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Sustainable Landscapes

Diverse, historic and inviting landscapes that encompass more than 1,170 acres surround UC San Diego’s main campus facilities. From the scenic bluff views at Black’s Beach on the Pacific Ocean to innovative architecture overlooking native chaparral canyons, the landscape pallet evolves to meet campus requirements with sustainable and unique flora.

The campus maintains its historic Eucalyptus Grove as it was during the World War II era as the Camp Matthews Naval Facility. By maintaining these and other iconic features in a sustainable manner, we ensure that they are safe and aesthetically pleasing while providing spaces that are conducive to learning and welcoming to the San Diego community.


The campus landscape is a dynamic, attractive and functional space that plays a critical role in our efforts to create a sustainable future. These spaces reflect our university values and speak to our stewardship, a focus on students, research and public service. Landscaping can help to integrate structure with site.

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campus landscape


  • In September 2021, the University of California Office of the President invited comments on a proposed Presidential Policy on Integrated Pest Management.
  • UC San Diego proudly partnered on the AMPlify the Urban Forest grant sponsored by CAL FIRE in an effort to plant 2,000 trees across California in one day. As part of the grant, Landscape Services and the Sustainability Resource Center collaborated with the Ché Café Collective to host a forestry workshop on March 10 and to organize 85+ volunteers to plant 65 trees on March 12 in Scholar’s Grove.
  • In February 2022, the campus began a habitat restoration project in the North Canyon of the West Campus within the Ecological Reserve. The North Canyon in particular is home to several pairs of coastal California gnatcatcher and other rare, threatened and endangered wildlife species. The project will:
    • Enhance and restore 2.6 acres of Diegan coastal sage scrub habitat degraded by the spread of invasive, nonnative species and soil erosion
    • Remove invasive, non-native vegetation
    • Scarify the steep, compacted slopes to allow native plants to take root
    • Reintroduce native Diegan coastal sage scrub species
    • Help to slow the spread of invasive species further into the canyon
    • Prevent future erosion, benefiting the overall health of the Ecological Reserve

Goals and Key Strategies

Planning and Design

The 2018 Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) includes sustainability goals to optimize the use of existing facilities, sites, and campus space through repurposing, renovation, infill, and consolidation where appropriate. The UC San Diego Physical Design Framework includes examples of sustainability elements that are considered at the project level, including using reclaimed water for irrigation, storm water treatment systems, and utilizing 20% post-consumer recycled content material.

The UC San Diego Open Space Master Planning Study also includes guidelines for greenhouse gas emissions reduction and climate resiliency in the campus open space network. This includes goals for reducing potable water use and increasing grey water and recycled water irrigated landscapes, selecting low water use plants that are appropriate for an urban campus landscape, incorporating low maintenance plants and xeriscaping, designing for the treatment, detention and storage of storm water and creation of ecosystems.

UC San Diego values its open spaces as a distinctive physical feature of its unique natural setting that contributes to the campus’ identity. Campus plans have consistently emphasized the importance of preserving and enhancing the campus open spaces as a visual, educational, recreational and research amenity. Three hundred and thirty-five of UC San Diego’s 1,158-acre campus is devoted to protected open space. The 2018 LRDP identifies an integrated system of four open spaces with distinct vegetation, topography and geography as the Open Space Preserve (OSP). The four open space designations total 335 acres and include the Ecological Reserve, Historic Grove, Restoration Lands and Urban Forest.

The 179-acres of Ecological Reserve covers most of the campus’ undeveloped land containing native habitat and is home to a rich biodiversity of plants and animals. The Ecological Reserve contributes to UC San Diego’s unique setting and include the natural canyons north and south of Voigt Drive on the west campus, Skeleton Canyon and the sloped areas adjacent to La Jolla Shores Drive at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Central and North Canyons on east campus.

The Ecological Reserve Habitat Maintenance Plan includes guidelines for managing and enhancing existing biological values and ecosystem function within the Ecological Reserve as a permanent campus feature. Strategies include:

  • Conduct spring site assessments to prioritize habitat
    • Prepare annual reports document mapped locations of invasive/nonnative species that are removed and treated
    • Create multi-year comparisons to assess invasive species spread over time
  • Regularly survey habitat community types as well as individual plant and animal species to evaluate successes/losses over time
  • Continue to avoid development impacts to sensitive native vegetation communities to the extent possible:
    • Where development must remove sensitive native vegetation, account for the loss at the mitigation ratios prescribed by the 2018 LRDP EIR
    • Document the amount lost and amount mitigated (in tenths of acres)

An additional near-term goal is for Campus Planning to coordinate with Facilities Management to create a protocol for training and recordkeeping on non-native plant destroying pests and other diseases (e.g., shot-hole borers). This is a requirement of 2018 LRDP EIR mitigation measure BIO-3G and is beneficial because it creates a sustainable homeostasis to mitigate damage from native keystone plant destroying pests.

Landscape Management

Campus landscape management ensures that public spaces are safe, sustainable and aesthetically pleasing. To improve efficiency and reduce potable water use, we evaluate and modify plant palettes, maintenance practices and material selection. To ensure a successful landscape management plan, we use best management practices in these areas:

  • Integrated pest management
  • Urban forestry
  • Irrigation management
  • Storm water/erosion control

Landscape management includes periodic evaluation of evolving environmental conditions, such as climate change. Storm water, grey water and recycled water are viewed as resources. When possible, low maintenance and low water use plants are incorporated into existing open spaces and future plant palettes. Campus sustainable management efforts also include these goals:

  • Transitioning from gas-powered equipment (e.g., blowers, edgers and trimmers) to battery-powered equipment to reduce our carbon footprint
  • Add one smaller sweeper to fit on pathways to vacuum debris more efficiently
  • Expand recycled water irrigation systems throughout campus to reduce potable water use
  • Upgrade software to improve scheduling and monitoring of campus irrigation systems to curtail irrigation service during rain events and alert management of high-water flow due to broken sprinkler heads or line breaks
  • Survey campus trees and develop a tree inventory map that illustrates tree species, priority management areas and how high-risk trees identified in the 2017 survey were mitigated
  • Continue UC San Diego's Thousand Tree Initiative
  • Increase campus fire resilience
  • Increase biodiversity in landscaped areas
  • Develop methods for tracking the conservation and expansion of the campus tree canopy

Integrated Pest Management

UC San Diego follows an Integrated Pest Management program that applies an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management. The program relies on a combination of techniques, such as biological control, habitat manipulation, modification of cultural practices and use of resistant varieties of plant material. Monitoring the health of the landscape will dictate the IPM methodology utilized. Pesticides will be used only after monitoring indicates that they are needed according to established guidelines and treatments are made with the goal of removing only the target organism. Pest control materials will be selected and applied in a manner that minimizes risks to human health, beneficial/non-target organisms and the environment.

Goals are based on a four-tier system:

  • Monitor identification and progress of pests, including pest populations, areas vulnerable to pests and the efficacy of prevention and control methods
    • Maintain records for areas and buildings detailing monitoring techniques; location and inspection schedule
    • Record monitoring results and inspection findings, including recommendations
    • Determine the best preventive measures and reduce the unnecessary use of pesticides
  • Set action thresholds to guide pest control decisions. The IPM program goal is not to eliminate all pests; some pests are tolerable and essential so that their natural enemies remain in the landscape. Rather, the aim will be to reduce pest populations to less than damaging numbers. A defined threshold, including nuisance, health hazard or impact on landscape vitality, will focus the size, scope and intensity of the IPM plan.
  • Prevent pests whenever feasible. Landscapes, including turf and ornamental plantings, can be planned selecting plant species or varieties and landscape elements that are least likely to serve as a pest host or harbor site. Once established, plants should be maintained to reduce or eliminate stress and to ensure plant growth is vigorous and healthy by utilizing cultural management tactics.
    • Monitor soil for adequate plant nutrients and soil moisture, including favorable pH and soil quality, reducing plant stress, improve plant vigor and increase plant’s overall ability to tolerate pests
    • Monitor irrigation and water management to avoid conditions conductive to disease development and minimize off-site contaminant movement
    • Utilize mulch and other surface barriers to prevent weeds
    • Utilize disease- and pest-resistant species in landscapes
  • Utilize control methods when action thresholds are exceeded by using the most effective, lowest risk options considering risks to the applicator, building occupants and environment. Non-chemical approaches, such as physical, mechanical and biological controls, are chosen first. If further monitoring, identifications and action thresholds indicate that non-chemical controls are not working, then chemical controls will be employed utilizing only the least-toxic products approved by the Environmental Protection Agency and the California Environmental Protection Agency. When use chemical controls is deemed necessary, the following will be considered to mitigate potential impact on the environment and public:
    • Pesticide selection – products chosen are less hazardous to human health
    • Pesticide efficacy – products chosen will successfully achieve the intended results
    • Pesticide characteristics – solubility, toxicity, degradation products, mobility, persistence, adsorption and relationships to site characteristics, such as soil, geology, depth to water tables and proximity to surface water
    • Site conditions – slope, climate and sensitive areas
    • Present state – soil moisture, anticipated weather conditions and irrigation plans to achieve the greatest efficacy and reduce potential for offsite transport

Campus Features

UC San Diego’s Ecological Reserve is a natural resource that benefits people and wildlife. Students, faculty, staff and visitors can take advantage of this campus amenity that provides a place for recreation, education, nature appreciation, wildlife viewing opportunities, photography and fresh air. The campus provides stewardship of this environment. Campus Planning’s Environmental Planning group works to inform the UC San Diego community about the Ecological Reserve and raise awareness of the sensitive biological resources living within it.

UC San Diego has several campus gardens that promote education and the growth of sustainable food and local produce.

Ecological Reserve

Take Action

Anyone who visits the campus can enjoy the sustainable landscapes and should respect them. Please walk only on designated walkways, and limit bike and other micromobility devices to designated, paved micromobility paths. Dispose of your trash in designated waste and recycling bins throughout campus, and if you see litter, please help by collecting and disposing of it. When walking near or within the Ecological Reserve, practice “Leave no Trace” guidelines to help ensure that the Ecological Reserve remains a healthy and valuable UC San Diego asset:

  1. Stay on defined trails.
  2. Respect wildlife.
  3. Leave native plants in place.
  4. Take your trash with you.
  5. Keep noise levels to a minimum.