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Trimming lawn cuts costs: by replacing some water-thirsty grass with indigenous plants, Southwestern communities can save on water, sewer and maintenance costs while updating their look.

During a time of economic uncertainty and water shortage, all companies are seeking ways to conserve water and reduce operating costs. Luckily there are exciting ways to accomplish both They can be found in our own backyards, so to speak. Low water use landscaping, also called xeriscaping, is a fantastic way to conserve water and increase property values by reducing operating expense. By converting water-hungry lawns to colorful, low water use landscaping, community curb appeal and aesthetics can improve.

In most cases the benefits of xeriscape landscaping far outweigh the cost. La Contenta Apartments in Tempe, Ariz., is a good example. La Contenta consists of 472 apartments on 22.5 acres of land. Prior to the transition to xeriscaping, the landscape design consisted of grass, shrubs and trees with some flowers throughout for color. By applying xeriscape techniques, a total of 73,033 square feet of tuff was replaced with artfully spaced shrubs, colorful granite and meandering curbs. The cost for this change was approximately $75,000, an outlay recovered in about five years.

At La Contenta, turf was retained in areas that are highly visible at property entrances and also in designated large central courtyards where children can play or residents can stroll. Resident comments confirm that the landscape changes created a more varied and pleasing appearance.

Removing grass adjacent to buildings reduced the need to re-stucco and re-paint on a regular basis. The stucco lasts for yearn when it is not moistened daily by irrigation water. Water against the buildings not only encourages the growth of mildew and algae, but also creates a cool, damp environment enjoyed by creatures such as scorpions, crickets and termites that often make their way indoors.

Other areas to consider converting to low water use include small wedges or strips of grass that are impossible to water without watering parking lots and sidewalks. This causes runoff that pools and can result in slip-and-fall accidents.

In addition to savings on water and possibly sewer charges for properties that are assessed sewer fees based on water consumption, maintenance savings include lower building maintenance expenses, reduced landscape expense for fertilizer, seed, mowing and sprinkler repair, plus reduced costs for asphalt and concrete sidewalk repairs.

Operating expense reductions can be difficult to calculate accurately because of the influence of change in occupancy. However, the annual expense reductions at La Contenta were approximately $15,000, resulting in a five-plus-year payback timeframe.

The new shrubs and groundcover complement the lawns and introduce a much-needed depth to the outdated landscape residents were accustomed to. Meandering concrete curbs between the designated turf and low water use areas replaced old metal and wood borders that had deteriorated badly. Selecting shrubs that reached a mature height of 3-4 feet created safer conditions. This change has an added benefit of complying with Tempe's crime-free prevention ordinances.

Some cities offer rebates as incentives to convert to low water use xeriscaping and often award funds for promoting safety as well. La Contenta was able to benefit from a Water Efficiency Incentive Program offered by the City of Tempe. Through the program, the property was awarded $10,000 for participating in this much needed water conservation effort.

Xeriscaping at La Contenta was a win-win situation for everyone. The property is infused with new life with its updated appearance and the residents are excited by the improvements. Curb appeal is greatly enhanced, savings in maintenance costs were immediately realized, water bills shrunk and lower operating costs made property owners celebrate.

RELATED ARTICLE: The benefits of xeriscaping.

BY ROD PAPPAS

Xeriscaping, a term derived from the Greek word xeros, meaning "dry," has become practically a household word in the southwestern United States. Apartment owners in this area of the country apply this term to the practice of landscaping or environmental design using various methods for minimizing the use of water.

Over the years, many immigrants to the Southwest have imported plants, trees and grasses from other regions of the county. In doing so, residents have altered the area's landscape and ecosystems, and have nearly depleted the water supply as well. By using more native plants, which require less water, landscapers recently have discovered many benefits of xeriscaping in addition to conserving water.

Sentinel Real Estate Corp., which manages 200 communities in 32 states, has incorporated the xeriscape method into its landscaping for the past 10 years, according to District Manager Tracey Savaiano. Recently, the company has encouraged its apartment communities to use xeriscaping techniques in lieu of annual flowers.

In other words, by reducing the size of their flower beds, which require replanting every four to six months, Sentinel has installed permanent arid designs as a backdrop for its landscaping, thus requiring only minimal annual replacements each season, saving the company hundreds of dollars, Savaiano said.

In addition to flowerbed replacements, Savaiano said the xeriscape conversion technique has proved to be equally effective in replacing turf areas that have become too shaded or have experienced substantially high traffic and look unattractive. By reducing unnecessary turf areas, apartment management companies have experienced lower maintenance costs for wood siding repairs, stucco replacement, window leakage and general water damage.

By incorporating the use of indigenous arid plants, xeriscapers found that many cost savings can be expected other than water savings.

* Water usage reduction and water/sewer bill savings

* Seasonal flower bills reduced

* Wood siding, stucco and general structural maintenance savings

* Liability issues, such as slip-and-fall accidents, reduced

* Landscape supplies and labor minimized

* Rebate programs with incentives offered by some municipalities

* Modernize the look of a property

To learn about incentive programs, water conservation and arid plants, contact the local water resource center or city water department.

Rod Pappas is Owner of Xeriscapes Unlimited Inc., a full-service landscape firm specializing in xeriscape landscaping. He can be reached at rod@xeriscapes.com.

RELATED ARTICLE: Xeriscaping: a 9-step plan.

Xeriscape principles can create new landscapes as well as modify existing ones. No matter what the size and scope of a project, putting pencil to paper is the best possible way to plan. A good design affects how the landscape looks, as well as how much water is saved and how much maintenance is required. For information, visit the Colorado Springs Utilities Web site, www.csu.org/environment/ xeriscape/howto/index.html.

Step 1 Creating a Base Plan. Create a drawing of the current landscape to help visualize the areas of the apartment community and how they relate to one another.

Step 2 Site Analysis. Evaluate existing conditions using a panoramic photo and a site analysis inventory.

Step 3 Use Analysis. Determine needs and wants for the new landscape.

Step 4 Schematic Planning. Decide where specific use areas will be located.

Step 5 Master Planning. Consolidate steps 1-4 in a "final" design plan used to create drawings in steps 6 and 7.

Step 6 Planting Plan. Choose plants to fit the master plan.

Step 7 Irrigation Plan. Design the irrigation system to fit the master plan.

Step 8 Phasing in the Landscape Design. Decide what must be done at once, what sequence to follow, and what can be done in the longer term.

Step 9 Maintaining the Landscape. Commit to caring for the new xeriscape-inspired landscape.

--Colorado Springs Utilities

Lori McGreal is a District Manager for Skygest Properties Inc. She oversees several properties in the Phoenix Metropolitan area, including La Contenta Apartments. Delene Patterson also contributed to this article. She is co-owner of Celadon Group, a landscape design and construction company in Phoenix that has carried out many successful low water use transitions for residential and commercial clients. Patterson can be reached by calling 480/423-2314.
COPYRIGHT 2005 National Apartment Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2005, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:McGreal, Lori
Publication:Units
Date:Jul 1, 2005
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