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Jun 08 2015

Investing Strategically in Our City’s Green Space

With about four thousand square feet of flowerbeds that I either maintain or am constructing at our house or our rental, I pay attention to decorative green space. A healthy, well-landscaped yard adds thousands of dollars to the value of a home.

I walk around the local cities and look at the landscaping. I watch for types of trees that might look good in my yard. I admire the homes with beautiful flowerbeds that evolve through the seasons. I walk around the downtown areas of our cities and the malls.

I also notice when the landscaping companies contracted by the city do a great job of mowing and edging grass and planting a few annuals. In contrast, they do a pitiful job of pruning and maintaining our trees and shrubs. The sad reality is that is not their expertise.

bad-pruning

These poor sad knockout rose bushes along Dixieland have been trusted to guys who usually use mowers and edgers. They’ve been chopped at by hedge trimmers. How many thousands of dollars did this landscaping cost? It needs proper maintenance or the investment will be wasted.

Dressing Rogers Up: Not Just for Special Occasions

The city of Rogers has probably several hundred thousand square feet of landscaped flowerbeds. The process for each area most likely started out by hiring contractors to design, lay irrigation, and plant it. The city invested $50,000 alone in 2014 in the new landscaping in the Pinnacle area. It is lovely. It’s amazing what it costs though to pay someone to do all that.

The Pinnacle landscaping project was part of the city’s LPGA tournament preparation. The city’s green space makes a big impression on people who visit Rogers for that tournament and other attractions such as Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Those types of visitors arrive in Northwest Arkansas the first time for an event like that. Their experience inspires a percentage of them to relocate here. Hospitality, nationally recognized shopping and dining establishments, good roads, nice buildings, and pleasant weather all year influence that decision. But nothing dresses out our city like well-designed and maintained landscaped areas.

bad-pruning-photo

Here’s another shot along Dixieland just north of Pleasant Grove Road. These look terrible. Further down, many of the trees in this median have broken off in high winds. This is landscaping plot is only a few years old.

Protecting Our Landscaping Investment with a Horticulturist

It is time for the city to employ a full-time horticulturist to manage our landscaped areas and the landscaping employees and contractors. This horticulturist should be experienced and/or college-educated. If the individual is not a certified arborist, the city should pay for the training and certification. If they have someone on staff currently who could step into that role, the city should pay for their training. This individual should be a member of professional associations in the industry and attend industry conferences to stay current and look for ways to innovate and design.

A horticulturist understands maintenance, cultivation, fertilization, pest and disease control, and current technology for creating lasting, efficient year-round beauty that is as good for our property value, image, and reputation as it is for the environment and the living things that inhabit our green spaces. A fair amount of landscaping upgrades could be designed by the horticulturist and planted by staff members or volunteers. This would allow the city to outsource only the most elaborate or brand new landscaping projects.

And speaking of volunteers, a staff horticulturist could work with the schools to propagate, grow, and plant the annuals that are currently purchased and planted by high school students who are in the Principles of Horticulture class or who need community service activities. Maintenance tasks such as weeding or pruning could be delegated to anyone needing community services credits of any kind. These are simple tasks that require some instruction and time. This is a far better option than trusting the maintenance of bushes by mowing crews who don’t understand proper pruning practices or what to look for when a tree or bush needed treatment for disease.

Our trees represent a substantial investment as well. Adding the additional arborist training to the horticulturist’s toolbox ensures that our trees are well-established, pruned, and fertilized. Arborists are trained in problem diagnosis and management as well as safe climbing and work practices.

We already invest in training and certifications for our police and fire departments. It only makes sense that we would make sure that a trained and certified individual manages the needs and planning of our city’s landscaping.

bad-pruning-hay-bales

Here is another shot of Dixieland, just north of Pleasant Grove Road. That broken base used to have a street lamp on it. It was never addressed after a car accident. But take a long look in the background. Whoever is baling the hay in the fields around Pleasant Crossing is lining them up and spacing them neatly. It looks so nice.

What Does This Cost?

A salary for full-time horticulturist costs between $30,000 and $45,000 (not including benefits). In this region, it is probably on the lower end of that scale. Additional association membership and training could cost an extra $2,500 to $3,500 a year. This individual would oversee the overall look and design of the city’s current and new landscaping. Included in those activities would be directing the contract landscaping activities, city employees who handle landscaping maintenance, and volunteers. He or she could plan city landscaping cleanup days, work with organizations, enforce the city’s landscaping ordinances, teach citizens how to landscape their properties, and inspect the health of the city’s trees, shrubs, and plants.

This photo was taken August 7, 2014. This is peak blooming season for both the crepe myrtles on the left and the knockout roses on the right. These crepe myrtles didn't get trimmed back at the beginning of the season (some along this stretch of Dixieland did). They died back most of the way to the ground during our hard winter this year. The new growth has filled in around them and is overcrowded. The knockout roses on the right have been pruned improperly with a hedge trimmer and the new buds are too overcrowded to blossom properly. Older growth has become diseased. These are great drought tolerant shrubs and they flower all summer. However, a sprinkler system waters them everyday as well as the grass along the empty lot on the sidewalk. These shrubs require more maintenance than they get. They can all be turned around with proper maintenance. There are better choices that require less maintenance.

This photo was taken August 7, 2014. This is peak blooming season for both the crepe myrtles on the left and the knockout roses on the right. These crepe myrtles didn’t get trimmed back at the beginning of the season (some along this stretch of Dixieland did). They died back most of the way to the ground during our hard winter this year. The new growth has filled in around them and is overcrowded. The knockout roses on the right have been pruned improperly with a hedge trimmer and the new buds are too overcrowded to blossom properly. Older growth has become diseased.
These are drought-tolerant shrubs and they flower all summer. However, a sprinkler system waters them everyday as well as the grass along the empty lot on the sidewalk. These shrubs require less water and more maintenance than they get. They can all be turned around with proper maintenance. There are better choices that require less maintenance.

The Bottom Line

Yes, I know I’ve suggested something that might increase head count. We’re dealing with a gap in the city that is causing dying and shabby landscaping. Nothing that improves the look of our city and makes it more appealing to visitors and prospective citizens is free. But remember, the potential of the right person in this role could pay dividends in other ways if it doesn’t pay for itself. And what is the cost of tree and shrub replacement from improper care or the lost of a few potential residents because we didn’t put on our best image?

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