How To Reduce Costs of Landscape Maintenance: Meeting the Needs of Limited Budgets

Reducing the cost of landscape maintenance to meet the needs of limited budgets and cost reductions.

In times of financial insecurity, landscape maintenance is often one of the first areas to tighten the strings and reduce one’s budget. When working with our clients, whether residential or commercial, it is important for our industry to know how to handle reductions in landscape maintenance costs. Lucky for us, maintenance of a property is often not an all or nothing situation. It can be difficult to advise a client where money can be saved knowing we want to do what’s best for the entire landscape. There are many things to consider when reducing an annual Plant Health Care proposal. We must consider several questions, such as: is the treatment preventative or therapeutic? Is this an aesthetic issue or something more detrimental? The more variables we can consider, the easier it will be to meet our client’s budget and feel good about the choices made.

When a cost reduction must be made, a conversation with the client is the first place to start. Often our clients have far different priorities than we may assume. What we consider priority may be misinformed. Its easy to assume that aesthetic issues, such as apple scab, would be a good place to start reducing cost compared to the treatment of a more detrimental issue such as needle cast on a blue spruce. However, ugly trees can be depressing, especially if there is a personal attachment to the tree. If your customer planted that crab apple on Arbor Day with their family, that tree is going to be their number one priority. The blue spruce we have been treating for years may have a specimen maple behind it that could be better appreciated with the spruce being gone. Only with conversation can we find what the true priorities are and our professional opinion of health and design play an important role in that conversation.

The fastest way to reduce a budget is to reduce labor. We must start to look for alternative treatment methods. Most plant health care is heavily weighted towards spring applications. When we build plans that spread the labor more evenly throughout the season everyone wins, it allows the service of more customers with a smaller work force. In turn, it makes us more efficient.

Many pests such as caterpillars emerge in the spring as new growth begins to emerge. Spring defoliators are far more hazardous to a tree’s health than late season defoliators, and therefore are a priority to control. Unfortunately, we cannot spray all our client’s trees on the same day. It may take weeks to get through our customer list, especially in bad years, such as when there’s a spongy moth population explosions. Using our injectable products, the spring damage can be greatly reduced with a fall application of the previous year. This is beneficial by spreading our work load out and allowing room to take on new clients in the spring.

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Solutions offered by Arborjet

Healthy trees require less care. Using Shortstop 2SC, a paclobutrazol based plant growth regulator, has many benefits beyond growth regulation. It reallocates the plants use of energy and changes the physical composition of the leaf material. When the energy a tree uses on outward growth is reduced, an uptick is seen in the production of stored energy and defense compounds. On trees treated with Shortstop 2SC, we see a much thicker leaf cuticle than trees that are not treated. A thicker cuticle makes the tree a less favorable host for many fungal pathogens, we see a great reduction in sycamore anthracnose, drought stress, apple scab, and many other common issues typically treated in the spring. In the Northeast one application of Shortstop 2SC will provide three years of benefits and can be applied any time the tree is transpiring. By adding this product to your plan, you can greatly reduce your spring fungicide applications.

Preventative plant health care is often seen as a good place to reduce the budget, we are putting money into a problem that doesn’t even exist. However, preventative plant health care is often far cheaper than therapeutic care. When we can make minor adjustments far in advance of an issue taking place it takes very little input. Typically, when a tree or shrub falls to an affliction such as verticillium wilt, borers, phytophthora, armillaria root rot, or a host of other issues, it is due to an existing level of stress on the plant. Existing stress on a plant is an inciting factor into the spiral of death. Inciting factors are things such as compacted soil, drought, poor soil composition, or the urban environment in general. These are the things that we can focus on with a limited budget and see great long-term results. When we only treat for the secondary issue that is directly in front of us, we are doomed to get stuck in a repetitive circle of costly treatments that can easily exhaust our client’s budget. The most economically viable plan is to treat the issue but then start treating the inciting factor.

There are many ways to de-compact soil. The use of an air spade is a common way to alleviate the compaction but is very high in labor. Another way to de-compact soil is to increase microbial activity and organic matter. If we only air spade and walk away, the benefits will be temporary, it is still the same soil under the same conditions. When we change the soil composition, we can make a lasting change. A great way to make a lasting change is to apply a natural whole tree mulch over the root zone and apply Bio MP, a molasses based liquid fertilizer, to the newly created mulch bed. Bio MP greatly increases microbial activity and the mulch will start to biodegrade at a much faster rate than mulching alone. This will naturally de-compact the soil and add much needed nutrients to the plant. The long-lasting effects of amending the soil composition will greatly reduce labor over time.

When we think outside the box of our normal treatment methods, we can come up with many creative solutions. Budgets are always changing and so must our care of trees. Considering all our options when maintaining plants, getting ahead of the problems before they start, and having a good conversation with our clients, will put us in a much better position to meet the needs of a reduced budget.

Stay Safe.

Kevin Brewer

Arborjet’s Northeast Regional Technical Manager