Society for
Organic Urban
Land Care

Principal Aims of Organic Land Care

stepped pathway with native plantingsOrganic land care is the design, construction and maintenance of landscapes using practices and products that preserve and support the health of ecosystems and human communities.

Landscapes include natural and created environments including home gardens, parks, campuses, woodlands etc., in urban, rural and suburban settings under human management, and includes the use of edible and ornamental plants.

The Organic Land Care Practitioner:

  • Works with natural systems and processes to encourage and enhance biological diversity and native habitats;
  • Optimizes and maintains the life supporting properties of soil, air and water;
  • Utilizes renewable, biodegradable and recycled materials from local sources and minimizes waste;
  • Considers the wider social and ecological impacts of landscapes and the practices and products used to create and maintain them.

These principles are shared by the Northeast Organic Farming Association OLC, and the Society for Organic Urban Land Care. Please reference each organization’s policies and standards to learn how these principles are applied.

Important Note:

This web page includes the section of the Organic Land Care standard that outlines practices that are required, recommended and prohibited in organic land care.

The complete Organic Land Care Standard, which includes the list of the resources and experts that contributed to the content and creation of the Standard, a glossary of definitions and the list of permitted and restricted organic land care substances and materials, can be downloaded in PDF format here.

Guide to the Use of the Standard

This standard was developed by the Society for Organic Urban Land Care (SOUL) in response to the need for clear guidelines for the creation and maintenance of landscapes for environmental, recreational, ornamental and food production reasons, following organic principles.

This standard aims to:

  • provide a clear definition of the practices, materials and substances employed in Organic land care;
  • provide guidance to Organic land care practitioners in their decision making processes;
  • raise the awareness of the ecological requirements of landscapes;
  • provide credibility for Organic land care professionals and to protect the public from misleading practices and claims.

This standard is not intended to provide all the information needed for successful Organic land care. Such information must be obtained through formal education and practical experience.

This standard has been drafted to address Organic land care requirements in diverse environments across many geographic regions. The requirements under this standard must be implemented with utmost sensitivity to local environmental conditions.

This 7th Edition is based on the 2015 version of the Canadian Organic Standards and the 2017 proposed amendments to those standards.

Scope of the Standard

This standard is the Code of Conduct adopted by Organic land care professionals accredited and certified by SOUL across Canada. This document also acts as a guideline and resource for all who are interested in Organic land care, including organic food production.

Where any requirement under this standard conflicts with a legislated requirement in any jurisdiction, the legislated requirement shall prevail.

Swim pond with waterfall and native plants

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The Organic Land Care Standard

Organic Land Care Practices

Monarch Butterflies on Mountain Mint

This standard classifies practices according to their ability to achieve the principal aims of Organic land care. As such it sets out objectives, but does not generally prescribe how these objectives are to be achieved, as each landscape is unique, and specific activities or methods may produce different results in different circumstances.


This standard does not discuss the merits of specific methods for pruning plants. Instead it only directs that any landscape maintenance practice “avoid or minimize permanent injury to plants”, and “prevent the introduction or spread of undesired organisms”.

Conversely, seemingly identical situations may require different intervention.


The required landscape design practice “protecting and enhancing biodiversity” can be achieved through many different methods, including: diverse multi-storey plantings, creating wildlife habitat, increasing soil organic matter, protecting the landscape from traffic, introducing predacious insects, etc.

Organic land care practitioners must have the knowledge and experience to choose the most appropriate methods and activities to achieve the landscape design and management objectives under this standard.

They must also be aware of federal and provincial regulations, and municipal bylaws.

Classification of organic land care practices

This standard classifies practices as required, preferred, and prohibited.


- Organic land care practitioners shall use these practices

PREFERRED - Organic land care practitioners should use these practices where possible


- Organic land care practitioners shall not use these practices

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General Requirements


- Complying with all legislated requirements

- Employing practices for their ability to enhance and support natural processes within healthy landscape ecosystems

- Minimizing contamination of water, air and soil

PREFERRED - Preparing and / or working to a landscape management plan


- Using substances and materials prohibited under the Standard (see the Substances and Materials List)

Resource Management

Water Management

Water circulates through the environment, resulting in the adaptation of whole ecosystems to the relative presence and quality of water. Any practices that affect the quantity, quality or direction of flow of water directly affect not only the immediate environment, but ecosystems far removed from the origin of the disturbance.

For instance, applying manure can affect surface or ground water over a large area; redirecting natural water courses, or interrupting the circulation of water, affects whole ecosystems.

Landscape activities with a direct impact on water include:

  • changing grades
  • changing drainage patterns
  • collecting and storing water
  • modifying the soil environment
  • changing the vegetation
  • installing structures and impermeable surfaces
  • irrigating landscapes
  • using and disposing substances that dissolve in, or are carried with water.

None of these activities are intrinsically right or wrong, but must be employed for their ability to achieve the landscape design and management objectives with minimal impact on the quality and natural circulation of water.


- Providing the appropriate quantity and quality of water to maintain the health of the landscape

- Assessing the quality of irrigation water and ensuring it is safe for the intended crops or landscape

- Treatment and/or sanitation of recycled, filtered or collected water through approved means to meet regulatory water quality parameters

PREFERRED - Conserving and retaining water in the landscape through appropriate grades, structures, soil management, vegetation and water use where permitted under legislation


- Creating grades and drainage patterns that result in water being discharged onto neighbouring property without prior consent

- Using water in a manner that results in the degradation of soil fertility or biodiversity

- Draining or filling aquatic or wetland habitats, or degrading riparian areas

Air Management

Life on earth, as we know it, has evolved because of the relative presence and combination of specific gases contained in the air. Air also acts as a carrier for small particles and organisms.

All processes and activities affect the composition and movement of air, and the presence and quantities of particles and organisms carried in the air. This affects the abundance, distribution and health of living organisms.

Landscape management activities with a direct impact on air include:

  • selecting and placing plants and structures
  • disposing of waste, including burning, dumping and composting
  • storing and using soil amendments, fertilizers and pesticides
  • using power tools
  • compacting the soil
  • changing water conditions in the soil and air
  • using equipment and machinery
  • emitting substances into the air

All landscape management practices must be employed for their ability to achieve the landscape design and management objectives in a way that protects and enhances the quality and circulation of air.


- Optimizing the circulation of air throughout the environment above and below ground

PREFERRED - Minimizing detrimental emissions into the air

- Minimizing noise


- Introducing harmful or toxic substances into atmospheric or soil-bound air

Soil Management

The soil is a complex ecosystem in its own right: a diverse and interdependent biological, chemical and structural system composed of minerals, organic substances, air, water, microorganisms, plants and animals. Yet its processes are intricately linked with the larger ecosystem, of which soil is but one of many interrelated parts.

The structural and mineral components of the soil directly affect the diversity and health of the organisms dwelling there, including plants, while their biological processes in turn alter the structure and mineral composition of the soil. Each organism makes a unique contribution to this process: it is a delicate yet dynamic balance, fuelled by the constant recycling of organic matter.

The reduction of organic matter within the system results in a direct reduction of the biological activity of the soil. This in turn results in reduced plant growth and health, and the reduced vitality of the ecosystem as a whole.

It is a principal aim of Organic land care to work as much as possible within closed systems with regard to organic matter and nutrient cycling, as organic matter introduced into one system must inevitably be removed from another. Such practice is unsustainable from an overall ecological perspective.

Landscape management activities with a direct impact on soil include:

  • changing the organic matter content of the soil
  • changing the soil structure, texture and fertility
  • changing the water conditions within the environment
  • changing biodiversity above ground

All landscape management practices must be evaluated for their ability to achieve the desired landscape design and management objectives in a way that protects and enhances the long term biological activity of the soil.


- Maintaining or increasing soil organic matter content

- Preventing soil erosion

- Preventing and / or relieving soil compaction in planted areas

- Confirming nutrient deficiency by soil or tissue analysis before applying non-organic mineral nutrients

- In non-rural settings ensure compost systems do not attract or harbour rodents


- Using the existing soil from the site

- Recycling organic matter in place

- Composting and reusing organic matter on site

- Increasing biodiversity above and below ground


- Applying materials that inhibit the long term cycling of organic matter, air and water in planted areas

- Applying materials, or using practices that result in the degradation of soil fertility or soil structure in planted areas

- Applying materials, or using practices that result in the degradation of soil biodiversity in planted areas

- Disposing of organic matter in waste disposal facilities where composting alternatives exist

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Food Production

Food production is the growing of plants, plant parts, animals and animal products for human consumption at any scale or form of production, for personal consumption and for sale. This section covers those items specific to food production, while all other sections apply to both land care and food production.

Environmental Toxins

Human environments including urban environments can be highly polluted, and the historic use of a site is not always apparent. For example:

  • many housing developments have been established on sites previously occupied by heavy industry
  • unknown sources of soil are used to infill construction sites
  • chemicals used around homes are often disposed on driveways
  • the locations of workshops, garages, garbage pits or burn drums, and oil tanks above and below ground throughout the history of a property is not always known
  • existing and previous structures may have been painted with lead based paints in the past, contaminating the soil around the building perimeter
  • previous pesticide use may not be known.

Airborne toxins must also be considered, such as industrial fallout and car exhaust particularly along major streets, but awareness is needed even in suburban settings. For example, inhalation or swallowing of contaminated soil or dust. In addition, small lots do not necessarily provide sufficient buffering from neighbouring properties where pesticides or genetically engineered crops may be used, or from where (other) contaminants may originate.

Therefore, extreme care must be taken to protect food plants and animals from soil, water and airborne toxins.


- Verifying the non-commercial and/or non-toxic historic use of the site

- Where the non-commercial and/or non-toxic historic use of the site cannot be verified, and where testing for soil toxins is not feasible, installing food gardens in raised beds in uncontaminated soil with a root barrier preventing root access to the soil below

- Protecting crops with row covers from airborne toxins in industrial fallout areas, along major streets, and from pesticide use on neighbouring properties

- Using potable water and ice when it comes in contact with food and food sources during post-harvest handling

- Employing strategies such as installing physical barriers or border rows, testing seed supply and delayed planting to reduce the cross pollination of crops at risk such as soybeans, corn, canola, alfalfa and apples by commercialized GE crops.


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- Growing food plants in soil with heavy metal background levels greater than the following agriculture numbers (mg/kg dry weight) extracted from the Canadian Environmental Quality Guidelines

  • Arsenic 12
  • Cadmium 1.4
  • Chromium 64
  • Copper 63
  • Lead 70
  • Nickel 50
  • Zinc 200

- Using polluted water collected from streets, driveways and other surfaces, including the first flush of rainwater collected from roofs

Crop Nutrient Management

Soil fertility management for food gardens differs from landscape settings. Consideration must be given to nutrient recycling, crop rotations, green manures, crop nutrient demands and agronomic output.


- For commercial food production in residential and non-rural agricultural settings, thoroughly composting all manure according to the compost requirements in the Canadian organic standards

- In rural agricultural settings, adhering to the Canadian organic standards in the use of manure


- Using crop rotations and green manures in addition to other inputs


- Using fertilizers and soil amendments in a way that leads to contamination of crops, soil or water, by plant nutrients, pathogenic organisms, heavy metals or residues of other prohibited substances


Livestock are animals raised for human consumption, for the consumption of their products, or for environmental health benefits. In urban environments this may include chickens, turkeys, ducks, rabbits, goats, bees, closed looped aquaponic systems etc., where permitted under local bylaws.

For all aspects of organic livestock management the Canadian organic standards shall be followed.


- In non-rural settings ensure livestock systems do not attract or harbour rodents

When livestock are incorporated into the food production area, the livestock needs to be controlled sufficiently to ensure that manure or manure related contamination does not reach the portion of the crop intended for human consumption.


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Specialty Crops

For all aspects of apiculture, maple, mushroom, greenhouse, sprouts, shoots, microgreen, and wild crop management the Canadian organic standards shall be followed.

Maintaining organic integrity and product preparation

For all aspects of product preparation and organic integrity, maintenance during handling, storage and transportation, the Canadian organic standards shall be followed.

Principal Aims of Organic Land Care

Organic land care emphasizes management practices rather than the use of substances. Organic land care practitioners should minimize off-site inputs by employing landscape management practices that work in harmony with natural biological systems.

Organic land care practitioners should always use the most environmentally benign materials available, and use as much as possible, renewable, biodegradable and recycled resources from local sources. Material inputs should be viewed as supplementary tools, and are not be used to indefinitely support a poorly designed or badly managed landscape.

All materials, products and substances must be used with awareness and care for the environment, and for the health and safety of the workers involved and the community at large.

Please download the Organic Land Care Standard in PDF format for a complete list of classifications of organic land care substances and materials.

Top Scope | Practices |Requirements | Resource Management | Landscaping | Food Production

SOUL Organic Land Care Standard 7th Edition - 2016

The SOUL Organic Land Care Standard is the Code of Conduct adopted by Organic Land Care professionals certified by SOUL. This document also acts as a guideline and resource for all who are interested in Organic Land Care.

This Standard was developed in consultation with many landscape professionals across the world. Like all standards it is a living document, and subject to change in the light of further experience with Organic Land Care.

Quote from Chris Morrison, SOUL Accredited Practitioner, ISA Certified Arborist

"I am presently focused on how we can create greater sustainability in all future land developments.  Urbanization (suburbia) has created numerous chronic environmental problems which will never be fully solved.  Not much has changed in how we develop land over the last 50 years.  My belief is that it is of far greater value at this time to focus on how we develop land from this point on so we don't continue to create the problems of the past.  The SOUL Organic Land Care Standard fits in with this approach which focuses heavily on the benefits of healthy functioning urban soils for supporting the urban forest, being a significant component of storm water management, preventing erosion, etc."

Proposals for improvement, including detailed reasons, may be submitted to the

Society for Organic Urban Land Care
263 Deschamps Ave
Ottawa, ON K1L 5Y7


Past Editions


Canadian Society for Organic Urban Land Care 263 Deschamps Ave. Ottawa, ON K1L 5Y7
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