Project planning landscaping

  Project planning

Greg Rhodes talks to general manager of the APL, Phil Tremayne on how best to plan, prepare and cost landscaping projects 

While some garden landscapers are reporting bulging order books moving into summer, member body The Association of Professional Landscapers (APL) sounds a note of caution on overcommitting.

“When the sun shines, the work diary can fill up quickly,” says APL general manager Phil Tremayne. “But before taking on too many projects, ensure you have access to sufficient reliable labour to not only complete them to timescale but to a high standard.

“Using labour you haven’t taken on before can result in poor finishes, then callbacks, which eat into your schedule for other work and cut profits.”

Landscapers may well tap into their own established network of subcontractors and individuals – usually self-employed – who work under the Construction Industry Scheme (CIS) regulations. A commitment of APL membership however is that any subcontractor must be suitably qualified for the work they’re asked to do.

“The onus is on members to conduct due diligence in this respect,” Phil states. “Talk to them about their experience, insurance, tools and equipment, to satisfy yourself about their competence.” The APL member WhatsApp group is a great source of information, Phil notes.

Task creep 

While pricing for jobs contractors need to drill down on a client’s expectations.  Landscapers generally enjoy working outdoors – a quality clients can milk by asking them to do a little extra ‘while you’re here’.  Essentially extra tasks creep into a job. “Fine as long as such add-ons are small,” Phil says. “In gardens, there is the temptation to continue with extra work.

“But can you still buy the extra materials at the same price as you budgeted  for in your original estimate.  And you’re also knocking your next client back because you are overrunning.”

Variations can prove “a blessing or a curse”, Phil adds. “APL’s advice is to cost large ones as separate contract. If you’re working on a new patio and the client asks if you can put up a pergola, for example, cost the work as a new project.”

Supply chains

While pricing a project it is also good practice is to keep clients informed of lead in time for delivery of materials and their ever changing costs suggests Phil.  “World troubles, such as the Suez Canal drought,  middle eastern attacks on shipping, influence access to stock and has affected supply chains,” he explains.

“Many landscapers are reverting to estimates rather than quotations, to cover themselves against sudden price fluctuations. Nearer the project scheduled start date, they can then provide a fixed price for the client.”

APL members have become “extremely transparent” when preparing estimates, Phil adds. “A lot of detail, such as displaying prices of individual elements of the project, goes into quoting, and landscapers will also reduce prices if elements of the build come in under budget.

Managing projects with poor weather

Weather is of course proving a major disrupter to work schedules. The prolonged wet period will likely move into a protracted dry spell, if recent yearly trends are any yardstick.

“Water restrictions may well come in at some stage,” Phil predicts, “but this could present a chance for landscapers to talk to clients now about PEG irrigation systems, rather than seep alternatives. On large projects, there’s a good opportunity to discuss water collection as well – storage tanks for example.”

Expectation of a hot, dry period pre-summer also brings into focus another potential issue confronting landscapers – applying grout. “The British Standard for applying cementatious grouts and slurries states they should be used up to 25°C,” explains Phil.  When pouring them across paving in hot weather, they can go off quickly and prove difficult to get off.

“Applying them later in the day may still cause problems as paving and patios can retain latent heat and still be at 30°C. That’s why grouting should be the first job of the day, completed before 10am when temperatures may rise to 30-32°C typically.” Particularly pertinent given the trend back to natural stone.

Keep watering

Large projects can include planting trees, a task landscapers very early in the project, Phil notes. “Ensure appropriate irrigation is in place as the rootball may dry out and the tree die even while the team’s on site.”

Finally with reference to plant material and Bio Security, he adds: “Maintain a good dialogue with nurseries and talk to them about your requirements early on to limit risk of delays to plant supply post-Brexit and always check they are operating the plant passport system, which allows you to trace what you buy back to the original source, should it suffer infection by invasive organisms. Unfortunately at this point, we haven’t the capacity to be self-sufficient in all the plants and trees we need, which makes traceability extremely important.”

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