Over the past several years one of the biggest tends in landscaping to replace water hungry ornamental plants with species that are native to the local environment. Such a change does not create any significant trade-offs in visual appeal, but it does pay dividends in by lowering use of chemicals, water and energy. But even if your community isn’t focused on sustainability issues, giving thought to installing more native species makes sense simply in terms of saving money.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, landscaping with native plants provides a wide range of positive impacts. First, native plants, as they are adapted to local soil conditions, do not require vast amounts of fertilizer to thrive. Reducing fertilizer also benefits the local watershed by reducing run off of excess phosphorus and nitrogen which harms aquatic life. As native plants are adapted to local insects, they have built in defenses and don’t require the use of pesticides to keep them healthy. This is a direct benefit to residents who may come in contact with pesticides when they use common areas.
Water use increasingly becoming an issue in metropolitan areas across the country. It is not a surprise that in the West, native plants have become increasingly popular. In Urban areas alone, lawn irrigation can account for 30% of total water use in the East, and up to 60% percent of water use in the West. More fascinating is that the deep root system of many native plants can actually increase the water storage capacity of the soil, creating a positive feedback loop.
Another twist on using native plants is that they can have a positive impact on pollution. Natural landscape can help reduce use of gas powered lawn equipment which accounts for 5% of the total air pollution in the U.S. One gas powered lawnmower emits up to 11 times more air pollution that a new car for each hour of operation.
Finally, and the most appealing reason to consider native species in landscaping decisions is money. A study by Applied Ecological Services of larger properties found that over a 20 year period, the cost of prairie or native wetlands was approximately $3,000 per acre versus $20,000 an acre for non-native turf grass.
Of course any decision which impacts the look and feel of your community should be done by building consensus for change. Associa rules protect the value of the homes in a community, so much so that homes in an HOA are generally worth at least 5% more than other properties. Looking at rules and updating them to reflect the needs of the market, or the values of the community is one of the best ways to ensure your community association is providing the leadership your residents need.
Andrew S. Fortin
Associa Senior Vice President, External Affairs