Are Existing Plants Worth Keeping in a Landscape Renovation?


Overgrown landscape

With new home construction down, landscape renovations are more popular than ever. So it makes sense to be prepared for this kind of work.

As you’d expect renovations can have different considerations in terms of design, the work itself, and even the tools you use. At the top of that list of considerations are the existing plants and what to do with them.

A Broader Understanding of Plants Helps

You’ll need to appraise the value of your customers’ existing plants. Also, whether transplanting them is cost effective and frankly, whether it’s even feasible.

To make the right recommendations to your customer it’s helpful to:

  • Know what different plants cost on the market so you can put a dollar amount on ones they have.
  • Know how transplantable particular types and sizes of plants are. Some are just poor candidates.
  • Know plant characteristics to determine a new location on the property for the transplant. Sometimes you can improve the condition of an existing plant by moving it to a more suitable spot.

I’m thinking right about now you’re saying, “There he goes again with the value of plant knowledge”.

I hear you, but isn’t it funny how often it seems to be a factor? I want you to realize that because it’s one of the key elements that will help set you apart from most other landscape contractors.

There are articles about specific plants on LandscapeAdvisor, and I’m going to keep adding them. Steadily and together we’ll grow our understanding of plants.

Transplant or Remove Existing Plants?

To recommend a plant for transplanting, first consider the overall chance of success.

  • How long has this plant been growing in this spot?
  • Does this plant typically have a dense and fibrous root system or is it less dense and sprawling?
  • Is this a good time of year to move the plant and if not, can the work be scheduled for a better time?
  • What are the logistical challenges? Is the area accessible? Are there obstacles near the plant that would make the process difficult?

Also, to recommend a plant for transplanting consider and compare the cost of a new, similar plant to the actual cost of the transplanting process. Remember too, typically transplants are not guaranteed, whereas new plants usually are.

So, factoring in the chance of success along with the cost comparisons of new plant vs. transplanting, you should have enough information to make a recommendation to your customer.

Rip-Outs and Removals

Rip-outs and removals are usually quick and fairly simple – yet they get a good amount of the glory. :-)  The reason for that is the dramatic change your customer sees in a short period of time.

Let’s say you’re doing a complete renovation on a 25 year old foundation planting. A few of the plants are to be transplanted, but all the others removed.

The first major phase is the rip-out and removal. Plants that are to be saved for transplanting can be tied up to get them contained and protect their branches.

Ripping out stumps
The plants to be removed are cut back to get access to their trunk and base areas.

If you’re doing the removals by hand, keep enough height to the trunks and stems for leverage. About 3′ is good.

A sharp, steel reinforced (or all steel) spade and a root cutter are 2 great tools to work with.

Use a length of heavy duty chain and your truck to pull on each plant to help extract it. Your crew guys can assist by cutting roots with the spade and root cutter while the truck and chain gives a steady pull.

Some plants can be removed simply with the spade and root cutter.

Using a mini-excavator makes the job even quicker and more efficient. Add a “thumb-attachment” to the excavator’s bucket and you have the ultimate rip-out tool.

Be Value Conscious – And Be Valued Yourself

When I first meet with a “landscape-renovation” customer we’ll walk the property together.

Of the things we discuss I’m always sure to bring up their existing plants. I want to learn right away how they feel about them. Their comments will help guide me in my recommendations.

Sometimes people have a sentimental attachment to certain plants. Other folks are environmentally conscious (especially today) and want to reuse whatever they can.

Some people say “out with the old and in with the new,” while others are totally indifferent.

Our job is to give our customers objective recommendations based on the value of their existing plants. They’re counting on us for this.

Often when you explain the chances of success and the cost/value side of things they start thinking very practical.

Fill the Gaps with Your Network

One of the main principles of our owner/operator model is to grow alliances with other skilled contractors and professionals.  Build your business around your strengths and provide other needed expertise with your network.

Although we’re going to talk more about the power of alliances and collaborating, I think it’s important to mention this here for those that might be getting overwhelmed at the thought of learning all aspects of the trade.

Literally every phase of the landscape process can be outsourced when you have the right relationships and team behind you. From design, to site-work, to removals, to transplanting…you can have anyone of those phases within your network to complement what you provide.

I have grown and evolved my business around this principle through the years. It’s what gives you the capability to do great things without the burden of a big operation.


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