University of Maryland campus landscapeCollege is stressful. Exams. Projects. Financial aid worries. 

Students need beautiful, green, relaxing spaces to unwind.

But university landscaping also has to impress.

When prospective college students show up on campus for a tour, discriminating parents in tow, “You need top of the line landscaping to compete,” says Shelley Russell, landscape designer at Level Green Landscaping. 

“These days, colleges are marketing as much to parents as they are to students,” adds Corey Rill, the Level Green account manager responsible for client the University of the District of Columbia.

How to make your university landscaping impress, and be a great place for students to grow and learn?

Ideas For College Campus Landscaping

These pros share their ideas for landscaping for campuses.

1. Multi-Purpose Outdoor Spaces 

Lots of cool things happen at college, from outdoor poetry readings to yoga classes.

Students need comfortable, appealing places to soak up the fun, study, gather, sip lattes and catch up with friends.

Think comfortable benches, shrubs for privacy and trees for cooling shade.

University of Maryland landscape grass, trees, and plants

Russell loves the idea of a big, grassy space prime for yoga mats, “as close as you can be to nature.” 

Level Green crews have spruced up the popular plaza area at the University of the District of Columbia, Rill says.

Students gather at this central campus location, sitting at tables equipped with solar panels where they charge phones and laptops.

Upgrades include lots of annual flowers around the plaza perimeter.

“So, while students are sitting there,” Rill says, “they’re surrounded by flowers. We use the school colors, yellow and red, whenever possible.” 

The patio outside the university theater got a recent upgrade, too, with fresh new landscaping. 

“It’s an enormous patio that was really underutilized,” Rill says. “It’s a nice area now where they can add tables for entertaining before or after events.”

2. First Impressions 

Rill added irrigation to the University of DC’s main entrance, so the grass is always green and lush.

“The first impression and last impression is nice green landscaping.”

Signs are everywhere on college campuses, and they’re great opportunities for appealing, first-impression landscaping, Russell says. 

She recently designed new landscaping for one of the large main signs at the University of DC campus.

Crews tore out the jungle of overgrown plants and weeds and installed her design of layered plantings that include graceful ornamental grasses and a viburnum that’s vibrant in the fall.

3. Year-Round Appeal 

“You don’t want the landscaping to only look good in one season,” Russell says. “Students are there throughout the year.”

Some of her top picks for landscaping for universities:

  • Oak leaf hydrangea. It offers huge, fluffy blooms in the summer and has beautiful red foliage in the fall.
  • Dwarf crape myrtle. “It’s so pretty all summer,” Russell says, “then has red, yellow and orange leaves for fall color.”
  • Beautyberry. Its long, arching branches and yellow-green fall foliage is pretty, but this native shrub’s stand-out feature is the clusters of glossy purple fruit in the fall and winter. 

4. Color, Color, Color

While flats of annuals are a staple of landscaping for universities, don’t stop there.

Russell loves the cheerful welcome of colorful spring bulbs like tulips and daffodils.

College landscaping with colorful flowers and trees

They’re at their best when big college events like commencement are heating up.

She loves perky yellow ‘Tete-a-Tete’ daffodils mixed in with emerald green liriope. 

5. Don’t Skimp on Flowers 

Landscaping for colleges needs to make a big impact, and that means thousands of individual plants, Russell says.

“You want it to be in scale with the space,” she says. “Not just two flats of flowers on the corner. That would just get lost. You want curb appeal from every angle.”

And, of course, use those school colors, especially in popular photo spots.

“The spot where everyone goes to have their graduation picture taken — that definitely has to be on point.”

6. Pavers for High-Traffic Areas

When high-traffic areas of lawn get trampled time and time again, it’s time to install a path, Russell says. 

“You want it to be environmentally friendly,” she says. “Using permeable pavers allows water to drain better than a five-foot-wide concrete walkway. And it has more personality. Pavers and stepping stones are always more interesting than concrete or asphalt.” 

7. Landscaping for Learning

Landscaping for educational institutions often means, well, educating.

Universities that have landscaping and horticulture programs should include a variety of trees, shrubs and perennials that students can use in their studies, Russell says.

College landscape design, grass, trees, plants

“When I went to Penn State, we took tests outside to identify trees, shrubs and perennials,” she says. “Some college campuses are also arboretums. The landscaping isn’t just pretty, but functional for classes.”

8. Strive for Sustainability

“If the music education building is going to need a new parking lot in the next few years, put it in the budget to replace it with permeable pavers,” Russell says. “That’s a lot better for the environment than a big expanse of concrete.” 

The environmentally conscious University of DC cares about the landscaping chemicals Level Green uses, Rill says.

“They watch us closely to make sure we’re using the proper materials, and not using more than we need,” he says.

“We’ve gone really green there,” he says, planting lots of native plants that need no pesticides.

9. Rain Gardens 

Rain gardens are shallow depressions planted with deep-rooted native plants and grasses.

Plant one near a water runoff source like a downspout, roof or driveway and water soaks into the garden rather than gushing straight into the storm water system.

The garden’s soil filters the oil, grease and other pollutants before slowly releasing the cleaner water into the water table.

“It can direct water from parking areas and allow water to drain,” Russell says, “and also be beautiful.”

10. Culinary Gardens

“If your university has a culinary program, it’s great to have a culinary garden,” Russell says. 

Think fresh basil, oregano, and thyme, and tomatoes picked that day.

As more restaurants grow their own ingredients, it’s good to teach gardening skills to future chefs.

11. Landscaping for School Pride 

Everybody wants to be proud of their university, Russell says, and great landscaping bolsters school pride.

University of Maryland sign made with flowers

“Landscaping affects future generations, too,” she says. “You’ll be an alumni one day. Someday my kids will ask where I went to college. When I tell them I went to Penn State they’ll say, ‘Let’s go visit Penn State.’”

She hopes it looks as great as when she was there.

Landscaping for Campuses? Learn with Level Green

When you’re competing for students, striving for sustainability and boosting school pride, great landscaping is a key part of the equation.

“It’s a huge benefit to students to be able to go to areas that are quiet and relaxing, to take in the surroundings,” Rill says. “Especially in a major metropolitan city, it’s important to have an oasis to escape the brick, pavement and cars.” 

If you’re not already a Level Green Landscaping client, we’d love to add you to our growing list of happy customers. Our focus is on commercial properties like offices, mixed-use sites, HOAs, municipalities and institutions in Maryland, Washington DC and parts of Virginia.

Contact us at 202-544-0968You can also request a free consultation online to meet with us one-on-one.

We’d love to hear from you.

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