Life Cycle of a Landscape

The owner, property manager and landscape professional must work together to retain the integrity of the design, the health and beauty of the landscape, and the value of the property.

By Ken Hutcheson

One of the biggest mistakes retail property owners and managers make is investing an immense amount of time and money into a lifeless landscape.

Like all other living organisms your landscape has a natural lifecycle. But, with so many different landscape components, how can retail property owners and managers recognize the red flags indicating it’s time to renovate?

By understanding the importance of the lifecycle of landscape from a holistic approach, and by following a few best practices below, you can ensure you’re fostering a healthy and valuable property.

The Value of Your Landscape

Retailers know that their landscape is extremely important because it contributes to a desirable and healthy community. A proper landscape not only attracts the right customers but also adds definition to your client’s brand and value to their property. This means property managers need to be aware of the brand experience their clients are trying to create when laying out the landscape. For example, centers that include high-end retailers like Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s and Saks would require a landscape that is more intricate and elegant in order to uphold their brand standards. Compare that to centers that include Home Depot or Lowe’s, which would rather have a more simplistic and clean landscape. Everything from the layout of streets and sidewalks to plazas and amenities contributes to a store’s brand.

D60 6457 Retail Hedge TrimBy supporting the store with the appropriate landscape practices, retail owners will create the type of environment that will attract a particular clientele. In other words, a high-end retail store, such as Nordstrom or Saks, will invest more into a landscape in order to make sure they uphold their brand standard. It also means their landscape will require more of an upkeep throughout the year because their foliage will be more extravagant, compared to that of an industrial store like Home Depot or Lowe’s, in which a property manager will just need to make sure their landscapes are crisp and clean.

Exploring the Life Cycle

Every landscape has a life cycle. However, the first priority when analyzing a landscape’s life cycle is to conduct a landscape audit to identify which features need immediate attention. From an aesthetic and health point of view, it’s important to work with your contractor throughout this process, so they can provide you with the most accurate recommendations moving forward. For example, if you have vegetation that doesn’t appear to be blooming or looks dull, it can save you an immense amount of time and money to replace the vegetation rather than focusing on saving it through various fertilization or irrigation methods.

A landscaping audit will also lead to the construction through a 30-, 60-, 90-, 120-day maintenance schedule that will prioritize high-risk problems (i.e. dying ornamental tree or a pest control issue) and plan for future projects. A quality maintenance plan addresses services like irrigation, fertilization, pruning, trimming, the selection of plants, mulch replacement, etc. Through proper maintenance practices, you can foster a healthy and attractive environment, as well as extend the life of your plants, grass, flowers and trees.

It’s important to point out that while routine maintenance increases the longevity of your vegetation, vegetation can also be over manicured or “over-pruned” and can actually have the opposite effect and decrease their life cycle. This often happens on upscale retail properties where the foliage must appear crisp and clean at all times. To avoid having to aggressively trim your foliate, retail managers/owners should work with their landscaping contractor to select foliage that’s better suited to their location. For example, it could be that a particular tree is too large for its location, or the type of hedge isn’t native to that region.

However, the most critical assessment that will help you ensure the safety of your landscape is establishing your budget and sharing it with your landscaper. No maintenance plan looks the same, so in order for your contractor to make the right recommendations for your specific property and suggest projects that fit within your budget, they will need to know exactly how much you’re working with.

Design

After learning about the life cycle of a landscape, property managers need to remember the value the design has on the maintenance and lifecycle of a landscape.  Therefore, property managers need to be aware of the term “design/maintenance interface,” which refers to the relationship between the design of a landscape and its maintenance requirements. The extent and quality of this relationship and the benefits it produces are determined by the degree to which maintenance considerations are included in the design stage of a landscape project.

From a design perspective, plant materials have three major functions in the landscape: aesthetic, structural and utilitarian. Aesthetically, plants create a visually pleasant environment and structurally, plants organize and define spaces. Plants are utilitarian because they can transform the environment for the comfort of the user by modifying light, temperature and humidity. Plants, such as evergreen shrubs, hollies and junipers, can also be used to control noise and odor.

Retail flowers CAB 8547The design of a landscape also has a direct influence on the type and intensity of work that is required for its proper maintenance. For example, a more sophisticated design will require more routine maintenance, which includes mowing and pruning, and non-routine maintenance, which includes planting new foliage, replacing mulch, pest control and fertilization. Depending on the store’s brand and clientele, the design of the landscape is going to require more or less maintenance.

The Three Components of the Landscape

When thinking of the design of a landscape, property managers must always refer back to the three components of a landscape, in order to create a successful and holistic environment. The first component of the landscape is trees and palms. They have a useful lifecycle of many years and if properly managed and expertly maintained they can grow in value over time. Trees and palms are the cornerstones of the property and the design of the landscape takes life as they mature. 

The next component is shrubs and groundcovers, which can last several years. If properly maintained they can also quickly grow into a useful part of the landscape’s design. 

The last component is turf and, depending on the region of the country, it may have a relatively short life, but it still plays a crucial role in the design of the landscape.

Taking Action

Now that you’ve read all about the life cycle of a landscape and the importance of the design of a landscape, its time to take action. Taking action to create a beautiful and holistic landscape and to continue to manage the life cycle of the landscape requires collaborative effort. The owner, the property manager, the landscape professional and other professionals (i.e. the designer, arborist, agronomist, etc.) must work together to retain the integrity of the design, the health and beauty of the landscape, and the value of the property.  

The burden to oversee the life cycle of the landscape as a whole sits squarely on the shoulders of the property manager and the owner. Remember that short term agreements — meaning 1-year contracts, build a “customer/contractor” mindset, while long term agreements, i.e. multi-year contracts, encourage a collaborative effort. It is important to set aside time specific for the long term planning, and leave distractions of the moment at the door.

 

Ken Hutcheson is president of Orlando, Fla.-based U.S. Lawns, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the ValleyCrest Landscape Companies. Hutcheson joined U.S. Lawns in 1995 and has been instrumental in growing the landscape management franchise organization from a regional 18-franchise network to a national franchise industry leader with over 250 franchises. U.S. Lawns services customers in all 48 continuous states. Contact the author at [email protected]

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