Naturalized Outdoor Classroom Maintenance Isn't Difficult

If you think naturalized outdoor classrooms are inherently time-consuming or expensive to maintain, think again. Read on for design tips for creating spaces that don't require much maintenance once they're established.

When practitioners discuss naturalized outdoor spaces, an issue that always surfaces is maintenance. Underlying this issue may be unfounded fears that naturalized areas require a full-time gardener.

First and foremost, all things take maintenance -- even concrete, asphalt and certainly manufactured equipment, whether it's indoors or outdoors. We take care of the indoor environment by replacing broken puzzles and educational toys, worn books and mismatched games. We clean, vacuum and mop with never a thought this "takes too much time." There's always some maintenance involved for any environment.

You can easily reduce the amount of time and effort a naturalized area requires by keeping maintenance in your design parameters as you put together your plant palette. Choose plants native to your geographic area that require little maintenance after they're established. Look around for inspiration: no one but Mother Nature cares for the plants you see along the roadside, in the woods and perhaps even in your neighborhood. We are talking about using native species, not high-maintenance plants like azaleas and orchids.

Yes, plant materials will need water during the first years to get them established. But after the first few years, Mother Nature should be able to provide the right amount of rainfall. Those working in drier climates will need to plan more creatively for rain water harvesting and recycling.

Involve teachers, parents and maintenance staff in developing your maintenance plan. Think of creative ways to involve the children in caring for plant materials. They love to haul water, trim plants and pick up leaves. Also, you can contact local nurseries or libraries to see if any garden clubs in your area might provide volunteer labor. We are a creative stock in early childhood education, and with the right planning, outdoor maintenance will be just a part of your overall facility plan.