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)
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.
Although we’re located in an urban area, our 309-acre park-like Belknap campus has over 2500 trees representing dozens of species, many of which are native to our bioregion. 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 and learn even more with UofL's TREE-App (Tree Research, Education, and Exploration-Application).
We invite you to take a self-guided 1.75mile walking tour of some of the interesting and historical trees on Belknap campus. Check out the interactive map, 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, winds and ice have 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 louisville.edu/restoreuofl. 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 UofL's new TREE-App (Tree Research, Education, and Exploration-Application).
- The students accumulated 400 hours of service, surveying over 1,100 trees around Belknap Campus. This information extended our existing database, and is now available through the TREE-App hosted by the Urban Wildlife Research Lab.
- TREE-App is an internet and smartphone application that presents a visual representation of the urban forest on the Belknap campus and detailed information about each tree. You can interact with this information from your computer or smartphone. Android powered smartphone users can download the app for free. On the UofL campus you can turn your GPS on to receive information about trees in your immediate location.
- Features: An interactive map of campus trees; Views in map or satellite mode; and a zoom to current location.
- 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.
- The first trials involved replacing turf with micro-clover plots which don't require frequent mowing and fix nitrogen to maintain soil fertility. The first trial was launched in 2009 on the southwest corner of the Miller Information Technology Center. More recently, in 2013-14, lawn has been converted to low-maintenance clover behind the Urban Studies Institute (426 W Bloom St).
- The Grounds crew has also worked with student volunteers on several projects to replace grass with lower-maintenance flower and native plant gardens at the north end of Brook Street on campus (between Houchens and the Office of Health Promotion), on the south and east sides of Jouett Hall, and at the northeast corner of Davidson Hall.
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.
- 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