What is the best landscaping for rental properties?
Running a successful rental property operation usually means balancing a multitude of factors, challenges and expenses. This means landscaping becoming somewhat of an afterthought when preparing a new home for tenants.
Cost is always an issue when trying to run a business but landscaping should never be underestimated in dictating what quality of tenant you attract and how they treat your investment. If your rental property has an outside space what is the best way to landscape it for minimum cost, effort and maintenance?
The answer to this equation really is a balancing act of factors which will be laid out here in our ‘best landscaping for rental properties here.
The landlord’s dilemma
Renting is becoming an ever increasing necessity for newer generations. The more senior in society have flocked to property rental incomes to secure a more comfortable retirement. This has intern pushed up values and mostly shut younger generations out of ownership. This combined with high costs of living and ever less secure employment has led to an unpredictable turnover of renters.
As many of us have had to learn the hard way people do not respect others property as much as they do their own. This has made the landlord sector rather messy when it comes to providing good quality accommodation. Having said this there are a percentage of good quality renters out there that will respect a good quality home and take pride in it as if it were their own.
I know this for a fact as my wife and I were good tenants for years actually improving all of the properties we lived in. The question is how do you attract the correct type of tenants and how much of a roll can landscaping play in such.
Attracting good tenants
If your rental property has a garden most of the time it will be a family sized house or flat. Families are much more likely to maintain and look after a garden than if a home is split up into separate smaller dwellings. In these cases a high turnover of tenants means gardens can be filled with old furniture and rubbish very quickly.
The responsibility of grass mowing and weeding is so divided gardening duties is rarely taken on by anyone. In these scenarios a blanket approach to landscaping can be the only option. Gravels, hard surfaces, artificial grass and even concrete may be the only approach.
Bear in mind that you will only attract good quality tenants if you provide a high calibre property with an aesthetically pleasing landscape scheme.
This also justifies higher rents which intern means better occupants. Although landscaping for landlords has to be cost effective. Studies have shown that the ‘majority’ of people respect a beautiful environment more than they do a neglected one. During the 1990’s a serious effort was made to reduce crime in the city of New York. Psychologists working with the mayor implemented the ‘Broken window’ strategy with rather astonishing results.
The Broken Window Strategy
Money was invested in cleaning up dangerous neighbourhoods in the city and money was invested in landscaping and environmental improvement. Windows were fixed, streets were cleaned and graffiti was removed.
Over the next few years crime and unsociable behaviour plummeted by 40%. Many have pointed out this strategy was not the only reason for crime dropping in the city. However a series of smaller experiments confirmed that a higher quality landscape encourages good behaviour and care from local residents.
This can further be seen in the comparison of vandalism levels in Britain’s public parks compared to France. Most inner city parks in Paris display a high level of horticultural prowess and exquisite landscaping fit for most royal gardens.
Even though these gardens are open to the public anti social behaviour and vandalism is exceptionally rare. Compare this to most London parks which are very simplistic with out of date facilities which do have high levels of vandalism.
As a landlord you should not be expected to spend tens of thousands on the garden but with good planning you can get the best of all worlds. A well conceived landscape scheme can enhance your properties value, improve the quality of tenants, command higher rents and command a better respect for your property investment.
Inspire tenants to start gardening
If you provide a beautiful garden environment and carefully select your tenants renters can end up voluntarily taking up gardening. The power of suggestion can be overwhelming when planning a garden as a landlord.
Providing a greenhouse with pots soil and seeds leads to a high chance of gardening activities during warm weather. A garden with raised vegetable plots especially with young families will all most certainly be appreciated.
For sure a garden with seasonal interest including flowers and foliage will command a sense of duty to keep it in good condition. Your tenants may not become enthusiastic gardeners but by getting your tenants to love your garden can be the difference between nurturing or neglect.
Add a designer’s touch
Most of the time very cost effective, small landscaping installations can be the difference between a great garden and an ordinary one. Focal points can be added or painting sheds and fence posts to give the garden some flair.
Sometimes implementing a thematic narrative by using similar colours and materials throughout the garden can give it a designed look. For inspiration take photos of the existing garden and overlay tracing paper for sketching in elements.
Look at online images and garden magazines for inspirations! The internet is full of money saving and very effective landscaping ideas to give your garden the designers touch.
Beware of the low maintenance trap
One of the greatest mistakes I see is implementing a ‘low maintenance garden’ and assuming this will be ‘no work’. This is a falsity!
No matter what garden design you go for there will always be some maintenance involved. I have seen many artificial lawns covered in weeds and many gravel gardens full of weeds also. When planning in low maintenance features bare this in mind.
Gravels and bark mulch can be low maintenance but a heavy duty membrane is needed with a deep substrate. Artificial lawns are effective if they are not built cheaply with little base work underneath. Dirt and organic debris will build up on the surface after a few years giving small seedlings the nutrients to grow.
Artificial lawns should be brushed off every winter with a stiff brush and water jet. There are many low maintenance, landscaping options for landlords but remember no garden is zero maintenance. The best landscaping for rental properties realises this fact.
Artificial lawn has become better and better quality in recent years and is now a very popular garden installation. There is no doubt that a lawn that never needs to be cut is a very desirable thing. Artificial lawn is usually more expensive to install than many realise. When obtaining quotations from a landscaping contractor beware! Cheapest is not always best.
Artificial lawns if installed properly will give you an effective low maintenance option for decades. Problems can arise when contactors ‘do the work on the cheap’ not digging out to the correct depth and installing the correct sub-base. Landscapers should install at least 4 inches of compacted base underneath the lawn. Ask contractors to specify on the quotation what construction methods and specification will be used.
Not all artificial lawns are created equal! There is a wide range of quality options to choose from. These can vary from luxury ranges you would love to walk bare foot on or less expensive brush like astro-turf. Try to make sure any contractor gives you samples or provides you with the manufacturer’s specification including any guarantees.
There are some potential hazards when applying artificial grass to rental properties. One thing you must consider is they will melt and burn if exposed to fire. This goes for barbecues, cigarette butts and fire pits.
You can never be sure who your tenants will invite around and what they will be getting up too. For this reason make sure you have other areas of hard standing and make it clear no smoking, barbecues or fires will be within range of the lawn.
With good installation and planning away potential fire hazards artificial lawns can be a very good land lord friendly material. Just remember a good quality one is not cheap. Some of the best landscaping for rental properties utilise this low maintenance material.
No one can deny a traditional living lawn is a popular option when landscaping a new garden space. They produce colour and a surface which can host a multitude of varying activities. For many however living lawns are a headache with their continuous cutting regime which persists throughout the growing season.
In my personal opinion living lawns are not as high maintenance as many people think. Although there is work to be done mowing is much straight forward than weeding between paving stones or pruning large shrubs.
A living lawn will give the tenant some sense of constant responsibility for the garden. Mowing the lawn is a standard criteria of most tenant contracts. As long as you provide a basic mower most of the time lawns will be kept in good shape by most tenants.
Most renters will expect there to be some lawn space in any property with a garden so bear this in mind. Living lawn is also relatively cheap to install so there is a good reason this surface has lasted the test of time.
I personally feel paving is one of the best surfaces for any garden and especially for rental properties. Paving is functional as well as attractive and more importantly pretty much indestructible as far as landscaping goes.
It is also expensive and most of the time paving a whole garden is going to be costly. To limit the possibility of weeding joints make sure contractors build paving on at least a 4 inch base layer, lay on a consistent mortar bed and joint with a strong pointing mix.
Paving can create perfect patio spaces for your tenants to make more use out of the garden with pretty much zero maintenance. When choosing paving materials try to go for natural stone, these will not fade in sunlight like concrete based paving.
Also for rental properties it is advised you choose darker tones with colour variations. This means there is less chance of staining from liquid spillages such as red wine and coffee. Please note that sealants are not always 100 % effective against stains from very light coloured paving.
Decking is a popular landscaping installation coming in a wide variety of styles, materials shapes and sizes. It is usually thought of as a quick and more affordable option than paving which is on the whole true.
The main advantage with decking is varying levels and heights can be bridged without expensive and substantial masonry walls with large foundations. This can reduce costs and provide a quicker remedy to difficult sites. Decking can also help to cover over problematic areas with not much clearance and digging.
One of the main draw backs with decking however timber is will always degrade. Standard soft wood decking does well if it lasts 15 years which sounds a long time but not in landscaping.
A well built patio will last 3 times that time so you have to think of value for money when landscaping for rental properties. If after 10 years you have rotten boards and someone falls through you could have a head ache on your hands. Standard decking can last much longer with regular oiling and treatment but it is hard to find tenants that will keep this up.
There are hard wood decks and now composite decks which claim to last as long as paving but I am generally sceptical about this. Even with these materials the joisting work is nearly always standard timber which will still degrade. I have found no matter what decking you go for they can also end up slippery once algae and wet conditions set in.
Composite decks as well as soft wood and hard woods are also vulnerable to fire. Be sure your tenants are non smokers and there is a separate area for barbecues or fire pits.
Gravel can be a very effective landscaping solution for landlords and tenants alike. If installed properly gravel areas can be extremely low maintenance and help create warm micro climates on sunny days.
Certain garden styles such as Mediterranean themed gardens and dry gardens work well with gravel. If you really do not want lawn gravel gardens can be the best landscaping for rental properties. If you wish to landscape with gravel make sure all perennial weeds are removed or sprayed before applying the weed membrane.
Make sure that weed membranes are robust but let rain water pass through. Membranes should be overlapped and pinned down before gravels are spread. Do not scrimp on the amount of gravel applied to the surface.
You must ensure that you at least spread a 50 millimetre layer of gravel to the surface to ensure no weed growth. When selecting gravel go for a ‘non absorbent’ grade material, this will prevent algae penetrating the aggregate and turning the colour green or black.
One of the main hazards with gravel is very young children. Especially babies and toddlers can pick up small stones and put them in their mouth. This may be something to consider when planning a gravel garden and the type of renters you will be renting to.
Bark mulch is not thought of as a conventional garden surface to rival lawns or patios but they can be. Commonly thought of as a surface for play areas and planting beds it can become a main theme of a garden.
This is especially possible if you are shaded out by close by large trees. The shade and root dominance of nearby trees can mean very few weeds can establish. These dry shady conditions are a good opportunity for ‘woodland gardens’ or fruit orchards. In addition to this bark mulch can lay the foundation for a well thought out established planting scheme.
Bark mulch when laid on a robust weed resistant membrane can allow you to ‘spot plant’ by cutting planting holes in the membrane. This gives you flexibility and a hard wearing surface which is cheap and quick to install.
For the landlord this can be an option but be warned bark mulch areas will have to be topped up every few years and as bark degrades there is more chance of weeds taking hold. I would say for dry shady areas bark mulch can be a very effective option.
Garden borders are not the first thing landlords think about when landscaping a rental property. Borders however do have a place in rental properties. For a start they make mowing easier by providing an edge to lawns. Lawns which run all the way to the boundary fence are usually a hassle forcing you to strim.
Gardens with beautiful flower borders full of interesting plants are more likely to be maintained. This goes for lawns and other landscaping features. If adding a border to your rental property plant slow growing plants that will not get out of control. Make sure borders are well bark mulched with a robust weed membrane underneath.
Raised garden beds
Raised beds can be a fantastic way to incorporate some defined growing areas within your garden. The good thing about raised beds is they can also provide seating as well as planting spaces. This can be very useful in small, narrow gardens or surrounding patio areas. Raised vegetable beds with bare soil can also inspire your tenants to try gardening which can lead to a better kept garden.
Although planting instantly gives an impression of a high maintenance garden it doesn’t have to be. There are many slow growing and delicate plants which can need very little input. Small coniferous ground cover shrubs like Juniperus Horizontalis ‘Blue Chip’ can provide ground cover and year round greenery.
Bulbs can create seasonal interest in summer, autumn and winter with next to no input at all. There are many plants which come up for a small amount of time and die back in winter. By staying away from large aggressive shrubs you can have planting which takes care of itself and looks good. Planting can and will bring life and excitement to the property. This will in turn command a higher respect and love from the tenants.
If careful selection of tree species is taken they can make a rental property even less maintenance. Small rootstock and dwarf trees can reach a climax growth quickly resulting in no pruning or after care. Trees will usually dominate the ground around them preventing weeds from taking hold.
Small fruit trees like figs, almonds and pears will also make a tasty treat for your tenants. Bark chipping, orchard areas with a robust weed membrane can be very low maintenance. These can also be incorporated into play areas and woodland seating areas even wildlife areas.
These kind of small tree plantings can also reduce the heat island effect in summer and help to insulate from cold winds in winter.If considering planting trees make sure they are small and find out there maximum size when fully mature.
Shrubs are usually the sticking point for most gardens requiring lower maintenance regimes. They commonly slowly get larger and larger every season until you are left with a huge mass of foliage. Shrubs can easily get out of control especially in rental properties requiring regular trimming. Most of the time landlords are forced to cut shrubs into squares and circles which look ordinarily boring.
The best approach with shrubs is going for slow growing and ones that maintain their form. Architectural plants like Fatsia Japonica and Mahonia’s maintain their form without the constant need for continuous pruning. Try to stay away from plants with long spikes such as Yucca Gloriosa which can be sharp to eyes and skin.
Climbers are a great way to add some vertical foliage, screen unsightly areas and decorate garden structures. In rental properties they can be a low maintenance way of incorporating colour and scent to the garden.
Climbers like Clematis, Roses and Jasmines are not too vigorous and are very easy to maintain. Landlords should try to stay away from large aggressive climbers however like Russian vine and Boston Ivy.
Perennials are plants which come up every year, flower and die back for the winter time. These can be extremely effective in creating that seasonal interest every growing season. These once established are very low maintenance and do not command much care at all.
These can be perfect for rental properties with spring summer and autumn interest which barely any input. Perennials such as Lilies, Hollyhocks and hellebores are perfect example of these ideal landscaping for rental properties.
Annuals are herbaceous plants which grow from seed every spring, flower, set their seed and die in the autumn. In gardens these are usually bought as bedding plants. Room is usually left at the front of flower beds so these can be planted after the last frosts.
These are not always perfect soft landscaping for rental properties but they are high impact! These are especially valuable if you want to make tenants fall in love with your garden! This could be for viewings or for existing renters at the property. A broad array of annual flowering colour and scent will make your occupants love, nurture and appreciate your garden.
No matter what planting you go for in your rental property it is always a good idea to apply a generous layer of mulch. This is the key to having successful planting beds in rental accommodation.
The mulch will colour contract well with the plants, keep the underlying soil healthy and prevent weeds from taking hold. You may also benefit from a robust weed membrane between plantings. For more information about how to create a garden border see our article on the subject here.
Many landlords roll their eyes when it comes to their properties back garden space. Typically overgrown with accumulations of unwanted property they can be a thorn in the side of a business investment.
The key to successful landscaping for rental properties is creating well built defined areas which are functional and beautiful. The more appealing your garden space the more likely it is to be used and valued.
With careful planning of low maintenance features, functional facilities and aesthetic design this is easily achieved! The more beautiful and interactive gardens are the more likely it is they will be loved and cherished. This will be your ticket to high quality tenants which will take care of your investment for you!
Thinking of re-landscaping your rental property? Why not check out our recommended landscaping tools article and resource page.
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Our Landscape services cover Buckinghamshire as well as Bedfordshire, Berkshire Hertfordshire, Oxfordshire and West London. Our immediate, local landscape services cover: Amersham, Aylesbury, Beaconsfield, Chesham, Great Missenden, Princes Risborough, and High Wycombe,
Paul Nicolaides has over 30 years of recreational gardening and 20 years of professional landscaping experience. He has worked for landscape contractors including design and build practices across London and the South East. In 2006 he qualified with a BA Hons degree and post graduate diploma in Landscape Architecture. In 2009 he founded Ecospaces an ecological landscaping practice which aims to improve social cohesion and reduce climate change through landscaping. In 2016 he founded Buckinghamshire Landscape Gardeners which designs and builds gardens across Buckinghamshire and the South East. This blog aims to provide easy problem solving information to its audience and encourage others to take up the joy of landscaping and gardening.