Why spend money on a landscape management company? Because gardens are not a “set and forget” affair. Your landscape is a living, ever-changing environment that evolves over time and needs consistent care to achieve its full potential.
Think about it. You’ve invested time and emotional energy—and money—into designing your new outdoor living space and gardens. Construction has been completed. The trees, plants, and perennials you selected with the guidance of your landscape architect have been installed. Now the real work begins, the work of nurturing those garden plants so that they will thrive and assume their intended role in the landscape.
The Value of Landscape Management
Tom Kniezewski, who leads the garden management team at Surrounds Landscaping says, “landscape architects create the foundation for a garden—structural components, grading, and planting plans. But an architect can only envision things to a certain point.” After that, he says they have to entrust their vision with a landscape management crew that will care for the garden as it develops and fills in.
Kniezewski says that the imperative for garden maintenance is the reason Surrounds decided to form its landscape management team. Before that, if one of the landscape architects decided to check one of their projects a year or so later, they might find that it wasn’t the “show-stopper” they’d envisioned. We determined that the problem was the landscapes weren’t being correctly managed and maintained.
The Role of Landscape Management vs. Landscape Maintenance
The average landscape maintenance company should be able to take care of the basics: mowing, weeding, edging, mulching and some pruning. But the average company may not have personnel with horticultural expertise to identify and treat plant diseases or insect infestations. They may not have trained staff who possess the specialized skills needed to maintain irrigation and lighting systems or water features. Proper watering is critical at all times but in particular during the first years when garden plants and trees are establishing.
In addition to providing the standard menu of yard maintenance services, a full-service landscape management crew must have four characteristics:
- Ability to communicate with and educate the homeowner
- Familiarity with landscape design principles
- Horticultural expertise
- The technical skills to adjust and maintain irrigation, lighting, and water feature systems
You want garden plants, shrubs and trees to look naturally beautiful. That requires trained personnel who are attentive to all the details in the landscape—both mechanical and horticultural. If your garden technicians don’t understand design intent and horticulture, you may end up with garden plants that are tortured into unnatural shapes or a landscape irrigation system that is performing incorrectly.
Ask the Garden Care Experts
To answer common homeowner questions about the benefits of retaining a full-service landscape management crew, we spoke with two Surrounds garden managers: Tyler Maly and Joni Desherow. Here is what Joni and Tyler had to say.
How do you set expectations with landscape management clients?
Joni: When we are taking over maintenance of an established landscape, my guiding principle is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So, something the property owner might see as gorgeous, may be aesthetically wrong in my opinion. Of course, I can’t say that. Instead I try to understand what they like and want more of, and to help them articulate anything that they see as an issue. Then, if they agree with my assessment, we can talk about the specific changes and improvements we’ll need to make.
What questions or concerns do clients express after planting and in the following seasons?
Joni: Before planting, we always have a conversation with the client. We tell them they are going to see smaller plants at the start but show pictures of what it’s going to look like after 3 or 4 years. My rule is three years. It should be full in three years. But they usually forget that conversation. So, once we’ve installed the garden, the question comes again: why is everything spaced so far apart? I remind them that it’s going to grow in. We have planted so it can become a mature landscape, not immediately be a mature landscape.
Tyler: A lot of people will say “this doesn’t look like the picture you showed me.” That’s the most common question. I’d feel the same way if I were in their shoes. I explain that most likely the plant in the picture is growing in prime conditions. Not to say that what we planted is in the wrong location or climate but simply that there may be something about the microclimate that is causing the plant to deviate from its normal growth habits. The plant is healthy but it is still acclimating to its new environment. If it has not improved its appearance after two years, we will start investigating additional environmental factors to identify what the issue might be.
How do you help plants establish and get a good start?
Joni: A new landscape is mostly about the watering, keeping it consistently moist without over watering. It’s a challenge. When you are installing new landscapes front and back on a property, it has to be done with irrigation. It’s almost an impossibility without it, honestly. You’ve got to get those settings correct, make sure you are not over watering the evergreens and under watering the perennials. New turf is extremely sensitive to moisture and can easily dry out. And even though we use high-quality nursery stock, we actively monitor the new plants for signs of disease or pest infestation. We use a proactive method called IPM that allows us to identify and spot treat issues before they can spread and cause serious damage.
Click on this link to find a plain language explanation of integrated pest management practices (IPM) that we employ to protect your garden.
Tyler: Based on the results we get from soil tests, we usually amend soil on the entire property during construction so we can get great returns on the growth later. We have found it makes a big difference. Also, we don’t do much pruning in the first year because pruning reduces root growth. Young plants need to put their energy into producing as many roots as possible to establish quickly.
Do you have a certain methodology or insider tricks that you rely on?
Joni: I have a love of the landscape. It’s the first thing I notice when I arrive at a property—even when I’m not working. I am drawn to it. When I see a beautiful landscape, I ask myself what makes it so beautiful, what makes it work. I’ll file that mental picture away and save it. I may draw upon a version of that idea later on for a different project because there is a similar slope, foundation, or background. This is something I do without thinking about it. It comes from being in the business, seeing a lot of different kinds of landscapes and taking them in.
Tyler: During installation, we check each plant carefully for any sign of trouble before we put it in the ground. If a plant or tree has been confined in a pot for too long, it won’t know how to grow other than in circles. So, I’ll use a field knife to score the root mass with vertical cuts. Scoring opens up some wounds and encourages roots to grow outward in different directions. That’s important because if that gets missed, you might see that tree or plant start to decline down the road because it is root bound.
What to Expect of Your Newly Installed Garden
You’ll see a lot of dirt in between small looking plants. It may not be all that much to look at, but a lot is happening underground. Your plants are adapting to a new environment that is different from the nursery where they were grown. They are developing a root system that will make them more self-reliant and able survive changing seasonal conditions.
Maintenance Highlight: Balanced irrigation schedule is critical at this time. Too much water can be just as harmful as too little.
You’ll see more fullness in foliage and blossoms. Anchored by that sound root system, the plants are now able to develop above ground, reaching out to capture more energy from the sun to power increased growth.
Maintenance Highlight: This is the time to do early season cutbacks and dormant stage pruning to encourage vigorous growth. We may replace plants that didn’t survive or relocate others that aren’t thriving where they are.
Years Three and Four
Now that the root system is well established, your plants direct nearly all their energy into growth above ground. You will see your plants branching out and bursting into bloom. This is the time when they begin to take on the shape and size of maturity. It’s also a time when you can begin to back off on irrigation. Except in severe drought conditions, established plants will be able to survive and recover on their own.
Maintenance Highlight: Now is the time for finesse. Subtle corrections and tweaks will bring out the best in your gardens through all seasons. We’ll employ corrective pruning to guide plants into their natural growth patterns. Now is the time to be alert for signs of disease or pest infestation.
Much of what you see in your landscaping and gardens is the result of time and patience. The patient stewardship of your landscape management team over time makes it possible for your landscape architect’s original vision to reveal itself to you in its fullest expression.
Are your gardens being cared for by a company that fully understands the needs of your landscape? If not, contact one of our garden management specialists. We’ll schedule a time to walk your property and talk about what it needs.