Inside Disney World's Landscaping Army

David Braun
National Geographic News
August 28, 2003

At Walt Disney World Resort in Florida there is much that is bigger and better than almost anywhere else, including the landscape "show" of more than seven million trees, shrubs, and flowers that form part of the popular travel destination's entertainment.

Some 4,000 acres (1,600 hectares) are landscaped for the 47-square-mile (122-square-kilometer) resort's theme parks, hotel properties, golf courses, and campground, forming perhaps one of the largest public gardens to be found anywhere.

Disney's 750 horticultural professionals plant three million bedding plants annually and tend 175,000 trees and more than four million shrubs. There are 13,000 rose bushes alone. Some 200 plants have been sculpted by topiary experts into different designs and there are at least 800 hanging baskets.

Then there are the 2,000 acres (800 hectares) of turf which keep an army of gardeners marching behind their mowers year-round.

Plants found on Disney's property come from 50 countries—from every continent except Antarctica—and many parts of the United States.

Small wonder that all this requires 65,000 sprinkler heads on 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) of water pipes—and that the resort has a large, sophisticated nursery staffed by 30 professionals.

To find out what's involved in planning and caring for such a huge landscape, National Geographic News interviews Dennis Higbie, director, Walt Disney World Horticulture.

Walt Disney World presents an impressive list of statistics about the acreage and number of plants it manages. But how eco-friendly is all this? Specifically, doesn't all this require a lot of weed-killer, fertilizer, feeding, and the like—and won't all that flow into the surrounding river system, groundwater, and ocean? What about the lawn mowers cutting all that turf? Any pollution issues there?

Our waterways are monitored routinely by the Reedy Creek Improvement District for contaminants and overall water quality. At the first sign of any imbalance in the system, steps are taken to locate and eliminate the cause.

Regarding the pollution issues, all of our mowing is done in the most efficient manner possible. We have teams of cast members that strictly mow in order to get it done as quickly as possible. Our equipment is routinely serviced by our maintenance department to ensure that it is operating at peak efficiency.

The resort has planted species representing all the continents, except for Antarctica. Isn't this a threat to the surrounding native vegetation if alien species escape and start competing with the native plants?

The Walt Disney World Resort landscape design and maintenance is done with care to avoid the introduction of invasive exotic plants. We comply with all legal requirements and regulations existing at the time of installation of any portion of our landscapes with regard to permitting and incorporating non-native plants into the landscape.

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