In Living Color: Seasonal Color

Features - Nursery Stock

As seasonal color becomes more popular, contractors need to be prepared on how to manage color programs for clients.

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November 23, 1999

A seasonal color program is much more complex than just planting a few geraniums and marigolds around a property and calling it complete. More and more customers are beginning to ask for a seasonal color program in their landscape design and contractors need to be ready. With its growing popularity, contractors need to know how to manage a color program so that it is effective for the client, as well as the contractor.

In order to install a successful seasonal color landscape, contractors should be aware of its benefits, how to balance color and how and when to perform color change outs.

BLOOMING DEMAND. According to Greg Fracker, president and owner of Colorscapes by Design, Newark, Ohio, color should be a big consideration in a landscape design. “More and more clients are looking for color whether its perennials, annuals or evergreens,” he said.

Bob Rennebohm, owner, Heard Gardens, Johnston, Iowa, explained that the popularity of color is coming from two different forces – the contractor and the client. “We promote seasonal color,” he noted. “But, we also see consumers driving the need for color.”

With its popularity growing by leaps and bounds, one has to wonder what the benefits are to a color program. “Color catches the eye,” Rennebohm mentioned. “People notice it – particularly if it’s a pleasing contrast. We sometimes even hear comments from people who didn’t notice a whole building because there wasn’t any color around it.”

“The No. 1 benefit is curb appeal,” stressed Joe Burns, president of Color Burst, Atlanta, Ga. “The color attracts someone’s eye to the landscape.”

“People draw conclusions about a property on their approach,” remarked Ken Perry, president of Team Innovative Landscape, Silverdale, Wa. “If you paint a pretty picture, color can make people stop and appreciate the landscape.”

Perry also noted that another benefit of seasonal color is that you not only take care of color but fragrance as well.

“Color benefits entries, views out of windows, patios and many other areas on a property,” commented Paul Shilhan, construction supervisor and landscape architect at Pellettieri Associates, Warner, N.H. “Those eye-catching colors are critical for entries onto properties. Also, color may encourage people to come closer to garden areas. Just be sure not to add too much color and overwhelm the client.”

Seasonal Selling Strategies.......

    Convincing customers that they may want to consider adding seasonal color to their landscapes may seem like a daunting task. However, a handful of contractors explain that the task is not really as hard as it may seem.

    “We make the suggestion and show some examples in pictures,” stated Bob Rennebohm, owner of Heard Gardens, Johnston, Iowa. “We show them the impact that color can make.”

    Phil Shilhan, construction supervisor and landscape architect at Pellettieri Associates, Warner, N.H., also mentioned that he doesn’t have any problems convincing his customers to purchase seasonal color. “We start slow with just a couple of beds and then maintain those,” he explained. “Just be sure not to smother the client with too many maintenance visits.”

    “Once a customer has received that service, then it becomes an addiction,” explained Ken Perry, president of Team Innovative Landscape, Silverdale, Wa. “You can create a dependency. The beauty of color is that you can get someone into it at a reasonable rate to start with and then build a good relationship.”

    Once a customer is convinced that this service is for them, the next step is the pricing game. Rennebohm explains that he bases it on material and labor costs.

    “Square footage is too difficult,” Rennebohm explained. “It is different from client to client.”

    Joe Burns, president of Color Burst, Atlanta, Ga., also bases his price on material and labor. “A lot of contractors have a square foot price,” he stated. “We custom price the program by looking at the beds and slopes and then give the price. Every job is priced on its own merits.” – Angela Dyer

A PERFECT PLAN. Since Shilhan advised not to smother the customer with color, there are a couple of keys to balance the color on a property.

“You want to pick a range of colors to stay in,” Fracker recommended. “Pick a hue. For example, if you choose red, you should stay with reds, pinks and lavenders. Then you can also add white to that mix. Just don’t plaster the property with color.”

When dealing with masses of color, Rennebohm explained that it is crucial to be careful to only use two or three main colors.

“Commercial properties need more simple colors, while residential properties can have more color because people are often driving past commercial properties at fast speeds and the eye can’t take in much color,” Rennebohm observed. “With residential properties, people are often walking by at much slower speeds so more color can be processed.”

To get the right colors at the right time, Shilhan first looks at what the plant will do when it blooms.

“We mix annuals and perennials together and we make sure we have color all through the year,” Shilhan said. “We focus bright color at the windows and subtle color in other areas around the property. It’s important to make the property dynamic so the areas are always changing.”

Similar to Rennebohm’s style, Perry creates color spots where he uses strategic colors in large groups, which he classifies as approximately 90 square feet.

“We never mix too many colors together in these areas,” Perry stressed. “We use mostly primary colors and not many pastels. On a commercial property, especially, you want to ‘wow’ the customer and pastels don’t do this as well as primary colors.”

When creating the perfect seasonal color design, another important decision is choosing the specific plant material. Color is obviously the most important ingredient in the design, but sometimes it helps to know the maintenance requirements and life expectancy of the plant material.

“We know that some plants are really short-lived. Some of these plants fill a temporary need better than others,” Perry stated, adding that in April he will plant the materials that he knows will be in the ground for approximately four or five months and will last in that setting.

Fracker explained that he tries to install low-maintenance plant material. “We will plant some annuals in the early spring and then we change out in May or June and again in August.”

His plant choice also depends on the conditions at the time of planting. For example, if there is a drought, a contractor should choose a drought-tolerant annual, according to Fracker.

Rennebohm added that he occasionally chooses plant material based on the fact that it could be removed quickly during a change out. He did stress, however, that the most important aspect of choosing the plant material is the seasonal nature of the color.

“As long as you have a client who will accept a change out, color is the most important factor,” he added.

Cool Color Combos

    Landscape contractors can use color to enhance a property. However, it’s important to choose colors carefully and use them in ways that work together as the seasons change, according to Landscape Gardening: Step-by-Step Visual Guide. The color wheel will help in choosing the color for a landscape design. Hues opposite each other on the wheel match nicely, while those closer together clash in appealing contrast. Cool colors, such as green and blue, are more restful and appear to recede from the warmer, livelier colors – red, yellow, pink and orange.

    One example of using these color combinations in a landscape is to create a background of evergreen shrubs to emphasize bright red and yellow spring flowers. Then, in winter, evergreen shrubs will provde a green backdrop for bare branches and snow.

    Check the color chart to invent more ways to match and contrast flowers and foliage for seasonal color.

PLANTING PARTICULARS. Before the actual planting can begin, the landscape bed and soil condition must be considered.

“This is the most important consideration up front,” Rennebohm commented. “The soil needs to be well-tilled and well-drained to make planting and removing plants as easy as possible.”

Irrigation was also a big concern of contractors. Echoing Rennebohm, Shilhan said, “Irrigation has to be considered. You can use hoses to irrigate, but make sure the hoses don’t get damaged when crews are changing the plants. As far as soil requirements, we look for a nice, loose soil and not heavy clay. It’s also a good idea to use a lot of mulch in order to retain moisture.”

Perry noted that when he sells a color contract, he amends the soil so it has better draining consistency.

“We use composted saw dust and other top soils that we blend,” he said. “This makes it quick to remove and replant material. The consistency of the soil is very important in planting.”

Once the soil has been properly amended, how do contractors know when to start the change out? The answer can be as easy as talking to the customer.

“Sometimes it’s driven by the client’s budget,” Fracker explained. “The client may also just let me set the schedule. If this happens, the schedule depends on the plants. If they are starting to decline, we will pull them out. However, if there is still good color, we may leave them a bit longer.”

Similarly, Burns’ change outs are determined based on his recommendations and the customer’s budget.

Rennebohm makes the change before the plants lose their color.

“It really depends on the plant and on the weather,” he commented. “You want new plants to be up to size and showing good color when you’re ready to plant them.”

“Most of the time, the change out schedule is figured into the contract,” Perry stated. “The schedule can be created for the customers and their needs.”

The author is Assistant Editor of Lawn & Landscape magazine.

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