Warm-up: What is Naturescaping?

1. Students will work together in groups of two or three to discuss what they think the differences are between traditional landscaping and naturescaping. Each group will share their conclusions with the class.

2. Compare each group’s answers and write correct naturescaping concepts on the board to paint a fuller picture.

3. As words or concepts come up, go over relevant vocabulary.


Activity One: Exploring your site

      1. Students begin by assessing their site by asking the following questions as part of the design phase:

a) Is your site sunny or shady?

b) What is the path of the sun across your site (in winter and summer)?

c) Is the site flat, sloped, or both?

d) What is the soil like—a dense clay or a loose loam/sand?

e) How is the soil drainage—good, fair, or poor?

f) Where are buildings, power lines, and property lines located?

g)  Would the building(s) benefit from a shade tree or trees, and if so, where would those trees be located?

h)  Can you think of other questions or information to consider?

  1. Have the students spend time at their site at different times during the day, and if   possible during different times of the year or weather patterns. With pen, paper, and tape measure in hand, students should sketch or map out their site noting what will remain the same and what should be altered. Students should indicate on their diagram the layout of the land, wet/dry areas, sunny/shady areas, etc.  If there are any downspouts, note if the water could be used to water the plants. This completed sketch/map is called the “baseline plan.”


Activity Two: Evaluating Purposes of the Naturescape

  1. What do you want to do with your site? Begin by introducing the concept of an “outdoor living space.” You may compare it to “indoor living space” as a basis for defining the outdoor concept by asking how a specific room could be used, and how you would arrange the furniture. Then define aspects of an outdoor living space: structures, equipment, plants, movement and flow through the space, etc.
  2. Ask the following questions if they are designing the space for themselves or someone else. These questions can be adjusted as needed:

a) Do you want to entertain people or groups? What space or structures would you like for that?

b) Do you want your space to be dynamic and stimulating or would you like to create a sanctuary?

c)  What views do you want to maintain, create or block?

d) What areas will be used for structures? Examples of structures are: recreation/play structures, gazebo, doghouse, hot tub, swing, shade structures or pergolas, tables, fountain, or bench?

e) What areas will be used for a vegetable garden, compost pile, or shed?

f) Consider utility (storage, seating, shade) and aesthetics.

g) Do you need space for any other purposes?

  1. With these answers in hand, consider creating a “bubble diagram” consisting of series of circles drawn on paper to show what the areas in the landscape will be used for. Next, have the students look at how people will move around the space. Movement corridors include pathways, lawn alternatives, patios, decks, porches, driveways, etc. They have now created a plan for their space as well as established the conditions of their living space. Now it is time to choose the plants (remind your students that as they proceed through the process that the goal is to have native plants and to minimize the amount of time, energy, and money working against natural systems).
  2. What are the right native plants? Attain a list of common native plants and their characteristics to determine which plants will thrive on your site. Consider categorizing your plants by growth characteristics: sun or shade, soil type etc. There are many ways to go about finding this information. (Note: This could be done as homework between class sessions.)

a) You can contact or visit a local native plant nursery. You can locate one by using a search engine or look up in a telephone directory. 

b) Contact a government agency or an organization that is knowledgeable about native plants.

c) Check out the library for fieldguides and books on native plants.

d) Use the internet to locate descriptions of native plants for your region.

e) When looking at various plants, encourage students to view them in terms of a “plant community,” which is defined as a collection of different plant species that naturally grow together. 

Activity Three: Creating a Plan

  1. A plan will help students determine the kind of plants to be planted and where to place them. The plan will also give you an idea of the size of the plants desired—for small plants you may want to make a notation as to the general placement, species and quantity.  Begin the process by positioning the plants for your plan.
  2. Create a Naturescape plan. Take your baseline plan and your local plant list and move through the following areas that you would like to naturescape:

a) Choose and position tree(s) first because they are the largest element and may determine what type of plants will be placed under them. Think about grouping your trees, since this is nature’s way.

b) Decide on the type of shrubs you are going to plant. Think about the aspects of your site that you want to bring out (habitat, color, food, etc.). You will also need to consider the relationship to the trees you have chosen. Using the “found in nature approach,” cluster the shrubs in small groups of 2-4 plants giving a natural look and creating less maintenance.

c) Next you will select the herbaceous plants to fill in the gaps between the trees and shrubs.

  1. Other design considerations

a) Sunlight/shade: if you have a building on your site or plan to, watch the path of the sun in relationship to your structure. If you leave your building open to the sun, you can utilize the sun for “passive solar heating.” Placing a tree in an appropriate place will keep your building cooler in the summer. Choose a deciduous tree if you want to take advantage of the sun and the shade.

b) Cutting: if you are considering a specific species of trees in a mature naturescape, think about planting a number of trees and then selectively removing trees as they grow larger. This avoids maintaining that specific area until the trees mature and cover it.

c)  Storm water: reduction of storm water run-off is beneficial to human health and allows for a healthy ecosystem by creating on-site bioswales, or other moisture-absorbing or distributing features. Bioswales can be arranged to accommodate water from disconnected gutters or other sources. The creation of these allows for a larger variety of plants, thereby diversifying the look and foster habitat diversity. 

d) Consider adding more organic matter on or in your soil. This helps to lessen storm water runoff. Leaf mulch is a good choice.

e)  Other thoughts: to help you visualize your design, you might want to think about using different color landscape flags to represent different plants. 


Activity Four: Site Preparation and Soil Layer Building

Site preparation will depend on your site.

1. Lawn to Naturescape - by removing grass and planting natives, you are restoring the soil or soil layers. 

a) Definitions:

            mineral soil: refers to soil that has a low organic component. We often call this “dirt” and it tends to be rather hard when dry.

organic soil: refers to soil that is comprised largely of decomposing leaves, needles, and other organic material—it tends to be soft and moisture-absorbent.

b) If you take a walk through the woods you will notice that herbaceous plants are apt to grow in the organic soil layer, while the shrubs and trees may be found growing in the mineral soil layer.

2. Compare the soil in the woods to a site that has a turf lawn. 

a) What soil layers did you find there? (Answer: Mineral soil layer because before the installation of the lawn, the organic soil layer is stripped away).

b) It is preferable to have a layer of organic soil unless you have a sand-based “desert-scape” or full sun meadow. 

c)The benefits of having an organic soil layer are that it provides weed-suppression and soil moisture retention.

3. If students have unwanted grass that has been previously planted on their site that they want to remove in order to restore the soil they can either dig it out by hand or use a rototiller.

4.  Once the grass is removed, turn the soil over and rake away the grass.  Till and rake the soil.

5. If you add any form of water to the soil you will get what is known as “insta-weeds”.    To avoid this problem either plant your plants right away or cover the exposed dirt using leaf or needle mulch.

6. The other method for removing grass is called smothering:

a) Cut the turf grass as close to the ground as your mower permits.

b) Cover it with 10-16 sheets of newspaper making sure to overlap to avoid leaving spaces for weeds and grass to grow. 

c) Apply 4-6 inches of leaf mulch or 6-8 inches of leaves alone or combine the two.

d) Wait two months before planting.

e) Pierce the leaf layer and newspaper and plant your trees and shrubs.

f) Make sure any mineral soil that ends up on top be covered.

g) Herbaceous plants can be planted through or in the leaf layer.

h) Ask the students to name the process that is being prevented by “smothering” the grass. (Answer: photosynthesis).

i)  Ask the students what will become of the newspaper and what it contributes to. (Answer: since newspaper is a wood product it will break down and contribute to the organic layer of the soil).

9.      Removing Hard-to-Remove Invasives- English Ivy, Himalayan Blackberry, Kudzu or Vinca may be difficult to get rid of.  What you want to remember is by interrupting the process of photosynthesis the plant will eventually die.  Follow these steps:

a) Cut the plant low to the ground and continue to repeat this as soon as you see new shoots emerge interrupting the process of photosynthesis by weakening the roots.

b) If this proves difficult cut the plant to the ground and smother using cardboard or wood.  Check from time to time if there are any new shoots.

c) If this is still not working, you may need to resort to a mildly toxic pesticide.  This should be a last resort for the purpose of achieving a better long-term result.


Activity Five: Planting

1. Locate a nursery that carries native plants

2. Planting an Existing Plant

a) Plant during the plant’s dormant period.

b) Plants will come in containers or bare-root

i)  Bare-root

Plant roots need to be kept moist.  Place in saw dust, compost or mulch to hold water.

The hole should be at least the size of the root structure or 1.5 times its size.

Mix in some organic matter

                      ii)  Containerized plants

You may want to apply root growth hormone if you are concerned about the plant becoming established.

For plants that are balled and burlapped dig a hole 1.5 – 2 times the width of the root ball. 

Place the crown flush with the level of the soil.

If you are planting a tree, create a circular dam around the hole of the tree to hold water.

Consider staking the tree until established.

Since sowing directions vary from plant species to plant species, follow the directions on the packet.


Activity Six: Maintenance

Students will learn what is involved in maintaining their naturescaped site.

  1. Watering new plants.
  2. Weed removal - do this early and often to remove seed source.
  3. Weeding is reduced as native plants fill in.
  4. Keep areas unplanted areas covered with compost until plants go in.
  5. You may also use a form of obstruction to prevent weed growth such as newspaper or cardboard.



After completing this lesson, students will understand the differences between traditional landscaping and naturescaping. Moreover, students will comprehend the numerous benefits naturescaping has on environment and human health. This lesson will hopefully encourage students to take an interest in naturescaping so that they ultimately implement techniques they learned in this lesson at their own personal site.