Landscaping at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center

Landscaping for Life & Our Budget

If you take time to traipse around the grounds that surround the Zion Visitor Center, you will be amazed at the teaming life found there. All descriptions of bugs, birds, and reptiles pass through, finding food, shelter, and water. If an artist, you may find much to stimulate your palate of possibilities. Beyond wildlife and aesthetics, the landscape has been carefully integrated with the buildings, offering shade that reduce energy costs. Further, it utilizes native plants that are well adapted to Zion’s climate and soils, thus requiring minimum maintenance and water. Also, you will see a bit of history as you explore the old canal system that snakes its way through the landscape. And finally, this type of landscaping protects the Virgin River and other water resources by reducing runoff and eliminating the use of toxic lawn chemicals.

Why Should I Use Native Plants?
Native plants provide a beautiful, hardy, drought resistant, low maintenance landscape while benefiting the environment. Native plants, once established, save time and money by eliminating or significantly reducing the need for fertilizers, pesticides, water and lawn maintenance equipment.

Native plants do not require fertilizers. Vast amounts of fertilizers are applied to lawns. Excess phosphorus and nitrogen (the main components of fertilizers) run off into lakes and rivers causing excess algae growth. This depletes oxygen in our waters, harms aquatic life and interferes with recreational uses.

Native plants require fewer pesticides than lawns. Nationally, over 70 million pounds of pesticides are applied to lawns each year. Pesticides run off lawns and can contaminate rivers and lakes. People and pets in contact with chemically treated lawns can be exposed to pesticides.

Native plants require less water than lawns. The modern lawn requires significant amounts of water to thrive. In urban areas, lawn irrigation uses as much as 30% of the water consumption on the East Coast and up to 60% on the West Coast. The deep root systems of many native Midwestern plants increase the soil's capacity to store water. Native plants can significantly reduce water runoff and, consequently, flooding.

Native plants help reduce air pollution. Natural landscapes do not require mowing. Lawns, however, must be mowed regularly. Gas powered garden tools emit 5% of the nation's air pollution. Forty million lawnmowers consume 200 million gallons of gasoline per year. One gas-powered lawnmower emits 11 times the air pollution of a new car for each hour of operation. Excessive carbon from the burning of fossil fuels contributes to global warming. Native plants sequester, or remove, carbon from the air.

Native plants provide shelter and food for wildlife. Native plants attract a variety of birds, butterflies, and other wildlife by providing diverse habitats and food sources. Closely mowed lawns are of little use to most wildlife.

Native plants promote biodiversity and stewardship of our natural heritage. In the U.S., approximately 20 million acres of lawn are cultivated, covering more land than any single crop. Native plants are a part of our natural heritage. Natural landscaping is an opportunity to reestablish diverse native plants, thereby inviting the birds and butterflies back home.

Native plants save money. A study by Applied Ecological Services (Brodhead, WI) of larger properties estimates that over a 20 year period, the cumulative cost of maintaining a prairie or a wetland totals $3,000 per acre versus $20,000 per acre for non-native turf grasses. See more at

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To get started, it is a good idea to prepare the area to be planted following recommendations from the nursery or garden supplier you choose to buy from. Native plants take time to become established in the landscape. Depending on whether you use seeds or plants, the wildflowers or grasses may not be abundant for one to three years because the plant's energy is directed towards developing the roots. Working with nature takes patience, but it is well worth the wait!

You may encounter some polite curiosity' from neighbors who are only familiar and accustomed to the extremely manicured and defined lawn. You should talk to your neighbors about what you are doing, and about why landscaping with native plants will improve the environment in your neighborhood. Placing a border around the area you planted with native flowers and grasses will help define the landscape. You may also want to contact your local authorities regarding local ordinances and weed laws.):

  • Draw your plan on paper
  • Start out small, only do a little at a time.
  • Tell your neighbors what you plan to do. Consider putting up a sign (e.g. Jane's Wildflower Garden) to define your natural area. This will help others feel more comfortable with a different approach to landscaping.
  • Talk with local officials to find out if there are any local ordinances you should be aware of (e.g. restrictions on the height of vegetation). If so, will they help you get a variance?
  • You may even want to register your natural landscape with the Backyard Wildlife Habitat Program of the National Wildlife Federation or with the National Institute for Urban Wildlife. There may also be other local associations available to assist you.

For the birds and butterflies:

  • Consider planting native trees and plants, especially ones with berries, fruit and flowers.
  • Plant in layers (ground cover, shrubs, and trees) so your landscape is like the forest.
  • Don't plant invasive species—check with your local Cooperative Extension office for a list of invasive "noxious weeds."
  • Minimize potential harm to birds, beneficial insects, and fish by using pesticides only when necessary and using them properly. Read the label and follow instructions carefully whenever you use a pesticide.
  • Provide a bird bath or other small water source. Make sure you change the water every couple of days so your bird bath doesn't become a mosquito breeding ground.
  • Leave wild "buffer" areas of native plants along ravines, streams, shorelines and fencelines.

Questions to Ask When Buying Native Plants

  1. Are the native plants locally grown or shipped in? Native plants which are locally grown are best suited to the regional climatic conditions.
  2. Have the seeds been propagated in a nursery or collected from the wild? Seeds from the wild need to be protected so that we do not deplete our natural areas.
  3. Will the native plants grow best in sun or shade? Survey your plot carefully.
  4. What soil type is required? Is it sandy or loamy, wet or dry?
  5. Which native plants grow well together? Call your local nature center or Heritage Program Office to find out about plant communities.
  6. How long will it take seeds to germinate or plants to mature? The key to growing native plants is patience.

Will Native Plants Aggravate Allergies?
Many native flowers, such as asters, goldenrods, and milkweeds, are insect-pollinated, not wind-pollinated, and do not cause allergies. It is the pollen in the air that triggers allergic reactions. The plants responsible for many pollen allergens are not native to the Midwest (e.g., Kentucky bluegrass, Bermuda grass, orchard grass, redtop grass, and timothy grass). Native ragweed is one native plant which is highly allergenic.

Will Native Plants Attract Pests?
Unsecured garbage is the main attraction for most pests such as rodents and raccoons. Native landscaping is not. Native plants will attract butterflies and dragonflies; birds such as purple martins, hummingbirds, hawks, and swallows; mammals, including bats; amphibians such as frogs and salamanders; and insects because they provide shelter and food. In return, wildlife will help control pesky bugs such as mosquitoes. A single bat can eat 3,000 to 7,000 insects per night. Canada geese, also considered a pest in some regions, prefer short turf grass over taller native grasses.

Weed Laws
Some municipalities have "weed laws" to prevent unsightly or poorly maintained property. Natural landscaping does not pose the hazards that the weed laws are intended to address (e.g. problems with vermin). Fortunately, many municipalities are responding to the current trend toward natural landscaping. Some communities have modified weed laws to allow natural landscaping, but require a "setback" or buffer strip to make the landscape look planned. A few municipalities actively promote natural landscaping because of the environmental and economic benefits. Check with your municipal officials regarding weed laws in your area.

Water deeply, but infrequently.
Most plants do best if the soil is allowed to partially dry out between waterings. A loss of shine or footprints remaining after you walk across the lawn indicates that it's time to water. Vegetables and other annuals should be watered at the first sign of wilting, but tougher perennials (plants that live several years) need water only if they stay droopy after it cools off in the evening. Trees and shrubs usually don't need any watering once their roots are fully established (two to five years), except in very dry years.

Make every drop count:

  • Build your soil with compost and mulch to hold water and reduce evaporation.
  • Choose low-water-use plants. Once established, they can often thrive just on rainfall.
  • Use soaker hoses or drip irrigation on beds - they can save 50 percent or more compared with sprinklers.
  • Use an outdoor water timer (available at garden stores) to water just the right amount, frequency and time of day.
  • Water lawns separately from other plantings. Make sure sprinklers aren't watering the pavement.
  • When soil is dry or compacted, it won't absorb water quickly. If water puddles, stop watering a while and then restart so the water has time to soak in.
  • Water in the early morning—if you water at mid-day, much of the water just evaporates. Evening watering should be avoided because it can encourage the growth of mold or plant diseases.

In a dry spell, you can allow an established lawn to go dormant. Water just once a month and brown areas of the lawn will bounce back in the fall.

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Last updated: February 24, 2015

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Mailing Address:

Zion National Park
1 Zion Park Blvd.
State Route 9

Springdale, UT 84767


(435) 772-3256
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