Homeowners with large properties and gardens all use some sort of residential landscape company to keep up with regular maintenance throughout the growing season. Along with routine maintenance, landscapers are usually capable of installing new trees and shrubbery, transplanting or replacing failing plants, digging new planting beds, and laying sod or spreading seed for new or replacement lawns.
There are a lot of residential landscape companies that offer simple yard maintenance services. That is mowing, edging, mulching, weeding, and spring and fall cleanups. A smaller number of companies offer horticultural expertise and customized landscaping services that include seasonal pruning, turf care, proactive pest control, irrigation system tune-ups, and mechanical maintenance for pools and water features.
Given that there are so many companies offering basic landscaping services, how do you know if your yard is getting the level of attention it needs to thrive? Here are some signs that it may be time for you to upgrade to a company that offers specialty landscape maintenance services and a higher degree of expertise.
6 Mistakes Made by Residential Landscape Companies
What are some tell-tale signs that your residential landscape company may not be doing the best job possible of caring for your lawn and gardens? We asked Surrounds garden manager Joni Desherow to point out common mistakes made by landscaping companies. Joni describes her top six pet peeves and explains why they may be keeping your landscape from reaching full potential. Here are excerpts from our conversation with Joni:
1) Too much water
Overwatering is as hard on the landscape as under watering. Evergreens are especially sensitive to too much water. Aside from blue spruce and other needle-bearing trees, boxwood and laurel are the most sensitive. They do not like “wet feet,” Joni says. Lawns, too, are adversely affected by over watering. A lawn can develop fungus issues, “red thread” being the most common one. It presents as sunken brown spots in the turf. Watering is NOT the solution. The fungus starts because your lawn is being over watered. Especially in mid-summer, this idea of not watering is counter-intuitive. It’s a common mistake.
2) Too much mulch
We see this play out in two ways. First, there are “mulch volcanoes.” You’ve seen them–mulch mounded against a tree trunk in a cone shape. Over time, this will cause the bark to rot. Unfortunately, we still see this misguided practice all the time as we drive around town. The other mistake we see is layers of mulch that are so thick they suffocate the roots. Mulch is good for trees and plants because it holds moisture and breaks down into organic materials that feed the roots. In excess, though, it is harmful. We recommend no more than two to four inches of mulch cover. You can find out more about the benefits of mulching right here.
3) Irrigation gone wild
Joni refers to this as “power washing.” If an irrigation spray head is out of adjustment, it may pound on plants or trees. Hitting the same area over and over again can damage plants or trees. Regular checks and maintenance of the irrigation system keep this type of issue from occurring. You can pick up some irrigation design and maintenance tips here that may help you to have an informed conversation with your current residential landscape company.
We start to see problems when landscaping companies take a one size fits all approach by shearing everything in the garden.
4) Improper pruning practices
In Joni’s opinion, hand pruning is the best way to care for almost everything in your yard. A lot of companies only employ shearing. The technique gives a neat, tight appearance in a hedgerow. Some clients request it for that reason.
Problems start when landscaping companies take a one size fits all approach by shearing everything in the garden. Shearing is a quick, easy way to maneuver through a property and move on to the next, but is not ideal for all plants because it promotes growth at the tips of branches only.
If you shear boxwoods, for example, you stimulate a mass of growth on the exterior only and prevent air flow throughout the interior of the plant. This can cause pest and fungal issues that normally would not develop. It is best to “punch prune” (selectively take out interior limbs) to help the plant breathe and maintain optimal health
If you have plants that never seem to blossom or boxwoods that are brown at the tips, they were either pruned too late or too soon.
5) Irregular maintenance visits
It’s important to have regular visits. When you have a company that only comes once a month, and they do everything all at once, you can end up losing blooms or burning evergreens because they may not be doing pruning at the time that is right for the particular type of plant. If you have plants that never seem to blossom or boxwoods that are brown at the tips, they were either pruned too late or too soon. Companies do it all the time, Joni says. She recommends once a week service so that individual plants can be pruned at the right time.
Having eyes on the property weekly is the only way to keep ahead of potential issues.
6) Wrong plant in the wrong place
“That’s another one we see a lot. If you don’t know your plants, they get placed incorrectly.” They end up getting too much sun or not enough, too much moisture or not enough. The plant dies, or it just doesn’t thrive.
Giving Your Garden Plants a Boost
Sometimes we judge by the overall appearance that a landscape doesn’t seem to be thriving. There are many possible causes aside from the six listed above. That’s when we will assess the variety of plant types on the property. Some plants are more hospitable to pollinators than others. You won’t see much bee or butterfly activity unless you’ve got a high percentage of perennials and wildflower groupings. Encouraging the presence of pollinators can give all your garden plants just the boost they need. Pollination helps all your plants. Flowers bloom more intensely. Hollies produce hearty fists of berries. Our designs typically include a lot of perennials and plant materials that are welcoming to butterflies and bees.
The Right Residential Landscape Company for the Right Landscape
Customers tend to get unhappy if they feel their residential landscape company isn’t paying close enough attention. We’ve found that people switch companies after a bad experience such as dealing with pest or disease issues that could have been spotted and prevented by a more alert maintenance crew.
If you or the previous owner of your home made an investment in specimen plants and specialty landscaping features, it makes sense to contract with a landscaping company that has the expertise and resources to make recommendations for the ongoing care of your property. You’ll want a company that is staffed with well-trained knowledgeable specialists who are detailed oriented and communicate with you on a regular basis—and not just to send an invoice.
It sounds cliché, but it’s all about customer service. A good company will take inventory of your property on the first visit. After that, your crew will “learn” the particulars of your landscape and care for it exactly as you wish. What makes good customer service? Your garden manager and crew members are:
- always courteous
- attentive to your questions and comments
- on time as scheduled—no surprise visits
- on site only when they are supposed to be
- proactive in communicating about potential issues and presenting options for you to consider
If you have a friend or neighbor who feels their residential landscape company isn’t the right fit, share this article with them. One of our garden management specialists would be happy to schedule a visit to take a walk through their lawn and gardens.