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Jim Davis, Editor
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Published: Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Make a strategic plan for commercial property landscape

Landscape management is much more than the routine maintenance of mowing, weeding, fertilizing and pruning performed weekly on your property.

Landscape management takes a long-term look at how your landscape will develop over five to 10 years and seeks to make adjustments or corrections along the way as a part of a philosophy or strategic plan. A good understanding of the five 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 waste water and cost you money. Basic indicators of an inefficient system include mismatched 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 placement of weather stations on site to automatically control water distribution while spray-head technology allows us to achieve matched precipitation even in zones with variable water needs. An irrigation audit can identify your site’s needs, clarify rebate opportunities from local water purveyors and provide you with a return on your investment in as little as two years, while saving you 25 percent or more on your water bill.

2. Turf grass 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 focuses on filling a space with small plants chosen more for aesthetics 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 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 often are 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 building foundations, sidewalks and parking areas. A thin layer of manufactured topsoil that has little biological activity is often spread over the compacted subsurface. As a result, it’s little better at draining water than a soaked kitchen sponge. Under these conditions, tree roots stay close to the surface and damage concrete or follow softer soil in utility trenches and destroy electrical conduits and sewer and water pipes. Regular topdressing or mulching can significantly improve soil quality over time, reducing plant mortality, infrastructure damage and labor.

5. Sustainable practices such as these, combined with using organic fertilizers, insisting on judicious use of pesticides and reintroducing biological organisms to your soil with compost and/or compost tea, will further reduce costs.

Walk your site and look for the indicators described here. 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 “mow, blow and go” maintenance providers.

Signature Landscape Services Inc. is a full-service landscape management provider with a branch in Maltby servicing all of Snohomish County, as well as branches in Redmond and Kent. Learn more at www.signaturels.com.