In our experience, we’ve found that an HOA typically decides to put their landscape contract out to bid for one of two reasons. Either they are checking the market in an effort to keep their current service provider honest or they’ve experienced poor service and are looking to improve the performance and look of the neighborhood. Either way, you need to be able to tell prospective bidders exactly what you require. And the bidding process is where the subject of landscape maintenance specifications becomes critical.
Start by understanding exactly what services are currently being provided and write them down in clear and simple language. The following should serve as a great roadmap to steer you in the right direction:
- The Basics: The first item you need is a good map of your community so you can show prospective bidders what areas are to be included, where property lines start and end, and the number of plant beds are around the property. This will help to ensure that everyone is on the same page.
- Turf Care: The care of common area turf is often the most expensive part of an HOA’s landscape maintenance plan. You should determine how many times per season the grass should be cut. For instance, based on your survey to your residents, will your community need 30 mowing occurrences to live up to the community standards (about once per week)? Or can you get by with 28 occurrences? Do you have any restrictions on how early mowing crews can start in the morning? Are any of the common areas irrigated? If so, they may require more frequent mowing. What are your requirements for fertilization and weed control? If your community has retention ponds, we recommend using phosphorous free fertilizers to reduce contamination of ponds, which can increase costs.
- Mulch: Adding fresh layers of mulch to plant beds can greatly enhance the look of your property, but oftentimes additional layers are not necessary. In fact, it’s common to have too much mulch in various beds which can cause a whole host of problems. Decisions need to be made on the requirements of seasonal mulch, cleanly edged beds, and the tolerance for weeds as these expectations will impact the number of visits required per season.
- Pruning: If trees and shrubs aren’t properly pruned, your property can quickly turn into a jungle. Pruning requirements, including frequency and timing if known, should be addressed, as well as your preferred pruning technique. Shearing is a common and less expensive pruning technique; however it’s not the best approach to managing the overall health and growth of plants. Natural, hand-pruning techniques are what we recommend from a horticulture standpoint, but it can also add to the expense.
- Perennials: Do you have perennials such as daylilies around your property? They, along with ornamental grasses, take extra time and care to keep them looking their best. Perennial flowers will need to be deadheaded periodically throughout the season. Ornamental grasses will need to be cut back in the fall or left standing to be cut down early next spring.
- Annuals: Does your community pride itself on seasonal flower arrangements at entry points or other locations around the neighborhood? Your map should indicate the locations of these beds and their respective sizes. If you have expectations for specific varieties of flowers or colors, this is where they should be listed.
- Seasonal Landscape Clean-Up: The last thing to consider is seasonal landscape clean-up. If your community has large trees or is next to a wooded area, varying amounts of organic and non-organic debris can accumulate in the spring and fall months (leaves, twigs/limbs, and trash). Specifying if limbs, trash and other debris need to be cleaned after winter and whether leaves need to be hauled away or can be mulched into the existing landscape lets everyone know the expectation.
Developing clearly defined landscape specifications for your HOA community will help you better evaluate the proposals you receive to ensure you’re comparing apples to apples. And the above should serve as a great starting point in determining your HOA’s landscape specifications. It’s important to note that there are many services beyond what we’ve identified. Things like preventative pest and disease programs, landscape enhancements, seeding, over seeding, and aerification, to name a few. Many services can be custom tailored to meet the specific needs of your community and in some cases we may recommend additional services upon evaluating the overall health of your landscape.
Be sure to check back periodically for more HOA landscaping advice. If you have questions or would like to speak with an Engledow representative, give us a call at 317-575-1100 or simply fill out the form below. And if you have not yet determined a short list of landscape contractors for your bid, The Right Questions = The Right Landscape Contractor provides great insight into evaluating various companies.