Proactive Landscaping: Conducting a Walkthrough on Your Property

Lawnmower cutting grassRegular site walkthroughs with your landscape service providers are essential. Site walkthroughs help HOAs communicate their desires, stay informed about site issues, and be proactive and strategic in determining priority and action items. Walkthroughs also allow the service provider to be more attentive with constructive feedback, and let’s HOAs stretch their budget further with decisions based on current, detailed information.

Overall, site walkthroughs are extremely useful tools that HOAs should utilize. This article outlines necessary items for HOAs to discuss with their service provider, leading to more effective meetings and walkthroughs. But first, the HOA must know some preliminary information about its service provider and property.

What to Do for a Site Walkthrough

Know Your HOA’s Landscaper

The Landscape Contractor’s specialty license, or C-27, has by far the broadest scope of all the specialty contractor licenses. A licensed C-27 contractor’s expertise ranges from engineering and mechanical aspects of outdoor lighting and electrical, stone masonry, carpentry and wood craftsmanship, to plumbing expertise for efficient irrigation and drainage systems. The contractor must also be knowledgeable in horticulture and ecology to address soil and plant health as well as plant pests and diseases.

All these fields of study are interrelated to the landscape system, and HOAs should use their service provider’s expertise as a resource to help get the most out of their landscape.

Identify Landscape Zones

In landscapes, different areas of the landscape have different aesthetic values. The front entry’s level of detail and impact differs from the area around the trash compactor in the service area. Identifying and agreeing on the different landscape zones and their related aesthetic values helps the landscape service provider prioritize tasks and allocate resources.

Irrigation is another way to section off your property’s landscaping into zones. Landscapes are designed and maintained to a large degree by the irrigation hydro-zones. These are areas with similar plant watering needs that are each irrigated by a separate valve or “station” on the irrigation controller. A competent landscaper will be monitoring these areas by doing regular irrigation systems checks.

The irrigation zones are usually arranged or numbered in the controllers so that they can be tested in sequence in what is called a walking order. If this is the first detailed walkthrough, doing it in the walking order helps the service provider and the site manager better collaborate and understand each other’s goals and concerns.

Maintaining this same site tour path in future walkthroughs establishes a comprehensive routine to help organize notes and tasks for both parties.

Stay Involved

It takes a skilled and experienced eye to catch minor landscape issues before they become problems. Sometimes the right questions can uncover problems or opportunities that would otherwise go unnoticed.  Start the walkthrough with a quick review of the main tasks from the last walkthrough and any new issues that have come up. Then review potential problems, desired changes and priorities, and improvement opportunities for each area.

Essential Landscaping Elements

We’ve compiled a list of landscaping elements that should be covered and discussed by the HOA’s representative (either the board of directors or the association manager) and the landscape service provider.

Trees

Ask your landscaper about the general health of your HOA’s trees. Your landscaper should be able to answer questions about:

Seasonal pruning Leaf drop
Fruit Issues Thinning
Building Clearance Hazardous Branches
Weak limb attachments Insects and disease
Pesticides used Life-span
Staking Fertilizer Program
Mechanical Damage General health and vigor

Hardscape

Over time, your HOA’s landscape could be causing damage to the hardscape. Your service provider can help you by:

Maintaining... Minimizing Liability from...
Irrigation run-off damage Trip and slippage hazards
Root pressure ADA compliance
Plant edging Curb maintenance

Site Amenities

Site amenities need maintenance too. Your landscape provider should offer solutions for damage to:

Wood fencing Structural siding
Benches and tables Paints and stains
Lamp poles Signs
Bollards Lighting
Water features Sculptural and accent elements

Irrigation

Irrigation is one of the most important aspects of your landscape. Overwater and your HOA is wasting money on landscaping; underwater and the plant-life will suffer. Your landscape provider should:

Offer... Identify & Repair... Know...
Weekly or monthly meter reads Mainline, valve, and lateral leaks Drip and flushing systems
Water budgets Quick couplers Backflow testing
Seasonal reference evapo-transpiration data Hose bibs Emitter checks
Pressure problems Valve box checks
Irrigation system check results Broken nozzles Head spacing

Planting Beds

Your HOA’s service provider should have the horticultural knowledge to know what is best for your plants. They should provide information on:

Soil type Root-zone depth
Organic-matter content Mulch type and depth
Plant crown checks Pruning styles
Recommended plant replacements Fertilizer programs
Nutrient deficiencies or toxicities Diseases or pests
Weeds Herbicides and pesticides used

Turf Areas

Attractive turf areas can make your landscape “pop”. Your HOA's landscaper should discuss these options:

Turf type  Irrigation uniformity issues
Turf blend Top-dressing
Over-seeding Core aerification

Sustainability

Sustainable enhancements are improvements that would save resources, minimize future inputs, or improve the landscape ecology. Some common enhancements that improve site sustainability are:

Removing shrubs that require shearing Introducing beneficial insects
Maintaining an organic fertilizer program Composting organic debris on-site
Installing bio-swales for improved rainwater infiltration Planting climate-appropriate or edible plants
Installing permeable paving systems Implementing an IMP program
Installing rain harvesting systems Using chipped wood mulch
Using mulching mowers Installing a water feature to promote habitat

Debris

A clear understanding of your service provider’s scope of work can be helpful. Review debris clean-up responsibilities throughout the landscape and parking lot as well as trash schedules, and aesthetic thresholds.

Hazards

Your landscape service provider can help minimize liabilities on your site. Your service provider can identify paths through planting areas, tree hazards, hardscape hazards, and parking lot maintenance scheduling. All known hazards should be documented.

Best Practices for Site Walkthroughs

Site walkthroughs should involve note taking, capturing images, and identifying action items for prioritization. Your HOA should always understand what is included in the monthly maintenance contract and what will be billed as extra work.  

It’s also helpful to review a short list of items on each walkthrough. This includes any landscape improvement projects that are active, completed, or pending. Discuss costs and priorities for those still pending. Identify new opportunities for landscape improvements, and ask your service provider for a quote.

A wish list of potential improvement projects is helpful for periodic review and when budgeting for the future. Prioritizing which items are most important will help keep projects in perspective.

A good way to manage the process is for the service provider to supply the site manager or board of directors with a letter or email describing what was discussed on the walkthough. The letter should define next actions and priorities for each party. This information can also be critical for effective transitions if either party moves on and new individuals have to get up to speed with the issues and needs of the site.

Conclusion

A thorough walkthrough may take some extra time and effort, but after establishing a routine both parties can have confidence in their effectiveness and efficiency to improve and maintain the landscape. With the routine in place, inviting other users of the space to join the walkthrough can enhance the process. Usually there are a handful of key individuals who are either most vocal about issues, or are stakeholders in the maintenance of the site. Having them contribute their ideas and concerns on a walkthrough can add insight for everyone involved.

This process will help promote quality communication and relationships between managers and board members, service providers and residents. Ultimately, it will lead to your HOA achieving its best possible landscape.


Information provided by Dave Phelps, ASLA, ISA.

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