A new niche for your company

Water features and mixed plantings amid trees and turf in public settings attract wildlife and invite people to walk and explore, a big benefit in promoting wellness.
Photos by Steve Trusty.

Wild west has a whole new meaning as landscaping to attract wildlife becomes increasingly popular across this region. The catalyst varies, depending on the mindset of the property owner, but whatever the initiating factor, more of those who have chosen this region because of the benefits of outdoor living are seeking ways to share their space with wildlife.

Many companies are using this niche as a means of increasing their business with current clients, as well as developing new clients by incorporating these savvy strategies.

Right plant, right care

While your company is well aware there are major climate variations across the western part of the nation, and even multiple microclimates within a small residential property, many of your potential clients are not. The expertise of lawn and landscape professionals in selecting the right plants and providing proper plant care is always a huge asset to promote. It becomes even more important as many of those drawn to this region come from areas with a far different range of plant materials and wildlife. Even longtime residents may not be aware of new plant introductions or that former favorites have now been declared invasive species.

Consider just one aspect of the big picture, the bees, hummingbirds and other nectar feeders that seek out plants in bloom. Awareness of migratory patterns, as well as the life cycles of year-round wildlife, will help guide you in planning plant beds for sequential blooming of perennial varieties preferred by these creatures. Another service could be offering a selection of annuals based on their appeal to wildlife in the area as well as their appearance during color changeouts to enhance the landscape beds.

Squirrels are welcome visitors in some landscapes, but considered pesky invaders in others.

The choices will vary greatly from Seattle to San Diego to Phoenix. Even a change in elevation from one part of a city to another, or sun or shade conditions within a property, will impact blooming times.

With desert region recommendations, you can sell the concept that xeriscape doesn’t have to mean zero-scape. New plant introductions and more innovative uses of older varieties can produce dramatic results that delight the eye and attract wildlife. Cacti and succulents intermingled with drought-hardy annuals greatly expand the birds, butterflies and other animals that are attracted to the area.

Walk the property with the client to identify plants they may not know and point out microclimates and potential problem areas. Find out how they would like to use the space and determine their preferences in plant types and colors. This step is very important for clients new to the region, and it’s also beneficial for longtime residents, even long-term clients, if that hasn’t been a regular part of the service routine.

Though your clients may be well-versed on existing plantings, those just getting started in attracting wildlife may be unfamiliar with new plant recommendations. Be prepared to show them and explain details such as cross-pollination needs for specific fruit tree varieties.

Take the time to educate your clients, and potential clients, about reasonable expectations for attracting wildlife. There will be differences in native and migrating song bird species, and many of the lizards native to desert regions are beneficial in the landscape for insect control, which can be a surprise to people from other regions. Encouraging bats for insect control may come as a shock, as well, as those from urban areas may not know the role that owls and hawks play in controlling unwanted rodent populations. Even beneficial insects such as praying mantis and ladybugs may be considered pests.

Plant placement is important, too, not only for proper growing conditions, but also to fit the lifestyle patterns of the property owners. Some may want birds hovering near their patio or deck, while others would prefer to have them a bit further off, but still close enough to see them. Matching plant preferences to the overall style of the landscape to accomplish this builds confidence that can lead to acceptance of further recommendations.

Fruit trees, fruiting shrubs and fruit-bearing ground cover all attract wildlife, so use an understanding of habitat preferences to recommend plantings that will encourage movement away from patio, deck or pool areas.

Whatever the selections, promote regular maintenance, and explain why it is necessary and why the expertise your company brings to the job is so important. For example, deadheading spent blossoms will not only keep the area looking more attractive, but also can extend the blooming period to benefit wildlife. Some blooming plants may be allowed to produce seedheads that will remain in place as a food source for migrating birds, with trimming and bed cleanup delayed until after the birds have flown through. Pruning techniques may also vary when trees and shrubs are used as much for habitat as for aesthetic appeal.

Lizards can be a big help in bug control.
Bees need seasonlong blossoms, another great reason to promote mixed plant beds and color change outs.
Many desert dwellers make their homes in prickly places.

Spot changes

Be aware of change. The way residential clients use their outdoor living space changes as children grow older and job demands vary. A section of lawn no longer needed for practicing soccer skills may be a good site for a bird habitat. The use of commercial properties may change, too, as companies begin to focus on wellness issues. A courtyard that previously served as a smoking area could be developed as a butterfly garden to encourage employees to go outside and walk during their breaks.

When one property owner within a neighborhood begins encouraging wildlife on their property, those on surrounding properties also are impacted. A birdfeeder and birdbath in one backyard can prompt the interest of neighbors. And, the trend toward edible gardening, with backyard fruit and vegetable production, also attracts wildlife.

Since crews are on properties weekly for mowing and usually monthly for landscape maintenance, they can observe small changes in use patterns. Develop a method of reporting those observations so it can be used to communicate with the client about potential landscape renovation recommendations.

Living displays

Make arrangements with existing clients of both residential and commercial properties to use elements of their properties as living displays. It doesn’t take major re-landscaping to make a property more appealing to area wildlife. The addition of any one of the three basics-food, water or habitat-is a start.

Within the desert regions especially native plants are beautiful when selected wisely and maintained properly. Clients can better appreciate that when they can see how the plants, setting and wildlife all fit together in harmony. They can quickly grasp the impact of a fence line row of espalier fruit trees and see how it’s designed for humans and wildlife to share. Effective use of a small space as a spot for quiet meditation as well as a haven for wildlife is more easily sold when they can immerse themselves in one. They’re likely to see wildlife visitors in action at an xeriscape plant bed or a butterfly garden or a grape-covered arbor, and they can experience the aesthetic appeal of a small water feature as well as see its benefits for wildlife.

You can use these sites to point out the plant materials you’ve recommended or the specific wildlife the completed project will attract, and you can show the results of specific maintenance procedures. These successful sites will also help establish your company as the expert in developing and maintaining landscapes suited to the unique characteristics of the region and its wildlife.

Suz Trusty is a partner in Trusty & Associates, a communications and market research firm in Council Bluffs, Iowa. She has been involved in the green industry for over 40 years.