What is Sustainable Landscaping?

Thick, healthy grass on Eastburn Test site.

Sustainable Landscaping Practices

The general concept of Sustainable Landscaping can be defined as creating an attractive environment in balance with the local climate that requires minimal resource inputs, such as human energy, fertilizers, pesticides and water.

Through the duration of this project we are working with the help of the NAU Grounds Department to include the most sustainable, yet effective, lawn care practices.

Read more about sustainable landscaping

Techniques to obtain a sustainable landscape:


  • Use a soil test to determine existing nutrient levels on site
  • Provide nutrients based on soil test recommendations
  • Apply nutrients in most naturally available form to avoid "side-effects" of processed or chemically enhanced products


  • Consider replacing alien species with appropriate native species that are adapted to local conditions, thereby reducing extra inputs of water, chemicals, energy and time
  • Reduce/ remove weeds by out-competing them through healthy soil and healthy desired vegetation
  • Use environmentally friendly herbicides, such as corn gluten meal and vinegar sprays, and remove weeds mechanically (by hand or with hand tools)
  • Water deeply and infrequently to encourage deep roots
  • Be sure mower blades are sharp and raise mower height to 2.5-3 inches


  • Select and use renewable, local, and/or low-energy input landscape materials
  • Limit soil compaction using light-impact equipment


  • Healthier place to live
  • Lower maintenance costs over the long-term
  • Eliminate potentially damaging inputs into water, soil and air
  • Support for the region's biodiversity

Our Team

With the help of the NAU Grounds Department we have implemented these techniques on Test Plots:

  • Used soil testing to determine nutrient levels of soil before applying fertilizing treatments
  • Eliminated synthetic herbicide use for weed removal
  • Removed weeds with low-impact hand tools
  • NAU Grounds applied corn gluten meal as a natural, non-toxic pre-emergent weed control
  • NAU Grounds had previously installed a dual layer weed barrier under rock mulch sites

Traditional Landscaping Practices

The Environmental Protection Agency claims Traditional Landscape Practices to be the most common maintenance practice today. While frequently meeting human needs and aesthetics, this method often has harmful impacts to nature, people and is costly.

Through the duration of this project we are observing the current traditional practices used on campus and continually looking for ways to transition to more sustainable practices.

Read more about traditional landscaping

Techniques to obtain traditional landscape:


  • Occasional soil tests occur, but not always before the application of fertilizers or other amendments
  • Application of fertilizers according to general recommendations for traditional plant species
  • Fertilizers and other amendments used are industrially manufactured from chemicals as opposed to using naturally occurring and/or more organic forms
  • Aeration in highly compacted areas is performed occasionally


  • Planting of non-native grasses and alien species, which are common across the USA and considered to have a "look" associated with large campus settings
  • Regular watering for optimal “green grass”
  • Regular application of chemical herbicides to suppress weeds


  • Select and use most commonly utilized and advertised products, which are usually non- native plants and chemically manufactured treatments
  • High use of gasoline-powered landscape equipment such as mowers, trimmers and blowers
  • Regular and Frequent application of fertilizers and pesticides regardless of conditions (on a schedule as opposed to responding to observations)


  • Traditional lawn/landscape if all inputs are applied continually, which can cause problems when chemical inputs build-up, weather patterns challenge non-native species, or resources become limited (water, money, time, ect)
  • Higher maintenance costs
    • High water bills due to water usage
    • More people required to perform maintenance
    • Continuous application of fertilizers and herbicides
  • Abundant use of fossil fuels
  • Creating a monoculture and thus eliminating the unique bio-diversity of local systems
  • Increasing soil compaction due to heavy equipment use
  • Fertilizers and toxic pesticides generating air, water and soil pollution that creates problems for people and the environment.