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Fast growth, major development… and green landscaping?

You don’t have to look far to get examples of why green landscape architecture that conserves water and reduces energy input and maintenance costs is a good idea. The drought in Georgia is so bad that people must choose between irrigating yards and having drinking water. Parts of Florida are facing similar problems, and Mississippi is also no stranger to drought in recent years.

Green landscapes are particularly in demand for new construction, especially in the increasing number of developments that are seeking certification from the U.S. Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

Eco-friendly green and sustainable developments are taking off in Mississippi even though overall responses have been slower in Mississippi than in some other states simply based on the demand from the clientele and business environment, says Sadik C. Artunc, FASLA, head of the Department of Landscape Architecture at Mississippi State University (MSU).

“We have been teaching sustainability as a part of our professional training,” Artunc says. “However, as the public’s awareness have been increased and the market has began to respond, the press and other news media have begun to write and talk about it. We have also responded by talking about our on-going efforts more both with our students and the public at large.”

Building projects that are seeking LEED certification have part of their rating tied to the environmental sustainability of the landscape. Soon, the landscape architecture industry will institute a similar rating system for landscaping.

“Currently, our profession is looking at something similar to LEED certification for how landscape projects can be created that would include many different things in terms of how a project could achieve good ecological practices,” says Bob Brzuszek, assistant professor of landscape architecture at MSU. “Landscape architects are looking at a separate type of certification to address things like stormwater runoff controls needed to achieve EPA Tier 2 regulations for non-point source pollution. Cities in Mississippi are increasingly going to be under better water quality regulations.”

A lot of what is involved in green landscaping is best management practices for important landscape elements like handling stormwater runoff. There are many different management practices that can be used to catch stormwater runoff such as the use of bioswales and stormwater retention ponds. Bioswales catch the water by storing the water so it infiltrates into the soil. Both swales and ponds help prevent sediment and pollution like nitrates from entering local waters as pollution.

An old-fashioned system for collecting rainwater is coming back: cisterns. Brzuszek reports seeing increased use of cisterns in new developments. The rainwater can be stored and later used for watering the landscape.

“We are also seeing rain gardens used a lot more, and those are for temporary containment of stormwater for infiltration back into the soil,’ Brzuszek says. “And we have even been getting calls from people doing green roofs in Mississippi where they are trying to catch water at the source and keep it from causing flooding or runoff problems later on. They are actually growing gardens on the roof.”

Zeriscaping, which is defined as landscaping in ways that doesn’t require supplemental irrigation, is becoming increasingly in demand because of severe drought over the past few year in many different areas of the country. Brzuszek says the more popular term than “zeriscaping” today is “resilient gardens.” Resilient gardens are low maintenance, can handle drought stress and use tougher types of plants that don’t require as much input from fertilizers and pesticides.

“Native plants are a part of it, but not necessary the entire solution,” Brzuszek says. “What are used are good, tough plants that tend to require less maintenance.”

Another element of green landscaping is a push for using more local type materials rather than goods shipped in from overseas.

As the landscape architecture business has changed, teaching at MSU has adapted to keep pace. It isn’t just about esthetics anymore, making a landscape pleasing to the eye, but also meeting regulations required by the government.

“As cities are becoming more concerned about water issues, and even fire issues with wildfires occurring in parts of the country, these environmental practices are becoming much more in demand to meet city code regulations and subdivision regulations,” Brzuszek says. “So, we’re seeing more need to teach our students those practices. Our department has focused on that in the past few years. I’d say in nearly about all of our courses we are looking at things like smart growth, low-impact development and all the things that play into a better environment being created.”

Many cities have ordinances that protect trees from being removed. Brzuszek says there has been a lot of the research supporting the role of trees in urban systems, and actually quantifying what a good mature tree is worth in the city not only in terms of beauty and shade for buildings, but also carbon sequestration.

Green landscaping is especially critical for some areas of Mississippi that are building very quickly now such as the state’s most northwestern counties located near Memphis. They can learn lessons from places like Florida and Georgia where high-pressure development has led to groundwater levels dropping.

“Atlanta is a good bellweather for high development and making choices whether you are going to have drinking water or water for outdoor use,” Brzuszek says. “So, in Mississippi where it is developing quickly, it makes sense to develop practices that minimize our impact on available drinking water by using rainwater or gray water to irrigate the landscape.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at 4becky@cox.net.

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