More Than Just A Pretty Place: Landscaping To Provide Ecosystem Services

More Than Just A Pretty Place: Landscaping To Provide Ecosystem Services
By Brian Williams, Forest Restoration Manager, Trees Atlanta

Atlanta is in a period of rapid redevelopment and infill, and as the value of property increases, so do the performance demands we need to put on that property. As we densify, we lose the forest fragments, edge trees, undeveloped lots, and other forgotten spaces that previously served valuable (if unnoticed) ecosystem services. These services include visible benefits like stormwater management, erosion control, and wildlife habitat, and invisible ones like air quality improvement, temperature modulation (i.e. shade), and improved overall health and well-being. As we replace the undeveloped with the developed, or even as you look at your decades-old yard landscape, there is room to provide ecosystem services within the fabric of our residential and commercial landscape.

Traditional landscaping practices often limit the ability to provide the majority of ecosystem services. The required care of the turfgrass lawn is such that it requires a significant amount of annual inputs (fertilizer, pesticide, regular mowing, supplemental irrigation) for very little gain. A tree’s root zone absorbs more stormwater per square foot, and its canopy provides many vertical layers of wildlife habitat along with a greater leaf mass for air purification than a lawn occupying the same square footage.