much maintenance I’m willing/able to perform?  Answer:  There are many ways to design an easy-care landscape.  For example, close plantings are easier to weed than plantings which leave lots of bare space for weeds to colonize.  Connecting trees with mulched beds or under-plantings simplifies maintenance because you no longer have to mow and weed whip around the trees, and you don’t have to rake up as many fallen leaves from the lawn.
  • Do you prepare a maintenance plan as part of the design?  Answer:  Ideally you will receive a plan and list of the plants used in your landscape, instructions for basic care while the plants are new, and some long-term care information.  Pictures are very helpful for recognizing the plants.
  • Do your designs provide energy conservation benefits?  Answer:  When properly placed, mature trees can reduce the interior temperature of a building by as much as 20 degrees, reducing summer cooling costs by 25–49 percent [ www.arborday.org/ globalwarming/summershade.cfm]  Benefits can be realized even before the trees are full-grown:  Montgomery County planted trees to shade air conditioning units and parking lots at multifamily dwellings.  After eight years, they took temperature readings and found a 30–40 degree reduction, even though the trees were not yet mature.
  • If you’re not an installer, can you recommend one who is knowledgeable about conservation landscaping?

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