Landscapes of the Month: Supporting a Community’s Commitment to Sustainability - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Landscapes of the Month: Supporting a Community’s Commitment to Sustainability

Photo: The Davey Tree Expert Company

Since 2005, Babcock Ranch, located in Punta Gorda, Florida, has been committed to building a one-of-a-kind community with a focus on sustainability and innovation.

The community is located on over 17,000 acres of nature preserves. The developer wanted to reduce the environmental impact by protecting important ecological site features like wetlands and forests. A 440-acre field of solar panels powers the community. They brought on The Davey Tree Expert Company in 2016 to help care for their entrance when they were still developing the roadways.

Photo: The Davey Tree Expert Company

As the community grew, the number of Davey employees keeping the property pristine grew from one to 10. Their work maintaining this site earned Davey Tree a Gold Award in the 2020 Awards of Excellence.

Babcock Ranch features a K-8 school, a downtown area with shops and restaurants, a community pool and fitness center, walking trails and more. It has 500 houses and counting. The community’s goal is to build 19,500 houses and six million square feet of commercial space causing one area or another to always be under construction. This construction debris and damage to landscaping and irrigation infrastructure was a common issue Davey had to overcome.

A strict schedule of mowing, edging, trimming and fertilizing kept the turf ready for public events. Crews performed routine maintenance in the early hours to avoid disturbing the daily activities of residents. They would care for the school and downtown area at 5:30 or 6 in the morning.

Photo: The Davey Tree Expert Company

“I would say we spoke numerous times daily with either the development team from Babcock Ranch or the property management team that we essentially reported to,” says Jason Bassler, southern regional manager for Davey Tree. “Every day we’d communicate as to what we’re doing, where we’re doing it and when.”

Davey used battery-powered equipment to minimize their noise levels and stay in line with the property’s sustainability goals.

Crews would spend five or six days a week on-site as the public areas were expected to be camera-ready at all times. Davey employees worked to keep the plant material thriving despite hot periods and clean up storm damage quickly afterward.

Low-maintenance plants like ornamental muhly grasses and perennial peanuts are used at the main entrance to provide striking visual impact without the investment of upkeep. Thousands of ornamental grasses are trimmed twice per year and the mulch beds are kept weed-free year-round. Bassler says this was the hardest aspect of maintaining the site.

Photo: The Davey Tree Expert Company

“There is an extraordinary amount of mulch that is applied one to two times per year,” Bassler says. “With it being newly installed Florida friendly plant material, it takes time for a lot of that plant material to grow in and widen or fill out. So, there’s a tremendous amount of open space in the mulch, and the plant beds then require a chemical application or hand pulling. Whatever we can do to get rid of the weeds and keep it looking clean. That was by far the hardest, most difficult aspect of maintaining the site.”

The community’s goal is to live alongside nature instead of imposing upon it. Their landscaping guidelines limit turf coverage to 30 percent and require the use of native, low-impact trees and shrubs. Each home’s landscape is required to be 75 percent native plants such as ornamental grasses, orange and red fire bushes, cabbage palms, pine trees, viburnum hedges and live oak trees.

Photo: The Davey Tree Expert Company

At Founders Square, the heart of Babcock Ranch, the crew cared for the Sylvester palms, live oak trees and hedges to keep an orderly but tropical appearance for shoppers and diners. The planters were rotated three to four times a year to maintain visual interest downtown.

Due to budget cuts caused by the pandemic, Davey no longer maintains this property but Bassler says it was a great relationship while it lasted, and it was an honor to be part of the vision they had for Babcock Ranch.

Interested in participating in the Awards of Excellence? Submit your entries by Aug. 24, 2021.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.