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planting specifications, median plantings

Are there contract specification clauses you had to learn the hard way? Difficult contractors can teach you all sorts of loopholes and vulnerabilities in your specs. For example, experience with a company named “Dolittle” can add several “Dolittle-isms” to your next contract wording. Contract changes can help avoid repeating problems and issues for subsequent projects. Good landscape contract specifications are flexible and change with lessons learned through experience in the field.

The photo above generated a new clause in the standard specs, requiring shrubs in medians to be located a minimum of three feet from the face of curbs. Installation crews found it faster and easier to plant spreading Junipers at the back of the curb, causing new growth to extend into the travel lanes. The specifications were changed to require a more reasonable setback.

I remember a project where the contractor tried to use sub-standard shade trees. Even though ANLA ANSI Z60.1 shade tree quality standards give caliper, height, and root ball dimensions with a central leader, it helps to add the line, “Trees with broken or damaged terminal or main stems will be rejected” in your specifications. Insist on a single, dominant leader from the ground to the top of all large canopy shade trees. State there can be multiple leaders in only the top 10% of the tree height, to avoid split trunks. On the project mentioned above, the contractor had delivered about 30 trees to the site with central leaders split about 2/3 or the way up the tree.  There was much nit picking about the technical details of central leaders when the contractor challenged our rejection of his trees. Allowing split trunks for street trees can be disastrous decades later, as the co-dominant stems reduce the mechanical strength of the tree structure.  The old specifications stood up to the challenge, but the extra clarification was added after the experience, to help avoid re-fighting the battle in later projects.

Contract enforcement is just as important as the words in a contract. One clause in typical specifications which gets universally ignored is, “Severely cutting back or stump pruning crape myrtles is not permitted.” This is a lesson learned for me after seeing elegant, tree-formed Crapemyrtles reduced to amputated stumps on a regular basis. Allowing contractors to bend the rules or ignore important specification clauses should never be done. Every clause in landscape contract specifications should be essential, and essential contract clauses should be enforced with strong written consequences for contract violation.

Do you have any “Dolittle-isms” or time-tested advice on special statements that need to be included in landscape planting specs?


Contract Specifications Lessons Learned