A boring rental garden can be a turn-off to tenants and potential buyers.
A rental garden that is both attractive to the eye and easy-care as well is a real asset.
Just because you're renting a property out doesn't mean it's time to rip up the garden beds and chop down the trees in case the tenants don't water them. In fact, you should be doing quite the opposite!
The last landlords we know (neighbours of ours) who decided to make their rental garden "easy care" by ripping everything out made a property management nightmare for both the tenants and for us. They chopped out all the bushes and left the garden beds free to grow weeds - a particularly nasty type that grew higher than the fence in a matter of a couple of weeks during summer, and then threw nasty, spikey seeds out that caught uncomfortably in your clothes. It looked dreadful, and took years to combat - on both sides of the fence - because it got into our garden as well.
Another thing about planting more than just grass: if the tenants forget to mow occasionally, the attractive garden beds with distract the eye from the overgrown grass!
There are plenty of great, easy-care trees, shrubs and bushes that you can plant in your rental garden, and most are quick growing and hardy:
1. Murraya (also known as mock orange blossom) grows very fast and reaches up to 2m tall. Perfect for a rental garden, it flowers constantly through spring, summer and autumn, giving off an amazing heady scent. Small bushes cost around $5 from local markets, or $10 from nurseries. Needs clipping once or twice a year once established to a good height.
2. Quick Hedge. I don't recall the botanical name of this, but it's an attractive plant with leaves ranging from dark green in the older foliage, to red for new shoots, and looks very pretty. Around $10 per plant in nurseries. Needs clipping once or twice a year once established to a good height.
3. Buxus, aka English or Japanese Box. Slow growing and incredibly hardy, these are great for low hedge borders or bigger plants if you have the patience. Japanese box grows considerably faster than the English model. One advantage is that if you get fed up with it in ten or twenty years, you can cut it down and sell it to wood-turning shops for a tasty profit. A good sized branch (over 10 years old) will fetch upwards of $100 from woodworkers. Build up enough properties with these in their rental gardens and you have your own little farm!
4. Lilly Pilly is an Australian native which can grow into a very lush and attractive hedge (up to 2.5m tall) in under 8 years. Being a part of the Australian ecosystem, it's environmentally friendly, copes with very dry conditions, and is perfect for a rental garden.
Bushes and shrubs in your rental garden:
So many rental gardens have a complete lack of colour because landlords assume that anything with flowers or a bit of colour is going to be heavy on maintenance. This is not the case! Just look at these:
1. Diosma is a lovely soft bush that has pretty, tiny pink flowers in spring. Grows to a good size for adding height and shape to garden beds, and can cope with harsh conditions as long as it gets at least a little water.
2. Anything Australian native (if you're living in Australia) is just about guaranteed to cope with anything tenants can fling at it in your rental garden, as they are essentially wild plants that are naturally adapted to Australian conditions. They grow to a certain size, and rarely any bigger, and often don't even need pruning. Avoid Kangaroo Paws as they can be a bit touchy if put in the wrong spot, and are a bit too expensive to experiment with unless you know what you're doing!
3. Roses cope amazingly well once established. The 28 bushes in our first property (that's all that was planted there!) couldn't be killed with a stick, and the older varieties were not disease-prone. Even after 18 years (without pruning, prior to us coming along) as a rental property, they put on an amazing display. Please team them with other evergreen plants to bulk out the garden beds. Bare sticks look horrid in winter!
4. Lavender. Built for dry conditions, this one is great if you don't expect tenants to water as well. Looks lovely, smells lovely, has lovely silvery leaves. Can get leggy after a few years if you don't give it a bit of a shaping once in a while, but copes with just about anything! Plants cost $5 from your local markets or $10 from nurseries.
5. Low-growing conifers are a brilliant and easy-care way to add nice shaping and structure to a rental garden without needing any pruning. They also stay green all year round, and come in a range of shades from golden yellow-greens, to silver-greens, variegated and dark forest tones. These, like diosma, are wonderful to break up the harsh lines of building foundations and corners, and give you a sense of order if planted in multiples, that forms a backdrop to anything you care to plant around.
6. Gardenia is a hardy shrub which is rarely disease-prone and produces gorgeous , scented white flowers. There are low-growing and ground-covering varieties as well as larger ones.
7. This is a spectacularly colourful plant that both flowers (in bright purple!) and has everything from green to yellow, black and red in its leaves. Very difficult to kill, it's a perfectly hardy plant for rental gardens because it can cope well with hot weather in sun or part shade.
Ask your local nursery for a range of ground covering plants that are suitable for rental gardens. You can use plants like the gardenia, mentioned before (which has a miniature ground-covering version), or ground-covering conifers, junipers, and hardy mondo grass for a more architectural feel that can soften the hard edges of paving.
Ground covers are a rental property owners friend because they fill in the gaps between shrubs, keeping the weeds at bay.
Every garden needs at least some trees for shade. Even rental property gardens. Your tenants will thank you!
Just about anything goes when it comes to trees, although it pays to check your soil PH and type (eg clay/sandy/loamy) before you plant to ensure that trees will thrive. Talk to your local nursery for advice and find one that gives an unconditional 3 month guarantee on its trees if you can, because if the advice they give is wrong, you need some redress.
Consider issues like privacy and how the garden part of the property will be best used by the tenants when you plant. Here are some DOs:
1. If there is a short fence on one side and the back garden will be seriously overlooked by neighbours, consider planting pencil pines or poplars in a row along it, close enough together that they will block the intrusion as they grow.
2. If the property needs some shade out the back, start at the back of the garden (to entice people out there) and work back towards the house with your planting, depending on the size of the garden.
3. Balance shade-giving trees with open spaces so that there is room for children to play unimpeded, and the property doesn't become jungle-like and cold.
4. Sun around the house is good too. It keeps down damp and mould.
Here are some important DON'Ts about planting trees in your rental property if you have none, like we did in our first one:
1. Don't plant too close to the house
2. Avoid trees in the fig and mulberry family, or umbrella trees. They go for water pipes and can cause thousands of dollars damage to foundations and plumbing, literally breaking them. If you have anything like this already on your property, check how close it is to pipes (they will spread roots a long way!) and cut it down if you must. Check with council first, but replace it with something more suitable if council has a problem and will negotiate! You can actually sue if they refuse and your buildings are later damaged as a result of their decision.
[As an aside, my grandmother taught me this lesson after she learned the hard way. She was the wife to a caretaker of an inner city office building in the 1960s and 1970s, and back then, the penthouse apartment came with Granddad's job. Grandma, a frustrated gardener, made her 22nd-floor roof garden an oasis, but made the mistake of including a potted fig tree.
One day, the building's air conditioning broke down, and the repairmen were amazed, after some digging around in the system, to find that it was being strangled by roots. They came up to Grandma's roof garden and tracked the invader to the potted fig tree. It had broken through the bottom of its pot, dug into the concrete roof, and spread its root system along the water cooling pipes over the entire roof, and down into the building. It cost a fortune to replace, and Grandma's roof garden was severely curtailed!]
3. Jacarandas are gorgeous with their purple flowers but tend to leave a soggy mess underneath then they drop, and this isn't great for the grass or for tenant safety as they can become slippery. Think carefully whether they are right for your rental garden before you plant.
Other than that, go for it!
Using a good quality mulch, covering your garden beds between 5-10cm deep beneath your plants is an effective and cheap way to fill the gaps between the plants you've put in.
Mulch prevents weeds from growing quite so quickly, especially if you team it with a weed-mat underneath. Weed mat usually costs less than $1 per metre (and can be bought even more cheaply by the roll) and is vital if you have an infestation of grass in your garden beds (kikuyu is evil...) and invasive weeds like cobblers pegs, or you will forever be pulling the stuff out.
An added bonus is that it looks more attractive than bare earth, keeps moisture in the soil, and reduces the need for regular watering. For the many parts of the world, this can mean that rainfall is sufficient to keep your plants alive, and your tenants won't have to worry about watering unless you have an extended dry spell or heatwave.
Wow! That's a lot to take in!
Well, as an investor who owns rental property with gardens, I've found that spotting potential problems and setting my properties up from the start with something that will last for years is far more cost effective than constantly having to get a gardener in to do massive cleanups.
I actually factor the cost of having a gardener come in and do minor maintenance on my properties about three to four times a year, with the expectation that tenants must mow and use a whipper-snipper on a regular basis to keep things looking nice around the edges. And it has been worth it, because I can command a bit more rent for having my rental garden look so nice, and to cover the cost of having someone clip the hedges once in a while (if I am not close enough to do it myself).