Living Green Walls and Maintenance: Tips for Interiorscapers

Living walls are gaining traction as a major interior design trend, so everyone seems to be installing green walls lately.  It’s important that your clients protect their high-profile investments with well-executed maintenance plans, ideally carried out by you.

Interior landscapers have a great business opportunity in performing long-term green wall care.

Maintenance is something that your client should prepare for early in the design phase and be committed to long into the future.  Whether you’re solely the maintaining entity or the all-in-one designer, installer, and caregiver, the client simply wants the green to stay green.  It’s your job to set and meet those expectations while not overexerting your resources to manage the vertical greenery.  Here are a few tips on doing just that.

1. Gaining and Retaining Client Commitment

First, convey to the client that long-term maintenance is imperative and that it is YOU who should execute the routine care plan.  Demonstrate your expertise, product-specific training, and experience to the client.  Distinguish yourself from would-be replacements when it’s contract renewal time.  Living walls can be complex and maintenance-intensive, so neglect can lead to failure.  Staff and on-site facilities personnel are no substitution for a bonafide interiorscaper.

A few check list items a technician might use:

  • Inspect plant foliage
  • Inspect soils (in soil-based systems)
  • Inspect irrigation system for leaks, clogs, connection failures
  • Reset or adjust irrigation system as needed
  • Address any fertilizer need
  • Assess any changes in environmental conditions that may affect green wall health

Next, communicate that if the living wall’s care changes hands under a new contract, the learning/adjusting period for the new maintaining entity may increase plant mortality.  There is the benefit of familiarity in a long-term management plan under the same caregiver.  Make the case that your technicians can regularly assess and maintain plant vitality, based on the client’s maintenance goals and expectations, such as:

  • Well-trimmed appearance or natural look?
  • A complex green wall design, an exotic plant palette, or a client’s desire for meticulously pruned plants can quickly increase the maintenance budget. You’ll be putting in more hours on a regular basis.
  • Simple designs, easy-going plants, and a less intense maintenance schedule can accommodate lower budgets. Less pruning may provide a more natural aesthetic and allow the plant design to morph over time.

2. Seek Training and Professional Accreditation

To convey your aptitude with confidence, pursue green wall-relevant training.  While standardized training for living wall maintenance isn’t widely available, there are still resources to tap into to increase your expertise.  First, ask for training and/or certification opportunities from living wall companies and product manufacturers.  Second, if you are the maintenance provider on a yet-to-be constructed living wall, ask the client/installer if you can watch the installation process and ask questions on the spot.  (Things really clicked for the horticulturist who watched us install a living wall last year.  I am confident it is in good hands).  Third, attend courses or obtain resources available through Green Roofs for Healthy Cities (GRHC).  Obtaining the Green Roof Professional (GRP) accreditation (there is no Green Wall Pro credential yet) wouldn’t hurt.

3. Accessibility is Very Important

The placement, design, and plant design of the living wall will all impact maintenance challenges and costs.  But according to this GRHC discussion, accessibility is probably the most variable cost factor for green wall maintenance.  It makes sense when you consider the scale and height of some living walls.  How does the maintenance crew access a 40 ft tall living wall?  If you’re involved in the design phase, voice the need for maintenance access early on.  A smart design will integrate a permanent provision for easier access. Otherwise consider the cost and coordination effort for hauling in special equipment each time.  Whether permanent or brought in, consider:  ladder, scaffolding, scissor or boom lift, Bosun’s chair, window cleaning platform, etc.

Smart planning will save your clients money and can save YOU time and effort during routine visits.

4. Remote Monitoring is Extremely Helpful

For someone of my generation, I’ve always been relatively slow to adopt new technologies.  Case in point, I purchased my first smart phone just 3 months ago!  Nonetheless, I certainly value technology that makes life easier.  If you’re on contract for maintaining a lucrative and high-profile green wall (many projects are), a remote monitoring system is brilliant.  A system of sensors can provide continuous data and immediate alerts you of potential problems.  The remote monitoring system GSky provides, for example, can be used to determine and even resolve irrigation problems remotely.   Embrace this technology, even if it adds some cost to installation/maintenance, and it will give you and your client that peace of mind when you aren’t physically there.

Living walls are art.  Living walls are high-profile.  Living walls are biophilic.  And given the proper long-term care, living walls are alive.

Have more maintenance tips for green walls?  Please share in the comments below!


Featured image by Gsky

Mark is an accredited LEED Green Associate with a background in green wall research and product management and expertise in sustainability, ecology, green infrastructure, and green building. He currently works at Bela Flor Nurseries, a large wholesale supplier of annuals and perennials.

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