Some people invest in Google. Some buy shares of Berkshire Hathaway. Other invest in Apple. But sheer investment geniuses invest in bushes. And trees. Because if you own a manufactured home community, these are, dollar for dollar, the best investments you will ever make. How good are the returns? I would estimate that one well placed $20 bush might add $1,000 of value to a manufactured home community. That’s a 500% return on investment. And that’s a lot better than any of the aforementioned stocks have produced lately. In fact, compared to the current stock market, if the bush was worth $10, it would still be better than the market has produced. And, unlike the market, at least the bush creates oxygen and has other productive uses.
So why is landscaping so important in a manufactured home community? Well, have you looked around recently? Most communities are not cornering the market on pretty. And landscaping has two functions:
It hides the hideous from view.
It creates beauty where there may be none
In other words, you can hide those ugly homes, and trash dumpsters, and other eyesores with a well placed hedge or tree line. And bushes and trees are just naturally pretty. Especially ones that flower. It is amazing what a little landscaping can do to the aesthetics of a property.
So where do you begin a landscaping plan? At the entrance to the community. Every community should have a knock-out entry. It gives the customer a favorable first impression, and that’s important to create since, later on, the property may not be worthy of its early favorable impression. A little color at the entry would be nice, but try and stay away from seasonal color, or anything that requires special attention or irrigation. Beyond the entrance, you need to figure out which lots need bushes or trees to look their best. Especially focus on highly-visible corner lots or lots which have curve-in-the-road visibility.
Some important considerations are:
Choose only hardy native plants. Plants that are built to withstand the local temperatures and rainfall. I don’t care if none of the plants in your region turn you on those are the only ones that are going to survive year after year. And planting a bush or tree that is not going to survive in perpetuity is a complete waste of time and money. An example is the community I once saw where the new owner had planted a bunch of palm trees around his swimming pool, in an area that always freezes in winter. You guessed it, a year later they were all dead. What’s the point of that exercise? You can easily find a complete list of native plants on the internet or your local bookstore. And if you look hard enough, you should find something that looks appealing to you.
Never pick plants that need a lot of water. Because nobody is ever going to water them correctly or at all. Even on rare occasions where you have landscape irrigation systems, good luck having them operate on a regular basis without a glitch. And it only takes a few days of lack of water to kill a plant that is very needy of water. Cactus, in some areas, may be the natural and correct conclusion. If you plant a bush or tree that needs constant irrigation, and you are not going to make sure to water it all the time, it’s going to die. Even if it lives for three years and then dies, you’ve accomplished nothing.
Choose something that is a quality shrub or tree at maturity not just fast growing. In Texas, people often plant Hackberrys because they grow like crazy. But fifteen years later, all you have is a tree that blows down easily and breaks easily, and gets disease and, frankly, doesn’t look very pretty. So you have really accomplished nothing. Quality trees take longer to grow, but they live for 100 years or more and are a real asset upon maturity.
Sometimes, you can choose shrubs or trees that actually do a job for you. The easiest example of this is shade. A tree that casts shade on the community clubhouse may save you a fortune in electrical bills from less air-conditioning. Another example is using a voracious “drinking” tree to dry up an area that has too much moisture. I once knew a community owner who had a septic problem one area of the property was too saturated. So he planted some mimosa trees, and the problem went away in short order.
When using shrubs and trees to block the visibility of an eyesore, be sure to pick one that is evergreen. If you pick a deciduous one, the leaves will fall off in winter and you will have defeated your purpose. At the time of year when you plant trees and bushes, they always have their leaves on, so be sure and ask if they stay on winter approaches. I never plant anything that is not evergreen, with the exception of crepe myrtles, which give such an outstanding job of color in the summer that you don’t mind them turning into glorified sticks in winter (plus they are normally an understory tree, only used to create color anyway).
Don’t plant shrubs or trees too close together. This is a common neophyte mistake. It looks fuller initially, but they start to die as they mature due to fighting for the same water and light, and in the end the entire effect of a mature hedge is ruined it looks like missing teeth.
One of the key reasons why planting a bush or tree is your all-time best investment is that they get better year after year, without any additional investment in them. Mother Nature provides the water (hopefully) and sun to make the plant grow and flourish. And every year it just gets bigger and prettier, without any effort on your part. What other item in your community can boast that. Roads? Pool? Not hardly.
Sure, plants can be a nuisance to the manufactured home community owner. Tree roots can cause sewer line problems in clay-tile systems. And they can push up concrete sidewalks. And leaves can fall all over the ground (I warned you to only plant evergreens). And they need pruning annually, and sometimes they die and require removal. But look at all you get for that little effort! I have seen properties that people rave over (and bring in significantly more lot rent) strictly as a result of great landscaping. You don’t have to have topiary style perfection. But nice landscaping, within a reasonable budget, can really make the difference in getting that loan you desire or that sale of your community for big bucks.
So the next time you are at Home Depot looking for a new lock for your community storage shed, detour over to the plants department outside. Look at all the little investments waiting there to give you a huge dividend. But like stocks, choose wisely, and your investment will grow into something really beautiful and tangible. See, there really is a “bush” that is productive and worthwhile to have around! (Sorry George, but its election season). So get out that green thumb, and a shovel, and get to work on your community.