Information to help clients plan for landscape installation and long term maintenance

What Size Container Stock Should I Plant in my Landscape?

By |2019-10-10T12:59:59-07:00October 10th, 2019|Planning, Plant Selection, Trees|

Bigger Plants Are Not Always Better

Because we are coming upon the best planting season of the year, fall, let’s talk about container plant sizes. Plant material comes in a range of container sizes, 1, 5 or 15 gallon, 24″, 36″ 48″ boxes and up, and some species come bare root in the winter.

The natural human instinct of instant gratification leads many clients to ask for larger sized container plant stock at initial installation. I can see why, you get an instant landscape without the wait. Many think, why plant a small tree when I can just get a more mature one installed without having to wait for it to grow?

For sites I consult on, I encourage clients to use the smallest container size possible. Here’s why…

  1. Establishes a supportive root system in native soil early on. Plant roots will leave the initial planting hole and seek water and nutrients in their permanent environment a lot faster and more efficiently from a smaller sized container.
  2. Research has shown that plants and trees from smaller container stock establish quicker and their growth outpaces larger container stock in a matter of 2-3 years.
  3. Less foreign material (potting soil) which is of different texture and moisture holding capacity than native soil.
  4. Less root circling and girdling from growing in a container for too long. These common maladies of container stock often spell a slow, painful decline and eventual death of the plant or tree.
  5. Easy to inspect the root systems in order to accept or reject the plants selected.
  6. Pruning and training plants and trees from a young age to develop a strong form, structure and shape. Nursery pruning of container stock often leads to growth defects and necessitates corrective or restorative pruning.
  7. Initial installation costs are much lower. Plant replacement cost years down the road are much lower from decline and death. And who does not like to save money in both the short and long term?

I have inspected many sites where I can just pull out the plant from the ground, where the roots never left the planting hole. Or sites where the tree just wiggles back and forth in the planting hole, with no structural or supportive roots venturing out into the native soil. These were all plants of large initial container size.

On the other hand, I have also planted bare root and 1 or 5 gallon trees and their growth 3 years after planting is far superior to any larger plant.

So, choose your species wisely to match the soil conditions of your site and plant the smallest plant possible. Be patient, your efforts will be rewarded with healthy, aesthetically pleasing and well shaped landscape trees and shrubs!

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!

5 Takeaways From Our Garden Tour

By |2019-07-02T18:29:40-07:00July 2nd, 2019|Planning, Plant Selection, Training and Education|

Botanicon leads tour of the Water Conservation Garden

A couple weeks ago Botanicon led a tour of the Water Conservation Garden in El Cajon, CA. Our focus was educating HOA Board members and Property Managers on low maintenance, water wise plant choices for their communities. And who doesn’t like to get outside and look at beautiful plant specimens? Thank you to all who attended and sponsored our event.

  • Weeping bottlebrush
  • Protea flowers
  • Toyon
  • Mesquite tree
  • Pink melaleuca
  • Grevillea cultivars
  • Acacia 'Cousin Itt'

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.

What’s on Your Site?

By |2019-04-09T16:20:25-07:00February 6th, 2019|Planning|

Colorful tree leaves overhanging pathway

5 Benefits of a Landscape Inventory

Trees, shrubs, turf, ground covers, walking paths, and irrigation systems are common components of a landscaped site. These items bring value to a property over the long term. They are horticultural and fixed assets which have been paid for beginning with design, installation and finally yearly maintenance. Imagine a park without trees. A soccer field without grass. A sloped area without plantings. A greenbelt without green. Not very appealing.

Having a written down, or better yet, photographic and mapped inventory of the plants and assets on your site is a good practice. An inventory can be basic, including what species or type, size, location, quantities that are on your site. Or more detailed, to include health assessments, risk assessments, necessary maintenance, future maintenance, pest monitoring, replacement plan. How are we supposed to manage what we don’t know is there? Here are 5 benefits of an inventory for your landscaped site. An inventory allows project stakeholders to…..

  1. Create a landscape management plan – a plan to effectively manage assets. What task should be done when, how frequently, to what standard, and what is the intent of the task?
  2. Create a budget – for future maintenance, renovations, a phased implementation of a master plan. Where is the most money being spent on maintenance? How can the site be improved to be less maintenance intensive?
  3. Write specifications for maintenance – how specifically the assets should be cared for is an important guideline for stakeholders and contractors to follow. Specifications tailored to your inventory will produce the desired results. Vague specifications will produce vague results.
  4. Compare bids – contractors bidding maintenance services for a particular site should all be bidding on the same thing. Same square footage, same quantities, and using the same specifications. This allows stakeholders to compare bids and award contracts fairly.
  5. Encourages collaboration – all stakeholders know what they have on site, where it is located, and what care it needs. Everyone can work together to effectively manage the assets long term.