Now’s a good time to assess your year
Points to consider
Look at the property in its totality, not in isolation.
What you create you have to maintain.
One year’s seeding is seven years weeding.
If you weed when no weeds are present you never have any weeds.
So we are at the downside of summer with growth slowing down, a good time to assess how the garden ‘behaved’ through the growing season and did it look its best and if not why not? Cost is becoming more of a factor in our daily lives and this also applies to the garden, especially as by its very nature it can be a growing expense. Costs include — if used — the landscape maintenance company and associated services, materials throughout year such as fertiliser, plants, chemical sprays, compost, peat etc.
It is always my contention that the ‘as and when required’ approach to maintenance is by far the best method of producing the ‘goods’ in all areas of the garden. Maintenance is based/dictated on the design, a point very rarely considered when planning the garden, the more ‘fiddly’ the design/layout the more labour required to keep it up to scratch. Of course the real question in any exercise relating to maintenance is simply ‘to what level of maintenance’, should the garden be kept. Generally speaking the approach to a garden maintenance programme is simply to ask several landscape companies for a price to maintain the grounds; but what does the maintenance consist of and how long will it take to do it properly, otherwise is it worth doing? Is quantity preferable to quality, quantity is often the same as over-planting where everything merges into each other whereas quality often makes more of a visual impact. Garden maintenance by its very nature is not static but ongoing therefore associating it with a fixed time line of 2, 3 or 4 hours per maintenance visit makes little sense and is not practical in the short or long term.
Mother Nature deals us her hand in unexpected ways it is not clinical and precise, Monday is not necessarily a rain-day neither is Tuesday; growth is dictated by weather conditions therefore growth will vary accordingly as will other garden related tasks. To keep ‘on top’ of these tasks would therefore require a more flexible time line according to the work to be done.
Maintenance programmes are usually based on one visit per month in the winter and twice per month during the period April to October, with work consisting of mowing, ‘hacking’ or pruning, weed wacking and weeding. Most of these tasks are often carried out whether needed or not to the detriment of other work that on many occasions is more of a priority. Now if that is all one wants then fine, but consider the cost on a long-term basis for the return on investment which in reality is a depreciating asset. Flexibility in the maintenance programme could I believe produce a better end product simply by adjusting the hours on site per visit to what is actually at that time.
Take for example the exercise of pruning, how often are hedges or plants ‘given the treatment’ when in reality pruning in general should be carried out no more than three times per year. In cases where hedges are too close to a road or path — a design fault — then consider pruning them back harder to allow for growth to fill in. We have experienced periods of extreme drought over the last couple of years which has an adverse effect on plant growth especially lawns and yet mowers have still been seen trundling across Sahara like surfaces creating dust storms galore. Why not just mow when needed at the correct height for the specific grass? If flower beds are hoed weekly/fortnightly when weeds are very small then the exercise of weed control is kept to a minimum; when weeds are allowed to grow it takes longer to remove them especially the root systems which are often vegetative and start regrowth immediately. In the case of ephemerals — weeds that grow, flower and produce seed in a short time frame — can also be a problem with seeds being disseminated around the garden. Weed control is also essential for all areas around the garden including footpaths, hedge-lines etc. Weeds also consist of seedlings produced from fallen fruits or seeds from garden plants such as the Surinam cherry which produces twice a year and prolifically so, therefore raking fallen fruits will alleviate the problem of germination. In the case of palms especially Chinese Fans the flower/seed spike I believe looks attractive, but if not required remove flower spike and no seed will be produced or rake seed immediately it has fallen.
Fertilising of lawns and flower beds should be carried out several times per year but again contingent on weather conditions and time of year vis a vis type of fertiliser to be used. Pest and disease control should be a priority when any signs of a problem occur, therefore inspection of plants should be part of every maintenance visit.
The deployment of labour should be productive and pertinent to specific tasks therefore by concentrating on tasks that are required at the time of visit will keep the property in good condition. Presently, any unfinished tasks — whether needed or not — are carried over to the next visit which could be two weeks, leaving unfinished work only exacerbates problems especially if the weather has an effect on growth of grass etc thus creating additional work on the next visit. This type of programme often creates a situation of constant catch up with the garden never being completely ‘under control’. The time required for completion of each task is contingent on weather conditions or time of year and in totality the work time for completion of all tasks per visit could be less or more than the present contract calls for, but over a year would equalise out with the highs and lows of seasons.
This approach may not suit everyone’s approach to maintenance especially those who just have a simple garden layout with a small number of shrubs and a lawn. On the other hand if you are keen on having the garden look at its best and even spent a lot of money on the garden, this might be a route to consider.
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