By B.C. Manion
While beautifully maintained landscapes can help create a good impression in any neighborhood, keeping up those appearances can prove costly.
That’s why the Pasco Alliance of Community Associations (PACA) recently invited Chris Dewey of the Pasco County Extension Service and Paul Woods of OLM Inc., to its meeting to discuss the issue of what to consider when hiring a landscape management company.
Woods is the Florida regional consultant for OLM, a company that has worked for communities and property managers since 1988 to help homeowner associations and property managers to prepare landscape management contracts, to ensure that the contracts specify what it needed for particular properties and to assist in administering such contracts.
Dewey coordinates the Florida-Friendly Landscaping Program in Pasco County and advises homeowners, homeowner associations and businesses on Florida yard and landscaping standards and goals.
“Landscapes are capital investments,” Woods said during PACA’s meeting on Thursday, Sept. 8 at the Land O’ Lakes Community Center.
The idea is to protect that investment, while keeping the financial interests of the homeowner associations in mind, Woods added.
“The things that happen, happen by contract,” Dewey noted.
So, it is critical that contracts spell out specific standards, he said. “Be detailed.”
Avoid phrases such as “as needed” or “as determined,” Woods advised. That language is too loose.
The contract should spell out such things as the height at which the grass must be maintained, Dewey said. He’s seen instances when the grass has been scalped, which damages its health.
The contract should contain the appropriate standards and should address such things as fertilization, mowing and pesticide use, Dewey said.
“One size does not fit all,” he noted. “I’m always available to help the HOA (homeowners’ association) board to develop the specifications for a good lawn maintenance contract.”
It’s a good idea to look for companies that can handle all aspects of the landscaping service, Woods added. They should be able to do the landscape maintenance work, handle irrigation and do pest control, he said.
If you divide the duties up among different contractors there’s too much opportunity for blame shifting, Dewey said. He calls that the “circular firing squad” effect.
Once you have a contract that specifies what must be done, it’s also important to verify that it is being carried out properly, Woods said.
“There is no substitute for verifying that people are doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” he said. The keys to effective inspections are frequency and detail.
There are published materials that can assist community associations in their planning. Two guides that may be helpful are: “The Florida-Friendly Landscaping Guide to Plant Selection & Landscape Design,” produced by the University of Florida IFAS (Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences) and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection; and, “The Community Landscape, An Environmental Approach: Florida-Friendly Landscaping Guidelines for Community Associations,” produced by the University of Florida IFAS.