All landscapes, whether urban, suburban, or rural, have the potential to provide ecosystem services. Although landscaping with native plants is becoming increasingly popular, little is known about how site-scale design and management choices affect ecosystem services. With this ongoing research project, we address the following questions: (1) Which landscape choices result in reduced water usage, and how much water can be saved? (2) Which landscape choices benefit pollinators in urban landscapes, and what is the magnitude of effect on native pollinator diversity, abundance, and visitation rates? (3) Which landscape choices are most effective for minimizing net carbon footprint of designed landscapes? To address these questions we identified a range of landscape design and management strategies and explored how those affect pollinators, water use, and carbon footprint. Specifically, we are evaluating the implications of landscape design choices such as native plant selection, organic matter in the soil, cover of high value nectar plants, plant species richness, total bloom time of plants, cover of turf-grass, and planting clump size. We are monitoring and quantifying design performance in terms of pollinator visitation, plant growth, water required to maintain aesthetic appeal, soil characteristics, aesthetic appeal, and the carbon emissions associated with construction and maintenance.
Preliminary data show that some small landscape design decisions could promote and enhance ecosystem services in urban landscapes. Research plots containing native plants best adapted to dry soil conditions were able to go without supplemental irrigation for an average of 25 days. In some cases, the water needs of the plots were entirely supplied by rainfall, with no supplemental irrigation required. During 3 summer months, 49 unique pollinator taxa were identified within the plots, most of them native bees and butterflies, and plots with greater native plant richness saw a greater abundance of unique pollinator taxa, with overall abundance of pollinators per plot varying from 0 to 44 pollinators within one observation period. These data suggest that pollinators do respond differentially to landscape design at small spatial scales. Landscape maintenance time varied among plots from 3 to 37 minutes per month. Carbon footprint associated with landscape maintenance increased with greater turf-grass cover. Early findings demonstrate that intentional design decisions in urban systems can result in high-performing landscapes that remain aesthetically pleasing while minimizing water use, maximizing benefits to pollinators, and reducing carbon emissions associated with urban landscape construction and maintenance.