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Selecting the Right Landscape Company for Your Building’s Needs

With so many different types of greenery these days the challenge to landscape contractors and garden maintenance specialists is to keep everything looking new and fresh over time.

Wed November 27, 2013 - National Edition
Teresa Carleo

Winter is here now, but wise companies know that they need to begin planning for the spring now or as soon as the holidays are over. When choosing the right landscape company to suit your building’s needs the first question should be:

What is your goal?

Do you want to keep the design intent after the project has been installed and the maintenance phase is over --or is it strictly a matter of the lowest bid?

With so much new construction of landscaped outdoor spaces happening, the question becomes: How to keep the beautiful, healthy and local greenery going in all around us looking as lush and perfectly manicured as the day it was installed. With so many different types of wonderful greenery these days the challenge to landscape contractors and garden maintenance specialists is to keep everything looking new and fresh over time.

In the last decade I have seen a breathtaking array of different types of landscape applications from traditional extensive rooftops to intensive sedum carpets, as well as the two mixed together. I’ve seen rooftops with sod applications, and some with pools, barbecues, jogging tracks, intricate stone installations, and reflecting pools. I’ve also noticed many green walls, undulating sedum slopes and trees planted in an amazing variety of ways and sizes.

Some are accessible to tenants, some are not.

Some of the newer installs are quite complicated, using unique planting systems that may require specific pruning skills.

The use of plant material continues into courtyards, second floor levels, foundation planting and tree wells. Even some interior lobbies are beginning to utilize green walls and other interesting green applications.

These green spaces have become a must for any building whether rental, co-op, condo or brownstone. As people have begun to demand green spaces as part of the amenities that they expect when buying or renting, green spaces are becoming more and more visible throughout Manhattan and in Queens –they are particularly prevalent in Long Island City, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Staten Island and northern New Jersey.

There has even been a surge of commercial spaces utilizing terraces that feature not just typical planter boxes but elaborate green roof systems.

Building owners are faced with a decision: Once the construction phase is over, the new installation is complete and the routine one-year guarantee is over, what do they need to do to maintain these green amenities? How will they pick a landscape contractor to take care of it?

One thing I notice with new construction: owners and developers are asking the construction companies to build into the contracts a longer maintenance period to ensure that the landscape contractor who did the install remains involved past the usual one- year period.

With this requirement, the original landscape plan and design intent should be safe for at least the first few years -- as long as the landscape contractor who completed the install is skilled at maintenance and is committed to retaining the landscape architect/designer’s intent.

It’s never pleasant to see a landscape that is not being kept up well. Second to that is one that went in with great precision and endless painstaking hours of design, planning and installation only to be changed because the initial contract ended and the new care company decides it knows how to handle the upkeep better and dismisses the landscape designer’s original plan. It’s painful, yet I have seen this occur too many times. It’s often a case of selecting the least expensive company who may have a different vision than what was planned. Sometimes someone on the board of directors decides to change direction. Of course this is the board’s prerogative, but unless the original plan was unwise it’s generally advisable to leave the design intent fairly intact.

What can a building owner do to insure proper ongoing maintenance and preservation of the original design intent?

1. Have the landscape architect generate a scope of work that outlines the long term specifics of care required. This should be very specific with regard to turf maintenance, tree care, soil testing, mulching and so on.

Include the scope of work when putting a property out to bid.

This can become very tedious and the landscape contractor may balk, however it introduces the importance of establishing a deeper understanding of what is required to insure longevity.

2. The same should be true for seasonal plantings: There should be a detailed outline of the recommended seasonal plantings. This works better than allowing the landscape company to plant whatever is available at that moment. The landscape architect is the expert on his/her design, and the professionalism should be honored.

3. Get references from trusted sources.

4. Always ask to look at the work of the company before hiring. Also, make sure the owner or management company hasn’t “tied the hands” of the landscape maintenance company in order to save money. In such a case, the landscape contractor won’t be able to do its job.

Though it may be more time-consuming, following these steps should yield the desired results: green spaces that will stay fresh and beautiful over time.

Teresa Carleo is the president and CEO of PFI, Inc. (Plant Fantasies, Inc.), a full-service landscape design/build firm. Teresa founded the firm in 1987 and soon after certified it as a woman-owned business enterprise (WBE). She is a longtime member of Professional Women in Construction (PWC).

Each month CEG is presenting a blog contributed by members of PWC. Founded in 1980, PWC is a nonprofit advocacy and support organization dedicated to the advancement of professional, managerial and entrepreneurial women in construction and related industries. It has chapters nationwide.

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