Job Schedules and How They Affect Your Plant Material

I got a call from my old colleague, Chuck Easton, from the Skinner days this afternoon with a new topic for a blog posting based on an actual project he's in turmoil over right now. Please, keep the topics coming everyone! If you're a supplier or contractor reading this, you have probably already written the rest of this article in your head several times. If you're an architect or a designer, or a contractor who has not considered the title of this post, then please, keep reading.

The most important thing to take away from this article is this:

Plants do NOT have unlimited shelf lives.

This has several implications that do not seem to be widely understood:

  • Submittals created anything more than 8 weeks prior to installation are NOT of the exact plants.
  • If this is a large job going in multiple phases, crops will NOT match exactly from the beginning to the end of the project.
  • On that note, if you hand select trees prior to installation and the project is phased out over 6-12 months or more, expect to shell out some extra cash (more than the purchase price) for your supplier to maintain these for you.
Also, for contractors; the longer your project runs on, the more you are going to pay in freight. If you can install in sections that meet the minimum order from each of your vendors, you're probably OK but more than likely you're at the mercy of your GC. Think about the following scenario:
You're a landscape contractor doing an apartment complex with 25 buildings on it that has a total of (100) 4" Caliper Live Oaks on it. Your supplier knows he can fit (25) trees on a trailer at a freight cost of $500 per load.
(100) Live Oaks @ $225 each: $22,500
(4) Freight Charges @ $500 each: $2,000
Total Order = $24,500, or $245 per tree landed
You finally get to start installation, show up on site and realize that your GC will only have one building ready for you at a time with approximately two weeks in between... So, now you're left with a few options...
  • Stage the plant material in full loads on the job site which is sometimes possible. This will cost you approximately $4,500 extra in labor (1 guy, 1 hour, 6 days a week for 50 weeks) to water the plants and more than likely cause you to buy at least ten more trees to replace damaged/destroyed/stolen trees on site: $2,450. Now this single line item of live oaks costs $31,450 which is $6,950 or 28% over your budget. Oh, and don't forget the intangible but very important decrease in quality due to the trees not being properly cared for in a nursery. Bad times
  • Your second and most commonly used option is to take the trees, four at a time, building by building. This will cost you another $12,500 in freight assuming your supplier doesn't have any other material coming to general vicinity of your job site to piggy-back on. That's quite a gamble considering not getting your orders piggy-backed will mean a very upset client, or a budget bust of over 50%!
Other things to consider in the above scenario as an architect or a designer:
  • Depending on the time of year, some of these trees may show up on site shortly after a heavy pruning and may not match the submittal photographs you approved nearly a year ago.
  • Because of the huge amount of time from design to construction completion, these may not even be the same trees, or the same supplier you saw photos of.
  • Especially in the smaller size plants, #1s and #3s. If you were expecting the exact plants to show up on this job, the ones you approved in the submittals would have been sold, and new crops brought up behind them anywhere from 3 to 12 times! And depending on the time of year the plants are actually installed, there can be a HUGE difference in their 'look'.