Management of outside spaces

photo Management of outside spaces


Management of green areas has a non-negligible impact on the environment – water consumption, waste generation, use of plant protection products, soil pollution, etc. – as well as social impacts on health and quality of living conditions. It has economic consequences in terms of water consumption, cost effectiveness, creating value from green waste, etc.
It has been recommended in recent years that targeted management of green areas be adopted, by area and type of use, in order to reduce environmental impacts. This type of management ensures a balance between hospitality for guests, development of biodiversity and protection of natural resources.
The aims are as follows:
- Populate green areas with plant and animal species indigenous to the region
- Limit negative impacts on landscapes that are already severely affected
- Create diversified landscapes and a framework for pleasant living


Green spaces can be classed in different categories:
 - the least visited areas: the most fragile plots can be "abandoned" and left as is, or mowed and planted with extensive pasture cover (once a year, or every two years)
These spaces serve as refuges that protect biodiversity and create more diverse landscapes.
 - areas that are mowed and kept up more intensively, according to use (playground areas, campsites, etc.).

Depending on surface area, it may be appropriate to establish distinct management plans that set priorities and coordinate work for each space. Management plans should be elaborated not only to review existing practices, but also to set objectives and measure progress. Management plans take into account the characteristics of the space and the degree of control exercised over natural growth. Types of spaces range from prestigious areas, with carefully groomed grounds, ornamental and elaborately trimmed plants, to semi-wild areas that are left fallow and cut back every three to five years. This classification will consider surface area, means and uses (brownfields might not be acceptable in a recreation area); it is relevant for municipalities and townships of all sizes.

The first step is to compile an inventory of green areas, specifying how they are used, number of visitors, and management methods. By classing green areas by type of use, you can estimate how much "wild" growth will be acceptable, across each type of space. Terms of reference should be drawn up for each type of space, stipulating equipment to be used, work schedule and the vegetation that can be planted. If these specifications are drawn up after consultation between management, gardeners and users, they can serve to coordinate work and avoid counterproductive or unnecessary efforts. They can also be the basis for experiments with new spaces, combinations of plants, distinctive mulch cover, etc. in designated areas.

Some useful tips:

1- Economise water:
 - Employ automated sprinkling systems: programmed devices ensure that tasks are not forgotten, and distribute the right amount of water at the right time (evening or early morning, to limit evaporation).
 - Drip hoses and microsprayers deliver water only where it is needed (and not on pathways, for instance).
 - Install a system to recover rainwater for watering and cleaning purposes; savings on water bills can be quite significant, depending on the extent of grounds to be watered.
To calculate the amount of rainwater that can be recovered: Building encroachment (m²) x regional rainfall -10% (evaporation)
 - Optimise water use by watering plants in the early morning or late afternoon
 - Use mulching to protect soil
 Soil mulching limits evaporation, soil temperature fluctuation and weeds, it improves soil structure and vitality.
Different types of mulch:
==> Woodchips, bark fragments, forestry cuttings: these are long-lasting, rich in organic matter, and inexpensive
==> Cocoa bean hulls: nitrogen-rich byproduct of the chocolate industry
==> Lawn mowing and leaf residues: nitrogen-rich, short-lived, perfect for annual plants. Let the residues dry before using them as mulch, to avoid mould
==> Straw, straw cuttings and hay: rich in potassium, perfect for sandy soils or sloping terrain, as they inhibit erosion
==> Card or newsprint: economical, avoid pages with coloured inks (presence of heavy metals), placed overlapping and covered with a layer of soil
==> Coco or jute fibre mat: biodegradable (3 to 4 years), come in large dimensions, permeable to water but do not let light through

2- Exploit green waste by composting:
 - The green waste produced by the establishment can be used to maintain green areas (gardens, grounds, campsites).
 - Compost builds up soil humus, provides steady nourishment to plants

3- Protect biodiversity
 - Reduce or eliminate plant protection products
==> They contain harmful synthetic chemicals and are hazardous products that are potential polluters of soil and water.
==> If you cannot forego these products, carefully respect the recommended dosage. (Cf. FDS)
==> Prefer products accepted in organic farming.
==> Do not apply products before a rainstorm or on paving, as the products will rapidly run off into the surrounding soil.
 - Use mechanical, thermal or manual weeding techniques, rather than chemicals
==> Manual techniques: hoeing, harrowing, scraping, etc.
==> Rotating brushes, blades (tractor)
==> Gas flame devices: direct flame or infrared
==> Hot water or steam devices
-Mulching and/or ground cover vegetation reduce the need for weeding and save time for gardeners.
 - Make the most of natural defence mechanisms: instead of tackling pests directly, stimulate their natural predators, by installing "insect hotels", or plant vegetation that repels them.


1- Compile an inventory of all green areas, listing their use(s) (e.g. playground), intensity of use (high / 20 children/day, for 30 minutes on average), current upkeep techniques and frequency (mowed every 2 days in season), types of vegetation in place, etc.
2- Test and implement new measures, according to the establishment (see the Explanations section)
3- Staff training
4- Communication and customer awareness: For example, signs explaining the reasons for leaving certain areas unmowed, left fallow.


Cost is variable, depending on method. Take labour time savings into account and lower expenditure for plant protection products.


Environmental benefits
 - Reduced impact on water resources
 - Promotion of biodiversity
 - Richer soil
 - Less time spent on weeding, thanks to composting, mulching, ground cover vegetation
Societal benefits
 - Lower health impacts for staff
 - Staff and customer awareness to encourage protection of soil resources
 - Staff motivation for a shared project, independence and responsibility in their work
Economic benefits
 - Lower operating costs: less fertiliser purchased when replaced by natural amendments.
 - Time spent managing plant product waste
 - Very positive image for customers


 - Train staff to use new working methods and materials
 - Staff reluctance to adopt methods deemed to be time-consuming and non-productive
 - Long-term approach:
==> You cannot hope to replace all chemical herbicides with manual weeding overnight. It takes time to cut down on pesticide use, firstly to determine areas that will not be weeded, and then to learn how to handle mechanical or thermal weeders.
==> Finding the right supplier(s) for plants and equipment