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The problems facing green infrastructure
Beth Hyatt | April 19, 2017
Center of Neighborhood Technology's greenery

Adding green infrastructure is not a simple as it looks. It is important to ensure that the plants installed will thrive.
Photo: Center for Neighborhood Technology/Flickr

Nowadays it’s the hip and trendy thing for businesses to say, “We’re green because we have flower beds in front of our buildings,” but are they really helping or hurting? When executed properly, adding foliage to the landscape of a business can be beneficial, but when it’s done cheaply, incorrectly or as a cop-out, it can cause more problems in the long run.

Problem

A lot of green infrastructure plantings are failing, and the reasons seem to point to design flaws. When adding plants to an infrastructure, the idea many have is to take no more than three plant species and scatter them out in a larger area.

Very few people treat the planting as an integral element in the system’s functionality, and the traditional approach to green infrastructure is to arrange plants as the floating objects in a sea of mulch. A better way to handle this would be to intersperse a diversity of plants.

While it’s true that more often than not fewer plants are added to an infrastructure to cut down on the amount of maintenance required, when these corners are cut more maintenance is required in the end to right these wrongs.

Solution

As mentioned earlier, the solution for this problem lies in the integration of multiple quantities of plants and differing plant species into one area. While the initial reaction may be to say no to what many may deem a crowded flower bed, the overabundance of plant life can actually thrive better.

Bioretention is the process in which sedimentation and contaminants are removed from stormwater runoff, therefore bioretention plantings need a variety of plants woven together to be effective, especially in smaller, urban areas.

The benefits of transitioning from the traditional green infrastructure approach to the plant community approach are numerous, such as less soil gets disturbed, there’s no room for unwanted weeds to make an appearance, the beds are more resistant to wash out and there is a higher density of vegetation.

Moving forward, issues such as these can be avoided by municipalities hiring consultants who are experts in plant community design industry. Like every area of landscaping, this kind of planting requires specialized knowledge and special skills.

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