Consumers go beyond plants, spend more on longer-lasting landscaping projects

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Posted: Tuesday, May 7, 2013 12:00 am

Robert Kozol, in his early 30s, understands the so-called Millennial Generation and its inclination to hire professionals to take care of landscaping and lawn needs.

He wouldn't call it laziness, as his generation of 18- to 35-year-olds works hard and furious on the job. But off-duty time often is spent on family, travel or electronic amusement rather than on replenishing the flower bed out back.

“Everything seems so computerized,” said Kozol of Robert's Nursery, Lawn & Landscaping in Omaha. “No one wants to get their fingernails dirty anymore.” Look up property valuations in Douglas and Sarpy Counties, and find real estate sales reports and neighborhood census data.

In sync are results of an online survey by Professional Landcare Network, which named Millennials and men as among groups more likely to fork over green to have a professional do landscaping and lawn work.

The trade association's research that aimed to track U.S. purchasing trends in the industry revealed another key finding: Average spending on yard maintenance is expected to hold steady this year, while the biggest average spending increases likely will be on entertainment-type “hardscapes” like decks, outdoor kitchens and water features.

That trend toward upgrading outdoor structural settings — and therefore value to a house — in a still recovering real estate market stands true of consumers across the board, said Kozol and others in the landscape industry.

“It's certainly true that in a lesser economy, more people are staying in their homes, and they're fixing them up,” said Sean Mulhall of Mulhall's landscaping, nursery and garden center in Omaha.

He said his company's patio, walkway, fire pit and outdoor room construction has seen more of an upswing than its plant installation side.

Remaining a strong seller regardless of season, said Mulhall, are containers for plants and trees. In many cases, he said, creating a place for a beautiful container has led consumers to build a walkway or remodel a patio.

Mulhall anticipates strong May sales overall, as the late spring has delayed activity, especially when compared with last summer when droughtlike conditions put a damper on business. As consumers turn attention to summer and yards, Omaha area landscape and lawn service providers offered other thoughts on what is hot or not in their industry.

Bryan Kinghorn, president of Kinghorn Gardens, also has seen demand for hardscape projects, including modified front entrance areas and patterned walkways that enhance curb appeal and value.

“Leisure time is so precious,” he said. “When you have it, you want to maximize how social interaction takes place. Definitely your landscape contributes to that.”

This year, Kinghorn opened a landscape architecture design branch, called Dropseed Studio, to add another layer of expertise that opens the door for bigger and public structural projects.

Clients, both residential and commercial, want longer-lasting landscapes that create peace of mind rather than more work, Kinghorn said. His business strategy plays into Nebraska's extreme weather swings by emphasizing Great Plains-friendly plants and landscape designs that draw from natural surroundings.

Consider the rain gardens that the firm is installing at Fontenelle Hills residential development. The idea there is to catch rainwater runoff from uphill homes before it reaches the sewer system. The gardens that absorb runoff feature large rocks and mulch-covered mounds dotted with sedges, Siberian irises, red twig dogwood shrubs — plant life that Kinghorn says is able to withstand unpredictable Nebraska weather.

For other splashes of color, the company might plant hardy crape myrtle instead of lilacs and peonies that are more dependent on a nice spring.

Indeed, Kinghorn said, some of his better landscape ideas come when he visits old Nebraska cemeteries whose trees and plants have been exposed to a roller coaster of growing conditions. “If they made it this far, then they're probably keepers,” he said.

Kozol said his customers, too, increasingly are concerned with low maintenance. Bubbler-style water features without standing ponds are easier and more popular, he said. Demand for interlocking pavers (versus concrete) for hard surface projects is growing despite the relatively higher cost.

Fragrance also tends to be a big discussion point, landscapers said, as consumers want the multiple benefits of color, longevity and smell.

The online survey conducted in February for Professional Landcare Network called on about 2,200 adults. Eighty-three percent said they had a lawn or landscape, and of that subgroup:

>> Slightly over one-third hired a professional to do a lawn or landscaping service in the past year, and about the same number expect to in the coming year.

>> About 5 percent hired a professional last year to build a patio, deck, kitchen or walkway project and spent an average of $1,400. The average amount those same adults expect to spend on that type of service this year is double, or $2,900.

>> About 17 percent expect to hire out yard maintenance work in the coming year and estimate they'll spend $700, up from an average of $600 the previous year.

>> About 7 percent expect to pay for landscape services such as the planting of shrubs, trees and flowers. The average amount they'll spend will be about $1,200, up from $1,000 the previous year.

>> Males (39 percent) were more likely than females (32 percent) to hire a professional.

>> Millennials and senior citizens were more likely to hire a professional landscaper or lawn-keeper (18-35 years, 35 percent; 35-44, 27 percent; 55 and older, 40 percent).

>> About 42 percent of the consumers who use professional services say they do so because they lack skills or equipment; 15 percent say they lack the patience.

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