Beyond Installation: Designing with Maintenance in Mind

Landscapes in Time

I remember planting a small pine sapling when I was three years old in my parents’ backyard. By the time I moved the tree was already 25’ tall. Last March I saw the tree and it was nearly 100’ tall. A tree I once planted is now providing shade for another family. Over time, the once seemingly nondescript tree grew into a shade and habitat providing beacon in the landscape.

Just like my lone pine tree, trees and shrubs age in our landscapes. As our landscapes mature and age, so do their maintenance requirements. Despite our differing landscape preferences and perceptions that influence landscape design, there are two enduring goals commonly associated with all landscapes. When planning a new landscape, people typically want a beautiful and low-maintenance landscape.

Our landscape preferences create unique mosaics around the world, but maintenance is a necessary part of our built and natural landscapes. A great example of natural maintenance is fire. Regular fires maintain a healthy Florida ecosystem. Despite knowing the need for maintenance, many key components of maintenance can be ignored or given little thought during the design, planning, or construction process.

It is easy to imagine what a landscape will look like shortly after installation, but what about 10, 15, or 20 years after installation? There are many horror stories of landscape designs “aging-out.” I chalk it up to poor planning that does not consider changing landscapes. And yes, I am guilty too.

Landscapes are dynamic, living, and changing organisms. One day a small Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) is planted into a new landscape. Over time the Live Oak grows, creates shade, and forms a new micro-climate. To plan or design a landscape, we need to think beyond installation and keep maintenance in mind to better anticipate the changing landscape.

Strategies for Designing with Maintenance

Overall maintenance is determined by a few key influencers: The Three “S”s, Time, and Social Capital. The three “S”s refer to the site, selection, and source. Time relates to the changing landscape and social capital refers to the individual(s) or groups maintaining a landscape.

The Three “S”s

Following the first principle of the Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Program, “Right Plant, Right Place” we understand the importance of the site and plant selection. The environmental conditions of our site influence our plant selection. We know that selecting plants that match our site’s environmental conditions can significantly reduce landscape maintenance requirements. Additionally, the source of our plant material can impact the success of plant material.


In the past, selection, site, and source were the key three-drivers in determining landscape maintenance requirements. Time is an important part of the equation that was regularly left out. Plants grow and change within the landscape. By anticipating the changing landscape, over time, we can better anticipate changing maintenance requirements.

Social Capital

Lastly, social capital is the final influencer of landscape maintenance. In this scenario, social capital refers to everyone that has any relationship with the landscape, including those maintaining a landscape. To help plant for social capital in a landscape, it is important to answer the following questions: Who is maintaining the landscape? What are those individual’s skills or abilities? Can they be trained? Do the available resources meet the landscape requirements? Additionally, if you are planning or designing a landscape, bring those involved with the landscape into the process. Getting their feedback helps build cooperation, trust, and shared values into a landscape.

Planning Now for Tomorrow

Planning for a successful landscape goes beyond installation. Landscapes are dynamic and constantly changing. Therefore, it is important to think about the continual maintenance needed for a landscape. By following the three key influencers of landscape design (The Three “S”s, Time, and Social Capital), you should be able to create a landscape that stands the test of time.

To learn more about maintaining your landscape and the Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Program, reach out to UF/IFAS Extension Alachua County’s office to speak with a Master Gardener Volunteer at (352)955-2402 or This amazing, trained team of horticulture experts are willing to help homeowners make appropriate landscape decisions. In the meantime, I am rooting for you.


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Posted: December 20, 2019

Category: Florida-Friendly Landscaping, Home Landscapes, Lawn, UF/IFAS, UF/IFAS Extension,
Tags: Conservation, Cultural, Florida Friendly, Florida-Friendly Landscapes, Landscape, Landscape Maintenance, Mainte, Time, Water

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