Maintaining and improving your most important common amenity – The Landscape

Maintaining and updating a landscape comprises a considerable investment in both time and money for the average property. All landscapes require some amount of ongoing maintenance and renovation to sustain an attractive appearance, but some landscapes cost more to maintain than others and can be a source of frustration for those charged with caring for them.
What is it you are looking for in a landscape? Less time spent managing it? More attractive? Less expensive to maintain? More sustainable? With the correct approach, all of this can be achieved. It takes a bit of know-how, the desire to accomplish it and a view of the ongoing nature of a landscape which, as a living thing needs to be treated differently than other amenities.
A good overall strategy will include a long term plan which includes maintenance strategies and renovations aimed at achieving your goals. Working together with your landscape contractor to create this plan, along with budgeting for implementation, increases the value, appeal and sustainability of your landscape, while mitigating maintenance costs.
Services which typically fall within a long term site plan are as follows:
Turf renovations
Turf areas can be improved through a combination of aeration, topdressing, seeding, and application of Lime; commonly known as turf renovation. These services create greater sustainability in your landscape by reducing fertilizer, pesticides and water use while actually improving the look of turf.
The chief cause of water problems and poor health in turf in this part of the country is clay soil that saturates and doesn’t allow water to drain through it. Clay soils additionally have poor organic content and so require more fertilization than healthier soils.
Aeration
Aeration promotes a lush, healthy and drought resistant lawn by relieving soil compaction and allowing fertilizers, water and oxygen better access to turf roots. The resultant increase in soil microbes helps break down thatch naturally. Aeration is best performed yearly in the spring or fall. It is a relatively inexpensive service that is not always included in a typical maintenance contract.
Topdressing
Wet turf areas, mole holes and exposed roots all present hazards and reduced usability for lawns. Topdressing is the process of applying organic soil, sand, or a mix of the two to the surface of turf to help firm up the ground for ease of use and reduction of rutting. This is particularly effective when performed in conjunction with aeration as much of the soil mix can be raked into the aeration holes to help alter the soil structure. In addition to firming up wet soils, a proper soil mix applied to turf areas will increase the organic content of the soil, thereby allowing turf to grow more naturally, with fewer fertilizations.
Lime application
The application of Lime to turf areas is not always included in landscape service agreements. The PH of soils in the Northwest is generally too acidic for optimum turf growth. Applying lime yearly to turf areas helps turf stay green and healthy.
Seeding
Applying new seed to turf, especially after topdressing where the seed can be protected by the topdress mix, is valuable in filling in sparse turf areas and incorporating new grass varieties which perform better.
Landscape renovation/design
Many plants are inappropriate for their location. They are outgrowing or will soon outgrow the space they occupy. Continued pruning to handle this is costly and adversely affects the look and health of the plant. Replacing these plants with smaller, lower maintenance varieties takes years off the apparent age of a site and keeps maintenance costs in check.
When a site is first built, the native topsoil is typically graded off, and two inches of topsoil is installed on top of hardpan. This creates very poor growing conditions as the amount of topsoil is not nearly enough and the layering of soil on top of hardpan creates drainage issues. Consider removing entire areas of landscape as opposed to simple plant replacement. By tilling in appropriate amounts of soil or compost, and then installing new plants, your landscape will be healthier and require little or no fertilization.
Plant management
a. In general, pruning rather than shearing of foliage should be the primary approach of the landscape crew.
b. Sometimes plant material has been planted intentionally with the idea that it is meant to be sheared into a hedge or a large mass planting of one plant type to create a specific look.
c. Mature sites require evaluating the ongoing effectiveness of the plant material in their existing locations and then determining if the plant is still viable for the location and if it can be renovated or if it should be removed and new foliage installed.
d. Road Signage – review areas where signs have been posted next to interior drives and intersections. Prune and trim foliage away from signs so that drivers in vehicles can clearly see the signage.
e. Outdoor lighting – review areas throughout the property where free standing outdoor lighting exists. Prune foliage away from light standards so pedestrians walking in these areas find adequate light to walk safely in the evening. Prune plants away from lighting structures in an attractive manner.
Tree management
a. Are there trees that have been topped or their central leaders were broken off?
b. Do the trees have low hanging branches that are overhanging pedestrian walkways, paths and vehicle driveways?
c. Are there tree roots heaving up sidewalks or asphalt creating a potential trip hazard for pedestrians?
d. Are the tree-roots too close to underground utilities?
e. Are the trees located too close to a buildings?
f. Are there trees that could benefit from being thinned out so as to be less hazardous in wind storms?
g. Is the tree located in the wrong location?
h. Does the tree provide too much shade for underlying plantings?
i. Are the trees crowding one another?
j. Does the tree have a virus, disease or significant insect infestations?
Irrigation audits and renovations
Discovering and alleviating inefficient use of water on a site by replacing and adjusting irrigation components saves water. With rising water costs, the consequent savings from reduced usage are realized almost immediately.
Mulching
Installing mulch in landscape beds serves several vital purposes. It protects the root systems of plant material from heat and cold damage, retains moisture and reduces watering needs. Mulch also adds valuable nutrients to the soil, reduces weed germination and creates clean, aesthetically pleasing beds areas which allow plants to stand out. Perhaps the biggest benefit comes from the increased curb appeal a freshly mulched site offers. It is typically the most significant change to a landscape for the dollar.
Seasonal color and containers
Annuals, perennials and containers that are installed and maintained as part of a seasonal color program greatly increase curb appeal and set a site above the competition.
Ongoing maintenance
It is typically less expensive to properly maintain a site on an ongoing basis than to perform major renovations after years of neglect. Additionally, regular maintenance keeps the site looking good continually. Services such as replacing dead plants, replacing playchips in play areas, addressing drainage issues all keep a site looking its best.
Barbee Mill (1)

Sustainable Company Award from PLANET

On behalf of the PLANET Board of Directors and the Awards Committee, I am pleased to inform you that Signature Landscape Services, Inc. is being recognized as a 2014 Sustainable Company Award recipient.

PLANET created the Sustainable Company Award to recognize and herald those businesses that strive to protect and conserve resources, reduce waste, and prevent pollution, and that promote an ethic of environmental sustainability and improvement within their workplace.

PLANET recognizes Signature Landscape Services, Inc. environmental vision and leadership in business and is pleased to present you with this award to shine a light on your passion and commitment to the environment as a beacon for others to follow.

A BIG Thanks from Kent Youth & Family Services Manor House

Here at KYFS, we firmly believe a “Community of Hope” isn’t made possible by one individual, one agency or one city. Rather, it is all these entities working in together to make change happen. This notion of ours rings particularly true for Watson Manor.

Recognition of Distinction
Watson Manor would like to recognize Signature Landscape Services, Inc. for their ongoing donation of landscape services throughout 2013. Their assistance in maintaining and beautifying our grounds has helped Watson Manor’s homeless families feel “at home.”

Special Thanks
A huge thank you goes to Windermere Property Management, South, LLC – The Verdi Management Group for their amazing generosity in fulfilling the wishes of Watson Manor’s mothers and little ones during the 2013 holiday season. They truly brought holiday joy to our homeless families!

In Honor Of
Heartfelt thanks to Joan Graham for knitting and donating three beautiful sweater sets and one lovely baby blanket in honor of a 2013 high school graduate who lived at Watson Manor as an infant. According to Joan, the items were, “given in honor of the school graduation of a bright young woman… who, along with her mother, got off to a good start as a baby thanks to Watson Manor.”

Some 2014 Highlights 
A big thank you to Smith Brothers Farms for donating and delivering milk to Watson Manor families on a weekly basis.

From everyone at Watson Manor and KYFS, thanks for your generosity and support. What we do would be impossible without a “Community of Hope.”

Hope Begins Here,

-Kent Youth and Family Services

Landscape Sustainability

The definition of landscape sustainability for us is ….“A full service landscape management program that is deliberately focused on reducing or eliminating waste and adverse environmental impact while enhancing overall value and service”

Sustainability meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Environmental strategies and management of human consumption of resources are two major ways of reducing negative human impact and enhancing the ecosystem.

Some of the methods we use here at Signature Landscape:

  • Irrigation audits to reduce water usage while maintaining plant health.
  • We utilize the “right plant, right place” concept to reduce pruning, labor, noise, pollution and dumping while increasing the natural beauty of the landscape.
  • Reduce or eliminate the use of insecticides by utilizing cultural practices and recommending replacement for susceptible species.
  • Recommending Turf Aeration and Renovation to decrease need for water and fertilizers.
  • Use of fertilizers that contain at least 40% organically derived content to feed and encourage soil biota.  Elimination of synthetically derived Phosphorus from our fertilizer mixes as an often unnecessary and potentially hazardous element.
  • No broadcast (prophylactic) applications of pesticides. Applications are made on a prescriptive basis only after a pest has been identified and alternatives considered.
  • We maintain a staff of highly qualified, experienced, educated and certified individuals who use their knowledge to promote a sustainable workplace and sustainability on the landscapes we manage.
  • Use of headphone style earmuffs instead of disposable ear plugs.
  • Procedures are used at our office to contain and properly dispose of any waste materials and reduce electricity usage.
  • Offer our customers a sustainable maintenance contract option.
  • Create and participate in peer and customer training event.
  • Participated in the development of the Washington State Sustainable Landscape Professional Certification Exam

Sustainable Turf Management

The Puget Sound region is a wonderfully supportive growing environment with relatively mild temperatures and high moisture availability.  Although these conditions can produce beautiful turf they also support a host of competing weedy grass and broadleaf species as well as moss.  Compounding this problem are thatch buildup and low soil oxygen levels related to compaction and poor soil structure.  Sustainable turf-grass management and renovation help answer these problems by modifying the growing environment to benefit desirable grass species.

Sustainable turf-grass management includes careful consideration of the soil in which turf is growing and seeks to re-introduce and support soil biological diversity which in turn will lead to beautiful, low-maintenance turf.  These considerations are typical of our standard maintenance contracts and include:

  • Mulch Mowing during the summer months to return grass clippings to the soil which encourages microbial breakdown, supplying as much as ¼ of turf’s annual nutrient demand.  Some clumping of clippings may occur during wet weather and have a detrimental aesthetic effect.  If you are concerned about      this on your site please discuss it with your Account Manager.
  • Lime Application in the late winter to buffer the soil, releasing nutrients that are      tightly held in the soil under our typical acidic conditions for easy uptake by plants.
  • Iron  Application to control moss growth in the spring which helps grass species get the upper hand on growth and restore some color without forcing excess      clipping yields.
  • Fertilization with  a “bridge” product combining both organically derived nutrients to support soil biota and synthetic nutrients to maintain aesthetic quality.  As soil biota builds in the soil, fertilizer sources can ideally transition to pure organic without compromising aesthetic quality.

Renovations are typically performed at an additional cost and are best performed from early April through May to maximize recovery and germination time, creating beautiful, dense, and vigorous turf for the entire season.  The extent and frequency of turf renovation depends on site conditions but generally should be considered every spring and may include the following:

  • Aeration dramatically improves oxygen levels in the soil and helps alleviate compaction and drainage problems while maximizing root growth.
  • Thatching removes detrimental thatch accumulation that limits infiltration of water and nutrients and decreases tolerance to daily moisture fluctuation.
  • Topdressing may be employed to modify poor soil structure over time, improve drainage characteristics and/or aid in seed germination.
  • Over-seeding greatly enhances the density of desirable grass species, reduces broadleaf weed competition and lends to a uniform, attractive appearance in turf.

LANDSCAPE MAINTENANCE TIPS

Mowing

Mowing two strips around the perimeter of turf and then mowing in straight lines perpendicular to this, alternating the pattern every other mow if possible, is usually the most effective method. Mow weekly during the growing season to assure you are not removing more than 1/3 of the leaf blade at a time.Commercial Turf Maintenance

Sharpen mower blades at least once per season. Checking oil each mow and changing oil each season will add life to your mower. A good mower will mow wet turf and pick up clippings better. Consider a mulching mower, it allows much of the water and nutrients in the clippings to return to the soil, thus reducing the need for watering and fertilizers.

Edging

A good edge to the turf keeps the lawn looking great and creates separation between bed areas and turf. A gas powered edger works well, but a weedeater held vertically will also do the job. Edging every other mow helps keep grass from growing into the beds.

Weed Control in Turf

Weeds will be at a minimum if the turf is healthy. Following the tips on appropriate mowing height, frequency of mowing, sharp blades, watering and fertilization and soil amendment will help keep your lawn healthy.  When weeds do crop up, they are best treated with a contact, selective herbicide or by hand removal. Do not use a non selective herbicide, (Round Up), as it will kill the grass and the weed. Fertilizers with weed controls deposit the herbicide throughout the whole lawn area, thus putting more herbicide into the environment than is needed to treat weeds.

You may find if you spend a minute each mowing pulling up the weeds manually, it may take less time than actually buying and applying a herbicide, not to mention the environmental benefit. This is most effective if you spend a bit of time every mow, as opposed to waiting until the lawn is so weed infested that herbicide application is the only alternative.

Crabgrass, velvet grass and other undesirable grass varieties that make your lawn look “patchy” are best dealt with by cutting out these patches and overseeding with a Rye/Fescue grass seed mix.

Moss Control In Turf

Moss tends to form in shady areas and in areas where the soil is not conducive to healthy lawn. Pruning can help add more sunlight, and following the tips to create a healthier lawn will reduce moss growth. You may want to consider removing the lawn and replacing it with shade tolerant plants if the shade is so severe that maintaining a lawn would require much additional effort.

When you do get moss, apply liquid Iron per label instructions. It will kill the moss within hours, sometimes right before your eyes. Be careful not to get it on any hard surfaces – it stains. After the moss has died, rake it out manually, or with a power rake. Overseed bare areas and cover with a sandy soil with some organic content, or with peat moss. Do this in early Spring. Iron can damage lawn in warmer temperatures, and you want the seed to grow in quickly.

Turf Watering Guidelines

Over watering can be as harmful as not watering because turf roots need oxygen to survive. If turf is in standing water or the ground is “soppy” you should cut back the watering or look into installing drainage or topdressing. Turf aeration can also help with this as well.

As a general rule, turf may need 3-5 waterings per week in the dry season. Pop up heads (those that do not rotate) typically need to be on for 7-12 minutes and rotor heads (those that rotate) need to be on 12-20 minutes. Your soil composition and the slope of the lawn will affect these times and frequencies. Water only enough to keep your lawn green – you can see when it starts to brown a bit and then bump up the times. Watering should not be necessary during the wet winter months unless there is a long dry spell.

Turf Fertilization

Turf typically needs fertilization 3-5 times per year. Follow directions on the bag for application rates, and be careful not to over fertilize as that can burn the lawn. Fertilize only when below 80 degrees. Fertilization can be reduced if the quality of the soil is amended through topdressing and aeration. Organic fertilizers are also available.

Aeration

Aeration is the process of removing plugs from the turf with an aerator. Renting a heavy, gas powered aerator works better than hand aerators as they pull a better plug. The benefits of aeration include allowing more oxygen into the root zone and reducing compaction which allows microorganisms to naturally reduce thatch. It also aids with drainage and is an excellent precursor to topdressing. Aeration is best performed in the Spring or Fall. 

Lime

Applying Lime in spring or fall helps reduce high PH which is often found in the Northwest as a result of needle drop from coniferous trees. It’s inexpensive and often results in the elimination of one fertilization application. 

Thatching

Thatching is the process of mechanically removing thatch (a dead grass layer between the roots and foliage of grass) from turf. It is typically not needed as much as is often thought. If your turf has a spongy feel, thatching is probably indicated. Use of a thatcher will remove thatch and also healthy grass, leaving the turf fairly bare. Overseeding and topdressing will help fill the turf back in.

Overseeding

Overseeding helps fill in bare spots and helps crowd out undesirable grass varieties. Use a mix of Ryegrass and fine fescue and apply in the Spring or Fall. Be sure the seed does not dry out until after it germinates – typically about 3 weeks.

Topdressing

Topdressing is the process of adding soil amendments to the surface of the turf. If your turf suffers from poor drainage, and mixture of sand on organic content is best. 80/20 soil, which is 80% sand and 20% compost is a good mix for this. If your turf requires several fertilization applications to keep green, a highly organic product, like Groco is best.

These products are best applied at a ¼” depth. Aerating and overseeding just prior to topdressing will improve the benefit of the topdressing, and allow the lawn to fill in more quickly. 

Moles

Moles are best controlled with traps, but there are other methods for control that have various rates of success. Applying used kitty litter in and around mole hills can force moles out as they sense the presence of a predator.

PLANTING BED MAINTENANCE

Watering Guidelines

Different varieties of plants have widely differing water needs. Knowing which plants are more drought tolerant in your garden helps you know how much to water them. Keep in mind that all young plants require more frequent watering than mature plants. Plants typically require about half as much water as turf. A twice per week watering the soaks the root zone of plants well is typical.

PruningCommercial Planting Bed Maintenance

A good rule of thumb for pruning is “don’t prune just for the sake of it – only prune when you need to.” The best time of year to prune deciduous trees is late winter to early spring. Flowering shrubs should be pruned after the plant blooms, so you can enjoy the full beauty of the plant, remove any spent blossoms and do not cut off new buds that will be forming.  Never remove more than 1/3 of the foliage at any time.

Always prune dead branches off trees and shrubs. For deciduous trees, you can thin out the interior branches and remove crossing branches. Do not top trees (remove the main leader) as the tree will grow back more rapidly and in an unattractive manner. Do not remove the central leader of an evergreen tree. Pruning on evergreens should only be to remove lower branches for clearance or visibility.

Try to prune the tree or shrub into the shape of its natural growth pattern. Consider replacing plants as opposed to regular pruning. Too much pruning is labor intensive and often harms the overall health of the plant.

The exception to this would be perennials, which should be cut down to the ground in the fall and have the branches removed to prevent rot and fungus. Dead heading (the removal of spent blossoms) enhances the beauty of your garden as well as promotes further blooming by stopping the plant from going to seed.

Poor Drainage and Inorganic Soil

Poor drainage and inorganic soil (The typical soil found when native topsoil is bulldozed off in the process of building a home) is a leading cause of poor plant health in the Northwest. Whenever possible, renovate beds by removing plants, tilling in a good quality soil and replanting. Where this is not possible, and you are adding plants, dig the hole twice as big as the root ball, add quality soil and install the plant a bit above the grade of the adjacent bed. This will allow the roots to grow into good soil and keep them from drowning.

Fertilizing

Plants growing in good soil need little if any fertilizer, but as soils in many gardens are less than optimum, adding nutrients is necessary for plant health. A 15-15-15 or similar fertilizer, applied in the Spring and/or Fall will do the trick. Plants can be damaged if they are over fertilized, so always read the directions carefully.

An organic mulch, like compost or sawdust mixed with organic matter applied every other year will also add nutrients to plants without need of additional fertilizers.

Insects and Disease

While there are various insects and diseases that can affect plants, control is often difficult or environmentally undesirable with insecticides and fungicides. Often, the best treatment is simply keeping the plants in good shape with the above tips as healthy plants are less susceptible to damage than unhealthy plants. Some tree and shrub varieties are more susceptible to damage – consider replacing them with more resistant varieties as opposed to spending time and money on chemical control.

While there are environmentally sensitive products available, utilizing resistant varieties and keeping them healthy is often a better approach. There is a natural balance between plant damaging insects and their predators, and some amount of damage is to be expected and is not indicative of the plant being harmed.

Weed Control in Beds

Installing groups of plants that fill in, but do not quickly outgrow their spaces is a good way to minimize weed growth. Mulches also keep weed growth down. Some have sought to minimize time spent on weed control through the use of Groundcovers. While Groundcovers have their use when suitable varieties are used in appropriate places, they often contribute to a greater problem than they seek to solve due to the persistence of weeds that grow through the Groundcover and the difficulty of hand weeding them when this occurs.

Weed barriers are ineffective as weeds grow in the soil or decaying mulch on top of the barrier, and the barrier inevitably works its way to the surface creating an unattractive look and difficulty in cutting through the barrier when installing new shrubs.

With this being said, there will still be weed growth. Hand pulling can be effective, but only if done regularly. Hand pulling a year’s worth of growth over a weekend is nobody’s idea of fun, as well as the fact that the yard looks poor for the better part of the year.

Pre-emergent herbicides are granular herbicides that do not kill existing weeds; but can help keep them from germinating.

Liquid herbicides like Round Up are effective, especially when applied to weeds that are small – this reduces the amount of product used, cuts down the time spent applying it and kills the weeds more quickly. When small weeds die, they disintegrate quickly which eliminates the need to hand remove the dead weed.

Moss Control in Beds

Moss control in beds is best achieved by replenishing mulch in beds regularly as moss does not form on fresh mulch. Hand removal of moss with the use of a scuffle how is also effective. Some people like the look of moss in beds, and as the moss is not damaging, this personal preference is viable.

Mulching

Mulching is the practice of applying organic materials to the surface of landscape beds. The benefits are significant. Mulch helps keep moisture around plants which conserves water and helps protect against drought. Mulching also insulates roots from extreme or rapid changes of temperature as well as adding valuable nutrients to planting beds. Installing fresh mulch creates a sharp backdrop for shrubs to really stand out, makes a landscape look fresh and neat and helps reduce maintenance time by discouraging weed germination.

Bark mulch is typically the least expensive and most commonly used form of mulch. Bark provides the most effective control of weed germination in beds. Organic mulches (compost or mixes of sawdust and organic content) add valuable nutrients to the soil, but due to their high organic content typically do not control weed growth as well as bark.

What Are You Missing In Your Landscape This Spring?

The Puget Sound region is a wonderfully supportive growing environment with relatively mild temperatures and high moisture availability. Spring is an important time of year to capitalize on these conditions. Understanding how to recognize opportunities in several key areas can make you a successful landscape manager. Let’s examine the basics individually.

Planting BedsCommercial seasonal planting bed

Planting beds are an important part of the landscape, adding visual interest as well as softening the look of the built environment, especially parking lots, walkways and walls. Spring maintenance of these areas is critical to achieving a clean, well-manicured appearance.

Late-winter through early-spring is a great time to prune plant material. Although some plant material should not be pruned until early summer after bloom, such as Rhododendron and Quince, most commercial landscape plants are best pruned in the spring as wounds heal quickly and re-growth is not typically subjected to damaging freezes.

Spring is an excellent time to mulch landscape beds. Mulch helps keep moisture around plants which conserves water in the summer and helps protect against drought.  Installing fresh mulch creates a sharp backdrop for shrubs and makes a property look fresh and neat, keeping maintenance costs in check by discouraging weed germination. Bark mulch is typically the least expensive and most commonly used form of mulch and provides the most effective control of weed germination. Organic mulches such as compost and ferti-mulch are not as effective at weed suppression but do double duty by supplying an organic food source to soil biota which can improve soil health faster than bark mulches.

Weed control programs are often based on the socio-economic needs of the site. Organically managed sites will select against herbicides such as Roundup and Casaron, favoring organic mulches, hand labor and a higher weed tolerance. Low weed tolerance and cost sensitive-management styles will often prefer these types of approaches.  Sustainable or Bridge management programs provide a third option taking elements from each of these approaches to find a middle ground between environmental and economic impacts.

Turf Management

High-quality turfgrass is one of the most critical components of an attractive landscape. A professional landscape management company will strive to improve the look of the properties in their care and find cost-saving measures within a horticulturally and environmentally sensitive framework. An effective turf management program should help to increase the vigor and beauty of your turf and reduce its reliance on supplemental fertilizer, water and pesticides.

Cost effective fertility is best managed with a synthetic, calendar-based, slow-release application program that maintains beautiful color and vitality without burns and spiked growth. While more expensive, organic fertilizers or synthetic blends focus more on feeding and supporting the soil biota which is a more sustainable approach than synthetics which only focus on the plant. We also recommend mulch mowing which can return as much nitrogen annually to your turf as one fertilizer application. Soil ph should be checked annually on turf that does not carry color well during the year as one of the most critical factors determining nutrient availability. Dolomite or sulfur may be applied as necessary to adjust soil ph and maintain neutrality.

Turf care equipment should be well maintained so as to provide the best quality, most consistent cut. Cutting heights vary depending on grass species but most common northwest turf should be cut at approximately 2”. Cutting should be frequent enough so as to never remove more than 35% of the leaf blade and sharp blades are critical to prevent tearing of the leaf blade which produces a white, hazy appearance to turf stands and increases the likelihood of disease.

Irrigation

A good irrigation system is a combination of sound mechanical devices and a properly designed and maintained system that addresses the broad range of needs a single landscape plan can present. Quality care providers are always looking for ways to improve the efficiency of your irrigation operating system conserving water and saving you money.  This has never been more important with new high-efficiency products and rebate programs that make it possible for you to achieve a 2.5 year ROI and reducing your long-term costs. Consult with your service provider and ask about their relationship with the Saving Water Partnership and the Cascade Water Alliance as well as whether their irrigators are Certified Landscape Irrigation Auditors.

Effective spring care of your landscape will best be achieved with an understanding of these critical elements and the help of a high-quality landscape contractor.

How to maintain Curb appeal on a tight budget

In these difficult economic times, it can be challenging to find ways to maintain occupancy rates, not to mention budgeting for promotion to attract new tenants. While economizing is par for the course as this decade begins, savvy business professionals realize that solvency relies on the creation and maintenance of cash flow. Curtailing expenditures must be tempered with prudent spending on promotion activities to assure income.Commercial Landscaping Curb Appeal, How to choose a commercial landscaper

A site’s landscape is a prospective client’s first impression of the desirability of that property. The ongoing costs of landscape management can be mitigated while maintaining, or even increasing curb appeal. Following are some of the many opportunities available to make maximum use of your budget.

Turf renovations are an inexpensive method of keeping turf healthy and green while simultaneously saving money on water usage. Healthy turf naturally utilizes less water, fertilizers and pesticides while maintaining an aesthetically pleasing appearance. Turf renovations are primarily aeration, topdressing and seeding.

Irrigation audits and renovations discover and alleviate the inefficient use of water on a site by replacing and adjusting irrigation components. Many local water districts offer rebates for these services so the expense to the customer can be quite minimal. With rising water costs, the consequent savings from reduced usage are realized almost immediately.

Mulching landscape beds promotes water savings and reduces plant replacement costs. Perhaps the biggest benefit comes from the increased curb appeal a freshly mulched site offers. It is typically the most significant change in a landscape for the dollar. To help keep the cost of mulching in check, consider applying mulch to fronts of buildings and common areas as opposed as opposed to eliminating it altogether.

Signage is key to marketing, but it can be costly to replace outdated and inadequate monuments and signs. Consider renovating existing signage by updating landscape plants and installing ornamental boulders around them. Signage can also be enhanced at a relatively low cost by installing cultured stone around the base of the sign.

Plant replacement offers several benefits. Large and crowded plant material is costly to keep pruned and ages a project. Replacing these plants with smaller, lower maintenance varieties takes years off the apparent age of a site and keeps maintenance costs in check.

Seasonal color and containers have always been favorites for creating great curb appeal. In can also be one of the first items cut from the budget when things are tight. Keep in mind, however, that the cost of seasonal color can be much lower than many forms of advertising, and if it brings just one more tenant in the door or keeps an existing one from leaving, it will have paid for itself several times over.

Ongoing maintenance like adding new playchips to play areas, replacing dead plants, addressing drainage issues are all typically less expensive if performed on an ongoing basis as opposed to letting them add up over time. An additional benefit to handling these issues in a timely manner is that the site will look well cared for throughout this time.

In short, landscape management, while often one of the first things on the chopping block for reduction in a tough economical climate is, in many cases actually less expensive than many traditional advertising solutions and has the additional advantage of benefitting your existing clientele, the environment and your future cost structure.

A New Green Ideal

Green landscaping can perhaps best be described by a holistic system in which all component parts are healthy and contribute to the whole environment.  Understanding what the component parts are and how they interact is at the heart of the sustainable movement.  Let’s take a look at a balanced, “green” system and discuss a few of the key features in order to understand the practical, social and economic aspects of the new green ideal.  Commercial Lanscaping Maintenance

Natural systems are inherently self sustaining where the total needs of plants, insects, animals etc. are met by the available food, water and air of their environment.  If the resources don’t exist for a particular species then that species will not exist there either.  In the case of plants, the natural soil supplies support,  nutrients, air and water to plant roots through a complex web that depends on soil structure, pore space for air and water and micro-organisms, fungi, bacteria, nematodes and others, collectively called soil biota, to digest raw inputs such as dead plant material and leaves.

As managers of constructed sites we typically work with landscapes made up of plants that would not normally exist in that environment given the commonly unhealthy soils, poor drainage, air pollution, reflected light and so on.    In response we have gotten very good at supplementing these unnatural systems with synthetic chemicals and fertilizers which prevent the eventual formation of natural systems.

Synthetic fertilizers don’t need to be decomposed by soil biota before a plant can use them and in fact synthetics often contain sulfur, salts and other petroleum distillates that kill or discourage soil biota.  They are akin to an intravenous feeding tube used on patients in a hospital in that the food no longer needs to be digested in the stomach to feed the body.  When used in perpetuity, the stomach, or soil, ceases to function and a whole host of other problems arise.  Soil structure breaks down, reducing pore space.  Plant roots, which require both air and water in equal measure, suffocate and rot and the plant dies.  Pesticides have a similar effect on soil health and can bring an added detriment to non-target, beneficial organisms as well.

Instead, our efforts need to be focused on transitioning these challenging conditions to a more natural system.  This is often very challenging in urban environments since a wholesale renovation of the landscape, required to completely change the soil and plant species, is often too costly or impractical.  More practical methods such as mulching with organic products and compost, soil testing and incorporation of natural nutrient sources and compost tea applications to re-inoculate soils with biota require patience and a measure of tolerance for changes in the overall aesthetic.

Social tolerance is not a subject that should be taken lightly.  In fact, it’s often the primary reason people begin to think about going green in the first place as it becomes more and more taboo to use synthetic management techniques.  But Social norms can also be the fastest way to derail a transition to green management.  Traditional images of dark green grass, zero weeds and full, blooming plants define our ideal but they’re not necessarily realistic in an organic landscape, especially one in transition.  Your customers and tenants need to be adequately prepared to tolerate some weeds in the landscape, some plant material may suffer and die from insect or disease problems, bloom strength on shrubs may be reduced and turfgrasses will be a lighter shade of green.  If they understand this and understand that their previous ideal was not sustainable or healthy you will run into less opposition and frustration during your transition to the new green ideal.  Failure to do this may result in pressure to revert to dependency on synthetic pesticides and fertilizers or force you to spend more money on labor and materials to overcome weeds and incorporate more organic nutrient sources.

A qualified horticultural consultant or high quality landscape maintenance contractor can help with the practical, social and economic aspects of transitioning your landscape to green and managing with organic principles.