Falling Into Winter
Preventative fall maintenance saves spring spend
As autumn graces us with dropping temperatures and brilliant landscape hues, it is important to remember that there is still much preparation and planning for the facility manager for the onset of winter. By now, you should have completed the planning phase of your snow and ice control plans and be moving ahead to the action and implementation phases. Taking the time to winterize your properties prior to the first freeze will help save you additional maintenance costs and repair headaches come spring. Fall is also the optimal time to enhance your landscape and add appeal to your exteriors.
Sprucing up your landscape
The combination of cooler temperatures and warm soil makes fall the ideal season for planting and establishing ornamental trees, shrubs and flowering bulbs. For a little more curb appeal and efficiency, speak with your exterior service provider about planting spring flower bulbs beneath a hardy flowering annual. Spring flowers, such as daffodils, tulips and hyacinths, need to be planted in the fall season and will create a brilliant color display come spring as they emerge through the annuals.
Review your fall maintenance plans and procedures with your Exterior Services Management™ (ESM) company or service providers to be sure they include the following elements:
- Any new planting: New plantings should be scheduled for early fall to ensure the best results. Research has shown that roots will continue to grow through the cold season until the soil freezes.
- Continued mowing throughout the season: Although turf growth may slow in the fall months, it should be mowed until growth stops completely.
- Late fall fertilization: The roots of cool season grasses, such as tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass, will absorb fertilizer and store it through the winter. If applied properly, when the grass growth ceases but the roots remain active, your lawn will be lush and green early next spring, and should survive the stresses of the winter due to enhanced root growth and carbohydrate storage.
- Collection of leaves from lawn and planting beds: Leaves and other debris left on your property may cause insect infestations, dead spots, hinder future growth and even pose a safety threat.
- Pruning of deciduous trees and shrubs: As leaves fall, pruning becomes more exact as technicians can better assess budding, nodules and overall plant shape, allowing for a strong a healthy bud set next season. It is important to note, however, that pruning prematurely may instigate new growth which may then be subject to frost damage and stunting.
Another consideration for your fall planning is that of holiday landscape decoration. Curb appeal is one of the most important aspects of your retail facilities that affects the generation of traffic to your property. Studies have shown that those retail operations that invest in holiday décor tend to have the biggest payoffs in terms of traffic, duration of shopping time and sales. Unfortunately, many stores that do make the investment in decorations overlook the opportunity to add touches of the season to their exteriors. A retail center in Phoenix became a holiday destination because of their annual Christmas tree of poinsettias. This 26-foot tree, along with complementary landscaping, brought in masses of visitors each season, many wishing to take their family photos surrounded by the spirited landscaping.
Winterizing your exteriors
Preparing your retail operations for the winter weather is one of the most crucial aspects of fall maintenance for which the facility manager is responsible. The optimal time to commence winterization is in the warmer days of fall, before the temperature drops below 50 degrees. Once the temperature drops, it becomes more difficult to avoid the possibility of weather emergencies, which lead to additional costs, safety risks and late water extraction.
The number one area for concern is your irrigation systems, which are most prone to avoidable damage during the cold season. As the temperature falls, any water remaining in pipes or sprinklers begins to freeze, ultimately expanding and subjecting your system to the risk of broken pipes and frozen sprinkler heads. Ensure each of the following steps is taken when winterizing your irrigation systems this fall:
- Disabling of water supply
- Draining and tagging of backflow preventers
- Draining of all valves, to be left partially open
- Blowing out of the system, or utilization of previously installed automatic drain valves, to ensure all water is removed from pipes and sprinkler heads
- Turning off automatic controllers and power
Even retail facilities in the Southern regions should perform a modified winterization process to protect the components of their irrigation systems that are exposed. This process consists of:
- Adjusting the system’s controller to reduce watering times
- Running the system each month to prevent dry-cracks in rubber parts
- Conducting monthly inspections of above-ground components
- Draining the system in the event of freeze conditions
The costs associated with irrigation damage reparation can be extreme and, for the most part, avoidable. Not only will the system itself be damaged, but your landscape and curb appeal will suffer as a result, potentially negatively affecting your spring traffic and sales. Yet irrigation is not the only element of your property that may need winterization. With adequate planning and emergency procedures in place, simple solutions are provided that help keep your operation free of chaos and panicked decisions.
Another trend you may wish to consider is the shift toward environmentally safe snow melting products. Salt and salt blends that have been popular in the past due to inexpensiveness have now been shown to affect ground water, as well as damage interior flooring. Furthermore, many alternative melters form an unattractive residue and pose the threat of slippage, creating both safety and liability issues for the facility. Newer environmentally-safe products, although slightly more expensive, contain no grit to harm interiors nor damaging salts. While safety and liability are year-round issues for the facility manager, winter weather conditions put both to the test. Be sure to review your snow and ice control plan thoroughly and ensure that you have all the procedures in place to promptly respond to safety concerns.
Preparing your stores for winter weather and corresponding safety concerns can be a daunting task. Partnering with a company that specializes in exterior service maintenance may save you time, money and manpower, which would be better served focusing on your core business. Outsourcing to an ESM company allows you the opportunity to concentrate on sales, customer service and retention, while the exterior professionals perform your fall maintenance and winterization at a fraction of the cost and liability.