Mr. Hutcheson


Creating a Lively Landscape on a Budget

By Ken Hutcheson, President, U.S. Lawns

Hotel executives must make tough budget decisions every day. When funds are limited, it's tempting to limit expenditures on a hotel's exterior landscape. But this is a mistake-a beautiful landscape can bring more guests (and, consequently, more revenue) through the door. If you're working with a limited budget, follow these best practices to make sure that you see a positive return on your landscaping investment.

Start with the Basics: Before Your Invest, Evaluate Your Maintenance Plan and Your Landscape

Before you talk to your landscaping contractor about making any big investments on your hotel's property-take a deep breath-and evaluate the landscape first. The easiest way to improve a hotel's overall look and feel (without breaking the bank) is to look over your routine maintenance procedures and make sure that they are effective and efficient. At a bare minimum, your property should appear clean, safe, and well taken care of. Sidewalks, curbs, parking lots, and flowerbeds should be crisply edged at all times. If that's not the case, it's time to talk with your landscaper and reset expectations. These regular maintenance services should be included in your contract, so there should be no additional cost to you.

Refreshing your mulch throughout the year, at least four or five times annually, is cost-effective way to keep your landscape looking continuously fresh. Many hoteliers replace their mulch right before spring or sometime during the warmer months, so by the fall and winter the landscape looks tired. Having your contractor replace the mulch regularly gives your property a well-cared-for appearance and helps your shrubs and flowers stand out. Replacing mulch also is a very minimal cost and definitely won't make a dent in your budget. So it's a good conversation to have with your contractor, if you're looking to brighten up your property.

Additionally, replacing any unhealthy or unsightly shrubs, plans, or turf is absolutely essential. You and your landscaper should routinely survey to identify landscape elements that need to be replaced. Staying on top of "one-off" issues will save you the money (and time) of more extensive landscape overhauls down the road.

Invest in High-Traffic Areas, and Keep Your Target Customer in Mind

Every hotelier understands the importance of landscaping-it's all about making a great first impression. But, if you're on a limited budget and can't afford to upgrade your entire property, invest your resources in high-traffic, high-visibility areas: the entryway, area surrounding the restaurant, courtyards or gathering areas, and any areas visible from the street.

For example, planting an array of colorful flowers and vegetation alongside front side guest entrances will help create a vibrant and aesthetically pleasing atmosphere. Likewise, if your hotel has signage that's visible from a major roadway, make sure that the sign is well lit and surrounded with beautiful landscaping. It's important to point out that investing in any type of flowers can get costly, but if you're honest with your contractor about your budget, they can help you work around it.

Unfortunately, many hotel professionals spend large sums of money on exterior features that guests don't ever see or use. For example, hotels have been known to build luxurious pools and outdoor bars that they think will appeal to their guests. But, unless a hotel is in a perpetually warm or tropical climate, these resources will go unused most of the year. These hotels would be better off investing in outdoor elements that could be used during most of the year, like walking paths or patios. Overall, if you spend your money on high-traffic areas, you'll see the most bang for your buck.

Focus on Small, Periodic Improvements

A major landscape overhaul is expensive, and large, one-time costs can be hard on a hotel's budget, especially if seasonal cash flow is an issue. Instead, focus on small-but frequent-improvements. For example, rotating your flower and plant display more frequently is an easy, affordable method of keeping your landscape lively. You can start by adding more variety to your landscape by replacing green plants with colorful ones. This small change immediately makes a landscape look fresh and updated. Depending on where you're located there's a plethora of colorful pallets to choose from. Even though it can get expensive to rotate flowers, as they will need to be swapped out three to four times a year, you can control the cost-again-by only planting in high-traffic areas.

It's important to point out that if you're looking to extract the green plants from your beds, you should have your landscaping professional do it all at once, as you want to create a cohesive look. If you start noticing gaps in the green plants, that's also a good sign to have your contractor start the job. By simply changing the color of your plants, you will create an instant shift in your hotel's atmosphere.

Work With What You've Got

The most cost effective way to make cost-effective upgrades to your landscape is to take a look at existing landscape components and use them as your centerpiece. For example, if you have large, mature trees, use those as your main landscape elements and add plants and flowers around them. If lack of sunlight is an issue, due to an over abundance of large branches, talk to your landscaping professional about what alternative plants are out there that require a low level of light, or plan out a different irrigation strategy.

Along the same lines, using plants, shrubs, and trees that are native to your region will keep costs down. If your hotel is located in a part of the country that experiences seasons, for example, you will want to choose flowers that can sustain the drastic changes in temperatures. On the contrary, if you're located in an area that experiences dry-heat (i.e. West Coast, and Southwest), the vegetation you choose will need to have the ability to sustain periods of drought and increased temperatures. If you choose plants that aren't able to withstand your region's weather, you'll see unnecessary replacement expenditures, which can really have a negative effect on your budget. If you have any questions about which flowers and plants are best suited for your landscape, talk to your contractor about it. They will be able to offer ideas and suggestions.

Consider Using Turf Grass Instead of Beds

While beds are a far more popular option when it comes to grass selection among hoteliers, turf grass should certainly not be overlooked. Turf grass has a number of economic advantages. Turf grass is less expensive to work with and maintain, and it actually costs less per square-foot. Hoteliers might be afraid to make a switch from beds to turf, but aesthetically speaking, if it makes the same impact from a design standpoint, turf is the cheaper way to go.

Turf is also a great choice for less visible areas of the property that need to look maintained and clean but aren't frequent destinations for guests: side entrances, outer borders of parking lots, etc.

Spend on Irrigation Now to Save Money Later

Because society as a whole has become more focused on protecting the environment and its natural resources, there have been dynamic improvements in the types of irrigation controllers that are on the market today. Specifically, there are two types of irrigations systems that have helped hoteliers keep their landscapes looking fresh and healthy, without wasting or spending an arm and a leg on water: smart controller/sensors and drip irrigation.

Smart controllers are proving to be far more efficient than a typical rain sensor. This is because smart sensors self-adjust based according to variations in weather conditions. Specifically, smart sensors will regulate the flow of water based on climatic data they collect. Economically speaking, smart sensors can be an expensive purchase, but are a smart investment, as they will virtually pay for themselves when looking at water savings.

Moreover, with the development of drip irrigation systems, plants and flowers that surround footpaths can be easily maintained without the overuse of water that can lead to potential risks for guests. When hotels have beautiful flowers and bright plants along narrow sidewalks that have a lot of foot traffic, proper irrigation might lead to excess water, pooling, and slips/falls for guests. Drip irrigation eliminates this issue. This irrigation system consists of small tubes running below the ground level, so guests will see nothing and your plants will stay blooming. There's no excess water draining onto the sidewalk, and water consumption costs stay low.

If you're adding in new landscape elements that require irrigation, opt for smart controllers and drip irrigation. Additionally, replacing outdated irrigation methods with these newer, more cost-efficient options may make sense in certain areas: high-traffic areas, beds around the hotel's main structure, etc.

Working with a budget will always present challenges. But by understanding where you can save and where you should splurge, you can be sure that your landscape will create a vibrant and exciting atmosphere for guests all year round.

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 Please visit for more information. Extended Bio... retains the copyright to the articles published in the Hotel Business Review. Articles cannot be republished without prior written consent by

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