Mr. Hutcheson

Maintenance

Your Hotel Garden: Going Native

By Ken Hutcheson, President, U.S. Lawns

When it comes to curb appeal, the importance of first impressions cannot be overstated. However, given the state of today's economy, some property managers are faced with changing the way they landscape their properties. For the hotel industry, one of the biggest challenges they face when it comes to property maintenance is the balance between being aesthetically pleasing, environmentally friendly and staying within their budget.

To ensure all three objectives are met, speak with your landscape professional about the possibility of converting parts of a large property to include some native plants. Native landscaping uses plants, shrubs and trees indigenous to the region in which you are planting, to create a lower-maintenance landscape. The plants and trees that are used in native landscaping are acclimated to local weather conditions, so they typically require less chemicals and watering to maintain.

Transitioning towards a native landscape can seem like a daunting task, especially considering how instrumental a beautiful landscape can be in drawing guests to your hotel. However, there are a number of ways you can make this change without compromising aesthetics. Installing a native landscape does not mean you must remove all grasses, flowers and trees, and let the weeds grow wild, and vines overgrow, leaving your property with the air of neglect. The biggest misconception in regards to native landscaping is that it leaves your property looking messy or barren. That is far from the truth. In fact, some large resorts and properties actually embrace their "wild areas," and are a destination because of that, whether in the woodlands, the grasslands or in the desert. But these are not the only options when it comes to native landscaping. Each geographical region has numerous plants and trees that are indigenous to the area, with a variety of colors and options from which to choose.

While there could possibly be higher costs at the initial onset of the transition, depending on how your property is currently designed, long-term benefits of making the change usually include lower water bills and less maintenance, which could mean significantly reduced annual operating costs. In addition, fewer pesticides and fertilizers are required for a natural landscape, which means you have a healthier environment.

Native plants provide diverse food and habitat for birds and small mammals. In heavily developed urban areas, even small patches of natural landscape can be critical in maintaining populations of native fauna and flora.

If you make the decision to convert parts of your property to a native landscape, it is important to plan carefully with your landscape professional when designing the new landscape. In areas that require irrigation, it's imperative that the proper irrigation system is installed. Consider installing a "smart" controller, which is a computerized system that automatically adjusts watering times and amounts based on local weather conditions. For some areas, drip irrigation may be installed, which drips water slowly onto or at the base of the plant.

However, if you want to stay on the cutting edge of water conservation technology, the answer may lay in investing in moisture sensors. Moisture sensors are designed to detect the moisture levels in the soil, making it the most efficient method of watering. Moisture sensors will continuously measure your soil and only allow a watering cycle when the moisture drops below a certain, customized, threshold. So while a "smart" controller that measures rainfall may still allow a watering cycle the day of or the day after a rain storm, regardless of rainfall amounts, a moisture sensor will accurately read the moisture level in the soil and will keep your watering system turned off until the excess moisture has dissipated. The biggest detractor of these moisture sensors are the initial purchase and installation costs; however, due to their extremely efficient ability to determine how much moisture is in the soil and thus how often you need to water to maintain your beautiful landscape, they pay for themselves in under three years, saving precious dollars on water bills..

Seek guidance from your landscape professional when planning the new landscape. Planning and placement is everything. Professional landscapers can help you identify specific types of trees, shrubs and plants that are suited for particular reasons and needs. For instance, areas of the property where the trees should be planted are key decisions. Trees can provide summer shade for buildings, pedestrians or parking areas, which can keep air conditioning costs down and comfort levels up. Those same well-placed trees lose their leaves in the winter and let the warmth of the sun into those same areas for cold-season comfort; again, helping reduce heating costs. The size and growth potential for trees and shrubs are also important factors to take into consideration. While a shrub, ornamental tree or plant may look attractive in an area when small, you must consider how large the plant will become. Poorly placed, they may require too much pruning to keep their branches away from sidewalks or parking places. Over-pruning can cause poor plant health. Native flowering shrubs can be strategically placed, and smaller native plants can be added to create a flow and scale to fit your particular property.

Something else to consider is increasing the number of mulched areas on the property. Mulch can be extremely beneficial in maintaining your landscape by performing a number of functions. It can eliminate smaller areas of turf that require high maintenance in tight spaces. Mulch is also instrumental when it comes to locking moisture in the soil, as it slows the evaporation process. This in turn reduces the amount of watering required to maintain your plants and/or flowers which helps reduce your operational costs. Mulch also assists in erosion control, holding valuable topsoil and nutrients in place during heavy rains, and can also be used to help suppress the growth of weeds and unwanted vines, which will help reduce the need to use excessive amounts of fertilizers and weed control products.

Recently a number of hotels in the Houston, Texas area have started moving away from landscaping with tropical plants, such as palms, some of which don't fare well during the winter months, to a landscape more tolerant to the Texas climate. In some cases, crepe myrtles are a good substitute. Crepe myrtles are ornamental trees that flower seasonally throughout the summer months. They are available in a wide range colors and sizes, and even have interesting looking bark in the winter, after the foliage drops. Large properties often line their driveways and sidewalks with crepe myrtles, which provide a dramatic and welcoming look to an entrance.

Two of the most popular types of flowering shrubs that have been used by hotels other commercial properties are Drift Roses and Knockout Roses. These roses are capable of thriving in a wide range of climates and will re-bloom every five to six weeks with very little maintenance. They don't require the typical "deadheading," which is the removal of spent blooms to encourage new ones to grow. Knockout roses are self-cleaning, and are disease resistant.

By incorporating these more colorful elements into the landscape, along with the more traditional ones, hotels are able to create beautiful properties without draining the limited water supply.

Hotels have found that making such adjustments to their property has significantly decreased the amount of water needed, as well as decreased the amount of work needed to maintain the property. And as they have moved towards plants that are native to the region, their landscapes are more pest and disease resistant, reducing the need to use pesticides.

Another recent trend is taking place in native landscaping-the replacement of traditional turf with a variety that requires less maintenance. In Florida in particular, Bahia grass is being used more widely instead of the traditionally preferred St. Augustine. St. Augustine has always been embraced by developers as a more attractive, thick and lush turf, but it also requires frequent watering and is more susceptible to disease. Bahia grass is a tropical to subtropical grass that prefers sandy soils and is tolerant of drought. It is also a fairly hardy grass that tolerates salty conditions and is a good option for the climates found in Florida. It makes a relatively low-maintenance turf grass as well, having less disease and insect problems than some of the other warm season grasses. While transitioning to a Bahia grass may seem less aesthetically appealing, the positive environmental impact can be very beneficial and the transition can be applied to part of the property only. For instance, you may wish to leave the lush, more attractive grasses at the property entrance and high-traffic areas, and use the more environmentally-friendly Bahia grasses in the less traveled parts of the property. While this may not be an ideal solution for all properties, it would assist in lowering water bills, reducing the use of pesticides and would require much less work to maintain.

It is important to find out which variety of grasses and plants are best suited to your climate. While a change in landscape philosophy doesn't occur overnight, there are a number of factors to consider which may make the transformation an appealing, long-term solution. Transitioning part of your property to a well-planned and well-maintained native landscape can be advantageous to both the environment and your bottom line; something that can benefit you and your guests.

Ken Hutcheson is President of U.S. Lawns. He joined the company in 1995 and has grown the organization from a regional 18-franchise network to a national network of over 250-franchises in all 48 contiguous states. U.S. Lawns is nourished by the values and passion of family-owned and operated franchise businesses. Mr. Hutcheson champions an entrepreneurial spirit and a teamwork culture. He’s skilled at developing employee, franchisee and customer bases that are anchored on a commitment to long-term relationships. His focus on the company’s Franchise Development and Support is central to the company’s steady national expansion and consistently high rankings on industry lists. Mr. Hutcheson can be contacted at 407-246-1630 or khutcheson@uslawns.com Please visit https://uslawns.com/ for more information. Extended Bio...

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