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Building Manager Green Tip

June 2012

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Organic Landscaping at Harvard

Paul Smith of Harvard FMO discusses organic landscaping practices in Harvard Yard

In March 2008 the Facilities Maintenance Operations (FMO) landscaping group within Harvard Campus Services and the 2008 Harvard Loeb Fellow Eric T. Fleisher began testing the use of organic landscaping practices on a single acre of historic Harvard Yard.  

Less than five years later, all 80 acres of landscaping maintained by FMO are maintained using organic techniques based on the results of that early research referred to as the Harvard Yard Soils Restoration Project

5 Steps to Organic Landscaping

Results of root growth in the control and organic test plot landscapes.

Harvard's organic landscaping program followed a five-step plan that could be replicated in other areas to transition from conventional to organic landscaping practices using a test plot and a control plot for comparison:

    1. Eliminate all use of toxins including pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and insecticides.
    2. Test existing soil conditions to determine current biological, textural, and nutrient requirements. 
    3. Develop specific compost teas and application schedules to balance soil biology and restore natural nutrient cycling.
    4. Measure root growth biweekly and compare results to the control plot.
    5. Adjust the amendment program based on the findings and analysis.

More details on the specific processes used at Harvard can be found in a presentation hosted on the Harvard FMO website.  

Blackstone Irrigation Free Courtyard

Rabbits munching on grass in the Blackstone Courtyard

At the LEED Platinum 46 Blackstone Street, an irrigation free, organic landscape was developed in a courtyard that was previously a parking lot.  Primarily composed of ornamental grasses that are designed to grow roughly six inches to a foot in height, this area provides a home for a family of rabbits who appear to prefer the tall grasses for both food and shelter.  

According to Harvard Landscape and Business Support Manager Wayne Carbone, the maintenance plan "includes mowing  these areas three to four times annually, followed each time by an application of nutrient rich compost tea." The mowing helps to "reduce the tendency of the grass to go to seed while encouraging deeper root growth, thus minimizing the need for watering", an important trait for landscapes designed to survive without irrigation.  

Green Building Services provides consulting services to ensure that the design, construction and operation of Harvard's built environment has minimal environmental and human health impacts, maximizes occupant comfort and generates an awareness of sustainable design and building operations. To learn more about our work and services, visit http://green.harvard.edu/gbs.