Six Property Management Tips for Creating a Long-Term Landscape Plan

A new landscape has plenty of appeal at installation, yet years later can look very different as a result of changing environment, age, and maintenance.

Those small trees that uniformly frame the clubhouse or the lush grass under a newly planted young Live Oak may look great now, but changes in available light, water supply, and nutrients over the course of several growing seasons could drastically alter the appearance and force you to replace them at additional cost and headache.

That’s why apartment property owners should consider a long-term landscape plan that will not only minimize expenses but ensure that the community always looks its best several years down the road.

Landscaping Budgets Don’t Grow on Trees

More often than not, trees and plants grow faster than landscape budgets. But a landscape-on-the-run approach could mean a significant expense to property owners as well as diminish the appeal of the property over the course of many years. How will your property look in a year or a decade from now as your landscape matures and the budget goes through the ups and downs of economic cycles?

Look at what happens during a drought: Properties will install plants that require low water. But when that drought is over and water restrictions have been lifted, some properties will want to re-install plants and trees that do best in wetter conditions because they might have better short-term appeal. But then what? You can bet there will be another drought sometime in the future, and those properties will risk losing their investment.

The beauty of a long term plan is that adjustments can be made along the way while staying within a central theme or adapting new trends. It’s not necessary to drop $300,000-$400,000 all at once on a redesigned landscape—annual investments of $10,000-$30,000 are easier on the budget.

Here are six tips apartment property owners should use when creating a long-term landscape plan that will ensure their apartment properties retains a consistent look without breaking the budget.

1. Envision the Property’s Horizon

Look at your horizon on the property and set a goal. Is the goal to create as much shade and greenery for the property as possible, or is it maintaining a clean-cut, colorful landscape that needs plenty of sun?

2. Consider Landscape Maturity

Plants will grow to maturity under normal growing conditions. When planning a landscape, property owners should envision what the property will look like as plant life matures and be prepared to make changes as necessary.

Avoid focusing on what a plant or tree looks like when it’s young: installing a young bush or tree that will be much larger at maturity in a small area could lead to larger issues as it grows. Even if trimmed and not allowed to reach its full growth potential, the plant can break down and be susceptible to disease because of the smaller space.

3. Manage Impact of Sun and Shade

Plants and trees compete for water, sunlight, and nutrients and sometimes only the strongest survive. A blooming plant that appears to grow in harmony next to a young tree will struggle as the tree matures and its canopy spreads to 50 feet across, creating more shade than sunlight. Property owners should incorporate into their master plan what the next step will be if a big tree dies or what will happen to blooming material as the tree gets older.

4. Prepare for Changing Conditions

Weather and changing conditions are big factors to consider when developing a long-term plan. Extreme conditions may tempt property owners to abandon the plan and move in a new direction. But conditions that are here today won’t necessarily be around for long. For example, during the recent drought in the southern U.S., water supplies were depleted for several months, damaging many landscapes that were designed with plant life that requires ample water.

5. Commit to Tree Trimming and Maintenance

Whatever the landscape components, maintenance is fundamental in order to stick to the plan. Skipping routine tree trimming, for example, will extend the tree’s canopy and affect the growth of other nearby plant life. Grass and other shrubs may die and require replanting at an additional expense.

Planting sod because it’s less expensive is a good bet as long as shade-bearing trees or other plants are routinely trimmed. Factor in the cost of maintaining that tree and compare versus a one-time solution of installing rock.

6. Look into the Future

Nobody can predict the future, but it’s fairly certain that world water supply will continue to be an issue as the population grows so managing what is becoming a finite water supply is important. You also need to keep in mind that areas will experience once-in-a-century floods and drought, along with colder and warmer than normal temperatures. Plant life will be affected. A long-term plan should consider this important factor and include introducing material best suited for what lies ahead.

With a plan in place, the property owner has something to fall back on when conditions change while remaining focused on a healthy, attractive landscape that weathers storms by Mother Nature and the economy.

How do you plan for the long-term success of your apartment property’s landscape? Do you factor seasonal and weather-related changes into your plan as well as your budget?

 


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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