4 Ways to Get the Most out of Colorful Summer Landscapes

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While peak leasing season is upon us, summer is a time when apartment landscapes have their greatest opportunity to flourish and put on a colorful show for residents and prospects. Plant and flower variety is plentiful and thrives best during the summer months, providing the opportunity for turning beds and entrances into palatial-like gardens. It’s the time for multifamily to indulge its preferences for texture, height, and color for summer landscapes. But hold your spades! Rushing out right now and digging into those plants that are already sprouting at retail garden centers may be a little premature.

Sprucing up Summer Landscapes

Remember the adage, April showers bring May flowers? Hence, the suggestion that summer flowers aren’t expected to begin to flourish until May or later, not April when trays of blooming begonias, petunias, and periwinkles start showing up on store shelves.

Waiting deeper into spring to plant summer color will help turn your property into a showplace during the dog days of July and August when temperatures are hotter. The spring-like temperatures, despite some of those warm 80-degree days that are already showing up in southern states, may be misleading for plants to get established. The cool nights don’t always help, nor do periodic cold snaps typical of spring.

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Here are four things to keep in mind when working with your landscape professional or staff with summer color plantings:

Timing is everything

Plants that need to thrive until the fall must endure extreme summer temperatures and can only do so if they are properly acclimated. Consistently warm temperatures help them do that. While waiting later to plant your summer color may seem agonizing at this point, it’s best for the long-term health of the flowers and your investment to be patient.

Planting now will force plants to acclimate to cooler temperatures, instead of the warmer, controlled temperatures in the greenhouses where they were raised. Their ability to adapt to those 90- and 100-degree days and warm nights will be compromised. Even worse, a spring freeze could cause severe damage or even kill them, forcing costly replanting.

Waiting until mid-May or June will help flowers harden or adapt at a different rate, which will better ensure they flourish in the coming months. Ideally, color for summer landscapes should be installed by mid-June.

Plant spacing makes a difference

A tendency is to load the bed ear-to-ear with new flowers during the initial planting. The bed will look lush and complete, but flowers will struggle to survive in limited space as they mature. Ideally, young plants should be spaced out, even though the bed won’t look as complete for the first couple of weeks.

The spacing is based on the theoretical bullseye of that plant. The idea is to make sure that plants are not competing with each other for nutrients. There should be sufficient space for each to establish its root system without taking nutrients from a larger area. If plants are packed on top of each other, they fight to survive.

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It may take a couple of weeks for the bed to fill in, but the plants will be stronger and healthier. An option is to plant beds with fully mature plants (usually in 10-inch containers), but the cost can be three or four times more.

Don’t choose plants just by their appearance

Plants that appear to be fully bloomed, colorful and mature in small containers may actually not be the right choice for your beds. Retailers like their plants to have big tops and appear lush and beautiful for obvious reasons, but size does matter here. Smaller usually is better.

The best way to choose a flower is to examine its root makeup in the four-inch container. If roots are surrounded by a significant amount of blue soil (which indicates fertilizer is present) and if dirt is loose when removing from the container, it’s likely the plant is not established. When a plant is fully developed, the roots should be bright white and dirt should stay intact when removed.

Typically, the healthier plants are those with smaller tops and fuller root systems.

Let it drip, let it drip

Drip irrigation is most effective in watering beds throughout the growing cycle. Using pop-up systems likely will require changing heads to accommodate the growth of the plant. For example, a four-inch head is recommended to irrigate after planting.

As the plants grow, a larger head will be necessary so that the bed gets fully watered. Changing heads requires time and additional expense. Ultimately, heads will have to be changed again when fall and spring color is planted.

With drip irrigation, the roots of the plants – no matter their size – are adequately watered with less hassle.

Summer is a great opportunity to add color and pizzazz to multifamily housing properties, and the results can be stunning by planning ahead and not pulling the trigger on plantings too early.  A little patience goes a long way.

Originally Published by Chris Lee, President of EarthWorks in Property Management Insider


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