Overcome Urban Landscaping Challenges

Overcoming the small spaces, close neighbors and city permitting processes in urban landscaping offers you opportunities to

Small spaces, close neighbors and city permits offer unique opportunities for your landscaping business.

Good landscaping isn’t just for sprawling lawns in rural and suburban settings. There’s also a large landscaping market for the smaller yards and rooftops of city dwellings, says Mary Kay Woodworth, executive director of Metro Atlanta Landscape and Turf Association (MALTA) in Atlanta. Working in urban areas can be refreshing, Woodworth says, because you're less likely to encounter regulations on turf or plant materials put in place by neighborhood associations.

Despite its challenges, the urban landscaping market can be a lucrative one if a landscaper plans ahead and thinks outside the box. Check out these helpful solutions to common urban landscaping obstacles:

Challenge: Crowding elements
Solution: Design for scale

In an urban setting, you have to act as if you were designing a small room, says Lance Walheim, Bayer Advanced gardening expert and co-author of Landscaping for Dummies. Make sure all colors and textures complement each other; if they don’t, the space might feel even smaller.

“Using aggregate or brick as a patio instead of large pieces of flagstone may make the space feel more comfortable and natural,” Walheim says. “Using large-leafed plants like hydrangeas instead of finer-textured ones like ferns can also intensify cramped or crowded feelings.”

In a larger landscape, you have more liberty to incorporate elements that won’t be used as often but fill up space nicely. However, functionality becomes more of a concern with a smaller space, so only include elements, such as a table with chairs, if they’re going to be used often.

Challenge: Less space
Solution: Build vertical

Small space landscapes require closer attention to detail, as a smaller design is less forgiving to its various elements. However, just because you’re designing on a smaller scale doesn’t mean you have to completely minimize your design.

Woodworth says vertical elements can enhance any landscape and are especially helpful for a small space. “(They) can make a great impact but not crowd the space,” she says. “Install water fountains or place artwork on the walls.”

Walheim recommends placing vines along the fence or incorporating a trellis. They’re great vertical elements that can add privacy and soften the walls.

Challenge: City restrictions
Solution: Do research

Design choices aside, urban landscaping can present unique challenges. There are other concerns to consider when working in a city, such as permitting ordinances, parking, work permits, material transportation and planning, Woodworth says.

City parking tends to be limited, so you should look into obtaining a permit or reserved space for the time you’ll be working. You can usually obtain a permit from your local division of public works. Also, reach out to the local zoning committee to find out about other regulations, such as stormwater management permits, tree height ordinances or soil erosion certificates. 

“The permitting processes can be complex and they vary from city to city,” she says. “You need to get to know the people in that process to learn what is required in the area.”

Outlining a job’s demands beforehand will help you determine certain factors. For example, knowing when the city experiences heavy traffic can help you figure out the hours your employees will work. You'll also need to figure out how much it will cost to attain all the necessary permits and incorporate that in your bid. The key is to maintain complete transparency with your clients so they understand all the challenges you’ll encounter.

Challenge: Higher potential for theft and closer neighbors
Solution: Take precautions and inform

Cities often have a higher rate of crime, which makes running a tightly scheduled operation important, Woodworth says. Make sure you’re always on site when materials arrive so they’re not dropped off on the porch and left unattended. Also be sure you lock your car doors, and discuss with the homeowner any other security issues in the area, such as vandalism.

Communication with close neighbors is also key, she says. Explaining your work to those nearby will help avoid tension and complaints, and they’ll be much less irritated with the noise and traffic if they’re given proper notice. 

The best way is to put notes on all neighbors’ doors stating the length of the project and the hours you’ll be working. As a side benefit, this gives you an opportunity to introduce yourself to potential customers as a customer service-oriented contractor.

“Being friendly, forthright, and careful to observe time of day and noise level will go a long way,” she says.

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