By Shad Parrish, BrightView Landscape Services
A beautiful landscape has many physical, social, and financial benefits. Greater health and enhanced moods result from a landscape that invites you outside to exercise with your family, or to entertain guests. A well maintained landscape also helps the environment. In addition to converting carbon dioxide to oxygen, a well established landscape helps control erosion and flooding, and combats climate change. And with a significant initial investment that many homeowners associations have put into their communities, proper maintenance is the means of protecting and “growing” that investment.
Unfortunately, many older landscapes suffer from deferred maintenance; the lack of appropriate services to adequately care for the various features that make up one’s landscape, either due to cost savings / budget goals, or from placing priority on other items. Studies have shown that for every $1 in deferred maintenance activities, it costs $4 in capital spending to offset the effects of the deferred maintenance.
When securing a more complete landscape contractor, you will likely find that a truly competent provider’s contract price is generally higher than their competitors because they will be able to keep the ancillary costs (water usage, plant / tree replacement) lower. By taking a “big-picture” view of your landscape costs, and looking beyond only the contract price, you can save significantly on future expenses.
Just as there are various components of your landscape, there are various activities involved with proper landscape maintenance. The most visible and often most thought about is the maintenance of the bluegrass turf throughout your community. Healthy, manicured turf is a function of proper watering, fertilizing, aerating, mowing, and weed control. While many people think of golf courses as the model of beautiful grass, maintaining bluegrass requires many of the opposite methods. Mowing at taller heights (generally in the neighborhood of 3” +/-) vs. mowing it “putting-green short” promotes healthier bluegrass turf. Fertilizing using a quality product that matches well with the needs of the soil (which can be determined through a soil test) helps the turf by supplying nutrients that are otherwise lacking in the soil. While not a full replacement for fertilizers, adding organic matter into the soil is also a significant means of promoting turf health.
In regard to weed control, the best answer is not to simply spray an overabundance of chemicals on the grass. Healthy grass is the best way to curtail weeds, meaning ensuring other aspects of turf maintenance are being done properly. Targeted applications of pre-emergent (based on conducive weather conditions in the spring) and post-emergents, while beneficial, are meant to help control weeds, not serve as your only defense.
And of course, proper irrigation will help your turf and the rest of your landscape thrive.
Many homeowners (and unfortunately some contractors) think dumping more water on the landscape will make it healthy. Overwatering essentially drowns the turf, as the spaces that otherwise would hold oxygen are filled with water. The result is shallow root systems for the turf, which often begin with overwatering in the spring. Shallow roots lead to stressed turf. The results are: greater susceptibility to insect and disease, greater weed growth (which needs more financially and environmentally costly chemical applications), and the need for more fertilizer than is otherwise adequate (since the fertilizer is essentially being washed out) to keep the grass green.
A better approach would be to educate homeowners and wait until later into the spring to regularly water the turf. Setting programs for short durations, often only for a day or 2 per week, forces the turf to develop deeper root systems, thus strengthening the turf, protecting it from insects and disease, allowing the turf to fill in more and choke out weeds, and require less drastic increases as the season progresses. Additionally, there are countless new technologies that make watering more efficient, alert you when problems occur, and allow you to better budget for, monitor, and adhere to various water allowances.
An attractive landscape also means keeping weeds in bed areas under control (and out of sight, out of mind). A coordinated program of pre-emergent (which prevent weed seeds from germinating and spreading) applied in the spring along with hand pulling and post-emergent (eradicate existing weeds) throughout the year will ensure your shrub and perennial plantings are the focal points, not the weeds. The mulch (especially wood mulch) in these beds should also be regularly supplemented to promote appearance as well as to help promote healthier plants by assisting in moisture retention.
Agronomically correct trimming / pruning of shrubs (in a manner most healthy to the plant) is among the most important aspects of caring for these landscape assets. The more is less approach is typically the rule here. Unfortunately, many think that shrubs should continually be trimmed, which actually has a detrimental effect on many plants. Certain plants are conducive to continual pruning, but most of the plant material here in Colorado should not be touched more than twice per year (some only once), with the time of year and weather factors being very important.
Trees represent the single most expensive landscape asset in many mature landscapes, and therefore should be maintained accordingly. Proper fertilizing (typically deep root), watering, and targeted insect control are the primary components of proper tree care, and having a qualified landscape professional with the ability and expertise to care for your trees properly is of paramount importance.
As with any living thing, your landscape needs continual care and attention. You may take vitamins, or others may need surgery to help them, and similarly, your landscape can’t be expected to thrive on its own, especially as our natural environment changes. Enhancements need to be made in order to attain the benefits presented at the beginning of this article. Such improvements may include replacing dead / dying plants, converting high water use turf areas to more sustainable alternatives, installing more colorful plants and flowers to improve an area’s appearance, or taking advantage of new irrigation technologies to maximize watering efficiency. Doing nothing results in the poor health and appearance of your landscape, and soon those benefits diminish, and landscape assets devalue. And while all of these things come at additional costs, those costs represent the investments needed to protect your assets, as well as your physical, mental, and emotional health.
As a Business Developer for BrightView Landscape Services for over 10 years, Shad truly aims to position himself as a resource for Association and Property Managers across multiple industries, offering education and perspective on all things pertaining to landscape maintenance and snow removal.