The Power of First Impressions

Siemens 01-12-2020 (349)-min

When a potential client visits your building, the visual appeal of what lies ahead of them can influence their perception of you before you’ve even met. The value in high quality commercial landscaping goes beyond trimming and mowing every other week. 

So, what does it take to maintain a memorable commercial landscape? Most importantly, it requires the right skill set. A suitable maintenance manager with the skills needed to run the project is top priority. This skill set should include horticultural knowledge, excellent communication and knowledge of machinery and equipment. The manager should have a good working knowledge of the horticultural practices needed to ensure the site develops to its full potential. He must be able to explain to the client why certain methods are used to complete certain tasks such as pruning, hedge trimming and lawn mowing. 

Lawn care is a vital task in most projects. A well maintained and cared for lawn area will make any project stand out from other similar projects. 

Good lawn areas need programmed care. It would also depend greatly on the type of lawn which has been recommended for the site. There are 4 main lawn grass types which are generally used. 

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Kikuyu- by far the most popular choice due to its robust nature, ease of installation, availability, and longevity. It requires 4 applications of nitrogenous fertilizer through the year. It requires a minimum of 25mm of water per week. In frost free areas it can retain its colour year-round. In colder areas it tends to discolor due to frost kill. It does not tolerate shade too well.  It should be cut once a week (42 cuts per annum recommended). It can be mowed with any good rotary type mower and responds well to mulch mowing (not collecting clippings during mowing). It does not grow well in coastal areas.

Cynodon cultivars- this is a fine lawn species which with the correct care gives a superior finish to any project. However, it requires a high degree of care to be perfect. The fertilizing programme is more technical than that of Kikuyu (6 applications per annum generally specified), A good fungicide application programme is beneficial, and it requires careful attention to the eradication of weeds (clover, Poa, Alternanthera pungens. Kikuyu and Elusine grass). It should be mowed using a cylinder mower with a grass box to collect clippings. Twice a week mowing is recommended during the growing season at a height of 12-8mm. on smaller areas the height of cut can be reduced to 6mm if twice a week cutting is programmed. Certain fine lawn types go dormant during winter and in colder areas loose colour completely. It requires less frequent irrigation than Kikuyu to survive and as such is used on projects where irrigation is restricted. Recommended irrigation is 25-30mm per week for a good lawn appearance. The winter maintenance program is important. Heavy scarification and aeration are necessary. Topdressing can be used if levels are not correct. It is frequently specified for use in coastal properties

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Evergreen lawn cultivars- All seasons, Shade over and similar lawns are specified where a high-level lawn maintenance programme is specified. These lawns generally need frequent irrigation, a good fertilizer application programme (every 6 weeks recommended) and regular cutting. The height of cut is much higher than other lawn types (35mm minimum height). Other evergreen, shade tolerant grasses are LM lawn, Buffalo lawn (common names used) which require similar care.


Trees on a site are first of all necessary to provide shade, to screen ugly architectural features or emphasize good features. General knowledge of trees and their care form an important part of a maintenance managers’ requirements. In older parks and areas, trees are under enormous stress due to poorly controlled building practices, lack of correct maintenance and tree structural care.


Shrubberies and perennial planting areas bring the garden into shape. Shrubberies help to define boundaries, border buildings and line pathways. These shrubberies consist of a mixture of carefully selected plant types which include shrubs (Plumbago ,Tecomaria, Freylenia), perennial plants (agapanthus, Dietes, Irises) and in some areas annuals (Pansies, Dahlias, Petunias). To conserve water more emphasis is placed on installing water wise plantings (succulents, indigenous flora, natural grass areas)


Irrigation is the most important requirement in any garden situation, either big or small. In most cases a very limited resource due to weather conditions, lack of good ground water, but generally due to the cost of water. A general rule of thumb is that landscapes will prosper if given a minimum of 25mm water per week during the growing season in the highveld. Many commercial projects, out of consideration of the lack of good water supply to the greater population, will restrict the use of water to maintain their gardens.  When considering the water supply source all available water supplies should be looked at. This includes rainwater collection, rainwater drainage, storage tanks, dams, Greywater from washbasins and kitchens. All of these can yield sufficient irrigation water to maintain gardens that are correctly designed.  A well designed and installed irrigation system will provide the correct amount of water to each and every plant type – shrubs, trees, lawns, veld grass. This information needs to be carefully considered by the Landscape Architect when designing the landscape and choosing plant species. First consider the water supply, then design the garden. The maintenance manager will need to have a good working knowledge of the various sprinkler types, suppliers’ controllers, valves etc. if he doesn’t have this knowledge, he must ensure he has a worker/ employee on site who does or he must have a contract with a good irrigation specialist who can adjust and repair the system correctly. Ongoing maintenance of any irrigation system is essential.


Onsite training of all employees and workers on each site is an essential part of the Maintenance manager’s responsibility. Each worker must be developed fully by continual training in the management of the plants on the site including lawns, trees and shrubs and perennials. As with any manual operation, by doing onsite training the worker learns a lot easier about the various plants and their requirements. Offsite training does have its place but because the worker is not instructing his hands as well as his brain, he loses a lot of the finer detail. Good skills training programmes benefit both the employer and employee. Incentives to workers who excel in training will encourage more productive time spent on site

A good working knowledge of the machinery required to operate on site is vital. This includes essential items such as Brush cutters, edger’s, handheld blowers, knapsack blowers, rotary push mowers, walk behind cylinder mowers, larger self-propelled mowers (Kudu), ride on mowers (Walker Mower, Baronnes, Hustler, Toro) and chain saws. All the above use petrol/diesel operated engines. In some instances, heavier cutting equipment is needed such as tractors with slashers. When specified in green type environments electric or battery-operated machines are required. Knowledge of general practical maintenance on all machinery is needed to ensure operators are correctly instructed on the use and daily care of these machines. More technical maintenance, such as an annual maintenance, is needed in a workshop with trained technicians.

Investing in a professional landscaping company trained in horticultural practices could be the defining factor between you and one of your competitors. Sustainability and environmentally conscious efforts go a long way in creating brand loyalty in today’s competitive market.

Des Young

Knowledge Manager

Life Green Group


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