everyone knows that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. However, property managers know first impressions are important: A property's physical appearance--it's "cover"--is what initially draws tenants to a property and patrons to those tenants. Yes, curb appeal matter--and in today's turbulent economic times, it matters more than ever.
But curb appeal is much more than planting a few flowers. Investing in and focusing on curb appeal through sophisticated landscaping is simply smart business. "in a competitive market where you are fighting to maintain your existing tenant base and hopefully secure some other tenants, you want to have every advantage possible, and an attractive and inviting environment helps," said William McCarthy, CPM president and owner of WPJ McCarthy & Company Ltd. in Burnaby, British Columbia.
However, with the U.S. economy in the midst of the worst recession since the 1980s, all aspects of operating budgets, including landscaping, are being hit hard. Add to that, when gas prices went through the roof last summer, fertilizer prices followed suit--and unlike gasoline, fertilizer costs have remained high. As a result, the landscaping industry has struggled with operating costs, which ultimately impact property managers' landscaping budgets.
Despite the economic crunch property managers and owners are feeling today, landscaping needs should not be dismissed. Instead, unique solutions and a renewed understanding of landscaping options can help maintain curb appeal without breaking the bank.
Although budgets are tighter, abandoning landscaping completely is counterproductive. When a property appears run-down and neglected on the outside, tenants will not be attracted to the property, and vacancies will remain, regardless of what is inside.
"In challenging economic times, properties that maintain attractive landscapes are stating that they have stability," said McCarthy. "Those properties that see their landscaping declining are sending a negative message to prospective tenants, and existing tenants and their patrons."
With labor and maintenance creating some of the highest landscaping costs, many companies are exploring low-maintenance solutions. Gannon Management Companies in St. Louis, Mo., for example, has cut its maintenance time by about 50 percent by doing mass plantings.
"We use larger numbers of fewer varieties," said Jerry Pence, vice president of design management and horticulture at Gannon Management. "If we have five to six [plants] blooming, it would be okay, but if we have 25 to 30 of them, it has a much bigger impact. We do the same thing with our annuals. We use a couple of different types of annuals, but we use a lot of them. That way our beds are big and full."
Another way to lower maintenance costs is by allowing hedges to grow more naturally, rather than sheering them into more formalized shapes.
"Sheering hedges takes a lot of fuel and time," said Barry Troutman, vice president of technical services at ValleyCrest Landscape Companies. "But if you can allow plants to grow to their natural shape and prune selectively with hand-pruners, you will prune them less often. It takes fewer hours to prune and you create less debris."
Sheering hedges also makes sense from a horticulture standpoint.
"Whenever you cut the tip off a plant, the buds right below that cut sprout," explained Troutman. "When you cut one stem off, you will have two sprouts. Every time you sheer a hedge, you create a bunch of new growth that will grow out quickly. But once you have established the shape you want, if there is a branch sticking above that shape, you can reach down in the plant and remove that single branch below the level of the canopy. That way the new growth won't shoot out through that canopy and you don't produce this huge burst …