Native Vegetation Offers "Green" Solutions for Commercial Landscaping

Staff | September 28, 2010

Article provided by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Everywhere you look, America is "greening." Whether we talk about fuel for cars, carbon emissions from power plants or heat loss from structures, people everywhere are noticing their ecological footprint.

The trend is especially apparent in new construction: clients are demanding more energy-efficient homes and offices that are built with recycled materials and surrounded by native plant xeriscapes.

Turning from traditional site preparations and installations of turfgrass lawns and annual color to retaining and installing native vegetation can seem daunting. However, creating value through native and habitat-centered landscaping may be a significant factor in satisfying an expanding customer base throughout Texas.

From the earliest phases of construction, landscapes can present some of the greatest challenges as well as the most cost-effective solutions to a building project. While scraping a site clear of vegetation can offer the appearance of a "clean slate," it more often presents a host of budget-unfriendly problems: wet and gummy fill dirt can immobilize construction machinery and then dry to a concrete-hard surface. The next rain event generally sends that soil jetting down eroding slopes, creating canyons that rival those in Nevada and sending every code enforcement officer in the county to your office door.

In contrast, sites that have bands of native vegetation preserved around construction areas maintain more soil stability. Additionally, costs of re-vegetating those sites with post-construction landscaping can be significantly reduced, and future costs of landscape maintenance will be a fraction of the cost of traditionally maintained landscapes.

Sally and Andy Wasowski, authors of many green industry books including "The Landscaping Revolution," recommend the building envelope method of site preparation. By dividing building sites into three distinct zones, contractors can preserve the benefits of native vegetation and minimally impact construction crew activity.

The outermost zone of the envelope is physically separated from the other two, and is the area designated as a "preserve." The preserve is protected from crews and construction activities. The middle transition zone is a 5-foot to 15-foot area surrounding the building and is the area where workers can walk, carry materials, install scaffolding, and carry out other work. Vegetation in this middle zone is retained if possible, but removed if it represents an obstruction to the structure. The innermost footprint zone includes any areas that will be built upon and represents the area of maximum disturbance.

Retaining as much native vegetation as possible through the building envelope method is one way of satisfying clients' desires for reducing runoff, increasing aesthetic value and establishing a low-maintenance landscape. However, more formal or already-established landscapes can also be modified to create these benefits as well as create increased value.

Texas Wildscapes: Offering a solution

Commercial landscaping fulfills many functions, including reducing erosion, assisting in on-site water management, and providing aesthetic value to clients and workers. An increasing number of Texans believe landscapes should do even more: they should represent ecological assets by providing habitat for songbirds and other wildlife and provide ecological services by managing water wisely. The Texas Wildscapes™ program was developed by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to provide Texans with information on how to provide attractive landscapes that provide habitat — food, water and shelter — for the benefit of wildlife as well as humans. Texas Wildscapes encourages the use of native plants, especially those that produce fruits, nuts, berries, and flowers, in all types of landscapes, from formal patio gardens to larger estates and campuses.

The program also emphasizes working with the land rather than fighting against it to create unique and beneficial habitats. For example, rather than fighting a losing battle with tile drains and berms, areas within a site that consistently maintain water can be planted with erosion-preventing bunch-grasses and bog-loving flowers. The created habitat is attractive to red-winged blackbirds and other water-loving wildlife as well as to workers seeking a lunchtime respite. Additionally, the area provides significant ecological services by acting as a water recharge zone. Immediately, the area stops being a liability and becomes a value-added benefit.

Recognition for added value

In addition to providing information about how to provide wildlife habitat in almost any landscape, the Texas Wildscape program also recognizes landscaping jobs that adhere to Wildscaping principles. By filling the Texas Wildscapes Certification Application, contractors, land managers and clients can have their landscape certified as an official Texas Wildscape and become eligible to receive an official Wildscape sign, certificate and bragging rights to local media. Additionally, Texas Parks and Wildlife partners with the National Wildlife Federation to provide the more rigorous Best of Texas designation.

Working with the natural assets on your building site as well as providing native vegetation and the habitat elements of food, water and shelter will provide long-range benefits to your site as well as immediately recognized added value for your customers. For more information on the Texas Wildscapes program as well as the Best of Texas designation, please visit


  • For more information on the Texas Wildscapes program as well as the Best of Texas designation, please visit
  • Damude, Noreen and Kelly Conrad Bender. 1999. Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife ($24.95, Texas Parks and Wildlife Press). This piece will be available in electronic format September 2007.


Common Landscape Situations and Solutions

Situation: Construction site or retention pond has eroding banks and slopes.

Solution: Install native bunchgrasses, which have extensive and fibrous root systems not found in mown turf grasses. These systems quickly capture water and slowly release it, much like a kitchen sponge, providing significant ecological as well as construction site value. Examples: Switchgrass, Lindheimer muhly, Gulf coast muhly

Situation: Client wants visual interest throughout the year, but does not want to be required to change landscape plants every season (the predictable cycle of winter petunias, spring bulbs, summer begonias, and fall chrysanthemums).

Solution: Native perennials (plants that live longer than one year) can provide visual interest throughout the year with overlapping bloom times, berry production and variable leaf color. Examples: Coral bean, mountain laurel, yellow bells, spicebush sumac, evergreen sumac, cherry sage, winecup, heartleaf hibiscus

Situation: Client wants to screen unsightly structures.

Solution: Use a mixture of native shrubs and vines to screen the structure. The variety of species will prevent one disease or drought from killing the entire hedge, ensure screening as well as visual interest throughout the year (flowers and berries), and provide benefits to a variety of different bird species and other wildlife. Examples: Yaupon holly, evergreen sumac, honey mequite, brasil, coral honeysuckle, mountain laurel, Carolina cherry laurel, Carolina snailseed

Situation: Client wants immediate color.

Solution: Native annuals can provide immediate color and provide the additional benefit of reseeding themselves every year. Examples: tropical sage, cedar sage, tropical milkweed, firewheel (Indian blanket), bluebonnets

Situation: Client wants low water use landscapes.

Solution: Once established, native plants do not require supplemental water to survive. A very light amount of irrigation will generally provide enough moisture to increase bloom and berry production. Examples: All of the plants mentioned above. The key is to install plants in soils, and with watering regimes, and in groups appropriate to that plant.