Landscapes: Natural Plant Succession Considerations


New growth following a forest fire.
Photo credit: Susan Buffler Flickr CC BY-NC- ND 2.0


The constant disturbance of mowing keepd the lawn from entering the succession process. 
Photo credit: pennstatelive Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

Natural Plant Succession

Plant communities grow and change over time through a natural process called succession.  These patterns occur gradually over long periods of time. When a landscape is disturbed in some way, a general process of plant recolonization occurs.

The first plants to grow …

Designing Around Drainage Areas


The use of depressions planted with appropriate species allow water to slowly infiltrate the soil. Photo credit: Facility Records / MSU Physical Plant Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0









Designing around drainage areas can be challenging. Drainage areas are any area where water naturally flows downhill and collects in a basin or catchment area.

Drainage areas can be small areas in a home landscape or they can be the size of a watershed that drains an entire region.

Drainage areas can also …

Creating a Practical Pleasing Outdoor Space


Example of a bubble (functional) diagram showing relationships and rough sizes of the spaces

Image credit: rumbold ayers landscape designers

A practical and pleasing outdoor space is one that satisfies user needs, is aesthetically pleasing, and is relatively easy to maintain.  The space can be a small, quiet, private space, or one that provides expansive views.

1. Satisfies user needs 

Once site inventory, analysis, and family needs are identified, the types, shapes, and sizes of spaces needed can be determined.  …

Microclimates in Water-Wise Landscapes

What is a microclimate?

Microclimates in landscapes are small localized areas that differ in temperature, precipitation, and wind protection from the greater surrounding area.  Structures, topographic features, and plant orientation can create microclimates.  They can be naturally occurring or intentionally designed.   

Examples of Existing Features that can Create Microclimates

  • Topographic depressions – influence temperature, water and snow retention, and wind
  •  Hills and berms influence temperature, snow melt, and wind
  •  Slopes influence runoff and temperature depending on orientation to the sun

Using Sustainable Hardscape Materials

Sustainable hardscape materials are those materials that are produced in a way that is least damaging to the environment and allow water to penetrate into the ground.

Some hardscapes are more sustainable than others. Some materials may be less sustainable to produce but can be used in a sustainable fashion in the landscape. These include permeable asphalt, permeable concrete, and recycled concrete.  Recycled rubber mulches are not recommended.

Permeable Hardscape

Permeability, or the ability for water to penetrate into the …

Proper Plant Placement

Proper plant placement in the landscape can ensure a healthy low maintenance garden. Common plant placement problems include:

  • Planting too close together
  • Planting too close to a building or other structure
  • Planting plants with different water needs together 

Also, in areas prone to forest or wildfires, proper plant placement is critical to saving life and property.

Proper Spacing

Overplanting is a common problem in the garden. Too many plants planted too close together will eventually cause crowding and may increase …

Tips for Using Plants to Reduce Noise in the Landscape


Diagram illustrating effect of different types of barriers on noise reduction. Example 3 illustrates planting depth and placement for sound reduction. 
AV Tree Farm

Unwanted noise can lead to a variety of health problems, including anxiety and hearing loss.

Using plants, berms, and solid barriers together with water wise plants is an effective way to reduce unwanted sound. 

Using Plants to Reduce Noise

Plants and other soft surfaces absorb and scatter soundwaves. Plants are also aesthetically pleasing. Using plants alone, …

Preparing a Planting Plan


Example of a planting plan showing plant symbols,quantity and botanical name of plants with neatly drawn leader lines.
Image credit: Elspeth Briscoe Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

A planting plan is a construction document that shows the location, quantity, and other characteristics of vegetation to be planted in the landscape. It should be easy to read and understand.  

Preparing the Planting Plan

Once the inventory, analysis , size and shape of use areas, paths and all other features have been determined,  …

Landscape Design: Dream Big, but Start out Small

Have you ever bitten off more than you can chew?  Creating or redesigning a landscape can feel overwhelming, particularly if the yard is large. 

One way to avoid feeling overwhelmed when planning a landscape design is to dream big but start small. Think about what is needed right now; perhaps a fresh new entryway or a pleasant entertaining area.

Starting with a small area close to the house is a great way to start small. For instance, if there is …

Hardscaping Areas to Minimize Water Use



Path paved using bark mulch and flagstone stepping stones. Photo credit: wormwould Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0


Small backyard patio garden in Colorado minimizes water use by using xeric plants and no turf. Space between pavers allow for water penetration and drainage.
Photo credit: Jay@MorphoLA Flickr CC BY 2.0

A hardscape is any area where materials such as concrete, asphalt, gravel, wood, or bark mulch are used. These hardscape areas can be aesthetically pleasing and provide a base surface or outdoor …