Understanding Your Investment in Landscape Maintenance

Today’s technology makes it relatively easy to assess property landscape needs in order to determine plant counts, water usage, turf square footage, etc.  Unfortunately, the most common way property managers determine their maintenance budgets involves using formulas that may be outdated.

Let’s look at some factors that help determine landscape maintenance costs:

Labor:  the single largest cost of landscape maintenance is labor.  A significant piece of the budget is taken up by the work itself. Therefore, to keep overall budget costs down, it is imperative that labor and its associated costs be allocated strategically.

For example, turf.  Turf is generally the largest total area in the landscape.  If the turf contains sweeping contours and few obstacles, such as trees, boulders, light fixtures, signage, or architectural elements, then faster mowing equipment can be used to maintain it and keep labor costs low.

Plant needs:  Overplanting requires more frequent pruning; fast-growing plants require more frequent pruning, and planting pest and disease-prone plants increases the cost of protecting them with costly control materials.  Extensive annual color requires a lot of fine detail work, also resulting in higher costs.

The solution is balance.  A good plant palette, including perennials and ornamental grasses, and use of meadows and sustainable alternatives, will balance low with high maintenance areas.  For instance, a maintenance plan should include removing excess plants as they age. And interplant fast and slow-growing plants to create a seamless transition during plant lifecycles.

Irrigation:  Another factor overlooked in maintenance budgeting is the cost of water and irrigation management.  This is particularly important as water availability decreases and water costs increase.  Irrigation costs are best controlled by utilizing less thirsty plant material and by the installation of new ‘smart’ technologies and water delivery systems.

In general, turf requires the greatest amount of water in the landscape.  For mature landscapes, retrofitting outdated irrigation systems with more efficient equipment and/or redesigning the landscape to utilize more water-efficient plant material can be bottom line friendly. The pay back varies but by auditing water use, future savings scenarios can be projected with great accuracy.

Refurbishing:  When planning a maintenance budget, designate an amount to cover normal wear and tear, seasonal weather stress, and the cost of replacement and repair. All landscapes require remedial and corrective work to maintain their best appearance.  We find that most commercial customers with successful landscapes spend approximately 25-30% of their yearly landscape maintenance budget on freshening.  By replacing items on a regular basis, you can avoid incurring large capital expenditures for major cost overhaul.

With labor and water costs high, it is becoming increasingly important for property managers to be aware of strategies that pay off in the long run.  Establishing a close working relationship with your landscape contractor and starting the conversation at the planning and budgeting stage, will ensure that your property and landscape will receive optimum care and a proactive approach all year long.

Don’t leave value on the table. To learn more about collaborating with ELM to implement innovation, understand how landscape products, equipment and technologies are used to improve cost and efficiency, and what the best priorities are to pursue in the face of changes in water management, contact Bruce Moore at 203-316-5433.

Meet Third-Generation Landscaper, Greg Gross

With two grandfathers in the green industry, ELM Area Manager, Greg Gross, learned more than “old school” work ethic during summer vacations spent helping out.

As a child, Greg learned to repair landscape equipment from men, Greg said, who knew how stuff worked. In fact, it was his grandfathers’ example-setting that taught him the value of hard work and good character, and to push the boundaries of what’s possible.

Greg joined ELM in 2016, after working on a golf course in high school put him through the University of Massachusetts Stockbridge School of Agriculture, where he received a degree in Landscape Contracting. Greg also holds a Commercial Supervisory Certificate for Turf & Ornamental from the State of Connecticut.

Greg is an avid New York Yankees and New York Giants fan and when not rooting for his favorite team, works on his golf game, and his boating and beach-loving skills.

Greg’s one piece of advice for transforming commercial landscapes is to go for the “wow” factor. Instead of over-complicating the objective, the secret, he says, is to keep your landscape simple, coherent, and invest in high-impact ROI options that continue to increase the property’s value.

“Greg is a born leader,” said Bruce Moore, Jr., ELM’s vice president of operations. “His commitment to delivering best in class in all aspects of the work we do, and in building and sustaining relationships that embody trust and accountability, exemplifies what ELM is all about.”

ELM’s Field Manager Chris Smith Makes the Case for Greener Landscapes

Darien, Connecticut-native Chris Smith said he feels like he was born into the green industry. As one of ELM’s Field Mangers, Chris gets to do what he says he loves most—working with customers and with skilled project teams who engineer and maintain commercial landscapes throughout the Fairfield and Westchester County areas ELM serves.

“We’re excited to have Chris on our operations team,” said Bruce Moore, Jr., ELM’s vice president of operations. “Our company is growing and he contributes a wealth of knowledge and passion to the work we do and to our mission to be the legacy landscape services company of choice.”

Chris has experience both on the front lines and at the technical level, and holds a Pesticide Applicator’s License from the State of Connecticut’s Department of Energy & Environmental Protection. Prior to joining ELM, Chris served with the Darien Board of Education’s grounds crew.

Chris’ affinity for sustainable approaches supports ELM’s own competitive stance on green practices as a competitive differentiator. According to Chris, commercial building owners and managers that invest in more energy-efficient landscapes and other key technologies, and correct potential issues as part of a longer-term performance and design plan, will see results in improved financial performance.

In his off-hours, Chris hikes, skis, and camps throughout the Northeast and uses that time to reflect on how he can deliver the beauty of nature to the properties and customers he serves.

A Site Manager’s Guide to Hardscape

Compliance with building and safety codes, duty to maintenance and repairs, and minimizing risk and liability are among the top five responsibilities of commercial landlords, property managers, and facility engineers.

Upgrades in landscape budgets that address these objectives may often seem daunting, but hardscape projects – structural elements in the landscape such as pavements, pathways, retaining walls, drainage systems, and other architectural features – are important safety and outdoor infrastructure priorities.

For institutions and commercial properties seeking LEED® certification or working to be greener, repairs and renovation to landscape enhancements that add to the site’s sustainability, and enhance functionality and curb appeal can also contribute to the site as a more profitable and environmentally-responsible asset value.

For its part, ELM considers landscape budgeting to be a collaborative process and works with property and facility managers to plan for contingencies, like winter, extreme weather and drought.

ELM recommends looking several years ahead to address capital investment goals for long-term and long-overdue projects, such as environmental compliance, addressing site-specific continuity, and optimizing functionality.

Shorter-term priorities should address improving the look and feel of the landscape, creating a safer property environment that benefits tenants, implementing conservation-based upgrades to optimize water and eliminate waste, addressing standards of care and environmental safety, and updating outdated structural elements.

A strategic option to offset drought concerns would be to substitute rock slabs, stepping stones, decorative gravel, or porous alternatives on pathways to direct rainfall and irrigation water back into the ground, constructing bioswales and drainage systems, and converting underutilized turf to perennial alternatives.

All ELM landscape projects incorporate sustainable practices, low impact development strategies and opportunities for utilization of green practices.

To learn more about making profitable landscape improvements, managing soil erosion, increasing storm water efficiency, and improving the long-term health and viability of your site, contact Bruce Moore, Jr., Vice President, Operations at 203-316-5433.

Photo: ELM’s hardscape solution for a storm water retention basin at Stamford Hospital, Stamford, CN combined quality materials and design-driven construction with careful consideration of technical and sustainable requirements. The drainage improvement project will carry runoff and improve water quality by infiltrating storm flow. The project was completed end of June, 2017. ©ELM2017

Joe Claps Increases the Value of Commercial Properties Through Landscape Asset Enhancements

Eastern Land Management, an award-winning, full-service commercial landscape company located in Stamford, Connecticut, officially welcomes Joe Claps as enhancement field manager, effective January 2017.

Joe joins ELM with a background in business administration and finance, and six years’ experience in landscape sales, maintenance and construction.

Joe’s business training gives him a unique perspective on enhancing bottom line advantages for commercial property/facility managers and HOA boards looking to increase value. This includes high return on investment improvements such as masonry, walking trails and paths, turf-to-meadow conversions, plant rotations, structural elements, or modifications for water conservation.

Joe says he’s found that over the years, when multiple people are involved in decision-making, the more you can communicate the scope of work and the value it adds, the more likely the outcome is a win-win.

“Making the case for continuous landscape improvement requires an ability to think strategically. Joe understands how our customers’ landscapes are expected to conform to their brand and property image standards and he ties what we do to what our customers are focused on improving,” said Bruce Moore, Jr., vice president operations.

Old Greenwich, Connecticut born and raised, Joe considers himself an outdoorsman who believes in a prudent use of natural resources. His passion for sports, skiing and boating led him to landscaping where he discovered an equal passion for creating healthy outdoor environments that stand the test of time.

“We look forward to Joe being part of a team that is committed to the very best in customer service, quality work, and fresh thinking. He never ceases to impress us with his exceptional ability to support our customers with respect, trust, and sustainable solutions,” added Bruce.

Impatient for Summer Color?

ELM’s color team knows that the impatiens, petunias, begonias, and the variegated coleus’ we choose for our customers’ color borders, entry walkways, signage, and other critical focal points are more important than just the bright pop of color they bring; they have meaning beyond their obvious impact.

In fact, research suggests that people feel colors more than they see them. This is why stylists, landscape professionals, garden designers, interior decorators, and real estate marketing experts use color to create different moods or to inspire, energize, or simply to make people happy.

ELM’s color team selects colors so that its collective effect makes small spaces seem larger, attracts attention to showcase areas, and creates a sense of flow.

ELM’s color strategy is generally based on installing warm hues, such as reds, yellows and oranges, front or center; cool colors and taller plant and foliage varieties in darker shades, such as blues and purples, behind; and tapering off into the background with supporting shades and texture to create an illusion of depth. We find that mass plantings of warm colors tend to make landscape areas feel more intimate and that staying within one color group tends to provide a sense of unity. For high impact, we recommend juxtaposing warm and cool colors to provide contrast, drama, and a sense of energy.

For information on seasonal color rotation or to learn how landscape color impacts the perception of your brand, contact professional horticulturist Bruce Moore, Jr., vice president, operations at 203-316-5433.

Buzz Kill: Manage biting insects to prevent, control, and fight spread of vector-borne diseases.

Experts are predicting an over-abundance of ticks and mosquitoes this summer due to an unseasonably warm winter.

Of concern to commercial property and facility managers in the greater Fairfield and Westchester County areas are protective measures to reduce the risk of the diseases they transmit, including the potentially debilitating tick-borne Lyme disease and the mosquito-carried West Nile, Zika, and Eastern Equine Encephalitis, among others.

ELM has an established vector management program based on the understanding of the particular insect’s habitat in the landscape and the expertise and confidence of ELM’s well-trained technical team to use safe, environmentally sound, and effective control measures.

“Our main focus is preventative: to eliminate mosquito breeding areas and proactively treat tick habitats,” says Area Manager Charles Andrianus, ELM’s licensed pest control supervisor and director of its pest management program, “This is especially important for businesses serving vulnerable demographics, such as senior living facilities, hospitals and schools,” he added.

ELM offers both chemical repellent products that have been registered and tested for efficacy and human safety, and natural organic solutions to treat mosquitos and ticks, and other biting insects, such as black flies, and parasites, such as fleas.

ELM’s mosquito and tick service begins in June for existing landscape maintenance customers. It is also available as a stand-alone or enhanced service for property and facility managers interested in securing an extra layer of protection. The service consists of three treatments at one-month intervals. Landscape and habitat modifications that can diminish vector habitats are recommended in cases where it can maximize protection and are delivered separately.

Mosquito Prevention Basics:
• Ensure adequate protection during times of day when mosquitoes are most active.
• Eliminate standing water where mosquitoes can breed.
• Keep properties debris-free. 
• Identify areas that might develop and harbor mosquitoes and treat. 
• Address both larval and adult mosquito control.
• Use approved, safe, and safely-applied diverse control measures to reduce mosquito populations.
• Modify landscape plantings to introduce beneficial insects and mosquito-repelling plants, such as marigolds and ageratum.

Tick Prevention Basics:
• Introduce deer-resistant plants such as sages and ornamental salvias, and tick resistant plants, such as rosemary and citronella.
• Select the least toxic chemical control applications and apply along wood lines and walking trails.
• Make landscape modifications in areas adjacent to woods, stonewalls, or ornamental plantings to create a tick-free zone.
• Design buffer areas using gravel to deter ticks from crossing onto lawns from wooded areas.
• Alter landscape’s shady areas to increase sunlight.
• Change landscape practices to create areas less hospitable to ticks.
• Identify areas that might develop and harbor ticks and treat.
• Cut back the wood lines to create a wider buffer zone between plant material ticks hide in and public pedestrian areas.
• Keep brush piles and tall grass cleaned-up and mowed.
• Stay on marked, walking trails; never follow a deer trail.
• Shower and wash thoroughly if you’ve been hiking and check for ticks.
• Wear adequate protection and clothing with insect repellents that utilize DEET, or alternative organic products, such as botanical oil-based products, such as cedar, which is lethal to ticks, or organic neem oil.
Mosquitos and ticks are more than a summer nuisance. The diseases they can carry are serious. General protective and control measures work.

For more information on ELM’s pest control program and mosquito and tick treatment services, contact Bruce Moore, Jr., vice president, operations, at 203-316-5433.

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(Photo: CDC © Aedes aegypti mosquito, carrier of Zika virus).

Understanding Landscape Lifecycle

Like all living things, your landscape has a life cycle. With proper care and maintenance, horticulturists can extend its life. But ultimately, all plants will reach the end of their life cycle and decline.

Grasses, trees and shrubs have separate and distinct life cycles. For example, annual flowers have a life expectancy of approximately one year; perennial plants live for several growing seasons. Many keep their leaves year-round and make attractive borders, groundcovers and meadow plantings. Perennials common in the northeast are cold hardy enough to survive winter temperatures. Some perennials, such as forage grasses, die back each winter but revive in the spring.

How landscape lifecycle affects cost:

1) Budget – Replacing plant material can be expensive, especially if large quantities of landscape materials are on the same life cycle and need to be replaced at the same time.

2) Schedule – Scheduling can be difficult in terms of ordering lead times and finding material that is the right size and variety. Scheduling seasonal upgrades, replanting, freshening and improvements to existing areas is critical, especially when the landscape is an important part of the property’s overall marketability, such as on commercial and educational sites.

3) Maintenance – A good landscape management program can ensure that the plant material gets the horticultural care it needs. The right level of care and best management practice will promote the plant’s proper growth and development of the landscape, and prevent damage or early decline. When the landscape ages and begins to lose its luster, we believe it’s often better and cheaper to replace plants in decline than to artificially extend their life using products that might cause potential harm to groundwater, beneficial insects, and sensitive habitats, or result in unnecessary cost to the owner.

4) Function – Plants have three roles to play: aesthetic, structural and utilitarian. They can be visually pleasing, organize and define space, create barriers for privacy and safety, and create comfort by modifying light, temperature and humidity. How plants are used, and to what extent they contribute to site habitat or microclimate, or how they are used for security or energy efficiency, is essential when considering how long each of these plants, trees and shrubs will be able to do its job.

5) Trends – Commercial landscaping reflects the needs of the environment as much as it follows consumer trends. If you want your property value to stay ahead of the curve, it’s a good idea to take stock of your landscape to stay relevant and appealing. Overall, landscapes are more sustainably focused. Traditional lawn areas are being re-imagined, natural materials are in demand, and digital technologies that control landscape and irrigation systems are fueling an opportunity for enhanced next-generation resource management.

6) Water – As Connecticut enters year three of a statewide drought, irrigation becomes a matter of water management. Property owners and managers concerned about the impact of restricted watering on their plants and trees are justifiably concerned. Options for keeping landscapes healthy as the weather heats up include turf aeration, to improve water and nutrient absorption; soil amendments, to improve soil health; mulching, to improve hydration and moisture retention; converting underutilized turf or tired borders to perennial meadows or less thirsty plantings; and retrofitting outdated sprinkler systems with water conserving technologies.

How can ELM help?

ELM’s team of professional horticulturists are knowledgeable about which plants, flowers, grasses and trees are right for the site; how they will perform over time, and how their unique characteristics will contribute to the overall health, longevity, and value of the landscape.

We provide both short- and long-term cost analysis, maintenance priorities, water and resource conservation strategies, and, more importantly, as all-season service provides, make sure that every site we care for is safe and hazard-free, even in winter.

For more information on optimizing your landscape life cycle and creating a landscape management strategy that begins with the end in mind, contact Bruce Moore at 203-316-5433.

The Benefits of Mulch

Mulches are the Swiss Army Knife of landscape applications. They come in many forms and serve many functions: covering bare ground in shrub beds, around annuals, and in tree wells, and working behind the scenes to make the soil and the plants it serves healthier and better able to withstand stress.

As our region heads into watering restrictions and year three of a statewide drought, mulch will play a critical role in conserving water.

Here’s how:

1) Retaining moisture – Mulches reduce evaporation by placing an insulating cover over bare soil, which keeps roots hydrated. Mulches also save water by reducing weeds and their competition for moisture and nutrients. Mulch is an important tool for landscape health during periods of drought-based watering restrictions as it helps the soil hold water longer.

2) Preventing run-off and erosion – Mulches help soil absorb irrigation water and heavy rainfall, preventing run-off and allowing penetration of water into the soil.

3) Regulating soil temperature – Mulches moderate soil temperature fluctuations. During hot weather, mulches reflect heat and keep soil cool. This helps reduce summer heat-stress on plants. During cold weather, mulches help the soil retain warmth, reducing the chance of winter root injury.

4) Preventing weeds – Mulch, when applied thick enough to prevent light from reaching the soil surface, prevents weed seeds from germinating. Weed seeds that do germinate, are inhibited from penetrating the mulch cover.

There are two broad categories of mulch: organic and inorganic. Inorganic, or mineral, mulches are materials such as gravel, rock or stones. These can be decorative and can help supply some of the functional benefits of mulch but lack the insulating and nourishing properties of organic mulch.

Although synthetic mulch products are available, organic mulch, derived from natural substances, have the added benefit of contributing nutrients to the soil as the mulch decomposes. Natural mulches come in many grades and textures, including quality bark and wood shavings, wood chips, and pine straw.

Mulch beds should be freshened once a year. When mulching an existing bed, we recommend mulch depth of 1 ½ to 2: thick. While mulch is a significant contributor to plant health, too much mulch can be too much of a good thing. If there is already a significant depth of mulch, additional mulch could suffocate roots and stress existing plants.

To learn more about the benefits mulch brings to your landscape and its strategic role in water conservation, contact Bruce Moore at 203-316-5433.

Are Perennials Breaking New Ground?

For commercial property owners and managers looking for non-traditional landscape approaches to take their office, mall, business park, school, or health care facility up a notch, look no further than transitioning high maintenance and underutilized turf and lawn areas to a perennial meadow.

Perennials are versatile plants that offer an infinite number of creative combinations when it comes to color, form, and texture. “The more species you include in your plant mix, the healthier it is,” said Bruce Moore, Jr., ELMs Vice President of Operations and a second-generation horticulturist. “While turf and lawn areas are typically made up of a single type grass, a cohesive palette of natural vegetation, ornamental grasses and flowering groundcovers improves the health of the soil and can act as a living mulch.”

In addition to emerging as a growing landscape and green design trend, meadow approaches are providing important ecological benefits well beyond aesthetics, attracting pollinators, songbirds, and beneficial insects. With less maintenance required overall, meadow plantings can offer cost savings over traditional sod.

According to Moore, the first three years of a meadow planting require time to fully develop. Once established, however, the plants become cost efficient (from reduced maintenance, reduced water, fertilizer and extra care turf might require), and the return on investment can be realized in less than half that time.

ELMs advocacy for re-imagined lawn alternatives has taken on new relevancy as ongoing drought concerns impact greater Fairfield County, Connecticut and parts of New York, an area ELM has served for more than 40 years.

Careful planning will ensure that the perennials and grasses integrate and compete well with other landscaped areas. “One of the best applications for this naturalistic aesthetic is in its power to transform parking lots,” said Moore.

“Parking lot renovations that incorporate sustainable characteristics and easy-care perennials overtime offer significant environmental and cost improvements. In winter, we’re finding that parking lots planted with both hardy natives and other appropriate plants suffer less damage when equipment is clearing away snow and ice.”

For more information on green infrastructure and sustainable landscape maintenance for commercial properties (bioswales, bioretention areas, turf, meadows, landscape and tree plant palettes), contact Bruce Moore @ 203-316-5433.

© Photo credit: Masshort.org