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Preserving Natural Resources During Landscape Construction – Part 1

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In “Green” building, the main emphasis is usually on creating energy-efficient design and using sustainable materials. Other than typical erosion control measures, often not much thought is given to site preservation.
 Natural resources are the existing resources within a landscape, supplied by nature. Plants, animals, soils, water, even microbes are some of the natural resources on any given site before disturbance. The quality of the resources can vary widely from site to site, or even within a site, but don’t discount the value of the resources without investigating what is there. While what looks like a thicket of scrub or a weed patch to the uninformed may be just that,  many times there are a variety of wonderful plants there that can be kept and managed to benefit the site. Often many of the plants on a site are well suited to it, already established, and already adding value to it. Existing soils are usually stable, and nearly always better for plants than disturbed soils, due to fertility, porosity, and fungal and microbial activity. Of course, building projects by their nature have to disturb or destroy some of those resources; trees must be felled, soil must be moved, water must be diverted. This is unavoidable; but it can and should be done in a way to minimize the damage and integrate the project into the landscape.
  The most basic tenet of natural resource preservation is minimization of disturbance. Sites can be cleaned up and somewhat rehabilitated after construction, but even site rehabilitation involves more disturbance. The goal is creating a stable and sustainable environment around buildings, one conducive to human use. Whenever it is feasible, not disturbing parts of a site puts us well on our way to that, and can often make new construction more attractive, seem more established, reduce erosion, and provide habitat and other environmental benefits.


Some of the benefits of trees and natural resources:

Social– Trees and nature create a pleasing environment for us to inhabit. Vegetation can cool surrounding air in the summer, and trees can provide privacy, shade, and shelter. It’s even been shown that patients recover from surgery more quickly in rooms with views of trees.
Aesthetics – At times, the existing plants, trees and water are beautiful. Mature trees can add many aesthetic benefits to a place, and give the landscape a sense of permanence. Sometimes, things may look poor, but consider that it may just require a little work to make it attractive, and it can be possible to have established landscape in those areas immediately, as well as intact soils.
Intact soils – If the soil matrix is intact, soil likely has fertility and horizons— that is, the strata that develop in mature soils. Undisturbed soil absorbs more runoff, and is much less likely to erode. Roots of plants and trees in undisturbed soil hold the soil in place, absorb moisture, and cool temperatures in summer. Some plants can even absorb heavy metals in soils.
Property values – time and again studies have shown that landscaped properties and those with mature trees are more valuable than ones without.
Environmental – the environmental benefits of trees are manifold. They provide shade, habitat, shelter from the elements, improve air quality, moderate temperatures, and on and on. Soil, especially undisturbed forest soil, is not just dirt, it’s a complex interweaving of ecosystems, a balance between fungal, microbial, biotic and abiotic entities.

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Often, taking a look at what plants are growing on a site can give clues as to which plants will thrive in the landscape. Next week, we’ll look at some of the ways to minimize site disturbance.

– Michael Davie

Master Arborist
Natural Resource Manager


Using boulder walls to retain a slope and stones for a patio serve a purpose in the landscape that goes beyond function. Choosing the right materials for the hard elements in a project can make the difference in a landscape that looks complete and authentic versus one that will look dated and unnatural as the years go by. Here are a few photos of projects with nice hardscapes that will stand the test of time and get better with age.

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More Flowering Trees

As spring marches on, every day seems to bring another favorite tree into bloom. I’ve compiled some photos to showcase some of the best flowering trees.

First up, the lovely Serviceberry, Amelanchier canadensis, also known as shadblow. This tree finished blooming a few weeks ago:Serviceberry1


Here is the elegant Silverbell, Halesia diptera. These trees are so pretty with their white bell-shaped flowers:


Halesia detail

Also blooming right now is Aesculus x ‘Fort McNair’. Fort McNair is a hybrid between the Red Buckeye (native) and the European Horse Chestnut.

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And last but not least, the Fringetree, Chionanthus virginicus. I know I’ve said it before, but one of my favorites.


Fringetree detail

As you can see, there is a wealth of trees that are well-suited for our region. Featured here are natives, or partial natives, that can be wonderful assets to your garden.

Dogwoods and Redbuds: Two Favorites


Eastern Redbud


Flowering Dogwood

Little introduction is needed for two common trees that are found in our Appalachian region. Anyone who lives here can’t help but to notice the spectacular displays of the flowering dogwood, Cornus florida, and the eastern redbud, Cercis canadensis. These species of trees are native and are also commonly planted. In order to maintain genetic diversity, it is best to stick with straight species of plants when re-naturalizing disturbed areas, but for a specimen tree in the garden setting, often a cultivar is a better choice.

Cornus florida

Flowering dogwoods are wonderful trees but can suffer from diseases, especially an introduced one called anthracnose. Cornus fl. ‘Applachian Spring is a selection that was introduced as the most disease-resistant cultivar on the market. It has the typical form and habit of a common dogwood, but the white flowers (really just bracts; the true flowers being the small ones that make up the yellow center) are a little larger and creamier in color. It also has excellent red color in the fall accompanied by red berries that birds find irresistible.

Foliage of Cornus florida ‘Appalachian Spring’
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Cercis canadensis var. texensis ‘Oklahoma’

Eastern redbuds look stunning with dogwoods, which bloom around the same time. A fine cultivar to try is Cercis canadensis var. texensis ‘Oklahoma‘. This tree was a favorite of plantsman J.C Raulston, and for good reason. ‘Oklahoma’ has a lusterous leaf and consistent deep purple flower color, with the shape of the tree being generally wider and more compact than the straight species.

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‘Oklahoma’ flowers

If you are looking for special trees to plant in your garden or yard, these are unrivaled in their beauty. Since both are native to our region, they are well-suited to our climate and offer benefits to wildlife as well.
We have dogwoods and redbuds in stock. Give us a call – 828.687.1677

AHBA Home & Garden Expo

We’re at the AHBA Home Expo this weekend – Come out and see us! Leave a comment here to be entered into our drawing for a $50 gift certificate towards a tree or shrub.