With gardening season in full bloom, UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant are launching the EcoScapes website, dedicated to the promotion of sustainable landscaping and land use development practices. This new website is the cornerstone of the EcoScapes Sustainable Land Use Program, which encourages responsible stewardship of Georgia’s natural resources.

“The balance of nature connects us all, and we are collectively responsible for taking a proactive role to protect and preserve it. Simple actions we take at home, work, and in our communities can result in significant results when we each do our part,” EcoScapes program manager Keren Giovengo said.

“The website welcomes the homeowner, professional, government official, gardener, landscaper, developer, business owner and natural resource manager to learn more about the essential components of sustainable land use development and landscaping, the important role we play in sustainable landscapes, and actions we can take to make a difference without depleting our state’s natural resources.”

The new website was developed with ecological principles in mind and features a variety of resources for professionals, policymakers and landowners alike. The website provides information on the differences between conventional and sustainable landscapes and a suite of “how to” sustainable practices that contribute to the restoration of natural ecosystems while providing human benefits as well.

“These practices support the essential components of sustainable landscapes – healthy soils, water conservation, water quality and green infrastructure stormwater management, native plants, eradication of invasive plants, and habitats that our native plants, wildlife and pollinators depend upon,” explains Giovengo. “Novice and professionals alike throughout the country and Georgia are turning to sustainable practices to manage stormwater, minimize costs, reduce maintenance, and promote native plant and wildlife conservation.”

The website also provides numerous innovative, comprehensive tools to assist in the implementation of these practices. The Georgia Low Impact Development (LID) Atlas, a product of the online National LID Atlas, is built into Google Maps and shows examples of innovative low-impact development practices across the state.

The goal of the Atlas is to encourage and educate local officials, professionals and communities about LID practices by providing specific, local examples of their use. LID practices, such as rain gardens and cisterns, have been shown to be very effective in mitigating the impacts associated with stormwater runoff from development. The tool also provides Georgians the opportunity to add and showcase their LID efforts by completing the data form available on the website.

In 2010, Giovengo developed a native plant database, and with the assistance of the UGA Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health, she created the EcoScapes Native Plant Search Engine, which provides professional landscapers and gardeners with a tool to select the right native plant for the right location based on ecoregion and the site’s conditions.

“This component is essential for creating and maintaining sustainable landscapes,” said Giovengo. “By choosing plants well adapted to each landscape’s site conditions, we can reduce the need for water, fertilizers and pesticides, reduce water pollution, lower maintenance, and repair environmental degradation while restoring diverse natural plant and animal communities.”

The free multi-state Rain Garden App (available for both iPhones and Android smartphones) provides homeowners, landscapers and contractors with step-by-step instructions on how to design, install and maintain a rain garden. Video tutorials, diagrams, text and numerous tools, including a Georgia rain garden native plant database, are included.

The website’s Professional Tool Kit helps users align their land use development and landscaping practices with the functions of healthy ecosystems by providing state and national conservation resources. In addition, information is provided on the EcoScapes Sustainable Native Plant Demonstration Garden, located at the Brunswick facility, which demonstrates an integrated, sustainable approach to landscape planning, design and management. The purpose of the garden is to inspire Georgia sustainable land use community appreciation and stewardship through advocacy, education, outreach, and habitat restoration.

While the EcoScapes Program is not new, the website is an integral missing piece needed to provide solutions for professionals, gardeners, landscapers, local government officials and stormwater managers hoping to create more sustainable landscapes. Now, EcoScapes stewards will have access to a multitude of resources regarding water quality, native and invasive plants, healthy soils, rain gardens, wildlife habitats and much more.