The right landscape materials can reduce energy consumption,
mitigate air and water pollution, and prevent waste from ending up in landfills.
Why is materials management important?
The manufacturing, selection and use of materials is often a consumptive and wasteful process. Each phase of a material’s life cycle requires energy and can produce harmful air, water and soil pollutants and waste products. Nevertheless, homeowners and gardeners can minimize the waste, energy consumption and pollution associated with extraction and manufacturing processes by limiting the use of new materials and other products.

It’s best to start with the old adage “reduce, reuse, recycle” as a way of practice. Downsizing a landscaping project to reduce the amount of materials, redesigning the project to reuse previously used materials, or finding ways to recycle materials are all first steps in the sustainable design process. Another alternative solution is to salvage and reuse materials discarded by neighbor or friend, perhaps in a new and novel way.

Retaining existing materials avoids costs for demolition, transportation and the disposal of demolished materials in a landfill. This practice can also create a unique sense of place and connect users to the garden or landscape. If you are buying new, opt for natural, untreated, least toxic and recyclable products made locally. A growing number of “certified green” products are becoming available, simplifying things for consumers. And you can promote recycling by buying products with recycled content, which are generally less expensive than virgin raw materials.

Stone paver path

Reclaimed stone is born again as a beautiful garden pathway. Image credit: Shutterstock/Del Boy

Rocks and path

Stones and hardscaping create visually interesting textures next to plants of all kinds. Image credit: Shutterstock/Jen Petrie

Materials in a landscape are comprised of many elements. Wood, metal or paving materials are those that most commonly make up a landscape, but plants, soils, rocks, material assemblies and product components are also considered materials in the landscape. All of these elements serve a specific role in the function of a landscape and should be carefully planned as to not cause any detrimental environmental, economic or human health impacts.


  • Reclaimed materials can be used in whole form or deconstructed and dismantled to create a completely new object.
  • Recycled materials lessen the need for virgin feedstock and avoid sending useful materials to a landfill.
  • Locally sourced materials reduce negative environmental impacts and can create a sense of place.
  • Garden features designed using standard material sizes avoid wasteful cuts and minimize labor.
  • Reversible connections (e.g., screws, bolts) can be easily removed and reused for a future use.
More on Materials
Every material or product in a garden or landscape has environmental, economic and human health impacts. Landscape materials can cause environmental damage even before they are installed in a garden. Harvesting and transporting materials consumes energy and generates pollution, and the problems continue even when the materials are dismantled if they are discarded in a landfill instead of reused or recycled.

However, the appropriate selection and use of materials can contribute to a garden’s ability to support and enhance ecosystem services on-site and wherever the material exists throughout its life cycle. The demolition, selection, procurement and use of materials in the design and construction of a garden present considerable opportunities to decrease the amount of materials sent to landfills, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and support the use of sustainable building products. Sustainable gardens minimize the negative impacts of material use by creating a circular life cycle that is underscored by the use of recycled or reused materials.

Luckily, there are now many materials available that are locally produced and certified green. Read the labels, request products that are local and non-toxic and look for marks such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification on wood products.

Cactus garden

A cactus and euphorbia garden uses locally sourced rocks and native materials to create a sense of place. Image credit: Shutterstock/Pokin Sethapokin

Unsustainable vs. Sustainable Materials:
How They Compare


Expanded training opportunities coming in 2024! Landscape For Life includes a complete kit of teaching resources which can be used to conduct classes in sustainable home gardening.

Landscape For Life™ was developed by United States Botanic Garden and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, based on the principles of the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES®). The program is now a collaboration between Colorado State University Extension and the United States Botanic Garden.

Colorado State University Extension