Sustainable Landscape Maintenance Project


The research phase of this project was completed in 2014. We offer a huge "thank you!" to the many students who worked on this project, our deep appreciation to the NAU Green Fund for supporting this important work, and heartfelt gratitude to Facility Services for partnering with us in this project! In 2013 and 2014, spraying with hazardous herbicides ceased on all campus lawns. Unfortunately, due to lack of funding, spraying resumed on residence lawns in 2015.

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The purpose of the Sustainable Landscape Maintenance Project is to identify environmentally-friendly landscaping practices which will reduce or eliminate the need for chemical inputs on the NAU campus.

It seeks methods which are non-polluting, cost-effective, and result in an aesthetically pleasing landscape that does not pose a health risk to students, faculty, staff, and visitors.

We are a student-run project funded by students through NAU’s Green Fund. Our team is striving to help make the NAU campus better for students, faculty, staff, and the greater community by eliminating the health risks associated with synthetic herbicides.  Through our research and actions, we hope to conserve resources and protect the environment through the use of more sustainable methods of lawn care. Additionally, we hope to find methods that will save the Grounds Department time and money.

Beginning in 2011, we established research areas on campus where we are testing sustainable landscaping practices, such as removing weeds by hand and improving soil health, and then comparing our resulting lawn quality with areas being maintained by NAU using traditional methods, such as spraying with synthetic herbicides.

Research areas include a test site, where we apply sustainable materials and practices, and a control site, which we monitor but do not maintain.  On each test and control site, we collect data on:

  • Soil quality, including pH, salinity, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and micronutrients.
  • Weed abundance (how many weeds are growing) and diversity (what kind of weed is growing)
  • Turf quality: How dense and healthy is the grass?  Is it aesthetically pleasing as a lawn?

Test plots have received a variety of treatments.  Any products used on test sites are approved for organic use through OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute):

  • Corn gluten meal: Prevents weed seeds from establishing and provides an organic source of nitrogen, which is an important food for turfgrasses.
  • Sulfur: Lowers pH (soil alkalinity/acidity).  All of our sites are alkaline, which is not ideal for turf.
  • Compost:  Improves soil quality by encouraging microbial activity and increasing water percolation and retention.
  • Overseeding:  Increasing grass density reduces the ability of weeds to establish.  We use both traditional seeds (Kentucky bluegrass and perennial rye) as well as native seeds (Blue grama, sheep fescue).