Urbanized ecosystems and urban human populations are expanding around the world with potentially negative environmental outcomes. A challenge for achieving sustainable urban social-ecological systems is understanding how urbanized landscapes can be designed and managed to minimize negative effects. To this end, an interdisciplinary Ecological Landscaping conference was organized to examine the interacting sociocultural and ecological causes and consequences of landscaping practices and products. A theme of the conference was that scientific principles are important for guiding the development of sustainable landscaping practices and the public policies. To introduce this special issue of Cities and the Environment which contains articles from that conference, this paper describes the meaning of ecological landscaping and a conceptual framework that helps organize discussion of the topic’s complex issues. The essence of ecological landscaping is a holistic systems-thinking perspective for understanding the interrelationships among many physical-ecological and sociocultural variables that give rise to the patterns and processes of biodiversity, abiotic conditions and ecosystem processes in urbanized ecosystems. This perspective suggests that 1) variables not considered part of traditional landscaping and 2) the effects of landscaping within an individual parcel on variables outside of it must both be considered when making design and management decisions. To illustrate how these points help create a more holistic, ecological approach to landscaping, an ecosystem model is used to create a framework for discussing how sociocultural and physical-ecological inputs to a landscape parcel affect its characteristics and the outputs leaving it. As exemplified by papers in this issue, an integrated sociocultural-ecological approach to the study of urban landscaping practices and products is needed to describe 1) why and how humans design and mange urban landscape parcels, 2) how the collective characteristics and outputs of many parcels give rise to the emergent ecosystem properties of urbanized areas and 3) the importance of educational programs for effecting sustainable landscaping choices. We conclude our paper by discussing the challenges for the future of ecological landscaping research and practice and a list of preliminary ecological landscaping guidelines. We hope that ideas in our paper and this special issue will increase understanding, visibility and research about the value of an ecological approach to landscaping.