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Landscaping is typically one of the largest line items in a community association’s budget. In Texas, where every region can experience varying weather and soil conditions, it can result in an even bigger impact to your community's bottom line than you might expect.

So what can you do to reduce landscaping costs and use your dollars more effectively? Fortunately, a lot! Here we provide seven simple ideas to help preserve the green around your grounds – and in your budget.
  1. Use native plants and other flora that are adapted to Texas conditions

    The part of Texas in which your community is located will determine which shrubs, flowers and groundcover thrive best based on their soil and climate needs. In general, however, “choosing plants from Texas is your best bet,” explains Kirk Boyd, owner of Site Landscape Development, which serves the Dallas and I-35 corridor. “Native plants typically require less water, can tolerate the summer heat, require less fertilizer applications and, in most cases, need less trimming and pruning,” he says. Among the varieties he recommends are yuccas, native grasses and native perennials.

    Texas A&M AgriLife Research and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service have given some 50 plants Texas SuperStar® status. These plants have proven their ability to thrive in Texas’ challenging growing conditions. Not surprisingly, many of them are native to the state, such as Turks cap, a perennial from south Texas that is resistant to drought.
  2. Maximize the impact of flowers

    With a little planning, you can reduce the amount you spend on flowers and still create a strong visual impact. Plant color beds consisting of annual flowers primarily around those areas that are seen most by visitors and homeowners, such as your main entrance. Reduce the size of beds, especially seasonal ones that are typically replaced two to three times per year. Planting flowers closer together – four to six inches apart, rather than eight inches – will have a greater impact, too.

    Boyd recommends putting flowers with the same watering requirements near each other and relying heavily on native plants and perennials for longer lasting beauty. Although perennials may cost a little more than annuals initially, they will save you money in the long run.
  3. Improve irrigation efficiency

    In most cities across Texas, irrigating with spray heads is restricted to two days a week. Even if you live in one of these cities, don’t run spray-type systems more than 10 minutes at a time. While it may be tempting to water as much as possible in that window, that can lead to excessive runoff which wastes both water and money. Running your irrigation system when it’s raining is another money waster, so make sure rain sensors are installed and working properly.

    Consider replacing outdated controllers with modern evapotranspiration-based ones, as well as converting to drip irrigation systems for turf areas and landscape beds. This method of watering keeps roots moist with less water usage compared to spray heads or rotors. Drip irrigation is also the least restricted irrigation type, which enables you to water more efficiently for your landscaping needs.

    Advanced controller and monitoring systems can also help you save a significant amount of money, according to Jimmy Collins, president at Silversand Services, a landscape management company serving the greater Houston area. “Many of these smart controllers bring advanced features that your normal irrigation controller cannot do,” he says. Collins cites capabilities such as customized watering schedules that incorporate weather data and email or text alerts in the event of a leak. 

    Mike Mason, president and CEO of Garland-based Weathermatic, which provides irrigation and smart technology to landscaping companies, says that upgrading controllers “can actually reduce water usage for landscaping by as much as 50 percent.”
    Maria Shaw, director of management for the south Houston division of FirstService Residential, has seen these types of results. “By partnering with our local landscape and irrigation vendors to implement state-of-the-art water controller equipment, we have been able to more efficiently monitor our landscaping program,” she says. “The automated system provides us with real-time updates on any malfunctions, which allows us to quickly respond to any issues.  This new program reduces the amount of labor needed for maintenance and helps us to better manage water use and expense.
  4. Control landscape pests

    Wildlife such as rabbits, rats and even armadillos can destroy your plants quickly.  A qualified pest control company can address these problems.  It’s important to keep insects in check, too. Boyd says that insect issues tend to vary season to season, so it is difficult to predict outbreaks since temperatures and moisture change annually. “Insects we encounter are typically spider mites, bag worms, army worms, aphids, leaf miners and ants.”  Most all insect issues can be addressed with a chemical application, but you can also ask your landscaper about organic and nonchemical ways to reduce or get rid of pests that are damaging landscaping.
  5. Consider the cost of maintaining a lawn versus xeriscaping

    Xeriscaping – a form of landscaping that requires no irrigation – can work well in areas that are not practical to irrigate as a replacement for turf. However, don’t forget that the cost of creating it in large areas can be prohibitive. “The cost of rocks, stones and gravel can require high upfront installation costs, and the return on investment sometimes does not make sense,” says Boyd.

    Lawns in Texas require a lot of water, which can get costly. Having less turf and more native plants, will reduce areas that require frequent watering and mowing.   
  6. Stay on top of your maintenance

    Landscaping can become more expensive if you haven’t been keeping up with regular maintenance. A good landscaping company will set up a schedule for maintenance, such as fertilizing, mulching, pruning and weeding. For instance, mulching should be done in beds and around trees to reduce moisture evaporation and conserve water. Mulch also helps to reduce weeds and cool soil in the summer by up to 10 degrees. Factoring these landscaping musts into your plan should minimize additional costs for your association.

    Most landscapers will also offer to provide sprinkler maintenance in addition to lawn care.  However, be aware of hidden costs, extras or costs from damage that the landscaper’s own crew may have done. To keep costs in check, consider either capping charge-backs for broken sprinkler heads or hiring different contractors for landscaping and irrigation to ensure a check and balance. 

    While regular mowing is also necessary, you may be able to negotiate with your landscaper to reduce the number of weeks your lawn is mowed, especially in the winter months when the grass is dormant.
  7. Hire quality vendors

    While cutting corners by hiring cut-rate contractors may be tempting, it could ultimately be more costly for your community, especially if they lack the necessary professionalism or experience to do your landscaping correctly. Not only will it eventually need to be redone, it can also greatly impact property values as well as existing homeowners’ satisfaction.
Yes, landscaping is costly for community associations, but with the right mix and a strategic approach, you can make your property beautiful without breaking the bank.
Thursday August 24, 2017