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What Is Naturalized Landscape Design?

Posted on June 13, 2021 
by Dan Wanders

One of the reasons many of us like to trek out to conservation areas or provincial parks is to be surrounded by nature. Studies show that experiencing the sights, scents and sounds of nature is good for our mental and physical health.

But what if you could experience the calming power of nature without having to travel somewhere?

You can! With naturalized landscape design. Here’s our primer on this approach to landscape design — and why we love it!

Front yard pond landscape

What is naturalized landscape design?

Naturalized design is an approach to landscape design that transforms a cultivated existing landscape — such as your lawn and gardens — into a habitat for native plants and wildlife. These habitats mimic naturally occurring landscapes in your geographical area, like forests, wetlands and meadows.

Incorporating water features — such as a pond or stream — into your design is an important part of naturalization and will attract more wildlife to your yard.

The goal is to design and build a landscape that’s environmentally friendly and low impact. Naturalized landscapes are not only beneficial for the surrounding environment — there are loads of benefits for you too!

What are the benefits of naturalized landscape design?

  1. Eliminate chemical lawn treatments: Chemical fertilizers, insecticides and herbicides can give you a beautiful lawn, but they also kill all sorts of insects, fungi and beneficial forms of life. 99% of yard insects are actually beneficial! They pollinate flowers, help leaves and other natural material decay, aerate the soil, release nutrients and sustain the natural cycle of life. Not only do these chemicals kill insects, but they also do lasting damage to human health and the environment. A naturalized design lets you rely on alternatives to chemical treatments.
  2. Reduce lawn care: Less chemicals also means less work for you. By not fertilizing, your lawn will grow more slowly, so you can mow it less. In many cases, a naturalized landscape eliminates an existing chunk of your lawn in order to plant native species. Obviously, this is up to your personal preference — but gardens are generally lower maintenance than big lawns!
  3. Attract local wildlife: A naturalized landscape can bring beautiful and beneficial wildlife to your yard, from birds to butterflies to amphibians like frogs. You can even tailor your design to try to attract the wildlife you enjoy.
  4. Allow natural species to thrive: When you reintroduce native species of plants, they can compete with invasive species that are harmful to our environment. When the native species you plant thrive, so too does the wildlife that’s attracted to them for food and shelter!

What are the steps towards naturalized landscape design?

While it takes time and effort to transform your yard into a naturalized landscape, it’s worth it. Here are some of the main steps that go into that transformation. We typically walk our clients through these steps during our design process.

Assess your property.

Before choosing what plants to introduce to your landscape, you should consider a number of factors. Choose plants native to your specific region. Consider the size of your yard, the texture of your soil, the light your yard gets during the day, what plants might look like during different seasons, drainage, and the grading of your land. You’ll also want to take into account wind, pollution and any existing vegetation you might want to keep.

Make a plan.

Start choosing native plants based on your assessment. Research the plants so you can picture how they’ll grow and change the look of your landscape over the years. You can even draw a diagram to see how it will look (or leave the drawing to us!) Think about how you’ll want to use the space, and make sure you keep enough room for activities like walking or playing with kids or grandkids.

Prepare your yard.

This is an exciting step because it’s where the physical transformation really starts. While you can grab a shovel and dig out the areas where you’re going to plant native species, you can also take the longer route of covering the areas and waiting about a year for the grass to decompose. Composting in the fall before planting in the spring is also important.

Start planting!

Plant your new species and watch as your landscape comes to life. It’s best to plant early in the morning when rain is in the forecast for the following day. Make sure you’ve purchased good, healthy plants and take note of the ideal season to plant them. When you plant, the roots should be spread naturally and not too deep.

Keep it safe and healthy.

Once everything is planted in your naturalized landscape, give your plants a deep watering only when necessary (don’t overwater and don’t water too often). Some plants may need to be attached to a stake for the first year or so to protect them from wind damage. Weeds will try to infiltrate your new oasis, so protect your gardens with mulch and remove weeds by hand when necessary. And depending on your location, you may get animals like rabbits or deer who think your landscape looks tasty, so protect trees with tree guards.

Want to know the process in more detail?

As you can see, there are many benefits to naturalized landscape design, but designing and cultivating one can be complex. If you want to go deeper into the process, check out this free PDF from the Government of Ontario.

Of course, the team at Raymar is also happy to help — we’re passionate about naturalized design. If you find the process too daunting to tackle on your own, we’re happy to design one for you!