Looking to long term maintenance as guiding principle in the design, build and management phases increases landscape sustainability

What Should We Plant in Our Landscape?

By |2019-10-23T08:54:09-07:00October 23rd, 2019|Plant Selection, Sustainable Landscape Management, Training and Education|

Wondering what plants to choose for your associations renovation? Register here for our seminar focusing on landscapes for HOA sites!

Topics include plant choices for specific areas, risk management in the landscape, landscape specifications and maintenance contracts, and a landscape walkthrough on site with Tiffany Faulstich of Botanicon and Brad Brown of Tree Life Consulting.

Fri. Nov. 15 11am-4pm at Stonecrest Village Recreation Center, 3110 W. Canyon Ave., San Diego CA 92123. See you there!

Fall is the Best Time for Landscape Planting

By |2019-09-14T17:38:10-07:00September 14th, 2019|Planning, Plant Selection, Sustainable Landscape Management|

Callistemon - white

Establishing new landscape plantings is most successful if timed right

Here in San Diego and Southern California, we are coming up on the best season for planting landscape trees, shrubs, perennials, turf and ground covers. On large homeowner association, estate and municipal sites, it is difficult to have a good new plant establishment rate without extra care like additional watering and monitoring. That extra care takes time away from what the grounds staff is already responsible for maintaining on site.

If your property is investing in landscape plant upgrades, be sure you have a plan and schedule in place for fall planting. It will save your site money in plant replacement costs, extra water usage, and staff time devoted to plant “babysitting.”

Why is fall the best time for landscape planting?

  1. The days are shorter. Plants have less time to loose water via transpiration through their leaf surfaces, and soil moisture loss is decreasing.
  2. Temperatures are cooler. Plants will require less water less frequently than during hot days to maintain health and vigor.
  3. The angle of the sun is lower. Plant stress from direct, overhead hot sun rays is minimized.
  4. The soil is still warm. Plant roots will establish more rapidly in warmer soil vs. cool soil.
  5. The rain is coming (hopefully). Plant watering on a large scale is more efficient and of higher quality when provided by nature.

So time your landscape upgrades for fall, preferably after the first measurable rain to help flush salt accumulation from the soil. Your plants will establish roots better and suffer less stress if you plan ahead. Need a planting plan, consultation or project monitoring? Just ask!

Landscape Seminar For Property Managers and HOA Board Members

By |2019-08-02T16:54:05-07:00August 2nd, 2019|Sustainable Landscape Management, Training and Education|

Pink flowering landscape shrub

Providing education regarding site landscaping and offering clients an opportunity to ask questions is very important to us. Botanicon is here to support you in managing one of the largest line items on a communities budget, the landscaped environment.

Our independent, third party landscape vendor management, horticultural consultation and quality assurance services benefit plants and people. We facilitate all aspects of site landscaping on behalf of our clients, and sharing knowledge helps us all do our jobs better.

In June, we hosted our 1st educational event HORT 101: Landscape Plants for Southern California Landscapes at the Water Conservation Garden. Attendees were led on a tour throughout the garden to view and discuss low maintenance, water conscious plants. They loved it and asked for more!

The tour was outstanding. Excellent information!

Great tour! I’d love to learn more about focused areas in the landscape – islands, slopes, entrances.

Knowledgeable speakers. How about more on best practices for HOA Boards and Landscapes?

Well, here you go! Our 2nd Landscape Seminar, HORT 102 is being held on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019 11am-4pm. We will host property managers, HOA board and landscape committee members, developer and municipal land managers for an afternoon of education and opportunity. Location TBD, but somewhere in Central San Diego. So, save the date!

Topics? Attendees decide! What horticulture, landscape, tree or irrigation topics would benefit your community? Email or call us to be added to our interest list, and choose from some topics below or write in some of your own.

HORT 102 Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. Which topics interest you?

  1. Plant Choices for Specific Areas
  2. Landscape Specifications-What’s in My Contract?
  3. Planning for the Future-Landscape Master Plan for Improvements
  4. Benefits of Urban Trees in a Community
  5. Increasing Site Sustainability
  6. Saving Water and Money Irrigating Landscapes
  7. Is that Turf Really Necessary, or Maintenance Intensive?
  8. Tree Succession and Replacement
  9. Ecosystem Buffers and Open Space Management
  10. Site Inventories – Measuring What You Manage
  11. Industry Standards of Care – Pruning and Planting
  12. Managing Risks in the Landscape
  13. Are We on the Same Page? Contractor Communication
  14. Importance of Mulch and Building Soil Health
Landscape Seminar October 4, 2019 for Property Managers, Board Members, Developer and Municipal Land Managers
Landscape seminar Topics: Attendees Choose!

What to Look For in an Irrigation Inspection?

By |2019-07-16T09:11:54-07:00July 16th, 2019|Sustainable Landscape Management|

Irrigation sprinkler head watering turf

3 Items for Visual Inspections of Landscape Irrigation

Landscape water use is a big concern here in Southern California. It is a very hot topic with many facets. Water costs a lot of money here, and without oversight, can be a source of complaints, liability and cost over-runs for Homeowner Associations, site users and communities. Landscape managers must be experts at proactive water management! We need to spot coverage issues before they become problems. We identify plant stress from too little water, sometimes from far away at 25 mph! We must also quickly identify over-watering signs like certain weed species growing, erosion or algae.

Irrigation systems should be turned on regularly by to check for issues. This should be in your landscape maintenance contract. Many of the small repairs are within the scope of the on-site contractors agreement, others require an extra work proposal. What does your communities landscape maintenance contract say with regards to irrigation? How specific is the language?

Because July is Smart Irrigation Month, here are some things we look for when conducting site irrigation inspections.

  1. Mainline components
    • Controller – programmed correctly, battery functional, map and written schedule present, each station operates electrically, signs of animal intrusion in housing
    • Valves – check for leakage, seepage, signs of animal intrusion in boxes, watertight connectors and solenoid connections functional
    • Wiring – broken wires, corrosion
    • Sensors – operational and correctly wired
    • Backflow prevention – check for leakage, note inspection date
    • Pressure regulator – operational and set to correct psi
  2. Plantings & hydrozones
    • Plantings – symptoms of drought or over-watering, water hitting trunks and pooling, sprinklers blocked by large plants
    • Soil – excessive thatch in turf, mulch needed, soil type and infiltration
    • Hydrozones – exposure correct for zone, plantings in groups of like water requirements according to station
  3. Lateral line components
    • Pipes – signs of breaks or leakage
    • Heads – correct spacing, same head on each valve, sunken heads, tilted heads, low head drainage
    • Nozzles – matched precipitation nozzles, correct spray pattern, blockages, over-spray, unequal discharge, pressure
    • Drip – filters cleaned, pressure correct, even water distribution, clogged emitters

We hope this helps your community manage its water resources and protect the investment you have made in site irrigation. In all my years in the landscape industry, I can say that irrigation issues are the number one cause of landscape plant problems. Protecting landscape assets for stakeholders is what we specialize in. Need an irrigation inspection? Contact us!

What is Wrong With My Plant?

By |2019-07-10T14:48:57-07:00June 8th, 2019|Plant Selection, Sustainable Landscape Management, Training and Education|

Diagnosing Landscape Plant Problems

All landscapes have plant health issues which arise. A question I am often asked is what is going on and how do I fix it? Some landscape plant health concerns are easy to identify, an aphid infestation for example. Often times issues have more than one causal agent. Abiotic factors many times will lead to biotic issues. Right plant, right place is applicable here.

An abiotic factor is a causal agent which is non-living, such as watering, soil conditions, chemical use, aeration, mechanical damage, etc. Biotic causal agents are living organisms, such as whiteflies, oak root rot, bacterial leaf scorch.

In order to fix the plant problem, it is critical to have an accurate diagnosis. Just like a medical doctor would do during a patient visit, many questions need to be asked and answered for us to be confident about what is going on. Ineffective treatments arise from inaccurate diagnoses.

Because plants and trees can not tell us what is going on, like a medical patient would, we need to ask lots of questions and look for answers to determine a diagnosis. What are the symptoms? A symptom is the plants reaction to a causal agent – stunting, chlorosis, spots, tissue death. Are there signs? Signs are a physical presence of a pest – excrement, casings, mushrooms, frass.

Questions about the plants location, species susceptibility, care, environment, irrigation, planting methods, etc. need to be answered. We are investigators looking for clues to point us towards a diagnosis. Then a treatment plan can be formulated.

Using a systematic, methodical, question based approach is the only way to approach diagnosing landscape plant problems with confidence. Here is a slide show I presented at a recent seminar which outlines the process. Need a consultation and diagnosis? Just ask us!

IPM Training for Landscape Professionals

By |2019-05-14T18:19:42-07:00May 14th, 2019|Sustainable Landscape Management, Training and Education, Trees|

Daisy flowers under magnifying glass

University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources is hosting the IPM Training for Landscape Professionals on May 23, 2019. Location is the
Scottish Rite Event Center 1895 Camino del Rio South, San Diego, CA 92108.

Topics of interest for pest management in the landscape setting and CEU’s available. I’ll be speaking on the topic of Diagnosing Landscape Plant Problems, and highlighting the steps and resources useful for an accurate diagnosis.

For information, agenda and registration visit their webpage at: http://cesandiego.ucanr.edu/?calitem=443278&g=98691

Costs of Over-Planting

By |2019-05-07T08:20:35-07:00May 6th, 2019|Planning, Plant Selection, Sustainable Landscape Management|

Sidewalk with adjacent ornamental grass plantings

People love lush landscapes and instant gratification. Clients of landscaped sites want that full garden look from day one. Property owners, contractors and landscape architects achieve this by densely populating the ground with plant material, regardless of species size at maturity. It sells and leases properties, plain and simple.

But what are the long term costs? And is this sustainable? When asked to review site planting plans or conduct turnover inspections, we regularly advise clients to reduce planting density or remove plants which are already in the ground. Gasp!!!


  1. Maintenance: Costs of constantly pruning plants to contain their size at maturity is a waste of resources. Over-planted sites require multiple pruning visits each year, even forcing contractors to use the dreaded hedge trimmer where it does not belong.
Ornamental grass cut back
Miscanthus sinensis (silver grass) annual pruning Feb. 2019
Ornamental grasses
Same Miscanthus sinensis May 2019. This species at maturity is at least 3′-4′ tall and wide. A reduction in the number of plants used would not have even been noticed.

2. Water: Plants compete for water resources. An over-planted site requires more water, much of it wasted by plants blocking the sprinklers.

Sprinklers throughout this site are blocked by plant material. Note the two different sprinkler heads. Both situations lead to issues with water distribution uniformity=WASTE

3. Soil: Plant roots compete for soil space. More roots, less soil, more water use, more fertilizer use.

4. Waste: Clippings from pruned plants must be raked up, removed and hauled away, as most large landscapes do not have their own composting operation on site (we wish they did). Labor and fuel resources are wasted, even if the eventual destination is a municipal compost facility.

The long term costs for maintenance, water and waste removal get passed along to the end user – the property owner, municipality or community.

Dietes grandiflora (fortnight lily) looking normal for the species Feb. 2019. Size at maturity 3′-4′ tall and wide. There must be at least 600 of these on this site.
Same fortnight lilies after they are cut back. The landscape contractor is really left with no other option. Horticultural recommendations call for this species to be dug up and divided every 4 years or so. Not with +600 plants!

Comparison of planting densities and maintenance costs over time for the Miscanthus sinensis (silver grass) planted in late 2013



  • 250 ea. of species planted from 5-gallon stock
  • Cost per 5-gallon plant installed $35
  • Cost per 1-gallon plant installed $14
  • Time per plant to cut to the ground, clean up, and haul debris once per year: 5 minutes/5-gallon plant
  • Time per plant to cut to the ground, clean up, and haul debris once per year: 3.5 minutes/1-gallon plant
  • Maintenance labor rate per hour: $25

As you can see, costs over time for a less densely planted site using smaller container sizes saves money and resources. The costs indicated are for maintenance alone, not including water wasted, plants dying for lack of irrigation coverage or root competition, composting, etc. Many plants actually establish and grow better when a smaller container size is used at planting.

An aesthetically appealing, resource friendly landscape is within reach if we formulate planting plans and densities with species selection, growth rate and size at maturity as the main driving force. This is a more sustainable landscape approach. Properties will still sell and lease if done thoughtfully.

Landscape Maintenance Specifications

By |2019-04-09T16:26:17-07:00April 3rd, 2019|Planning, Sustainable Landscape Management|

Purple lavender in bloom

5 Advantages to Writing Maintenance Specs Specific to your Site

Specifications for landscape maintenance are instructions to the contractors performing the work – mowing, pruning, leaf clean up, irrigation management, pest monitoring and control, etc. They are written by professionals knowledgeable in horticulture, plant care, irrigation and landscape management. With a landscape inventory in place, maintenance specs specific to your site, and input from owners and managers, we can now drive effective long term landscape management plans within a clients budget.

  1. Intent of the task – why is the landscape contractor being asked to perform the task? What is the desired result and how specifically will it be achieved? For example, turf care. Simply stating that the turf shall be mowed and green gives the contractor a lot of room for interpretation. It could be a patch of green weeds which gets mowed once a month and that would meet the requirement of the spec. Too vague.
  2. Reference standards – in horticulture, standards for pruning, irrigation, mowing, planting, etc. exist. We do not have to reinvent the wheel. Simply make the bidders aware of the standards and how they will be enforced. The standards are accepted industry wide as best practices for landscape assets.
  3. Include specs in contract – Specifications for landscape maintenance are a vital part of the landscape contract. Contractors can bid competitively because they are all bidding the exact same things. Sites should be writing their own specs and contracts, having the contractor sign their document. Not the other way around.
  4. Consensus – all parties involved know what is expected, how to achieve it and how it will be monitored. Input from stakeholders is recognized to drive effective results on their site.
  5. Planning – revisit maintenance specs each year and decide if there are edits necessary. Look at the budget and see where the most money is spent on landscape maintenance. Hedging 6 times a year, water leaks, unused turf areas, blowing away costly mulch with the leaves, heavy fertilizer use, etc. can all be mitigated with good planning. With hindsight, we can plan better into the future for enhancements and upgrades to make sites more resource sustainable.

What’s on Your Mind?

By |2019-04-03T12:06:02-07:00March 11th, 2019|Planning, Sustainable Landscape Management|

Purple wisteria in bloom

5 Takeaways from Stakeholder Surveys on Your Landscaped Site

Some people love surveys, some people cringe. But when managing a large landscaped site long-term, the data a survey can provide decision makers is invaluable. Plants are living assets, which grow, change through the seasons, require ongoing maintenance and monitoring. There are so many choices in the market for landscape service providers, new plant cultivars, water restrictions, noise considerations, tree ordinances, demographics of site users, and so much more to each specific site. It is not one size fits all.

So why not ask them? We make it simple and user friendly to get the data to support smart decisions.

  1. What is important to site users? It could be using less water, having colorful plantings at community entrances, safe and inclusive playgrounds or budget friendly maintenance services. Or maybe it is something you never thought of, a community garden, understanding the benefits one mature tree can provide a community, knowing the plants in their environment.
  2. What is not important to site users? This is possibly better data than what is desired. This is an area of potential cost savings.
  3. What results are desired? What level of maintenance do users expect? Do stakeholders expect to see someone on site every day, once a week? There are many ways to achieve a well maintained appearance, as long as the results are visible and apparent to the people who pay for it.
  4. What percent of the communities landscape budget should be spent on what? This gets stakeholders who love numbers to understand where their money goes. Maybe a phased plant replacement plan is prudent for the long term budget.
  5. What is the long range vision for the site? Users can imagine what their community will look like 5 to 10 years down the road.

From here we have data to develop a long range plan and budget to meet the landscape goals of our clients. We can write specifications for landscape maintenance to deliver results expected within our clients budget. We know our decisions are based on data with input from all stakeholders and site users. We can move forward to implement the plan collaboratively, in the best interests of the site and our client.