What is ecological landscape design? Ecological design is a framework for design that seeks to improve the health of our environment and maximize ecosystem services. Ecological design works toward sustainable longevity of landscapes, by selecting beneficial species in both plant and animal life to increase biological diversity and ensure resilient landscapes that are adaptable to changing conditions. What are ecosystem services? Simply put: “the benefits people derive from ecosystems.” The definition arose from the United Nation’s Millennium Ecosystem Association’s need to evaluate the effects of ecosystem change on human society and to better quantify the value of ecosystems in human terms, in order to curb environmental degradation. Ecosystem services can be divided into four major categories. (Derived from The Economics of Ecosystems & Biodiversity.) Regulating Services Air Purification and Temperature Regulation – This is provided by trees and vegetation – particularly valuable in urban environments to mitigate Urban Heat Island Effect. Carbon Sequestration and Storage – Carbon is sequestered and stored by vegetation, particularly trees and prairie grasses – extremely important in our fight against climate change. Water Filtration – Wetlands are our natural water treatment systems, protecting water quality and absorbing water during storm events. Erosion Control – Plants with established root systems help stabilize soil, preventing erosion. This is extremely important as it can take hundreds of years to create just one inch of top soil! Pollination – This is essential for food production and maintaining both plant and animal biodiversity. Biological Control – A healthy ecosystem can regulate pests and diseases with adequate populations of predators and parasites. Provisioning Services These include material outputs from the environment, such as: Food Water Raw materials (lumber, biofuels, oils, fibers) Medicinal plants Habitat Services Adequate food, water, and shelter to support a diversity of species. The more biodiverse an ecosystem, the more resilient, healthy and valuable it is. Cultural Services Space to recreate Nature tourism Artistic inspiration Spiritual experiences What can I do to improve ecosystem services on my property? Create habitat to support a diversity of insects, pollinators, and animals. Support threatened species and create a healthier ecosystem through biodiversity. The National Wildlife Federation certifies habitat gardens based on their provision of food, water, shelter, places to raise young, and sustainable land practices. Treat and reuse water on-site. Reduce impermeable surfaces and implement water treatment / recycling systems such as rain gardens, rain water harvesting, and passive irrigation. Implement layered planting with a mix of trees, shrubs, perennials, and ground cover to regulate climate and temperature, sequester carbon dioxide, and filter air pollutants. Reduce your lawn area to accommodate more garden beds and reduce maintenance emissions. Grow your own food – reduce the energy and emissions associated with food production by growing your own locally! What is a Pollinator Pathway? Towns in New York and Connecticut along and between the Hudson and Housatonic Rivers are working together in engaging homeowners to establish pollinator-friendly habitat and food sources for bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinating insects and wildlife, thus creating continuous pollinator-friendly and wildlife corridors. The Pollinator Pathway initiative is significant because of its scale and ability to link larger habitats together, for example inland forests with coastal areas, thereby reducing habitat fragmentation and revitalizing threatened species. Learn more about Pollinator Pathways Are pollinators really in decline? For over a decade, bees have been on the decline. Charismatic indicator species like Monarch butterflies have also faced extreme fluctuations, with populations dropping 44% in 2013. Stressors that pollinators face that negatively impact their populations include: pesticide use; loss of habitat due to land fragmentation; climate change, which is disrupting synchronization between flower bloom time and pollinator emergence; air pollution; and light pollution. According to NRCS, three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants and about 35% of the world’s food crops depend on animal pollinators to reproduce. Some scientists estimate that one out of every three bites of food we eat exists because of animal pollinators like bees, butterflies and moths, birds and bats, and beetles and other insects. What is a carbon sink landscape? How can I sequester more carbon in my landscape? All plants secrete carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis, but soil microbes are the key player in converting that CO2 to organic matter and storing it in the soil. Thus, fostering a healthy soil microbial community is essential in creating ‘carbon sinks’ on your property. Soil microbes evolved alongside our native plants; some microbes are specialists and are only hosted on the roots of specific local plants. Other microbes are generalists and can forge a relationship with a variety of plants. Landscape chemicals like synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are known to kill soil microorganisms and are therefore never used in Green Jay Landscape Design land management. Instead, we amend the soil with organic compost and biochar to inject microbes into the soil, boost plant’s immune systems, and improve the soil’s water-holding capacity, thereby reducing overall resource use. Among the many native plant choices, trees secrete by far the most carbon dioxide (given their size), and prairie grasses are the second-best option due to their deep root systems. To summarize, to make your landscape carbon-positive, choose native plants that are suited to your site conditions and maintain your property organically. What standards does Green Jay follow for organic landscaping? No synthetic chemicals (pesticides, fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides). No cedar oil, neem oil, or horticultural oils – they are indiscriminate in their impact on all insects, pest and beneficial alike. No mosquito control or tick control applications – these are ineffective towards their target and end up harming beneficial insects. Only Natural-Source Earth Products. We are NOFA Accredited Organic Land Care Professionals. We also follow standards promoted by the Ecological Landscape Alliance, Bedford 2030 Healthy Yard Program, NWF Certified Wildlife Habitat, the Rye Healthy Yard Program, and the H2H Pollinator Pathway project. Do organic properties look as good as chemical ones? Absolutely. With proper planting and an organic maintenance program, our organic properties are just as lush, colorful, and thriving as traditional properties. The only difference you will notice is the plethora of pollinators and birds that can safely visit your organic property. For more information, view our Organic Lawn, Tree & Shrub programs. How can I improve my landscape organically? Start with the soil. We take a soil chemistry test of the garden beds and lawn for all of our properties and then determine what organic soil amendments and applications may be necessary. Cultivating a soil microbial community will greatly improve the health of your landscape. Plant a diversity of plants that attract beneficial insects, such as parasitic wasps and syrphid flies. These insect populations naturally respond to plant pest problems like aphids, gypsy moths, and spider mites, eliminating the need to use pernicious chemicals. Are Green Jay Landscape Design properties child and pet safe? Yes. All of the products and applications we use are derived from natural-source earth materials. They are harmless to pets, children, elders, and any landscape visitor. Unlike traditional chemical programs, our organic products do not persist in the environment, and they have no risk of being tracked indoors (where they cannot break down because of the lack of UV radiation and are more likely to be trapped in carpets and furniture). How do I know if I have healthy soil? There are many factors, but a few signs that you have a rich, nutrient-dense soil include: Soil color is darker and crumbles easily off plant roots. Soil organisms are present as they aerate soil. Good water infiltration where water drains within five seconds of pouring water in an area. Soil structure shape is retained when pressure applied. No compaction is present. Compacted soils reduce circulation of water and nutrients and beneficial organisms to move around roots. Root development is healthy. Plant leaves are rich in color and growing. How do I know if I have a landscape drainage issue? Excess water may often appear in areas that are not draining properly. Inspect your property and check for: standing water or pooling after rainfall. pooling water from downspouts. soggy ground. soil scouring or erosion. water in basement. sump pumps running often or always. There can be various causes for drainage issues. For solutions, see our Stormwater Management page. What is stormwater management? Stormwater management improves water quality by reducing runoff of rainwater from roofs, patios, driveways, and roads into waterways like streams, lakes, and oceans. Instead, stormwater is filtered and absorbed into the soil, replenishing aquifers and avoiding contamination of fresh water bodies. Stormwater management is a blanket term that includes many strategies including: rain gardens, bioswales, reducing impermeable space, passive irrigation, rain water harvesting, permeable hardscapes, and more. For more information, visit our Stormwater Management page. What is a rain garden? A rain garden is designed to temporarily hold rainwater runoff from impermeable surfaces such as roads, driveways, roofs, or lawns during and after a rainfall. These gardens consist of a mixture of native plants in a natural downward slope or depression and drain within one to three days of the rainfall. They are much more effective in filtering water into the soil and removing pollutants and chemicals in the runoff than a conventional lawn. The US EPA estimates that pollutants carried by rainwater runoff account for 70% of all water pollution. How should I prepare my winter landscape for spring? Use the winter months to reflect on how your landscape functioned over the fall, summer and spring. Did it meet your entertaining needs, survive an extreme storm event, bring you joy and excitement? If not, winter is the best time to start the landscape design process! We offer professional consultations year round. Once the design goals are established with the client, we prepare a Landscape Design Proposal with the design concept, scope of work, plant list, installation phases and price. Depending on the scale and nature of the project, we often recommend an AutoCAD drawings (typically a Landscape Design Master Plan of the entire property). We always supply images of the plants and design elements to help communicate our vision for the property. Contact us to schedule a consultation. Why Is it Important to Use Native Plants? Native plants have adapted to our region alongside countless insects and wildlife that depend on these plants for habitat. By planting a mostly native landscape, we are creating habitat and countering biodiversity decline. We also reduce the risk of disrupting our native ecosystems with imported invasive plants, insects, and pathogens that can overwhelm native populations. Learn more about Our Promise as Landscape Ecologists. Do you offer maintenance services? GJLD no longer offers grounds maintenance services. We have a network of recommended partners for maintenance in our service area. For properties of five acres or more, we offer Residential Sustainable Stewardship. What is Residential Sustainable Stewardship? We are proud to offer a holistic management program for clients with large properties (five acres or more) across Westchester, Putnam, Fairfield, and Morris counties. Beyond estate-level grounds maintenance, the program seeks to evaluate the unique environments within each property from an ecological perspective, aiming to improve biodiversity, ecosystem services, natural resource management, and the overall health and safety of the landscape over multi-year phases.