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Landscape Management – A Strategic Plan For Value
For many communities the maintenance of common area landscaping, including associated water costs, is the largest expense in the budget. Downward economic pressure over the past few years has allowed many communities to reduce short-term costs significantly by working with their landscape service provider but a well-crafted Strategic Plan for Landscape Management may identify long-term savings that can be much more significant while increasing asset value.
Landscape Management is much more than the routine maintenance performed weekly in your community typically described by tasks such as mowing, weeding, fertilizing and pruning. Landscape Management takes a long-term look at how your landscape will develop over a 5-10 year period and seeks to make adjustments or corrections along the way as a part of a philosophy or Strategic Plan. A good understanding of the 5 major factors affecting your long-term landscape maintenance cost is an important first step of the strategic planning process.
1. Irrigation systems that were installed more than 10 years ago and even some poorly designed newer systems may be wasting water and costing you money. Basic indicators of an inefficient system include mis-matched spray heads, misting or vapor at the nozzle and heads that don’t function properly or continue to leak after the system has shut down. Newer technology allows us to place weather stations on site to automatically control water and spray head technology that allows us to achieve matched precipitation even in zones with variable water needs. An irrigation audit can identify your site’s needs, clarify the many rebate opportunities available from local water purveyors and provide you with a return on investment in as little as two years often saving you 25% or more on your water bill.
2. Turfgrass is one the most expensive components of any landscape. However, turf creates a wonderful contrast to shrub beds and provides a usable, interactive space for people. Maximizing the value of turf can often be achieved by eliminating small, labor intensive patches of turf in favor of larger areas that cost less to maintain. Routine aeration allows roots to go deeper decreasing dependence on supplemental fertilizer and water. If soils are poor, combining topdressing with aeration can significantly lower costs over time.
3. Plant Selection and Placement are often determined by a designer who is focused on filling a space with small plants chosen based on aesthetics rather than performance. Often, plants that grow quite large at maturity are placed too close to other plants, buildings or sidewalks. A common short-term response is to power shear these plants to ”make them fit” while a long-term solution might be simply to remove a few plants or transplant them to bare areas elsewhere on site. Additionally, look for poorly performing plants or maintenance intensive plants that require constant inputs of labor, fertilizer or pesticides and eliminate them. Plants are often most attractive when allowed to grow naturally saving you money and increasing value.
4. Drainage and Soil problems are a constant on almost any site. Construction practices rely on subsoil compaction to support infrastructure such as building foundations, sidewalks and parking areas. A thin layer of manufactured topsoil that has little biological activity is often then spread over the compacted subsurface and as a result is little better at draining water than a soaked kitchen sponge left on the counter. Under these conditions tree roots stay close to the surface damaging concrete or follow softer soil in utility trenches and destroy conduits and sewer and water pipes. Regular topdressing or mulching can significantly improve soil quality over time, reducing plant mortality, infrastructure damage and labor inputs.
5. Sustainable Practices such as these combined with the additional steps of using organic fertilizers, insisting on prescribed, judicious use of pesticides, only when necessary and re-introducing biological organisms to your soil with compost and/or compost tea will further reduce the need for supplemental inputs (costs).
Walk your site and look for the indicators described above. If you need help interpreting any of these issues or suspect you may have other issues that need to be addressed seek the help of a qualified professional. Knowledge of these items represents real value to you and may not be considered by low-cost, short-term “mow, blow and go” maintenance providers.
By Will Bailey
Operations Manager, Signature Landscape Services