Adaptive Landscapes
for Long-Term Sustainability

hit counter


This adaptive landscapes article* was originally written for the owners and managers of large multifamily properties which always are always landscaped to the nines. The concepts are universal and can be applied to our own landscape improvements.

This article was a real eye opener for us. There isn't a Spring or Fall season that passes when we haven't made upgrades to our landscapes. The information in it has educated us on how to be more sustainable and organic in our landscaping AND save money.

Xeriscaping is the new buzz word for growing beautiful gardens with very little water. Find out more about dry gardens, xeric patios and green roofs here.

By Dave Hanson

Today's owners and managers of multifamily properties battling a challenging economy, vacancies and worse, value the savings a sustainable property delivers. Adaptive landscape maintenance can plan an important role in extending those savings--but owners and property managers need a smart landscape maintenance partner to ensure best practices.

Adaptive Landscapes Vs. Native Landscapes

Amid budget constraints posed by the economy, many owners and managers of multifamily properties have quickly recognized the aesthetic and financial benefits that adaptive landscapes, often a part of native landscapes, can provide properties.

Adaptive Landscapes from

Native landscapes center around adaptive environments, which use the most appropriate plants given the specific geographic area, or functionality of a space. When incorporating adaptive landscapes, plants don't need to be strictly native to the area, but instead, can be plucked from a comparable climate and assimilated into the property's surrounding environment.

The idea is to make sure the landscape can be easily maintained for the long-term.

Native landscapes refer to native species that are indigenous to the region in which they evolved. While native landscapes often contribute a multitude of benefits to a sustainable garden, the complete use of indigenous trees, shrubs, ground-cover, and grasses to the geographic area doesn't always make sense.

This is due to the fact that the local landscape environment can be modified to a point where native plants will not perform to their optimum. As an example, a California native oak tree may not do well planted at the bottom of a slope in compacted, heavy clay soils even if it does not receive much watering--as it does not do well in heavy, compacted soils.

In those cases, an adaptive landscape approach to the current environment is recommended.

Incorporating Adaptive and Native Landscape Practices

It is best to plant during the fall and early winter--giving the landscape time to establish a healthy root system before new growth in spring and summer. This is not always possible for obvious reasons. Because few plants will survive if their microclimate is changed to adapt to the landscape conditions, a few important questions should be asked to determine which plants are best suited for the environment: *What is trying to be achieved--decorative plants, shade cover, screening, etc?

*Are there specific water requirements to meet?

*What kind of irrigation system or water sources exist?

*Does the irrigation system need to be retrofitted?

*What kind of soil is present and how well does it drain?

*How much sun does the site get?

*What are the temperature maximums and minimums?

*What's the elevation and the topography of the site?

*What's the landscape's proximity to buildings?

*How big can the landscape grow and how much space will it need?

Adaptive Landscapes 2 from

Choosing the Most Appropriate Plants

When selecting plants that are adapted to succeed in the property's environment, group plants that live in similar conditions such as trees, tall and small shrubs, perennials, bulbs, grasses, and vines.

The region in which a property is located serves as a good guide for what to plant. For example, in Western markets such as California, consider native or plants that adapt well to more arid conditions such as oaks and species of Rosemary for ground cover.

Picking the right plant to match the community is critical. Identify plants that come from similar environments. For example, one can use plants native to places such as New Zealand, Australia, Chile, Argentia, and South America that may adapt to grow well in California.

Common California plant communities include northern and southern oak woodland, valley grassland, chaparral, desert, coastal sage scrub and bluff, mixed evergreen, and redwood forest. Be careful to avoid plants that grow too fast or too big for the landscape.

Specifically, look for plants that:

*Show pest and disease resistance

*Can grow without a lot of water or fertilizer

*Don't generate a lot of growth to prune or compost

*Have a root system that matches the soil environment on site

*Need the appropriate amount of sun for the location

The Benefits of Adaptive and Native Landscapes

The use of adaptive and native landscape practices contribute to both the sustainable and financial health of a property. Such practices can produce benefits that include cost savings, water efficiency, low-maintenance care, the creation of practical functionality, and natural habitats for wildlife in corporate, urban, or suburban areas.

Asset Value and Cost Savings

One of the biggest benefits of adaptive landscapes is enhancing the asset value and total cost of ownership of the property. By using plants that don't require much care, or by using drip irrigation, the cost to maintain the landscape goes down. The reduced energy and maintenance required is a way for facility managers to realize major cost savings.

Seasonal color displays can often be the most expensive landscapes per square foot. Severe droughts and the financial environment in the past few years have forced property managers to rethink th use of full-blown seasonal color displays from a long-term perspective--reducing the amount of cost and maintenance.

In the past three years, seasonal color displays on many sites have been reduced by 30 percent or more, and replaced with native grasses and colorful perennials. To decrease cost and increast longevity, one can shift to perennial plants, make color bed smaller, and add colorful foilage or ornamental grasses.

While some of the plants are not as showy, they still provide a decorative pop and don't have the high cost associated with traditional seasonal color displays.


Across the country, owners and property managers are facing challenges regarding water supply. Rate hikes are requiring owners to review usage trends in order to maintain the bottom line and avoid penalties. With all of the other issues that property owners have to consider, their landscape typically isn't top of mind, but the costs of inefficiencies can add up.

Landscapes can be retrofitted with sustainable, water-efficient landscapes and adaptive, drought-tolerant plant materials that reduce the use of natural resources or consider retrofitting the irrigation system to make it more water-efficient.


Adaptive and native plants suit today's interest in "low-maintenance" landscapes, with many species sustainable through all four seasons and able to survive winter cold and summer heat. Once established, many can flourish without as much irrigation, fertilizers, herbicides, mowing/trimming, and are resistant to many pests and diseases--benefiting the environment and reducing maintenance costs at the same time.


Functionality is an added benefit to proper adaptive plant selection. All plants should be functional in their surroundings. For example, flowering trees that attract bees should not be placed too close to a building entrance. Use trees, shrubs, ground cover,and sensible use of turf in gathering places. Plants should also be aesthetic in the right places to pique customers’ interest, such as drawing attention to an entranceway or eye-popping color against community signage.

Adaptive Landscapes 3 from


While native and adaptive landscapes don’t replace natural habitats lost to development, planting spaces can help provide an important bridge to nearby remaining wild areas. Adaptive and native landscapes can bring the wilderness to urban, or suburban settings by attracting a variety of birds, butterflies and other wildlife.

Adaptive Landscapes Conclusion

Increasingly, adaptive landscape management practices are helping meet financial objectives in times of increased sustainability awareness and amidst difficult economic conditions.

Owners and managers throughout the country are learning that adaptive landscape management can enhance the bottom line in a number of ways, including making the grounds more aesthetically pleasing and more sustainable, which also plays a role in improved tenant retention.

Author: Dave Hanson is a senior vice president at ValleyCrest Landscape Maintenance. For more than 40 years, he has been involved in all aspects of landscape maintenance including horticultural and technical services. Hanson is an honors graduate from the University of California, Davis in Environmental Horticulture.

He has held positions on the board of directors of the Professional Lawn Care Association of America (PLCAA), the PLCAA Education and Research Foundation, the California Association of Pest Control Advisers and The Stanley W. Strew Educational Fund.

He is a C-27 and C-61 licensed contractor, a Pest Control Adviser, a Certified Professional Agronomist (CP Ag) and a Certified Landscape Professional (CLP). For more information, contact Hanson at

*Reprinted with permission from "Adaptive Landscapes for Long-Term Sustainability" by Dave Hanson, 2011, Sales + Marketing Ideas, pages 70-73, copyright 2011 by National Sales and Marketing Council of The National Association of Home Builders.

Return from Adaptive Landscapes to Our Home Improvements Home


New! Comments

Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below.


We're currently renovating our site with a fresh new look. You may notice some display anomolies during our renovation. Thanks for visiting us and have a great day!

You can check out some of our new pages at:

Sloggers-Shoes & Boots
Flowtron-Bug-Zapper BK-80D


Looking for more information but don't have the time right now? Sign up for our FREE E-Newsletter:

"Lifestyles Today"

Our-Home-Improvements Logo

Lifestyle Trends
What's Hot? What's Not?
Insider Info
Exclusive Offers

Enter your E-mail Address
Enter your First Name (optional)

Don't worry — your e-mail address is totally secure.
I promise to use it only to send you "Lifestyles Today".