Taking steps to enhance environmental responsibility in the planting and maintenance of campus landscapes.
Roundtable: Promoting Sustainable Campus Landscapes [with UofL's Aaron Boggs] (Sustainability: The Journal of Record, Dec. 2013)
Melissa Michael describes class project to tap maple trees on campus for syrup (starts 23:08) (UofL Today with Mark Hebert, 93.9 FM The Ville, April 12, 2016)
Grounds maintenance at UofL is the responsibility of Physical Plant. The Sustainability Council works with the Grounds crew to explore ways to protect campus trees; to minimize the waste and excessive use of water, fertilizers, pesticides, salt and fossil fuels; and to find effective options for lower-maintenance and native species plantings.
Arbor Day Foundation renews UofL’s Tree Campus USA status (UofL Today, Feb. 4, 2013)
Although we’re located in an urban area, our 309-acre park-like Belknap campus has over 2500 trees representing over 130 species, many of which are native to our bioregion (see UofL tree map). UofL researchers and students have helped catalog over 1,740 individual trees just on the core of Belknap campus that represent a total of 117 species from 54 genera. Explore our Tree Inventory to learn even more about our diverse canopy.
We invite you to take a self-guided 1.75mile walking tour of some of the interesting and historical trees on Belknap campus. You can access the interactive map with your smartphone, tablet or any computer, download the Tree Tour pamphlet, or pick up a print version during business hours at the North Information Center, 1999 S. First Street (call 502-852-6565 for information).
The Importance of Trees
- Our trees bring natural beauty to our campus.
- They are an archive of our past and part of the circle of life we share with nature. They also play an essential role in UofL’s initiatives to create a sustainable campus environment.
- A mature leafy tree produces as much oxygen in a season as 10 people inhale in a year.
- Trees clean the air by filtering pollution – absorbing carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide – and acting as enormous carbon sinks.
- Trees clean the soil by absorbing dangerous chemicals and other pollutants that have entered it. Locking away carbon dioxide in the wood, roots and leaves, they reduce “greenhouse” gases that contribute to global climate change.
- Trees control noise pollution, muffling urban noise almost as effectively as stone walls.
- Trees slow storm-water runoff by capturing rain water on leaves and stems and binding the soil, reducing flash flooding and recharging underground aquifers.
- Trees shade and cool in the summer and break the force of winter winds. They cut costs and energy consumed by heating and cooling buildings. Trees harbor birds and other wildlife, including UofL’s famed white squirrels, making our urban centers a more pleasant place to live.
- On a more philosophical level, the majesty of trees allows our minds to wander. While rooted in the ground, they reach for the sky.
- Age, wind, ice, disease, and construction have all taken a toll on our trees in recent years, but UofL is committed to maintaining the campus as a green oasis in an urban setting. To help financially with UofL’s tree program, visit fundforuofl.org. You also can write a check to UofL Foundation Inc. and note “Restore UofL - Trees" on the memo line. Mail it to: Advancement Services, University of Louisville, 215 Central Ave. Suite 300, Louisville KY 40208-1452.
Tree Campus USA
UofL has achieved Tree Campus USA designation from the Arbor Day Foundation every year since 2010.
- UofL is a Tree Campus USA, having met or exceeded all five of the standards required for designation every year since 2010 and has been recognized by the Arbor Day Foundation for excellence.
- UofL's Campus Tree Care Plan was finalized December 10, 2010 and revised in 2011 and 2012.
- Our Tree Campus USA program is coordinated by the University of Louisville Campus Tree Advisory Committee which formed in February 2010, and holds meetings, events, and service learning activities throughout the year.
- The mission of the Campus Tree Advisory Committee is to promote, enhance, and protect the urban forest on University of Louisville property. The committee seeks to engage students, faculty, staff and community members in pursuing this mission in line with the University of Louisville’s commitment to climate neutrality and sustainability.
- If you're interested in getting involved in the Campus Tree Advisory Committee, please contact the Chair, Justin Mog.
- As a service learning project during the fall 2012 semester,
Environmental Biology students surveyed campus trees while Computer
Engineering and Computer Science (CECS) students programmed a mobile
- The students accumulated 400 hours of service, surveying over 1,100
trees around Belknap Campus. This information extended our existing
database, which was integrated into the
- Data provided: Tree location, age, height, species, diameter at breast height (DBH), live weight, dry weight, native or nonnative, crown width, fruit type, growth factor, number of this species on campus, monetary value, and the amount of carbon dioxide sequestered annually & over the life of the tree.
Pests on UofL campus grounds are monitored for threshold levels. Cultural practices are the main defense against pests and are used in most situations to solve problems. Chemical controls are used as a last resort when there is a potential for total crop failure. These products are selected for low use rates per acre and low environmental toxicity.
With roughly 55-acres of turfgrass on Belknap's 309-acre campus (excluding athletic fields), the Grounds crew has been experimenting with lawn replacements in appropriate corners of campus to reduce the amount of fossil fuels, resources, and staff time devoted to mowing, fertilizing, watering, and maintaining weed-free grass turf. Projects have included:
- 2016: In April 2016, the Biology Department collaborated with the Grounds crew and Dropseed Nursery to remove an unused lawn area west of the Life Sciences building and replace it with a native plant living lab. The garden serves a number of our Biology labs by providing on-campus access to native plants as well as the insects such plants attract. A number of our courses benefit from having such an area including Entomology, Plant Taxonomy, Medicinal Plant Biochemistry, Ecology, and perhaps Animal Behavior. The garden also engages donors and participation from the Beechmont Garden Club as well as Botanica.
- 2016: The Sigma Pi fraternity worked with the Grounds crew to raise funds and volunteer labor as part of their annual ACE service project to install UofL’s first rain garden in the Speed School parking lot. The project involved removing 5126 square feet of grass at the southwest corner of the intramural fields in the Speed School parking lot, where Physical Plant recently planted 4 Swamp White Oaks. The grass was replaced with a mixture of native plants supplied by Dropseed Nursery which will facilitate infiltration. Benefits included:
· Catching oils from parking lot before it reaches the drainage system;
· Provide pollinator habitat in an otherwise paved, desert area;
· Improve aesthetics; and
· Eliminate need for mowing.
- 2015-16:The Grounds crew removed lawn near Dougherty Hall and west of Gottschalk Hall, replacing it with lower-maintenance mulch and trees.
- 2015: The Latin American and Latino Studies (LALS) Dept. organized to install a LALS Tranquility Garden, replacing lawn with flowers on the west side of Stevenson Hall.
- 2014: The Grounds crew worked with student volunteers from GRASS to replace marginal lawns with lower-maintenance flowers and native plants on the south and east sides of Jouett Hall, and at the northeast corner of Davidson Hall.
- 2013-14: The two lawn areas behind the Urban Studies Institute (426 W Bloom St) were converted to low-maintenance clover, and garden areas during the installation of the Urban & Public Affairs Horticulture Zone, an initiative of the Urban & Public Affairs Student Organization, with funding provided by both the Student Organization and the Department of Urban & Public Affairs.
- 2012-13: The Grounds crew worked with student volunteers from REACH and GRASS to replace lawn with a lower-maintenance butterfly garden at the north end of Brook Street on campus (between Houchens and the Office of Health Promotion).
- 2009: The first trials involved replacing turf with micro-clover plots which don't require frequent mowing and
nitrogen to maintain soil fertility. The first trial was on the southwest corner of the Miller
Information Technology Center.
Ice melting products are selected based on environmental conditions. The weather is monitored closely and preventative applications are used only when snow and ice accumulation is imminent. Equipment is calibrated to apply the proper amount of product to facilitate ice/snow removal.
In May 2014, the Grounds crew began a new trial using locally-produced biodiesel to power their diesel machinery and trucks. The biodiesel is made from waste cooking oil, some of which is supplied by UofL Dining, and is sourced from Kelley Green Biofuel
of Goshen, KY (5100 Greenhaven Lane), a community-scale,
ASTM-certified, National Biodiesel Board registered biodiesel producer
with an annual capacity of 75,000 gallons, located just 30 miles from
campus. The first trials are using a B20 blend of 20% biodiesel and 80% petroleum diesel.
- In another effort to use less fuel and further reduce our carbon footprint, UofL's fleet of lawnmowers was converted to run on cleaner-burning propane rather than gasoline. Mowers powered with propane burn up to 30 percent less fuel, generate less pollution, carbon emissions, and noise, and are safer and easier to maintain than mowers powered with gasoline.
- In 2011, Physical Plant switched over its entire mower fleet for Belknap campus—eight push mowers, five riding mowers and two walk-behind mowers—to run on propane in refillable tanks. This conversion has helped reduce minor fuel spills and is saving UofL about $2000/year in fuel costs. It will pay for itself in just four years without outside incentives. As our gasoline powered lawn trimmers reach the end of their lives, Physical Plant will also be replacing them with cleaner, more efficient propane or electric models. Learn more.
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that garden equipment engines produce up to 10% of the nation’s air pollution. Studies show that a conventional lawn mower pollutes as much in an hour as 40 late model cars.
Native trees, shrubs and grasses are specified for landscape plantings at UofL. When non-natives are utilized for special applications, they are selected on the merits of being water-stress tolerant as well as insect and disease resistant (thereby reducing the need for chemical inputs). Non-native plants must be hardy in planting zones 6-7 (the type that thrive on our campus) to best ensure they will thrive with minimal assistance. Two excellent examples of UofL's use of native plant assemblages came to fruition in April 2016:
- The Biology Department collaborated with the Grounds crew and Dropseed Nursery to remove an unused lawn area west of the Life Sciences building and replace it with a native plant living lab.
- The Sigma Pi fraternity worked with the Grounds crew to install UofL’s first rain garden in the Speed School parking lot. The project involved replacing 5126 square feet of grass at the southwest corner of the intramural fields in the Speed School parking lot with 4 Swamp White Oaks and a mixture of native plants supplied by Dropseed Nursery which will facilitate infiltration.
- UofL seeks to minimize irrigation and water waste through a mix of high-tech and low-tech means. The first strategy is to plant primarily natives (or hardy non-natives) which do well in our local climate with minimal irrigation.
- We use soil probes and rain sensors to determine if irrigation is necessary.
- In 2009, a "Rainbird SMT" smart controller was installed at Thrust Theatre to control irrigation based on soil type, plant type, topography, and historical evaportranspiration & weather data for Louisville.
- A pilot study is underway to determine feasibility for
Evapotranspiration Based irrigation control.
- Some new buildings, such as our LEED Gold certified Student Recreation Center and the Clinical & Translational Research Building have been designed to capture condensate and/or storm water for use in irrigation.
- Central Irrigation Control is being considered for Belknap campus. This control system would allow us to irrigate based on real-time soil moisture, weather & evapotranspiration data, and would use flow sensing to monitor for leaking pipes and broken sprinkler heads. Currently we monitor the environmental conditions and manually adjust our 18 automatic irrigation controllers on Belknap campus based on weather data. Central Irrigation Control can save up to 30% of water for irrigation purposes. Proper watering, based on real-time data, is also healthier for plants and can help them fight off disease and insects naturally.
The University owns the Horner Conservation Property, also referred to as the Moore Observatory, which contains over 200 acres of wildlife habitat in Oldham County near Brownsboro, about 30 minutes from Belknap Campus. Get an aerial view of UofL's own wildlife refuge!
The UofL Grounds Maintenance Department utilizes selected green waste created from the care of the lawns, landscape and trees on Belknap campus to create compost/mulch on site at the Hughes Lot on E. Bloom St. between Floyd & Brook. This includes chipped/shredded tree limbs, shrub trimmings and leaves. These materials are "tub ground" once or twice per year for mixing and particle size reduction. They are then piled based on their age and turned regularly for aeration. No artificial irrigation is used for the operation. After the materials have decomposed to a satisfactory state, they are used as mulch in campus landscaping or given to the university community.
UofL is also composting animal bedding and food wastes, and you can help us out! Full details about UofL Composting here.
In Spring 2014, the Grounds Crew also began new trials using biochar as an organic soil amendment for turf and planter beds. Biochar is charcoal produced from the slow pyrolysis of organic biomass such as wastes from forestry, clean urban wood waste and residential yard wastes. Pyrolysis is a thermo-chemical reaction where biomass is heated in the absence of oxygen and can use concentrated solar energy as the source of energy. The pyrolysis process that creates biochar also creates gaseous byproducts, commonly referred to as syngas (or synthetic gas), which can be used as a fuel source for the generation of heat or electricity. The production of biochar has been proposed as an effective method for long-term capture and sequestration of carbon in the earth. The entire process is considered a carbon sink, as it returns carbon captured during the photosynthesis of biomass growth to the soil for long-term sequestration in the form of biochar. Biochar is also a valuable soil amendment as the fixed carbon remains in the soil for hundreds of years creating a home for soil microbes and holding nutrients that are readily available for plants. Unlike conventional fertilizers, biochar:
- Is a renewable resource - it is not mined
- Does not become hydrophobic - reduces water needs
- Offers nature's best housing for microbes - supports an optimal rhizosphere
- Provides superior leaching reduction capabilities - protects our waterways
- Keeps nutrients in place - requiring less fertilizer over time
- Locks up carbon that would otherwise be released to the atmosphere - reduces carbon footprint