sustainable landscape

Sustainable Landscape Tips

Question: What are important considerations for plant selection when designing a sustainable landscape? 


red and green bush in a sustainable landscape
Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’ photo by Victoria Wallace

Proper plant selection is the most important step in designing a sustainable landscape.

  • “Right plant, right place” is the fundamental principle for the environmentally sound management of landscapes. Plants should be selected for not only aesthetic value, but also because they are adapted to the existing soil conditions, available water, microclimate, and space available.
  • Biologically diverse plants should be selected to tolerate reduced irrigation (once established), fertilizer, and soil amendment inputs.
  • Establishing strong, healthy, vigorous plantings is crucial for pest management in sustainable landscapes. A vigorous, healthy, unstressed plant can usually survive, avoid, or outcompete many potential disease, insect, and weed pests without further intervention.
  • Native plants are best adapted to the local soils and site conditions. Incorporating native plants helps to restore local ecosystems that support a wide variety of indigenous and beneficial insect, bird, and animal species. Over time, as these native plants become established, they can increase biodiversity and contribute to a reduction in expense and time spent on maintenance.
  • A healthy and diverse landscape supports naturally occurring beneficial insects. Native predators and parasitoids will help control harmful pests when provided the opportunity and necessary habitat for their survival. Many practices that support pollinators also support pest-controlling insects.

For more information, see UConn Extension Native Plant & Sustainable Landscaping Guide, available here.


Question: How do I maintain my garden in a more sustainable way?


plants in a sustainable landscape with orange flowers
Photo: Alyssa Siegel Miles
plants along a sidewalk
Photo: Alyssa Siegel-Miles











  • Perform a soil test when renovating both landscapes and turfgrass areas. Find instructions at
  •  Consider the soil characteristics, climate, sun exposure, water conditions, and pest possibilities when selecting plants.
  • Utilize native plants wherever possible, incorporating them into the landscape, along with annuals, to maintain season-long color and aesthetic interest. Native plants can be interplanted in existing landscapes, even among non-native plants.
  • Group plants with similar watering, pH, fertilizer, and light requirements together to allow for the most efficient use of resources.
  • Ensure that the mature height and width of each plant is factored into the landscape design to avoid the need for excessive pruning or regular replacement.
  • Select more stress-tolerant species or cultivars to manage periodic dry/wet conditions. Where feasible, design with drought tolerant and low water use plants that require minimal irrigation. Where irrigation is necessary, utilize high‐efficiency irrigation systems (e.g., drip irrigation) or recycled water features in all landscaped areas for maximum efficiency.
  • Utilize a diverse range of plant species. Choose plants that offer ornamental interest in every season. Bark, foliage, fruit, and fragrance are ornamental characteristics to consider, in addition to flowers.
  • Select flowers with a variety of colors, shapes, sizes, heights, and growth habits to attract pollinators. Choose plants with a wide range of flowering times to extend the forage season and attractiveness of the planting. Select plant material not regularly browsed by deer.
  • Plant in “floral clumps,” which imitates the way plants naturally seed themselves and is both aesthetically pleasing and beneficial for pollinators. It is easier for pollinators to find and benefit from plantings when there are five or more of each pollinator-supporting species in a group.
  • Consider including species that support both butterfly/moth larvae and adults. Many butterfly and moth species are highly specialized, requiring specific plants for their survival, especially for their larvae. For example, monarch caterpillars can only survive by consuming milkweed plants. Many trees, including oak, maple, and willow, also serve as butterfly/moth larval host plants. While larval host plants will endure some damage as insects or other wildlife consume their leaves, native plants can tolerate and thrive in balance with the native insects that depend on them for survival.
  • For lawn areas, select improved and low-maintenance cultivars of turfgrasses suitable for home lawns, with improved drought tolerance and pest resistance. Consult UConn Extension specialists. Several national programs evaluate turfgrasses, including National Turf Evaluation Program (NTEP), Alliance for Low Input Sustainable Turf (ALIST), and Turfgrass Water Conservation Association (TWCA). UConn serves as an evaluation site for reduced input or low maintenance turfgrasses.

For more information, see UConn Extension Native Plant & Sustainable Landscaping Guide, available here.

By Vickie Wallace and Alyssa Siegel-Miles, UConn Extension

Visit for more answers to your questions.

Pruning Guide

hydrangea plant

Check out this handy pruning guide and refresher from our Sustainable Landscaping and Nursery IPM Educators.  This was written for professionals, and is also applicable to home gardeners just getting started with the basics of pruning. It includes links to other resources for continued learning as well!


– Identify the purpose of each pruning job. (Table 2)
– The amount of living plant material that can be re-moved at one time depends on the age and level of establishment of the plant (Table 3).

– Dead, broken, or diseased plant material can be pruned at any time of the year.

– To rejuvenate multi-stemmed shrubs, remove one or more of the oldest stems at the base each year to stimulate new shoots to arise from the base of the plant. Many flowering shrubs bloom more prolifically on younger, 2 to 3-year-old wood. Shrubs that respond well to having some of the 3+ year-old stems removed include forsythia, weigela, deutzia, mock orange and beauty bush.
– Newly established hedges should be pruned early in the growing season to promote the desired growth and density. More established hedges may be kept vigorous and dense by thinning out older branches, which will encourage new growth.”

Make Your Landscape Sustainable

By Joan Allen – Assistant Extension Educator – UConn Home & Garden Center

seedlingsA sustainable landscape incorporates a holistic approach of functionality, environmental stewardship, social responsibility and economic sensibility. These principles are tied together in the design and maintenance of a landscape in order to maintain and preserve natural ecological habitats.

Your Landscape Impacts The Environment

Principles put into practice in the home backyard can have significant impacts regionally and beyond. By reusing, recycling and reducing out inputs into the environment, we make our small piece of the world a better place to live and also positively impact global changes. Efforts to preserve forests and farmlands, reduce air pollution by decreasing fossil fuel consumption, and improve the water quality of our streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans will foster and protect biological diversity.

Small individual changes in how we live or in the way we care for the home landscape may seem inconsequential, but add up to make a real difference. Incorporating some of the following tactics into your lawn and landscape practices will reduce your impact on the immediate environment and on global climate change as well.

  • Reduce the size of the home lawn,
    Put some of the lawn area in plantings of native trees and shrubs.
  • Mow less often.
    Let grass reach 3 inches in height and then remove the top 1 inch.
  • Leave grass clippings on the lawn.
    They will increase the soil organic matter and supply one-third of the nutrients the lawn needs.
  • Hand-rake leaves instead of using power equipment.
  • Compost yard waste.
    Use as a source of organic matter and plant nutrients.
  • Have your soil tested and apply fertilizer according to recommendations.
    UConn offers inexpensive soil testing with easy-to-read results and recommendations.
  • Support local growers and garden centers.
    Shop at garden nurseries that grow native or regionally-adapted plants rather than purchasing from suppliers that ship in their stock from out of state.
  • Plant a variety of native and non-invasive ornamentals.
    This will encourage a greater diversity among the natural insect pollinators, predators and bird populations.
  • Plant trees to shade the house reducing air conditioning usage and costs.
  • Conserve and limit water use in the landscape.
  • Redirect water runoff from impervious surfaces
    From areas such as roads, walkways and driveways to vegetated swales or buffer areas.
  • Use rain barrels to capture water from roof tops and gutters. Apply on non-edibles.
  • Connect a rain sensor to home irrigations systems.
  • Water plants less frequently.
    But water deeply to encourage a deep and extensive root system.


Dr. Carl Salsedo on the Search for Sustainability

Salsedo copyEver smell a tomato plant? Dr. Carl Salsedo did, and it changed his life. He was three at the time, visiting a greenhouse in Thomaston with his father. One whiff of that singular scent launched a lifetime love affair with plants, gardening, and the interwoven mysteries of the natural world. At six, Salsedo had his own garden. By age 12, he was working at Bristol Nurseries, the world’s epicenter for modern mums. It’s been onward and upward since then.


Not so long after he moved to his hilltop home in Burlington in 1977, he was gardening sustainably before it was even a recognized concept, exploring the warp and weft of nature’s networks. That meant, in the most simple terms, using mostly native plants while at the same time minimizing maintenance and inputs such as fertilizer, water, etc. One of the key elements was selecting plants adapted to his site and its varied microclimates. “The plants are all boilerplate,” he says. “Low maintenance, conifers, perennials and broadleaf stuff you can’t miss with. Easy.”


But just because it’s sustainable doesn’t mean it’s ugly. Salsedo’s garden has been open to visitors as part of the national Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program for nearly a decade.


Sustainability means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but Salsedo boiled the concept down to its essence by identifying what he believes are five basic tenets: development of a sustainable lawn (one that doesn’t rely on chemicals and nutritional additives and in which weeds are okay); use of native plants, not exclusively, but primarily; fostering a healthy environment; creating a biodiverse landscape, and practicing good ecology. “If you do one thing, recycle your leaves and your grass clippings,” he says. As much as 100 yards of fallen leaves are used as winter compost in Salsedo’s gardens.


It’s all about gardening with nature, which also happens to be the name of a CPTV series Salsedo hosted about a decade ago.


“What I advocate is stuff everybody can do,” he says. “It’s the democratization of the landscape.”


And Salsedo can do lots of advocating in his position as Extension Educator-Sustainable and Environmental Horticulture with UConn Extension. He is based in the Hartford County office and his responsibilities include developing sustainable landscaping programs and publications, and teaching the Fundamentals of Horticulture course at the West Hartford campus.


In addition, Salsedo completed a series for Connecticut Public Television entitled “Gardening with Nature,” that promoted sustainable practices within the suburban landscape. These vignettes are still broadcast throughout the year and the series has found a new home on the web and has been greatly expanded by Salsedo and Connecticut Public Television (available at – keyword gardening).


Another of Salsedo’s most enduring research interests is exploring how people connect to nature through gardening and what makes us garden in the first place. He shared his findings in a book entitled “Gardening: Cultivating an Enduring Relationship with Nature” published in 2010.


Perhaps the seed of that interest was planted back when Salsedo was installing a swimming pool at his Burlington home. He hired a guy with an earth-moving excavator who, Salsedo says, happened to be a genius. Months later, Salsedo’s sloping hillside yard had been transformed into a staircase of terraced beds. The new topography just seemed to Salsedo a natural thing to do. He never wondered why. At least not until he visited his grandfather’s home on a tiny volcanic island not far from Sicily. There, all the land was terraced, the whole island. “So why did I terrace my hillsides?” he asks. Maybe it’s genetic.


And so too, there may be a genetic component to Salsedo’s desire to work in harmony with nature. If that’s the case, that desire may lie latent in all our genes, waiting to be rediscovered.


Originally published in the October 2013 issue of the Connecticut Horticultural Society newsletter.