Facility Management: Six Tips for Maintaining a Great Looking Apartment Community Landscape

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Property owners who’ve gotten a jump on lawns and landscaping for the spring will not only have some of the most attractive apartment communities but also lay the groundwork for opportunities to attract new residents. Beautiful flowers, healthy trees and shrubbery, and lush lawns make any property inviting.

A key to a long-lasting, healthy landscape is maintaining a green thumb throughout the year, not just in optimum weather conditions. Plantings, pruning, fertilizing, and watering are a year-round effort and should be included in any lawn and landscape maintenance plan for a healthy looking property 12 months of the year.

Spring is the most popular time for landscaping because that’s typically the most colorful time of the year. To reap Mother Nature’s rewards, advance planning and preparation should go back to the previous summer, fall, and winter. Everything from weed control, lawn feeding, watering, and pruning should be addressed.

Below are six general tips to maintaining a healthy landscape at any apartment community.

Apply a Pre-Emergent

There are two important times of the year that a pre-emergent fertilizer/weed control product should be used on grassy areas to promote healthy lawn growth – spring and fall. A pre-emergent is designed to stop new weed seed from germinating. The idea is to target the application just prior to the spring or fall germination, which varies from year to year depending on the weather patterns.

Because it forms a barrier on the top layer of the soil, a pre-emergent is most effective on already established lawns. If that soil is not covered by grass and is heavily disturbed by foot traffic, rain or wind, the barrier is broken down. As that soil gets moved, the chemical form of the barrier breaks down and creates opportunities for weeds to grow.

Fertilizing by the Numbers

Depending on your area, fertilizer needs to be applied in the early stages of lawn and plant activity and following a pre-emergent application. Applications are most common in the spring but feedings should take place throughout the year as conditions dictate. Avoid applying high-nitrogen fertilizers to some grasses in summertime’s extreme heat. A fall feeding is always a good idea to supply nutrients even though the grass or plant may be dormant.

So what do the three numbers mean on the fertilizer bag? The numbers represent the percentage of nitrogen, potash and potassium in each pound of fertilizer. A most commonly recommended ratio is 3-1-2; the first number is three times the second number and the third is double the second. Check with a local garden center to find out what percentage of the combination is recommended.

Fertilization is typically a factor of how many pounds of nitrogen per thousand square feet that you’re trying to put down, and applying the correct amount is essential. Follow recommended spreader settings and make adjustment as necessary to get to the desired application rate.

Irrigation

Spring is a good time to prepare irrigation systems. Do a spring fire-up to make sure everything is working properly and that clogged heads and nozzles and lateral line damage from the winter is identified. Hand sprinklers should be in good working order, properly lubricated, and turning properly.

It’s also a great time of year, especially in regions with drought, to get lawns and plants used to longer, less frequent watering cycles. Watering longer periods of time and less frequently encourages the roots to stretch deeper and promotes a heartier plant that can handle drought.

Watering in the early morning is best. This allows the water to filter down to the soil before the intense part of the sun hits which increased the evaporation rate. Watering at night can create fungal issues.

Seeding

Spring and fall are great times to seed. Depending on the variety of grass that you’re using, the ground temperatures need to be at a certain point before seeds with will germinate. For example, seeding Bermuda Grass, a warm weather grass in Texas, should be done about mid-May. If you seed too early, the seed won’t germinate and could get washed away with heavy rains.

Reduce Stress

Stress is just as much a part of plant life as people life, and summer heat can stress a lawn. And just as a doctor doesn’t want to operate on somebody who has high blood pressure, a lawn care specialist doesn’t want to do anything in the summer like hard pruning that would create stress on the landscape. Pruning should be done in the fall or before spring when plants are dormant. Remember, plants are living, breathing organisms.

Know When to Prune

Winter is a good time to cut back perennials, prune crape myrtles, trim dormant ornamental trees, remove seed pods, and reduce rose bushes or flowering shrubs that shouldn’t be done during the growing season. Typically in late winter or early spring any ground covers that are showing any damage should be cut back or mowed to promote new, green growth.

A total landscape care program should work hand in hand. When parts like fertilization or pre-emergent application are subtracted, the rest of the program becomes less effective. Plant life goes in cycles, and so should caring and maintaining a landscape to ensure that a property lives up to its aesthetic potential year round.


President, Earthworks

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Chris Lee is President of Dallas, Texas-based Earthworks, which specializes in multifamily housing landscaping. He is a contributing author to Landscape Management magazine, licensed irrigation specialist and a Toro Intellisense certified technician. Chris studied business at the University of Arkansas from 1990-94 and horticulture and landscape design at Tarrant County College from 1999-01. He has been employed at Earthworks since 1998.

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