In this post I continue to examine how to protect your garden’s beauty and value and how to avoid maintenance headaches.
Communication with the maintenance service
Things to review with the supervisor:
- Let the supervisors know of your preferences (see above).
- Can they explain the irrigation system to you so that you can run the timer yourself if you so choose? (In fact, it is absolutely essential that you understand your irrigation system and do periodic check-ups on timing. This way you remain aware of the seasonal changes in your landscape’s water demands or determine the irrigation cycles yourself in an emergency.)
- Do they plan regular walk-throughs with you?
- How easy is it to reach the supervisor, and how promptly do they respond to an emergency?
- How often is the supervisor on the site? If not regularly, how trained are the maintenance workers?
Soil and Irrigation
Many of the gardens that I see suffer more from over-watering than from too little water (the symptoms = wilting and tip die back look pretty much alike initially). It seems particularly tricky to water “infrequently but deeply” and then letting the top 3-4 inches dry out between irrigation cycles…
This Aeonium Cabernet is showing signs of summer dormancy with leaves dropping along the stems; if it gets overwatered now, the stems will get ‘mushy’ and wilt, and the plant will die from the center out.
I’d ask the maintenance professional about their familiarity with modern irrigation technology: Are they open to contemporary components such as a “smart” irrigation controller that helps you calculate water needs?
Also: Taking a soil tests with an auger or ‘soil tube’ should happen at regular intervals on a job site; it helps determine the moisture content of the soil as well as possible rot or pests.
Interfacing with Other Specialty Service Providers
Will the maintenance integrate their services with other specialty providers, such as arborists, irrigation specialists, or plant pathologists as the case may require? (Do they perhaps have their own certification in arboriculture?)
Can they also repair outdoor lighting? Perhaps even install it as a retro-fit?
(Photo courtesy Watersedge Landscape)
Do they know the value of proper mulching, and will they vouch to keep it at the height specified in the design?
Here, two different mulches were used as organic groundcover between the plants and as pavement for the walkway, outlined with black aluminum.
Weeds and Invasives
Do they know their weeds? Will they pull a Mexican Feather Grass before it goes to seed?
Stipa tenuissima Mexican Feather Grass is a popular ornamental grass that has been recognized as very invasive.
Will they recognize an Oak seedling, or some other invasive plant species, such as Salt Cedar?
A Salt Cedar can be an attractive shrub that is highly invasive with many attributes that are harmful to our natural environment.
Plant Expertise, Training and Certification
Of the many local landscape maintenance service providers that I checked online some mention their training in pest control and fertilizer applications; few however list training in horticulture (which would include knowledge of new plant introductions for Southern California’s limited water resources), irrigation or arboriculture.
Here, in its 2nd summer after installation, plants are beginning to fill in, and the textures and forms are taking shape.
As our understanding of xeriscapes deepens and our appetite for exciting low water-use plants from South Africa, South America, Australia or our own south-western states grows, more and more nurseries and growers offer these, and what was exotic five years ago is becoming common-place in our new gardens.
Here are some important questions for the maintenance candidates:
- Is their knowledge of standard and new introductions of low-water use plants up to speed?
- Are they aware of current trends and tools of the industry?
- Do they have any training in ornamental horticulture principles and maintenance standards (“specialty” pruning of trees and shrubs included)?
This training is locally available, through many community colleges or organizations in the landscape industry: The California Landscape Contractors Association (CLCA) and the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET) are two of the leading professional associations that test and certify members of the green industry. Landscape Industry Certified Technicians have proven their know-how to do the job right. They have passed a series of written and hands-on tests covering safety and technical aspects of the job.
If you need seasonal or special occasion “color splashes” into your garden, ask the service provider if they could be counted on providing these services.
References & Licenses
Before you entrust this maintenance company with your property,
- Ask for several reference addresses and visit these;
- Ask whether they have a training program for their employees, and what it consists of;
- Do they have any type of certification from an accredited learning institute in the horticultural industry?
- Talk to at least two if not three of their clients to get a good sense of the responsiveness and quality of this candidate.
- At a minimum, ask for letters of appreciation from their previous work.
- Your maintenance company should be licensed and insured; without it, you might be liable for any damages or injuries that they sustain on your property (and your homeowner’s insurance won’t cover you here).
- All these qualifiers exclude the “mow-and-blow” crews… It’s unfortunate that they haven’t done much to not deserve this name.
The Long Haul
A garden will never be ‘finished’, yet that it will grow and evolve. In order to protect the investment that you made into your landscape, much consideration goes into the selection of your maintenance service. Will they commit to helping reach a beautiful goal over time and to not let short-term interests ruin it? And will they continue to loyally support you with honest professionalism as your garden grows and matures?
These are surely questions worth asking. Read part 1 of Help! The Gardener is Ruining My Garden.