How to find the best landscape company for your HOA
If you have recently been elected or appointed to the Board of your Homeowners Association here in Florida, you may be tasked with selecting new vendors - like commercial landscaping companies - for the work that is needed in your community. While many management companies will send out requests for bids or make recommendations, it can be overwhelming to work through the proposals that come your way.
Many of the commercial landscaping proposals you will receive look very similar in terms of the services that are provided. But selecting a landscaping company simply based on price is not always the best idea. Here are some things to look for as you work through the selection process, as well as some questions we recommend you ask before making your final selection:
1.) What is included in the proposal and what charges are add-ons. Types of services and number of applications? Is fertilization included? Are treatments for lawn diseases like brown patch included? Is mulch included? For items not included but expected to be necessary, what will the charges be?
2.) How does the company ensure customer services and communications with your HOA and/or property management company? Are you getting monthly walk thru reports? Are you receiving service schedules?
3.) Will you have one primary point of contact to manage your property?
4.) How long has the landscaping company been in business? Do they have trained horticulture and floriculture specialists on staff? What kind of training and experience do the crew members have who will be working on your property?
5.) Is the landscaping company large enough to handle your property? Are additional crews available to handle your neighborhood in the event of crew illness or equipment breakdown?
6.) Does the company have an Enhancement department to handle other needs like planting, drainage, irrigation, and hardscape?
7.) Does the company have professional licensed employees on staff? Irrigation, Arborist, Pest Control Operators, Horticulturists?
8.) What other properties do the commercial landscape contractor manage in the area?
9.) How would a new landscape provider handle your greatest frustrations today?
10.) How do the company’s values line up with the community’s values?
Keep in mind, you want to be certain you are comparing apples-to-apples and ensure you budget correctly for landscaping expenses. Also, if you have a lot of common space, or if your HOA fees include landscape maintenance for all homes in the community, a smaller company may not be staffed or have the equipment needed to do the job.
Finally, one of the most important things you can do is to ask for and contact references for each of the landscape companies who make it to the final round of your evaluation process. Ask them how long the landscaping company has handled their property; how easy it is to get in touch with their contact to get questions answered or issues resolved; and have them rate their satisfaction level on a scale of 1 to 10.
We here at Estate Landscaping know that these questions asked about us, will only lead to ecstatic answers. That is why it is important to choose a company like us that can offer you peace of mind that your maintenance will be performed properly. After all, if you are investing in professional HOA maintenance, you deserve to reap the rewards.
WYNTK: Mulching- When, Where, Why, How & How Much?
While there’s no question that mulching isn’t rocket science, most people are surprised to learn there’s a bit more to it than they may realize. That’s why we’re answering all of the questions you may have about mulch including how and when it should be done. After all, any time that you are investing in a professional service, you want to get the most out of it with best practices being utilized.
When Should Mulching be Performed?
To answer this question, you should know that it’s not as much that there’s a wrong time to mulch—it’s more that you get the most benefits if you consider timing. In Florida, fall is the best time to mulch in order to get the maximum benefit.
Fall into winter—is the time of year that plants need protection from water loss due to evaporation. Fall is also the time of year when a lot of our Florida properties want colorful seasonal installations completed. The mulch will not only protect these plants’ fragile roots and help limit evaporation, but it will also serve as an aesthetic complement to the landscape. The flowers’ bright colors will really pop against the dark mulch.
Where and Why is Mulching Done?
Mulch can be added to plant beds or tree rings for both the aesthetic appeal as well as the practical benefits. Although most people think of mulch mostly in terms of the look, there really are important functional reasons to consider mulching. We already mentioned that installing a layer of mulch can prevent evaporation. Mulch helps to retain moisture beneath the surface so that it can be used by your plants’ roots.
Mulch can also assist in weed suppression. Because new weed seeds require soil to grow, mulch provides a barrier that prevents them from reaching that soil level. As far as weed seeds that are already in your plant beds, mulch will help block access to sunlight.
Mulch breaks down over time and naturally adds beneficial nutrients into our sandy soils. Breakdown of mulch adds organic matter to the soil allowing for better nutrient uptake for healthier plants. Keeping your plants material producing vigorous growth.
Finally, mulch can also act as an insulator. It can help the soil to maintain a steady temperature, protecting plants from extremes.
How is Mulching Performed?
How mulching is done is also important. Mulching certainly isn’t tremendously complex, but you might be surprised to learn there are some mulching errors that can not only limit the benefits—but potentially cause problems. One of the most common mulching mistakes is over mulching. We’ve written more about the bad habit of over mulching here, but to sum it up, excessive mulch can become waterlogged, it won’t break down, and it can actually start to harm your plants rather than help them.
Of course, over mulching is not the only potential error. It’s also possible to under mulch. Failing to apply a thick enough layer will not give you all of the benefits that we’ve discussed such as adequate insulation and successful weed suppression.
Another common mulching mistake is to use a subpar mulch product. The truth is, all mulches are not created equal. You want a high-quality mulch that’s going to hold up to our extreme weather conditions and be able to provide you with ample benefits.
How Much Mulch Should be Applied?
As we’ve mentioned, there is such a thing as too much mulch—as well as too little mulch. So, what’s the right amount? The exact answer will depend on your specific plant beds and site conditions but on average, most beds need somewhere between 2 to 3 inches of mulch per year to get all of the benefits.
Are There Alternatives to Mulch?
We do sometimes get asked about mulch alternatives. If you’re looking for a totally low maintenance option, the landscaping stone can be used in your plant beds. However, stone can make it really difficult for a lot of plant types to grow and thrive. That’s because instead of acting as a natural insulator (as mulch does), stone can really heat up and make the soil temperatures even hotter.
Stone also fails to provide the nutrient benefits that mulch can provide as it breaks down. It may be a maintenance-free option that doesn’t require replacing, but it’s not going to provide any benefit to the health of your plant beds.
Choosing a Company to Set you Up for Success
As you can see, there’s a bit more to mulching than you may have realized. That’s why it’s important to choose a company that can offer you peace of mind that mulching will be performed properly. After all, if you’re investing in professional mulching, you deserve to reap all of the benefits.
In the end, you want your mulched areas to look great and function optimally. At Estate Landscaping, we can help set you up for success.
Lawn Care vs. Lawn Maintenance vs. Landscape Management
When you are choosing a lawn care and landscaping company, you want to understand exactly what you’re getting for your investment. Both regular lawn care and lawn maintenance tasks are required to help keep your property beautiful and thriving. But you might be wondering what these two service terms actually mean. While they often get mistakenly used interchangeably, they are actually two separate service groupings.
Let’s take a look at what lawn care and lawn maintenance mean—and talk about what you might need to help keep your property looking its best.
What is Lawn Care?
Lawn care typically refers to the practice of maintaining the health, color, and vitality of a lawn. At Estate Landscaping and Lawn Management, we consider lawn care services to include agronomy, fertilization, pest and disease management.
All of these services are important. You’ve invested time and money into having lush, green turf and it is these services that are going to be invaluable in protecting that investment. The truth is a problem like a disease, or a pest can arise unexpectedly and start to wreak havoc. But it is a lawn care program that is going to help keep your lawn in good health.
What is Lawn Maintenance?
Lawn maintenance is a little bit different. Lawn maintenance encompasses the services that help keep your lawn and property looking clean and manicured. Some of the key lawn maintenance services performed by Estate include mowing, string trimming, edging, trimming, pruning and blowing.
These might seem like simple services but it’s really important that they’re performed properly. A lot of people don’t realize that lawn maintenance can really impact lawn care—particularly if a service is performed poorly.
For instance, if your turf is suddenly yellowing, you might be inclined to think there’s a problem with your lawn care program. However, people are surprised to learn that improper mowing can cause these problems, too. One of the biggest mowing mistakes that is made is mowing the lawn too short. Although people appreciate a short lawn, it’s actually much healthier for your lawn to be “mowed tall.” That’s because an extreme mow can put a lot of stress on your lawn—and the more grass you cut off, the more stressed your lawn will be. This stress is one reason a lawn may be turning yellow. Ultimately, you’re weakening your lawn’s health.
What is Landscape Management?
Now that you understand the difference between lawn care and lawn maintenance, there’s a third term that we’d also like you to know and that’s landscape management.
Lawn management is the combination of lawn care and lawn maintenance—and is what Estate Landscaping and Lawn Management recommends. It’s obviously part of our name!
The truth is, there are a lot of “mow, blow, and go” type of companies here in Florida. A common problem that we see is when a property manager hires one company to do its lawn care and another to do its lawn maintenance—and then issues begin to arise. The lawn care company blames it on the mowers cutting the grass too short and the mowers blame it on the lawn care company for making mistakes with their fertilization program.
In reality, it can be difficult to determine who’s at fault or what changes really need to be made—particularly when there are two separate companies potentially making different cultural recommendations.
That’s why it makes sense to have all of these services performed by a singular company who can truly do it all with a lawn management program.
We take both set of services quite seriously and use experienced Certified Florida Horticulturists to oversee all of the work that’s performed. Our team of experts also includes Florida Certified Pest Control Operators (CPCOs), landscape designers, arborists, and irrigation specialists—so we can not only handle your lawn but your landscaping needs, too.
Our clients like that they have access to a team of experts, all under one roof. It means that they’re getting the impressive results that they desire. At the end of the day, when you’re investing in your property, you deserve to know it’s in good hands.
STOP: Signs of Over Mulching Your Property
When it comes to mulching, the expression “too much of a good thing” applies. While mulch can be incredibly beneficial for your plant beds, if you apply too much, it can have harmful repercussions.
We find that a lot of people are surprised to learn that over mulching is even possible. That’s why we’ve rounded up some advice that will help guide you toward making better mulching decisions.
Excessive Mulch Becomes Waterlogged
One of the big benefits of mulching your plant beds and tree or shrub areas is that it will help your plants’ roots to retain moisture. This is because the mulch acts as a beneficial barrier from the drying effects of the wind and sun.
However, when you apply an excessive amount of mulch, it is more likely to absorb the water and become waterlogged. When this occurs, it reduces the amount of water that makes it to your plants’ roots. On top of that, when the mulch becomes heavy with moisture, trees and shrubs tend to develop new roots to try and pull in some of that moisture. But with these roots closer to the surface than they ought to be, they can begin to circle trunks and choke the plant.
Too Much Mulch Won’t Breakdown
Another benefit of mulch is the fact that it decomposes over time and naturally adds nutrients to your plants in the process. If you’re adding just the right amount of mulch to your plant bed (a number that can vary based on site conditions but is usually around 2 to 3 inches), then the mulch should naturally decompose with no problem.
The idea is to replace plant beds with a new layer of fresh mulch each year and allow the breakdown process to begin all over again.
However, if you’re over mulching your beds each time you get new mulch, that’s going to impact the decomposition process. Mulch can begin to pile up instead of breaking down. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see over-mulched properties have an accumulation of a foot of mulch over time because more and more keeps getting added.
If you have plant beds that have been over mulched and are not naturally breaking down, mulch removal might be necessary before receiving that fresh layer and starting anew.
Over Mulching can Harm Plants
A lot of people are also surprised to learn that over mulching can damage or even kill plants. One way that this can occur is when mulch suffocates the roots because it prevents circulation between the air and the soil. Your plants do need oxygen to thrive. But a thick layer of mulch can also harm plants by generating too much heat. Whereas the appropriate amount of mulch can actually help to insulate plants and regular soil temperature fluctuations, too much mulch ends up trapping heat in the soil.
Of course, the waterlogging that we mentioned earlier can also harm plants—not only because it prevents water from making it to the plant roots, but also because it creates conditions where disease may take over.
Another way that you sometimes see mulch harm plants is when “mulch volcanoes” are formed in mulched tree rings. This is when mulch is piled up against the tree itself and then tapered down. Mulch volcanoes are such a common problem that you might actually think they’re the correct way to mulch a tree. In reality, mulching around a tree should look like a donut. When you pile mulch up against a tree it can cause bark rot due to trapped moisture. It can also lead to insect infestations.
Choosing Mulching Services to Prevent Over Mulching
While mulching is not rocket science, you can see how this beneficial practice can easily go awry when mistakes are made. Unfortunately, even some pros make these over mulching errors and cause potential problems on your landscape.
That’s why it’s important to choose a company that can offer you peace of mind that mulching will be performed properly. After all, if you’re investing in professional mulching, you deserve to reap all of the benefits.
Handling Plant Disease in Fort Myer’s Warm Weather
The hot and humid weather in Fort Myers, Florida can unfortunately create incubator-like growing conditions for fungal plant infections. Of course, the last thing that you want is to see your property’s beloved plants succumb to a disease.
Let’s look at some of the most common plant diseases that we see in our region and talk about how to protect or treat your plants.
- Root Rot
Root Rot is one of those conditions that doesn’t tend to show up until it’s too late. That’s because it’s occurring beneath the soil, where the problem goes undetected. Once plants start showing symptoms, it is sometimes too late. Signs may include yellowing foliage or stunted growth.
Since it is often impossible to save the plant, swift removal, including the roots is often the best course of action. If replanting in the area, it’s important to choose a plant that is resistant to this fungus as it can continue to live in the soil.
- Leaf Spot
Leaf spot disease weaken turf by interrupting their photosynthesis processes which can ultimately lead to leaf loss if not treated. Oftentimes, this disease may remain cosmetic. Fortunately, most leaf spot diseases affect only a small percentage of the shrub or tree’s overall leaf area and are therefore only a minor stress on the turf's overall health. However, these diseases should be taken seriously to prevent leaf loss. Leaf loss during several consecutive growing seasons can result in reduced growth and increased susceptibility to pests and other diseases.
- Powdery Mildew
This disease gets its name from the powdery white substance that appears on an infected plant’s leaf surface. It is the result of millions of fungal spores. This is a serious fungal disease that attacks a wide variety of plant types. Crape Myrtles are especially susceptible. Powdery Mildew can lead to a decrease in vigor, leaf yellowing and browning, distortion, and ultimately leaf drop. It can be treated with a fungicide but must be specifically labeled for the type of mildew you’re dealing with. There is also Downy Mildew (which we’ll discuss next), and it requires a different treatment.
- Downy Mildew
The symptoms of Downy Mildew are similar to those that often present for a nutritional deficiency or another disease, making it sometimes difficult to diagnosis. Downy Mildew causes leaves to become yellow or speckled—and sometimes edges can curl downwards. A faint, gray fuzz may grow on the underside of leaves. This fungal infection is most likely to infect young plants and can be treated with a fungicide specifically labeled for it.
- Wilt Disease
Wilt symptoms can appear in a large number of broadleaf plants by several species of the Fusarium and Verticillium fungi. While the fungi do differ from one another, the symptoms they cause are quite similar. Plants will first have a wilted appearance—wit individual branches or even leaves being infected first. Foliage may turn yellow and will eventually die and drop. Since the symptoms are so similar amongst both fungi, the only reliable method for a proper diagnosis is a laboratory culture.
- Sooty Mold
Though not a disease, we also wanted to talk about sooty mold, as it’s also quite common in our region. Sooty mold is the result of sap-sucking pests like aphids and scales leaving behind an excreted substance called honeydew. Sooty mold grows on honeydew. Although this black mold will not kill plants, it’s unsightly. Plus, it indicates the presence of pests, which can begin to damage or kill plants over time. Horticultural oil can help rid the plant of an infestation.
Partnering with a Pro to Protect your Plants
Of course, these 6 are only some of the potential problems your plants can face. Oftentimes, the most difficult aspect of plant care is making the proper diagnosis in order to determine the best course of action. Since it’s not uncommon for many diseases to mimic one another—or even for other plant problems to look like a disease—it’s helpful to partner with a professional who can guide you.
Not only will a pro help to make the correct diagnosis, but they’ll also know the best treatment and how to take care of your plants going forward. As we mentioned, some diseases are difficult to get rid of. It may not be cost-effective or even possible to save plants that have been infected. Therefore, a professional can also advise when it’s in your best interest to replace dying plants with disease-resistant options.