Seasonal Landscaping Tips: Fall Cleanup for Apartment Properties


The seasonal burst of color has started in many areas of the country, and with the spectacular displays come one seasonal rite of passage – fall leaf cleanup. As deciduous and semi-deciduous trees shed their leaves, the work begins, and may last for several months, at apartments throughout the country.

Trees, especially those that offer shade and change colors in the fall, are a great amenity to apartments, but the leaf shedding process can become frustrating and expensive for property managers. Just when the grounds have been cleared, more leaves will fall. Manicured beds fill more than once with the crunchy by-product of a tree when photosynthesis – the process in which plants capture the sun’s energy – virtually grinds to a seasonal halt.

To prevent the apartment property from being buried in a sea of leaves, cleanup becomes constant. Often, it’s more than the grounds staff can handle, and outside help is needed from a landscape service.

But properties, especially those in early stages of development, can minimize the nuisances of fall leaf cleanup by taking a strategic approach. Grouping trees that share common leaf bearing habits, for example, can minimize the overall maintenance cost for leaf control by selecting the right trees.

Know Your Leaf Drop Schedule

The volume of leaves dropped and when depends on the type of tree. Some trees like Ashes and Maples are truly deciduous and shed leaves in fall, while others like Red Oaks don’t drop until the spring when new growth begins. Leaves on some semi-deciduous trees, like Live Oaks, won’t fall until new leaflets starting appearing.

Changes in seasons don’t necessarily dictate when the leaves fall either. Spruce and pine trees only drop leaves because of heat stress or desiccation as the branches get old.

Because all trees don’t go through the process at the same time, a property with several tree varieties will experience a leaf-drop season that could last up to six months. Even deciduous trees that traditionally shed leaves in the fall don’t drop at the same time – some are a little bit early and others a little later.

Easy Fall Cleanups Start with Proper Tree Placement

A strategic approach to tree placement, especially for newly developed properties or those that are in the planning stages, will help mitigate the long hours and expense of keeping a property leaf free. Properties may want to consider populating a particular area with the same variety of trees, so that when leaves fall they do so all at once and reduce the need for additional cleanups.

Properties that want to have the fall splash of color but don’t want the total cleanup on their shoulders can opt for planting deciduous trees that provide fall bursts of yellow, amber and browns at the front and non-deciduous trees farther back.

Also, minimizing plantings around high traffic areas can reduce cleanup. Leaves do become an issue when trying to keep sidewalks clean, around the office and the model and on the pool deck. And leaf accumulation can be costly around pools: a clogged strainer can starve a pump and cause a malfunction.

Steering away from deciduous or semi-deciduous trees in those areas will reduce leaf accumulation. Evergreens that don’t shed are a great choice for adding greenery around the deck or other outdoor gathering spots.

When Fall Cleanup Goes Bad

Failing to clean up leaves on the lawn is a recipe for disaster. Heavy coverage will block light and prevent the grass from getting air. The turf eventually suffocates and dies. Also, leaves on the ground for long periods of time will create fungus that kills grass, resulting in brown patches. The longer leaves sit on the lawn, the greater the chance of long-term damage.

Fallen leaves, however, aren’t all that bad for the overall look of an apartment’s landscape. If mulched, they provide needed nutrients to the rest of the landscape. Mulching not only reduces volume but produces organic material that can be added to compost piles and used to fertilize beds.

With a little planning, fall leaf cleanup can be minimized. And at the same time, the landscape will maintain a cleaner, healthier look for much of the season.


Image credit: iStockphoto



President, Earthworks

author photo two

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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