The Acreage — Managing a Large Landscape

In The Garden — September 2013


Managing an urban landscape can be enough of a challenge for many homeowners. When the landscape is several times larger, even the smallest decisions have broader consequences. Will plantings be visually "lost" in such a large space? Is there time to maintain it?

Planning and planting trees is often one of the first considerations since other plantings will be affected by them. Windbreaks or shelterbelts are usually planted early on... both to define the landscape and to shelter buildings and gardens from wind, heat and cold. Extensive caging and fencing may be necessary to protect trees (particularly young trees) from deer, rabbits and other wildlife.

Since turf is one of the most time-consuming aspects of most landscapes, many acreage owners keep mowed areas to a minimum, avoid high-maintenance bluegrass turf and plant fescue, buffalograss, prairie grasses or groundcovers.

One way many acreage owners scale back is by limiting managed areas to smaller spaces directly around buildings or to areas highly visible from the buildings or pathways.  For plantings to have any impact, a dozen or more of any particular plant may need to be planted rather than just a few. Plants that are hardy and drought-tolerant are crucial in places where watering can range from difficult to impossible.

Here are some ideas for keeping your landscape manageable:

– Think about views and function, and concentrate efforts where they can make the most difference. Since entrance areas are not always obvious in a country setting, you may want to highlight building entries and important paths.

– Use windbreaks for shelter from wind, cold, heat, unwanted views and as wildlife habitat. Keep southwest exposure open to provide cooling summer breezes and plant deciduous trees to the south for summer shade and winter sunlight. Layer the landscape for interest, wind movement and diversity.

– Understand drainage patterns BEFORE you begin and, if they're problematic, change grade as needed.

– Protect young trees from wildlife damage with cages or fencing.

– Group plants according to maintenance needs – moisture, sunlight, wind and the need for mowing or other large equipment.

– Limit turf to high traffic areas.

– Ornamental and prairie grasses are low-maintenance and provide year-round interest but they can be a fire hazard if planted too close to buildings.

– To attract wildlife, plant thickets of wild plum, chokecherry, elderberry, etc.


Recommended Reading:

Landscape guides on management, sustainability, water use, groundcovers, shade trees:

Landscape Sustainability:

Perennials in Water-Wise Landscapes:

UNL Extension Acreage Insights:

Or subscribe to Acreage Insights "Life Outside the City Limits" monthly e-news with articles on water and septic systems, landscapes, windbreaks, fruit and vegetable gardens, wildlife, livestock. Go to and click on "Subscribe to Acreage eNews."

Karma Larsen
Nebraska Statewide Arboretum

Dan Moser
IANR News Service

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