Ripple Effects

by Katie Lee

Preparing for retail landscaping after El Niño.

By Scott Milnes

From seeing storms, flooding and landslides in California and upwards of 70 degrees in New York around the holidays, our weather patterns are all over the board and our contractor partners that perform snow removal and landscaping are getting a little discombobulated! We’ve witnessed 40-degree shifts in temperature in a matter of days and gone from very little snowfall to historic records.

So what exactly is El Niño and why will it be affecting weather patterns all across the western hemisphere until late spring?

el ninoAccording to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “the term El Niño refers to the large-scale ocean-atmosphere climate interaction linked to a periodic warming in sea surface temperatures across the central and east-central Equatorial Pacific.” Those increased temperatures can influence not only ocean conditions and marine life but also North American weather patterns at large.

In the Northeast, predictions were for a warmer, drier winter and as much as that may sound appealing, the aftermath of El Niño can cause some devastating changes for crops, wildlife, plants, trees, shrubs and many other key players in our ecosystems.

Since we spend half our time moving snow and the other half maintaining green, I would like to identify how El Niño’s warmer and drier weather affects trees, shrubs and other key elements of our clients’ retail exteriors.

First off, lower amounts of precipitation and warmer weather can cause a loss of moisture in the soil. Plant species that normally go dormant may not stay dormant when temperatures are slightly elevated. Trees that “wake up” and start to photosynthesize can lose moisture and become dehydrated. Add the lack of soil moisture and you have an even bigger problem. Certain very sensitive species may not survive or may have branches die off.

We can’t control Mother Nature, but we can assume that your exteriors (grass, trees, shrubs, beds, etc.) will need an extra boost in the spring. Water all woody plants deeply and regularly to prevent further stress. Make sure your exterior services management (ESM) professional is paying plant health care visits.

sprinklerWith most of the snow behind us and much of it starting to melt away, the damage caused by winter weather will become apparent in your landscaping. Unfortunately, damage to your irrigation system may go unnoticed — causing additional headaches further into the spring as the moisture in the soil disappears and your curb appeal rapidly deteriorates without proper irrigation. This spring, be sure to have your irrigation system inspected and repaired in order to ensure a green landscape as spring turns to summer and soil moisture reduces.

While examining for damage and restoring your irrigation is a fundamental step for spring, the primary means to protect your irrigation is with fall prevention measures. Often, expensive irrigation system repairs in the spring remind many of our clients the importance of winterizing the systems properly in the fall.

Depending on the weather in your area, the optimal time to begin inspecting and repairing your irrigation system is at the first sign of spring. Regions with an increased risk of damage as a result of heavy snowfall and freezes should begin the process as soon as possible, since repairing severe damage to the system may take additional time. The same holds true for any system that may have been winterized improperly or not at all.

Inspecting for irrigation system damage is best handled by a professional ESM contractor with the proper knowledge and experience to recognize problems in the system. Here are the basic steps an ESM expert will perform in a spring re-activation process:

• Inspection of motors, engines and control boxes for wiring damage.

• Removal of end caps to flush system of debris, insects or small animals that may have accumulated during the winter and could potentially clog sprinkler heads.

• Replenishment of water into irrigation system.

• Examination of sprinklers for signs of leakage in pipes and drains.

• Replacement or repair of any needed accessible parts.

• System adjustment for proper coverage and time.

• Pressure assessment.

• Final inspection for breaks or leaks and lubrication of all specified areas.

Although there are many other spring cleanup activities worth mentioning, your irrigation system is the lifeblood of the entire landscaping system and the most important in a post El Niño weather pattern.

If your retail stores or facilities are experiencing quality assurance issues with exterior maintenance, you might want to consider calling a national ESM company. Look for one with consistent experience, quality assurance, long-standing client retention and 24/7 support and you should be able to short list some pretty solid contenders to handle all your ESM needs regionally or nationwide.


— Scott Milnes is the president of DENTCO®, the nation’s first Exterior Services Management® company. Milnes’ career includes more than 20 years in hospitality management.

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