The ‘Green Movement’ is not a fad, it’s here to stay! As we are challenged by climate change, decreasing availability of water due to population growth, and even mandates for water rationing, what are you doing in your business to embrace this opportunity? As the economy forces those who want to survive the downturn to be creative, how have you diversified or redefined your landscape business?

Everyone knows we all have to conserve our resources. Your clients have already been bombarded with ‘green movement’ information, so if you incorporate the following basic solutions into your landscape designs, we will all benefit.

In my 50 years of gardening, and over the last 15 years in particular, I have been involved in the regional wholesale and retail nursery business. In those years, I have been a sales representative, quality/specimen plant broker, wholesale grower and professional landscape designer. With this experience, the following is what I have found works for me and my clients.

At least 17 years ago, I recognized the need to conserve, capture and reuse all our water. Rainwater harvesting isn’t new and should be suggested to every client you work with, whether it be just a 75-gallon rain barrel or a 600 gallon above ground storage tank, or a 1,000 gallon underground storage system with an above ground water feature. Grey water is also valuable for landscape use and should be considered.

Whether you have a reusable water source or are using potable water, you need to be sure that the irrigation system makes the most of that precious, life sustaining resource. Most manufacturers of irrigation equipment have new rotator heads (nozzles) that disperse the water more like raindrops, with layers of coverage. This helps to eliminate overspray and fine mist evaporation. Retrofitting existing systems should be on everyone’s ‘To Do’ list, from new to established clients. Many water districts and municipalities are offering rebates to homeowners for these changes. This could include Smart controllers that do the thinking automatically, with sensors that are programmed to eliminate watering on rainy days and then water only when needed. There are also drip systems—with in-line or on-line emitters, producing very low precipitation rates—to consider. Your best solutions could be a combination of all of these methods.

My favorite part of my designs is to use a wide range of drought-tolerant perennials, succulents, ground covers, vines, shrubs and trees to replace turf lawns that are removed.

My client base comes to me by referrals from my water-wise installations. The potential clients like what they see and are finally realizing that they can have a garden with a four-season color pallet of flowers and plants that attract birds and butterflies, and has low-maintenance plants that are interesting and exciting. For me, that includes California natives and/or natives from around the world with the same cultural needs. This approach would work for any part of the country. You don’t have to use just rocks and cactus to have a water-wise, sustainable garden!

I removed my front and back grass lawns here in Long Beach, California, and incorporated an extensive collectors test garden of every evergreen and deciduous plant I could find on the market. Just last summer, I had to install a basic automatic irrigation system, mostly for watering when I know I’ll be gone for a week or more. Some areas have no automatic irrigation at all, and get hand watered very infrequently!

The last basic solution that I believe is very important to the success of all the above efforts is to mulch, mulch and more mulch. I use a fine, organic, composted mulch for the beds and a heavier grade for the walkways. Using recycled, clean, processed green waste mulch, instead of synthetic or decorative bark, adds sustainability to the garden. It is so important to retaining moisture and keeping the ground cool in the hot summer months, plus it helps keep the soil warm in the winter months. If replenished regularly, as needed, it continues to improve the texture and amends the soil, reducing the need for fertilizers and other additives.

These solutions are just some of the basics. I hope you will think about and implement them in your business practices to help you survive and thrive in these challenging times. There are many more options available, such as rain gardens, permeable hardscape, water features that are habitats for wild life and rain water harvesting. Native rock, boulders and stone should be considered to enhance the natural design. Choose plant selections that really work, including low-water use or artificial turf for lawns (if you must), vertical gardens, green walls and roofs, and the best irrigation systems when designing hydro zones, just to name a few.

My best advice is to educate yourself about all of these solutions. Take the time and spend the money to learn, though most suppliers offer free and/or low-cost seminars. Working with a consultant, designer, or someone with expertise in these areas can save you time and money, so that your landscape jobs are meeting the needs of the client, and the environment. Your business will succeed with green, water-wise, sustainable landscaping.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Shirley Kost is the owner of Unique Garden Environments, a water-wise landscape design company located in Long Beach, California. She can be reached at