Don’t put decisions on auto-pilot

If you’ve ever wondered why your monthly landscape maintenance bills can be so expensive, a little home grown detective sleuth work might turn up a few answers. It is second nature for us, in many of our daily transactions, to trust we are getting the right advice. It seems we are less likely to take these same precautionary steps when it comes to our exterior landscape planning.

There are specialists in many industries, experts we trust to give us the best recommendations. However, oftentimes we neglect to question the word of the landscape crew, the landscape designer or even the landscape architect. Would we be foolish to suspect this group of being guilty of anything subversive? Landscape architects are people we expect to be absolute experts, and would rarely doubt that their interest lies anywhere else but with the best intentions of the client in mind.

However, it’s odd how often I notice that many developments, resorts, communities and residences choose to maintain their properties in such expensive fashion. An awful lot of this maintenance is an unnecessary waste of time, money and precious resources, which shows, quite frankly, a pathetic lack of efficiency, or so it would appear. On the contrary, maybe it’s a clever bundle of tricks designed to keep maintenance costs high.

You can be prudent by enquiring about the growth habit of some of the plants your landscape crew intends planting, especially those close to the house, adjacent to walkways and driveways. If some plants being chosen are by nature too large for the positions in which they are allocated, then you know you have either hired an incompetent fool, or you’ve hired someone who thought he could be more clever than you. I’m confident that people in the industry know the local vegetation, yet it is bizarre how many times I see a plants like Coccoloba uvifera or the Sea Grape, planted as a hedge, or planted in very close proximity to a structure.

This is a wonderful plant, but it is a small tree which grows about 25 feet tall with a wide spreading habit in its natural environment. No matter where it is planted or in whatever format it is planted, it will always try and grow to its full potential, no matter how many times a month it is almost hacked to death by your landscape crew as they endeavor to keep everything within bounds, trimmed to be neat and tidy on your property.

I’ve also noticed ficus benjamina the weeping fig, planted around little electrical boxes, in an attempt to disguise the hardly offensive green-colored utility panels. Please, it does not take three or four of these potentially enormous trees to hide a small box. These ficus trees will happily grow to 45 feet, with a tremendously fast growth rate. There are definitely better choices than these plants for screening.

Another high-maintenance activity is having large lawn areas. Lawn maintenance generates considerable expense and consumes impressive amounts of water and a kaleidoscope of damaging chemical compounds. Be sure to ask your designer to consider other less expensive and more rewarding alternatives to lawns.

If the company you hire is reluctant to provide you with a two-year warranty on plants, you should also be curious as to why not. They should have the utmost of confidence that the plant material they are selecting for your property, is plant material which should survive for at least this very short period of time. The nursery will not provide a warranty, but the plants should not fail when they get planted in your garden. So really, the burden falls with the person providing the planting service.

It could be also possible, that with knowledge of your apparent ignorance in all things technical and horticultural, your designer may specify some items which are susceptible to pests or disease. This may be a genuine oversight on his behalf, but is nonetheless negligence, which will cost you financially in terms of chemical spraying or the possible demise of certain plants. There are more modern alternative hybrids to the older ones, been bred to be more resistant to nuisances of pests and disease. Check to make sure you are getting the right plant material.

Getting great advice before any new landscape improvement is worth every penny, and will pay for itself over and over. Not only that, construction nightmares can be averted. My advise has always been, “Get the best possible advise you can afford.”

Brendan Moran, the garden artist, of Gardens By Brendan, designs gardens, writes and lectures here in Southwest Florida and internationally.E-mail brendan@gardensby brendan.com.

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