All bases covered

Features - Maintenance

Mulch and groundcover can net you profits all season.

March 31, 2017

Downer Brothers Landscaping makes residential mulch applications in late April or early May.
Photo courtesy of Downer Brothers Landscaping

The last snow of the season is melting, tulips and daffodils are emerging and the lawns are exiting dormancy. Meanwhile, landscape contractors across the country are starting to apply mulch and groundcover to their clients’ properties.

Application timing.

Jacobs Land Management, a commercial landscape design, installation and maintenance company, is located in Augusta, Georgia, where the Masters Golf Tournament takes place annually. This event is a moneymaker for many of the company’s commercial clients, such as shopping centers and hotels, and so having properties in tip-top shape is paramount, says Aaron Linebarger, landscape maintenance supervisor.

“The tournament’s first week in April, so usually middle March, that’s when everything is being done,” he says.

Mulch application is equally important in the spring at Downer Brothers Landscaping, based in North Andover, Massachusetts. It’s usually applied at commercial properties first, says Seth Roosevelt, operations manager.

“Commercial properties want that instant curb appeal in case they need to sell apartments or condos,” Roosevelt says. “You want to get to them right away, get them clean as soon as the last of the snow melts.”

Residential mulch applications are made next, usually in late April or early May.

“Definitely before summer comes, before any upcoming holidays, (before) Mother's Day, so that their house is looking the best that it can,” Roosevelt says. “Putting it in a little later extends its life into the summer. It tends to last longer for them.”

Reapplication vs. refresh.

Both contractors say mulch maintenance is usually provided on as-needed basis. A mulch touch up for commercial clients is common in late summer or early fall, Linebarger says. A full reapplication is typically not needed on a property during a single season. But certain areas do need attention, he says.

“In some areas, the dyed mulch gets more sunlight than others and it fades out quicker,” Linebarger says. “Maybe something washed out here or (someone) had to dig up something (such as an irrigation line) and remove mulch.”

At commercial properties, such as hotels, these touch ups or “refreshes” are common at the main entrance, he says. About 25 employees work at Jacobs Land Management, which serves primarily commercial clients. Services include maintenance, hardscape installation and irrigation work.

Here, reapplication can also depend on the property type and the client’s budget, Roosevelt says.

“Sometimes we do a second application and usually it’s in late summer, early fall,” he says.

High-end residential clients may like a reinstall following their arrival home from summer vacation, to make the property look fresh for fall, or a new application prior to a special event.

“You do some random mulching for graduation parties,” Roosevelt says. “Companies might have a big barbecue so you might end up doing a reinstall.”

But even with all the good mulch can do for a landscape, too much can be a bad thing. “It’s good for weed control and it’s good for moisture control and it’s good for curb appeal,” Roosevelt says. “(But) too much mulch can affect their plant material, the health and vigor of their plants. You don’t want to start piling on too much mulch.”

Roosevelt describes the typical touch up as a “fluff and buff,” which consists of turning over existing mulch, aerating it and making sure it’s not compacted.

Upselling Services.

Roosevelt says he will try to upsell the client a ground cover maintenance plan along with the install.

“We try to put everything on a plan,” he says. “Making sure that it’s cut back when it needs to be, it’s not growing into lawn areas or impeding on other plants and it’s treated properly.”

And while it’s possible for a client to request a one-time install of mulch or groundcover, both contractors say they try to avoid those types of jobs.

“Too much mulch can affect their plant material, the health and vigor of their plants. You don’t want to start piling on too much mulch.” Seth Roosevelt, Downer Brothers Landscaping

“Usually with clients (maintenance is) built in,” Linebarger says. “Usually something like (annual mulching) would be built into a commercial property right off the bat.”

In a typical landscape maintenance contract, there are options as to how often mulch will be applied or refreshed.

“Depending on what they want, we adjust price up and down,” he says.

To upsell to a new prospect, Linebarger says he may show them pictures of what another client’s property looked like prior to professional mulching service and after service was performed.

“Most of the time, it’s night and day,” he says. “They see that and they realize the value.”

Roosevelt says even if the client doesn’t ask for a refresh or reapplication, he will still try to find an opportunity to make the offer.

“Sometimes they call and say they have a graduation and then you bring it up to them ‘Do you want to do this? Do you want to do that? You’re having a big party in September, would you like to refresh the mulch or would you like us to come through and re-edge and re-mulch or fluff and buff?’” he says. “You touch base with them and see if they need any additional services.”

The author is a freelance writer based in Ohio.