Landscape Maintenance Checklists

by Jess Stryker, Landscape Architect, Lic. CA#2743  (retired)

The following are generic Landscape Maintenance Checklists that you can use as a starting point for determining what specific maintenance items may be needed for both weekly and monthly landscape maintenance chores.  The lists are suitable for both residential and commercial landscapes.  I created these to help my clients to preserve the investment they had made in new landscaping.

In the course of my career, on numerous occasions I have seen poor maintenance practices kill off 25% or more or the plants in a brand new landscape in the course of a single year!  To put that in terms of money, think of this, many of the landscapes for the large big-box stores that were my clients cost over half a million dollars to install.  That means in one year those stores lost $125,000 worth of landscape they had paid for, often to save about $200 a month in maintenance costs.  Can you imagine the reaction of those store managers if they found that a store employee had stolen $125,000 worth of merchandise?  Yep, somebody would probably be in jail.  So here's a simple list of the most basic things needed to at least give the landscape a fighting chance at staying alive and preserve your investment.

These checklists are copyrighted, however you are free to use them without charge or royalties for any individual project or site.  I do ask that you review and modify them to meet your specific landscape needs, as each landscape is unique in some way.  I also request that you not republish them in whole, in either print or electronic form.  You use this entirely at your own risk!  I expect you to modify it as needed to avoid any issues that would create liability for you or for me.  By using the checklists you agree to hold me harmless from damages resulting from your use of them.
-----------------------------------------------------

Modify these lists to fit your landscape before using.  This is a guideline only!

WEEKLY LANDSCAPE MAINTENANCE CHECKLIST

  1. Mow and edge lawns if needed.
  2. Prune back any shrubs overhanging curbs or sidewalks.  Don't prune all the shrubs weekly just because they are there!  Let them grow out to a healthy size and fill in.
  3. Prune back any groundcover overhanging curbs or sidewalks.
  4. Remove litter and leaves from plants, planters, and parking lots.
  5. Remove any broken or fallen branches from trees. Remove sucker growth from tree trunks.
  6. Remove any weeds larger than 2 inches (5 cm) high or wide from planters. Weeds 2 inches (5 cm) and larger must be removed, not just killed.
  7. Return to the planters any bark mulch which has been knocked or washed out of planters. Smooth mulch layer if it has been disturbed.
  8. Return to the planters any decorative rock which has been knocked or washed out of planters. Smooth decorative rock surface if it has been disturbed.
  9. Check plants for signs of stress or disease. Replace any plants that are dead or missing.   Request authorization if extra charge.
  10. Sweep or blow clean all walkways, curbs, and gutters.
  11. Treat for any signs of disease or pest infestation.  Request authorization if extra charge.
  12. Complete any items required on the Monthly Checklist.
  13. Hand water any plants that are dry and stressed.
  14. Check the irrigation system. Make emergency repairs as needed or request authorization to make major repairs. 
  15. Adjust the irrigation controllers (if they are not self-adjusting Smart Controllers) for current water needs of plants.

MONTHLY MAINTENANCE CHECKLIST

(Dates for this list are based on the climate in USA West Coast and Southern States, you may need to adjust some items to different months depending on your local climate.)

January:
Prune any tree branches that interfere with public safety. Prune all parking lot and street trees yearly to encourage strong upward growth.  Thin foliage if needed.
February:
Apply fertilizer to promote early spring growth in late February or early March. 
March:
Plant annual color for spring/summer bloom.
Flush out irrigation systems as needed and check for proper operation of each valve zone. (Do irrigation work after last hard frost of season.)
Remove and clean irrigation main filter screens, if any.
Clean or replace plugged sprinkler nozzles and the screens under the nozzles. Replace plugged drip emitters.
Replace irrigation controller program back-up batteries, if any.
April:
Inventory all plant materials. Make an exact count of all shrubs and trees, itemized by planter.  Compare it to previous inventories and replace any dead or missing plants.
Add new mulch to planters where the mulch depth has been reduced to less than 2 inches (5 cm) thick to reduce weeds and conserve water. Mulch not required where shrubs or groundcover completely hide the soil surface from view. 
May:
Apply fertilizer to all landscape areas. The May fertilization of shrubs/groundcover areas may be deleted when the plants reach maturity or completely fill the planters, without space between them. 
June:
Prune spring & winter-flowering shrubs as needed to maintain proper shape after blooms have dropped off.
July:
No additional items.
August:
Apply fertilizer to all landscape areas. The August fertilization of shrubs/groundcover areas may be deleted for plants that have reached maturity or completely fill the planters, without space between them. 
September:
Prune perennial bulbs back to ground level as soon as leaf blades yellow and wilt due to cold weather. Apply 3 inches of mulch on ground surface over bulbs to insulate from cold.  Apply 3" of mulch around trees in areas where local practice is to mulch trees for winter.
In areas without snow, plant annual color for fall/winter bloom.
October:
Apply fertilizer to all landscape areas if in a location where hard frost is not common. The October fertilization of shrubs/groundcover areas may be deleted when the plants reach maturity or completely fill the planters, without space between them.
Prepare irrigation system for winter. Make sure backflow preventer is well insulated or drained prior to first freeze. Blow out pipes using compressed air in areas where freezing could result in breakage.  See irrigation winterization tutorial at IrrigationTutorials.com.
November:
No additional items.
December:
Prune any tree branches that interfere with public safety. Prune all parking lot and street trees yearly to encourage strong, upward growth.*
Prune summer and fall-blooming shrubs as needed to maintain proper shape.

Don't Top Off Trees (there are better options!) 

* Almost all arborists agree that you should not "top" trees (cut off all the top branches to lower the tree height.)  Topping creates weak new growth branches that can break off and cause injury or damage when they fall.  New growth that occurs after topping is almost always thicker and denser than the previous branches were, and it also grows back very rapidly as the tree puts all its resources into replacing the lost foliage.  Therefore, the purpose of topping to open up a view is more or less defeated shortly after the tops are removed.   If the tree is blocking a view here are some other options to consider:

  1. The best solution when you want a view of a building facade or house preserved is to prune off the lower branches to push the tree's foliage up higher on the tree and allow the view to be seen under the tree's foliage.  Picture the tall wispy trees you see in photos of Africa where giraffes have eaten off all the low foliage.  That's what you are aiming for, trees that will frame your building, directing attention toward it rather than hiding it.
  2. A less effective approach is to selectively remove some branches to thin the tree foliage so you can see through it.
  3. Remove the tree all together and plant a shorter tree.  In commercial center parking lots this usually is not an option because environmental protection laws require the large trees to offset the adverse impact of the parking lot.