Twelve ways to save both

Working for a firm in the green industry, you’ve probably been asked to do more with less: less people, less money, less water, etc. If you own your own company, you might ask yourself or your employees to do more with less. In either case, the concept is efficiency: more output with less input.

If you are unable to install drip irrigation, water polymers will allow you to water container plants less, saving time on labor.

Following is a list of techniques that may help save money on labor or materials, adding more to your bottom line and, thus, more cash in your pocket.

1. Save labor by avoiding annuals and perennials that reseed profusely. They pop up everywhere in the landscape, usually where they’re not wanted, and need to be removed. Not only is it laborious to remove the new seedlings, they disrupt the intent of the landscape design. You don’t want a small mass of plants spreading by leaps and bounds, and within just a year or two taking over nearby plant groupings.

2. Group plants with similar moisture needs together. This is best accomplished by creating water zones—high, medium and low. Water zones can be integrated into a new or established landscape. Doing so allows for increased efficiency with irrigation, whether manual or automatic. Delivering the appropriate amount of water to each group of plants in the landscape will save money on water costs and labor if watering by hand.

3. Plant perennials, shrubs and annuals in masses. Not only are plant masses more aesthetically pleasing, using them reduces the number of plant edges that need to be groomed. Single plants or rows of plants have more need for edging and pruning. Masses of plant materials help facilitate better separation of turf and ornamentals. Separation is important to create simple lines that eliminate the need to mow around solitary plants. In general, a landscape that utilizes massing and good separation of turf and ornamentals can be mowed in about half the time as one where trees, shrubs, perennials and grass are colocated.

It takes time to prune hedges and to teach your staff how to do it correctly.

4. Choose plants that don’t require much grooming or pruning. After all, pruning takes time—time to do it and time to train your staff how to do it. Plants such as shrub roses, cranesbill, butterfly milkweed, ornamental grasses, helenium, calibrachoa, lamiums and vincas require minimal efforts. Tea roses, privet, juniper, lilacs, petunias and yews need regular pruning, pinching and/or deadheading to look their best.

5. Charge appropriately for certain tasks performed for customers. Take a good look at how long it takes to prune, fertilize, water, repair, replace, plant, etc.

Some companies are simply not well positioned or staffed to perform certain maintenance procedures. Additionally, consider the cost and upkeep of various pieces of equipment. If you only have a few customers that require a certain service, and the equipment is pricey, consider subcontracting those jobs to another company.

6. Improve the soils on your properties with compost. This will save time and money on applications to control pests. Plants growing in compost-enriched soils tend to be healthier, as the roots have increased capacity to expand laterally and achieve a size that will adequately support them. Compost has the ability to improve both sandy and clay soils; it can help to hold water and nutrients in sandy soils, and loosen clay soils by increasing macropore spaces. Pests tend to be attracted to sickly plants, and one of the biggest factors in plant health is a healthy root system in a healthy soil. If you are in charge of taking care of the landscape in an office complex, you’ll spend less time dealing with pests if the ornamentals are planted in compost-enriched soils.

7. Throw it away. Even though it might hurt the plant lover in you, don’t waste time trying to nurse a sick plant back to health. This is especially true for annuals and container plants. Plants that become infected with viruses are mechanically damaged or suffer from an heavy infestation of a sap-sucking insect can sometimes be brought back to life, but it takes lots of time to do so, and your client may be unhappy with you while they gaze upon their sickly landscape. That’s why nurseries were invented—to be a source of more plants.

Mulch helps reduce weeds, which saves labor, and since it helps to retain moisture it can reduce watering costs.

8. Buy, and use, the right tool for the job. Don’t try to “make do” with inferior equipment. Sure, there’s a balance; if a tool is old, but working, keep it and use it appropriately. But, if you’re stuck with mowers that are too small, if you’re cutting and bundling branches because you don’t have a good chipper, always stopping to pick up leaves because the bagger doesn’t fit right, etc., look for alternatives.

9. Don’t leave jobs half done. Such a job usually ends up taking much more time to complete than if done at one time. Mowing jobs are good examples. When you come back, you might have to mow the entire lawn instead of just the remaining area (especially if it rains for two days while the job is half done), plus the time spent loading and unloading the equipment two times instead of once.

10. Install drip irrigation. Drip systems are another possible time saver. There is an initial cost, but it will save money on time spent hand watering. It works particularly well for raised bed planters and other containers. Drip irrigation is efficient, putting water in the rootzone of the plant not in between plants so it saves money on water. Combine it with an inexpensive timer and you’re all set. If you’re not able to install drip irrigation in containers or raised beds, try water polymers. Incorporate them in the soil mix when planting, and they will generally allow you to water about half as often. Since labor is money, that’s a great saving. Water polymers are a bit of a misnomer however, as they usually will not save much on the actual amount of water, just the time to apply it.

11. Where practical, use a cart or some sort of wheeled carrier to help haul tools and products to various parts of a property. This may sound obvious, but think back to the last job where you had to make six trips back to the truck for something you could have loaded on a cart when you started the job. Carts can also help to reduce injuries on the job due to lifting and carrying heavy objects.

12. Mulch is one of the best time and money savers. Hand weeding costs money, extra watering costs money and sickly plants cost money. Mulching with wood chips or a similar material reduces weeding and watering costs.

Sift through these ideas, talk about them at your next staff meeting and get input from your co-workers. Chances are, at least one or two can help save you time and money.

The author is a horticulturist, certified arborist and frequent contributor to Turf located in Omaha, Neb.