With the leafless trees and icy winds blowing along the shores of Lake Michigan, it is the perfect time for condo or co-op managers and building administrators to start thinking about repair and maintenance work for the upcoming spring.
When it comes to the maintenance of the property, upkeep should be all year-round, says Renee Mercer of Kinsella Landscape, Inc. in Blue Island. “Normally we like homeowners or residents to do that a season or two prior, either the fall or the winter. It would be better sooner than later for the coming year; to have the service all year round. The maintenance schedules fill out really fast,” she says.
Scott Graham of the Illinois Chapter of the Landscape Contractors Association agrees. “Residents should set up a time as soon as possible. Landscapers typically get a lot of work whenever the first warm-up season comes up. Make sure to contact a landscaper during their down time, anytime from mid-November and on,” he says.
The experts agree that during the winter, trees, shrubs and the rest of the site suffer the most during these harsh weather conditions. Broken tree branches, salt on the pavement, or snow on budding plant life should be a constant reminder to keep the site healthy for the planting/growing season. As much fun as it is to go sledding, building snowmen or constructing forts, irreversible damage can be caused the longer any damage goes untreated.
Scheduling Springtime Maintenance
Association boards and management professionals should contact their professional landscapers to discuss their annual contracts during the fall and winter months. Professional landscapers are there to explain maintenance service programs and encourage an open line of communication for their clients.
According to Dennis Paige, a landscaper in Schaumburg, the best time to reach out is prior to the first snow hitting the ground. “Our board meetings happen usually in December. So, that would be the best time to talk about contracts and programs. The fall is already going by and the longer you wait the harder it will be to get anything done. We put things together around that time and the final touches for the year. It should be no later than the last quarterly meeting [in December].”
Residents and homeowners are encouraged to take the initiative when dealing with the maintenance of their own properties, says Graham. “It’s also determining what the needs of the property are, or if this is an existing property that the landscape professional has been working on for a while. A site walk-through is important prior to the snow hitting the ground. It’s important to have at least four to six conversations with your landscape professional, your project manager, anyone that is working closely with you. You should never hesitate to take the initiative and reach out prior to weather changes,” he says.
HOA administrators, homeowners and residents should always discuss their landscape plans for the upcoming year. One-time maintenance programs can cause a problem for the contractor, especially when they haven’t been maintaining a site for the entire year. A professional landscaper will want to know the condition and history of the site in order for a healthy planting/growing season.
Professional landscapers should be on the look out for any damage caused during the winter months. Special attention should be paid to the sidewalk, the shrubs, bushes, the trees and the scale of the site.
“Late February up until early March is the time to start cleaning up. First thing you want to do is establish an environmental consciousness with the site before applying anything to it,” Paige says.
“For example, there is a common problem with Japanese beetles, they generally breed on lawns. Over the years I have learned how to deal with Japanese beetles and have come up with strategies. Often we might not know the magnitude of non-native species under the soil. I don’t like to deal with pesticides that are harmful to the environment,” he says.
A spring walk-through should also monitor the number of visits the landscaper/contractor makes to the site, mowing, fertilization, weed control and any other issues residents have with the property.
Common Post-Winter Problems
Another important factor one should be aware of are the environmental issues around the site. There are certain plants and soils that need to be treated a certain way. Professional landscapers and contractors are trained to know what treatments should be used and the proper maintenance of the grounds.
One thing to think about are the site walk-throughs, says William Davids, president of Clarence Davids & Company, a landscape development and management firm based in Matteson. “Most things are visible but if a landscaper/contractor goes too early some of the grass might look dead or some shrubs might look poor. However, sometimes that might not even be the case, the shrub might come back healthier if left alone. A real professional should take their time and should not make any hasty decisions when it comes to cutting down a shrub, bush or budding plant,” he says.
Other things to watch out for on the grounds are broken wires and cables. Exposed cable lines are dangerous when the element of snow is involved says Paige. “As a landscaper, I warn the client and advise them to call the cable company. If necessary, the exposed cable lines would be cut. The cable company is suppose to dig a trench line to bury the cable,” he says.
“We encourage our clients to not feed the wildlife in their area. Breadcrumbs, for example can get moldy. Smoking is another issue too and the client can be fined as well. It’s a toxic issue and the animals could get sick. Finally we do burns in March, we give our client a public notice and inform them that the state and county approve the prescribed burn. The basis of the burn is to regenerate certain soils and plants,” Paige says.
Rectifying any damages during the wintertime means there is a better chance for the site to survive. The same way one goes to the doctor to maintain bodily functions and stay healthy can also be applied to the health and maintenance of the property.
Minor Repairs & Safety
Residents and property managers can prepare for the spring during the harsh winter months by taking care of excess debris around the property. One task that should be completed would be raking the leaves or picking up the fallen branches around the area.
However when it comes to cleaning the gutters, one should never work alone, says Paige. “People have to be careful with gutter cleaning, they need to have a spotter. During the winter there is cabin fever and people tend to be sluggish. People are also less active during the winter months and may not be in such great shape,” Paige says.
When it comes to gutter cleaning, you have to be aware of the snow and the ice. You should always have a spotter to hold the ladder. Make sure the ground is flat and level. Cleaning gutters can be an easy task or it could be difficult, you might also have to clean the drainage from the leaves and left over debris. But don’t ever do it by yourself,” Paige says.
Leaving it to the Professionals
Residents that are all about doing-it-yourself should leave certain jobs to trained professionals.
Expenses and costs are important factors when it comes to a job being done well. “We have trained professionals that do this job every day. We have equipment that is the safest and the best on the market. There is a big difference between an individual and a professional doing the job. It looks way better with a contractor because they know exactly what to do. Contractors are trained to assess sidewalks, asphalt and major snow damage,” Davids says.
Paige on the other hand says, “Anything that deals with electrical or plumbing, should be handled by outside professionals. If residents are thinking about planting trees there is a toll number to call that is hooked into the county (that wherever you are digging, does not hit any electrical lines or plumbing).”
Another thing that should be left to the professionals would be the use of chemicals. For example, things such as mulch and pruning trees and shrubs, says Mercer. “Certain clients ask for an organic program for their maintenance upkeep, what they will and will not handle. Organics do not cover weeds. Often that means they will have to weed it themselves but they also have the option of hiring outside help to weed the site. There have been large-scale sites that we have hand-weeded. We put the time in, we go above and beyond when it is necessary,” she says.
In order for sites and association’s grounds to be healthy and ready for the spring, landscapers and contractors should be on the top of management’s list. These professionals help with the maintenance of planting, budding and other seasonal issues all year-round.
When the cold sets in, remember to think of spring, so that when it does come around the corner it can be enjoyed thoroughly.
Stephanie Andades is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The Chicagoland Cooperator.