How to Design with Birds in Mind

Posted by Ecogardens


There’s a lot of emphasis today on bringing birds into our cities, but are we really providing a safe habitat for them? The facts suggest we’re not. 

We build green roofs. We set aside small patches of wilderness in the midst of urban bustle. We carefully curate nesting sites, all in hopes of enriching our cities and bringing birds back from the brink.

But think about the message we’re actually sending to our feathered friends.

“Hey guys!” our newer, greener cities broadcast. “Come on down! Nest up! Build a family. But oh, uh, bring your helmets! Cuz that building ain’t movin’.”

And that, if you’re a bird, is a major problem.

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Topics: Urban Ecology

How to Make Biodegradable Pots Work for Green Roofing

Posted by Ecogardens


Plastic pots are a major bugbear of the landscaping and green roofing industries, but are biodegradable pots really the answer? Today we explore what works and what doesn’t, as well as what YOU can do about it.

You’ve been there. You buy a new plant, perhaps a tomato for the garden or a dracaena for the windowsill. You grab a terra cotta pot, upend your new baby, give it a new home and …

… you’re left with a plastic pot. What do you do?

Most of us dutifully wash it and stick it in the recycle bin for municipal pickup or dropoff. Problem solved, right?

Umm. Well, no.

Unfortunately, our recycling system today is pretty broken. Municipalities might take plastic pots, and nurseries might promise to recycle them, but – not to put too fine a point on it – that’s mostly B.S. What doesn’t get thrown away can clog up sorting machines at recycling plants, or it gets shipped to developing countries, adding to their mounting problems. Needless to say, outsourcing the issue does not get rid of the issue.

No, the responsibility is on us – the American landscaping and green roofing industry – to lead the advance toward a more sustainable future.

*waves torch*

If we want to act as good stewards of the environment, it’s critical we solve this here plastic problem as soon as possible. And biodegradable pots are, in theory, a good way to do that.

But are they really? If so, what do we need to do in order to shift the industry away from chronic plastic use and toward a more sustainable alternative? Let’s take a look.

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Topics: Stewardship

How to Monitor a Green Roof Effectively

Posted by Ecogardens


Existing green roofs can give us lots of information for future sustainable design, as long as we take care to monitor them carefully.

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a 12 percent increase in relative humidity!

… is something you’ve never said.

Yet perhaps you would if you had an amazing green roof monitoring station. (Ahem, like the one we just installed on a municipal building in the Village of Orland Park. Not to brag.)

The ability to monitor green roofs is an important one, and one that we here at Ecogardens have been pushing for some years now. Taking the time and spending the extra money to add in monitoring capabilities to green roofs can bring us a wealth of knowledge and significantly increase the value of green rooftop infrastructure.

Here’s why it matters and how you can monitor green roofs effectively.

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Topics: Green Roofs

How to Develop a Comprehensive Urban Ecology Meaning

Posted by Ecogardens


Urban ecology is tough to define and tougher to agree on, but we have to do so if we want to make real strides in favor of life in our cities – including our own.

If someone asked you to offer a comprehensive urban ecology meaning, would you know what to say?

If your answer was something along the lines of “like, life in cities?” then join the crowd. Even people in the ecological and sustainability spaces have a hard time offering a true urban ecology meaning. The topic of life in the built environment is a big one, and we often forget crucial aspects of the definition.

Where we’re not forgetting things, we’re disagreeing on them. It’s a problem, especially when we try to sum up the concept in a single sentence, which often does more harm than good.

We’re not blameless here at Ecogardens, which is why we’ve been working hard lately to develop a more well-rounded urba

n ecology meaning and share it with our followers.

Want in? Read on.

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Topics: Urban Ecology

How to Choose the Best Stormwater Management System

Posted by Ecogardens


Stormwater management is a pressing need in today’s built environments, but it’s important to choose the right one for maximum effect. Here’s how to get started.

We’re just going to come right out and say it: stormwater sucks.

In an unmanaged urban context, at least, it can prove very damaging indeed.

“Increasing development and urbanization of our lands has led to changes in the natural environment that include increases in flooding, degradation of water quality, erosion, and sedimentation of our waterways,” says the University of Virginia’s Facilities Management Department.

Why is this happening? Because our heavily paved-over cities have cut off many of the avenues from sky to water table. Time was, when it rained or snowed, that water found its way to the closest stream or river pretty quickly, or else filtered through soil and other organic substances and joined the aquifer (the saturated area beneath the water table).

Now, that’s no longer possible in urban areas – or at least far more difficult.

Instead, water sheets off city surfaces – brick, stone, cement, asphalt – and eventually into waterways, but only after eroding the environment, spreading disease from sewers, and picking up massive chemicals loads from dirty city surfaces.

Good times.

Kidding. Terrible times. That’s where a good stormwater management system comes in.

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Topics: Stormwater Management

The Best Alternative Plants for Green Roofs

Posted by Ecogardens


While sedum has a formidable reputation when it comes to green roofs, there are a variety of other plants that offer competitive benefits.

Ask most people, and they’ll tell you there aren’t many alternative plants for green roofs. Sedum or bust, right?

Not quite. Actually, using native plants that complement the environment are a great approach, as long as you know which alternative species will work best for a particular rooftop environment and geographic location.

This becomes a bit more challenging on extensive green roofs, explains the University of Minnesota, pointing out that plant options are more limited when you have only 3-6 inches of growing media with which to work.

“Since there is less soil and the system as a whole has to be lighter,” they explain, “extensive green roofs are not able to support trees or shrubs like intensive systems. Instead, grasses and small plants are the available vegetation options for extensive green roofs.”

That said, there are quite a few plants that fit the bill – those aforementioned grasses or plants. See? We’re not nearly as confined to sedums as common perception holds.

Let’s take a look at our favorite alternative plants for green roofs today.

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Topics: Green Roofs

What Is Chicago Doing to Improve Its Green Infrastructure?

Posted by Ecogardens


Chicago is a leading presence in the green infrastructure effort, especially here in the Midwest. Here’s a closer look at what the Windy City is doing to improve environmental issues like stormwater, urban heat island effect, pollution and more.

We all love a good role model.

Whether your idea of a powerful exemplar is Wonder Woman, Barack Obama or Chris Evans (too much on the superhero thing?), it’s nice to look up to someone.

We like to think Chicago is worthy of worship as well. You know, being all green and schtuff.

Seriously, though, when it comes to green infrastructure Chicago is taking a serious stand. Whether it’s working to bridge the gap between resilience and sustainability, or redefine how we use green infrastructure in the urban space, Chicago has decades of experience role modeling for the rest of us, and we’re so proud to be a part of that effort.

Making change, of course, starts with knowing as much as possible. If you’re interested in green infrastructure Chicago style, we’ve got your back.

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Topics: Green Infrastructure

How to Work Toward A Better Urban Ecology Definition

Posted by Ecogardens


Having a better definition of urban ecology will allow us to communicate more effectively, make better plans and meet goals across industries, to the benefit of our cities.

Definitions are important in today’s world – just as they’ve always been. Having a concrete, complete and detailed understanding of any given concept helps us carry that concept out to best effect.

The phrase urban ecology is no exception. The problem is, despite the critical importance of integrating our cities and worlds today, we lack any such urban ecology definition. And we really need one.

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Topics: Urban Ecology

How Do Blue Roofs Help the Environment?

Posted by Ecogardens


Though they’re not the best choice for all rooftops, blue roofs do offer major environmental opportunity of which we should avail ourselves. 

Question: What wears a dirty blue cape, visits Chicago more than a hundred times per year, and doesn’t give a fig about combined sewer overflows?

If you said Captain Stormwater, you are correct. The prize, well – how about being really bummed out? You know, because of the disease and toxins that pour into our streets, the urban runoff that poisons wildlife, or the overloaded city infrastructure that just can’t keep up with the amount of water sheeting off impermeable surfaces every day?

Told you, it’s a bummer.

That’s not to say we can’t do anything about it. Green roofs help solve many of these problems, transforming barren concrete and cement rooftops into vibrant oases that absorb and filter stormwater, lessening its load considerably.

Green roofs represent a significant upfront cost outlay, though, and some people aren’t willing to wait for the ROI that accrues over time. In that case, a blue roof might just do the trick. Let’s tackle what that is, why it’s beneficial, whether it’s the best solution for your rooftop, and what we can expect from blue roofs in future.

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Topics: Stormwater Management

How to Use Stormwater Management Best Practices

Posted by Ecogardens


Stormwater management is a critical need in our cities and rural areas today, but to make our methods truly effective, we need to understand best practices.

To you, a sudden rainstorm is a nuisance. Your husband has the car today, so you’re walking to the L. You forgot your umbrella. Your presentation is getting wet.


Yet the billions of gallons that rain and snow down on cities like Chicago every year are far more than a personal inconvenience. They take a major toll, overrunning our sewers, sending pollution and disease into waterways, and ruining both metropolitan and rural areas.

The problem is, we tend to think of “saving the environment” as pertaining to the wilds, or at least to wetlands and parks – both inside and outside the city.

In truth, the urban environment is important as well. It’s where humans live (duh), and if we don’t take careful steps to make cities healthy, we’re hurting not only the world, but ourselves.

So how does stormwater come into the picture? Today, we’ll examine exactly what stormwater is and what we can do to manage it more effectively using long-term solutions rather than temporary measures.

In other words, using stormwater management best practices.

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Topics: Stormwater Management