If you live in a community with a homeowner’s association, you might wonder if your Maintenance Crews is doing the best job possible for your landscape. There are various practices that are considered beneficial for the long-term health and viability of plants and soil, and they are often disregarded by professionals. These include pruning methods, irrigation practices, and amendment applications. When these errors are made, the negative results are very slow to appear. But they will manifest in a general decline of the plant health and natural beauty of your landscape.
Maintenance Crews in HOA’s
We have all witnessed a typical crew of workers as they attack the shrubbery with gas powered hedgers, “sculpting” them into tidy shapes that resemble nothing Mother Nature ever intended. While this may look neat and orderly, the practice is actually harmful to the plant in the long term. And while I really liked the movie Edward Scissorhands, botanists and horticulturists will tell you that this method of pruning is a poor use of time, money, effort and resources.
A hedger’s cutting blades, unless meticulously maintained, get blunted, creating uneven cuts and even tearing the plant material. This kind of damage will leave the plant stressed as well as open to disease and insect infestation.
Best practices dictate that pruning should be undertaken for the overall health of a plant. Multiple branches – never more than 1/4 of the plant – should be removed periodically to ensure good air flow and a healthy, open branch structure. Of course, the plants should also be pruned to prevent encroaching on buildings, streets and pathways.
Another common, but incorrect practice is the overuse of the (dreaded) leaf blower. Routinely they are directed to blow every loose bit of plant material and leaf litter out from below the shrubbery, then they bag it and haul it to the dump. Rather than encouraging the continuation of this practice, I propose that small litter should remain in place and be encouraged to act as a natural mulch.
Mulch is well known to discourage water evaporation and to decompose over time, which improves the soil structure and encourages plants’ root zone health. Bare soil is incredibly bad for plants, as exposure to air and harsh weather can kill the beneficial insects that live in the ground and help the plants to thrive.
Irrigation practices are equally important to monitor. Many crews treat both the overhead spray-type sprinklers and drip system as if they were the same. Or, even worse, is when they have all the stations set to run for the same amount of time, not taking into account things like sun and wind exposure.
Rather, each station should run according to the plant material it covers, its directionality and the type of irrigation in that area. Turf areas should be trained for deeper root growth. Moderate, well-spaced run times can help achieve this. Shrubs and trees, with their naturally deeper root structure, should be watered less frequently but for longer periods of time. This ensures that the water is able to percolate down into the roots, giving them access to the moisture they need.
Finally, many maintenance companies will submit schedules for fertilization and herbicide and insecticide treatments. This necessary practice is often postponed or possibly skipped entirely. This can be avoided with monthly reports submitted by the crew leader or a landscape company representative. Keep a sharp eye on your calendar to ensure the crew follows the schedule, as many of these applications are time or seasonally sensitive.
If this all seems a bit much for your board members or property manager to monitor, consider hiring a qualified landscape consultant who can oversee these practices for your community. Many consultants are also able to assist in the RFP process and can be helpful in writing and negotiating new contracts with the maintenance and arbor companies.
Additionally, and possibly the best reason to have a consultant as part of your community’s landscape team is that they are able to guide you in fielding the inevitable resident requests with minimal frustration, using their years of knowledge and experience.