How much does it cost to plant an acre of trees


Is Reforestation a Profitable Investment? An Economic Analysis

 

Historically, reforestation has been a strong long-term investment for landowners. This publication assesses the pine reforestation investment based on current stumpage prices and associated costs to determine whether it still offers attractive returns. We review potential returns from typical pine plantations in the U.S. South. Southern pine reforestation can be an excellent long-term investment even under conservative management assumptions.


Many landowners regularly invest in other long-term investments such as individual retirement accounts (IRAs), stocks, and bonds but forego the likely chance to earn high returns from timber production. Tax incentives, cost sharing programs, and increased property value are added benefits of reforestation. In this note, we compare potential economic returns from a range of forestry investment options to make informed forest investment decisions.

Like all markets, timber and wood product stumpage prices ebb and flow. Our analysis suggests that a forest landowner can ensure that costs are kept in line with expected returns in any stage of the business cycle. By studying the "numbers" and understanding planting costs and expected returns, a savvy landowner can make appropriate reforestation decisions to ensure profitability at any investment level.

Information Needed to Analyze a Reforestation Investment

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To analyze the potential benefits of reforesting, you will need four pieces of information:

  1. Costs of stand establishment (costs of site preparation, reforestation, and silvicultural practices). Reforestation costs depend on site conditions and the owner’s investment objectives. With well-drained soil on a site that is relatively free of competing vegetation, little additional preparation may be necessary. However, even old field sites can have fierce competition that may initially be hidden until the next growing season. Site preparation costs increase as competing vegetation increases and will be largest on wet, poorly drained sites requiring draining, ditching, and bedding. Periodic applications of fertilizers after planting, mid-rotation, and after thinning are also cost-intensive practices.
    Costs of stand establishment could range widely from less than $100 (seedlings and planting costs) to more than $450 per acre. Natural seeding can restock your woods with seedlings of a desirable tree species at little or no cost. However, managing over-stocked natural stands can equal or exceed the costs of site preparation and planting in the long-run, and there is no control in selecting improved tree genetics (McKeand, 2017).
  2. Intensity of ongoing management activities. Landowners may incur management costs such as prescribed burning, boundary line maintenance, fire line construction and maintenance, and insect or disease protection. Annual property taxes are also recurring expenses. These costs typically will not exceed $2 to $4 per acre per year.
  3. Future revenue streams from thinning(s) and final harvest. Species- and location-specific growth and yield models are used to project timber growth. Such growth and yield models primarily depend on site productivity of the land, the number of trees per acre planted, frequency and intensity of thinnings, the rotation length, fertilization, or other silvicultural activities.
    A forester measures the potential productivity of the land using the concept of "Site Index" (SI). SI is the total height to which dominant trees will reach on a given site by a certain age, usually 25 years, on pine plantations. For example, if the site index for a particular site is 70 at 25 years for loblolly pine, foresters expect loblolly seedlings planted on that site today to be 70 feet tall in 25 years. For additional information on site index, see Woodland Owner Note 7, Forest Soils and Site Index.
    Several growth and yield embedded investment calculators (web-based applications) for forestry investment and analysis are available for free as well as for purchase. See Woodland Owner Note-63, Valuing Immature Forest Stands.
    Once the future timber yields are obtained from a growth and yield model, total timber values can be obtained by multiplying timber volume by the stumpage price. This publication assumes no timber price increases because it is hard to predict future stumpage prices. Assuming no price increase keeps the reforestation to be made strictly on real returns at the time of the investment—the assumption being that any future stumpage increases will only enhance returns. This publication also assumes that inflation will match any price increases, which vastly simplifies the analysis.
  4. Interest rate or discount rate. The interest rate is an important determinant in any financial analysis. It represents the cost of capital or the interest payment you need to make for your mortgage. It also captures the opportunity costs of the investment, which implies that a benefit could have been received but was given up to obtain another course of action.

Analyzing Reforestation Investments

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Three various levels of reforestation investments in terms of initial stand establishment costs are assumed to illustrate the range of likely financial returns available to North Carolina landowners.

Several financial criteria are used to evaluate reforestation investments and interpret their profitability.

Net Present Value (NPV) is the net benefit (in today’s dollar value) from any investment after accounting for all the costs and potential revenues. NPV represents the value of expected future returns minus the value of expected future costs all in today’s dollars. Investments with a positive NPV yield a higher return than the interest rate used to discount the investment to the present day. To select the optimal investment, choose the one with the highest NPV to maximize returns (all other assumptions held constant).

Net Annual Equivalent (NAE) converts NPV to an equal annual amount over the life of the investment. Since forestry investments are long term, it’s often preferable to have an “annual” or rent-like figure to compare investments on an annual scale.

Return on Investment (ROI) is the maximum net return you can obtain from the investment after covering all costs. ROI is the “true” compound interest rate that equates the present value of future incomes with the present value of future costs. An investment is acceptable if the ROI equals or exceeds the minimum acceptable rate of return (i.e., the interest rate used in the analysis). In choosing between two investments, the investment with the higher ROI is preferred. ROI is often termed the “internal rate of return (IRR).”

Assumptions for investment analyses:

1. All incomes are pre-tax. The prevailing stumpage prices of $25 per ton of pine sawtimber, $17 per ton of chip-n-saw, and $12 per ton of pine pulpwood are assumed. All prices are assumed to remain constant for the length of the rotation (crop cycle).

2. After-tax management costs are $2 per acre per year.

3. The rotation age for loblolly pine is 30 years, assuming 436 trees per acre (spaced 10 feet by 10 feet) initially with up to two thinnings.

4. LobDss Pine, a growth and yield simulator developed by Forest Productivity Cooperative, is used to generate product-specific growth data from thinning(s) and final harvest. The website requires a membership.

5. To calculate net present value (NPV) and net annual equivalent (NAE), future incomes and periodic costs are discounted to the present at a five percent annual rate (real rate of return).

Investment Analysis

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To assess the value of forestry investments, we compare returns to alternative investment opportunities. Returns will vary with soil quality, length of growing period, investment and management strategies, market competition, tax bracket, and tree species. The examples given here assume zero inflation and growth of pine stumpage pricing (or a convenient offset of future fluctuations by either measure). Curious investors might add nominal rates of return (including inflation) to approximate the inflation rate to the “real rates of return” presented here.

Example 1. Low Investment Option: $100 per acre of total site preparation and reforestation costs. This example covers only the costs of seedlings and planting. About 30% of total basal area in hardwoods at crown closure is assumed with no competing vegetation control. Greater competition would result in lower forest productivity.

Site Quality
(Site index at base age of 25 years)

Net Present Value (NPV)

Net Annual Equivalent (NAE)

% Return on Investment (ROI)

Low (SI 55)

$249. 3

$16.2

9.4

Medium (SI 65)

$336.5

$21.9

10.3

High (SI 75)

$433.3

$28.2

11.2

Example 2. Medium Investment Option: $250 per acre of total site preparation and reforestation costs. Along with the costs of seedlings and planting, this example covers chemical site preparation for hardwood control. About 15% of total basal area in hardwoods at crown closure is anticipated.

Site Quality
(Site index at base age of 25 years)

Net Present Value (NPV)

Net Annual Equivalent (NAE)

% Return on Investment (ROI)

Low (SI 55)

$281. 5

$18.3

7.9%

Medium (SI 65)

$409.3

$26.6

8.8%

High (SI 75)

$544.3

$35.4

9.8%

Example 3. High Investment Option: $450 per acre of total site preparation and reforestation costs. Along with the costs of seedlings and planting, this example covers chemical site preparation for hardwood control, bedding, and herbaceous weed control at Year 1 (for a poorly drained site; a well-drained site would not need bedding). Fertilizers of 200 lb/acre of elemental nitrogen and 25 lb/ac elemental phosphorous at Year 8 and after first thinning are applied. No hardwood at crown closure is anticipated.

Site Quality
(Site index at base age of 25 years)

Net Present Value (NPV)

Net Annual Equivalent (NAE)

% Return on Investment (ROI)

Low (SI 55)

$437.4

$28.5

8.1%

Medium (SI 65)

$630.4

$41.0

9.2%

High (SI 75)

$845.9

$55. 0

10.4%

Summary

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Three examples of various levels of initial investment in reforestation reveal that southern pine reforestation can still be an excellent long-term investment even under the current lower sawtimber price and conservative management assumptions. The analysis suggests that the higher productive land always offers higher returns. While net dollar return is highest with the highest cost options, the best return on investment (ROI) comes with the lower initial level of investment in the higher productive site (Figure 1). The ROI of about 9 to 11% is highly competitive among other investment opportunities. For instance, in the last 30-year period (1988 to 2018), the stock market (S&P 500) offered an annual average of 11.5% real returns, and the 10-year Treasury bond yielded nearly 6.6% annually.

A prudent investor weighs alternatives and chooses the option that matches their return, risk, and available resources. In making investments, be sure to weigh the merits of foregone consumption versus the potential for generating greater future returns. Always remember; the present value of estimated future returns must exceed investment costs.

Risks associated with forestry investments include damage from insects, diseases, wildfires, extreme weather, and cyclical markets. Proper and diverse timber management strategies can reduce some of these risks by fostering vigorous timber stands. Forest landowners should consider soil quality, tree species, local markets, costs, anticipated yields, and professional advice before investing in reforestation or timber stand management.

While there is much uncertainty about future costs, prices, and tree growth, the economic analysis provides an unbiased assessment of investment potential. These financial numbers are based on several assumptions on costs, growth projections, and future revenue streams. New improvements in genetics that improve growth rates may not be captured by the growth and yield model we employed in this analysis. Rising levels of atmospheric CO2 may increase site index, causing faster tree growth (Westfall and Amateis, 2003). Similarly, future market changes, pricing, and technology improvements on the production side, as well as risk factors, may negate or reduce these projections. Current pulpwood prices are much closer to sawtimber prices than at any time in recent history (sawtimber prices are about two times that of pulpwood prices). Twenty years ago, sawtimber was five times the price of pulpwood, and just 10 years ago sawtimber was three times the price of pulpwood. Should sawtimber prices once again rise relative to pulpwood prices, longer rotations and larger forestry investments will become more attractive. If the current 2-to-1 price differential persists, large forestry investments will need to be confined to shorter rotations of 30 years or less. Consult professionals before making a specific decision about your timberland investment.

For more information and help in evaluating a particular timber investment opportunity, contact your local Cooperative Extension center, NC Forest Service Office, or a professional forester.

Figure 1. Net present values under various levels of initial investment costs and land productivity. The higher the site productivity and initial costs, the higher the dollar returns.

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References

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McKeand, S. 2017. Making sense of the genetics market. Forest Landowner Magazine, September/October. Forest Landowners Association. 14-17.

Westfall, J.A., and R.L. Amateis. 2003. A model to account for potential correlations between growth of loblolly pine and changing ambient carbon dioxide concentrations. Southern Journal of Applied Forestry 27(4): 279-284.

Rajan Parajuli
Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist, Forest Economics
Forestry & Environmental Resources
Mark Megalos
Extension Forestry Specialist
Forestry & Environmental Resources
Rick Hamilton
Emeritus Extension Professor, Foresty
Forestry & Environmental Resources
Ron Myers
Forester
NC Forest Service
Robert Lipford
Forester
NC Forest Service
Rachel Cook
Assistant Professor of Silviculture
  • Keywords:
  • Forest Management
  • Replanting
  • Reforestation

Find more information at the following NC State Extension websites:

Extension Forestry Row Crops and Livestock

Publication date: May 23, 2019
WON-08

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Costs & Trends of Southern Forestry Practices 2020

One concern landowners may have when making forestland management decisions is the cost of forestry practices. They may worry that they cannot afford to complete activities such as planting or understory control, so they choose to do nothing. Knowing even a range of costs for forestry practices can help make decisions and lead to better forest management.

Figure 1. Physiological regions in the south that were used in the 2020 Cost of Forestry Practices survey showing the Southern Coastal Plain (A), Northern Coastal Plain (B), and Piedmont or similar uplands (C).

This report summarizes the results of a 2020 survey to examine the cost of forestry practices across the southeastern United States. The 2020 survey underwent changes to improve access, the time required to complete, and participation by designing a new format online that allowed more efficient and effective distribution and return of the survey. As a result, the number of usable surveys completed and returned for 2020 is the greatest on record, surpassing the previous high by 80 percent.

For this survey, three physiographic regions in the South were considered: the Southern Coastal Plain, Northern Coastal Plain, and Piedmont regions (figure 1). The results presented are based on 264 usable responses, up from 85 usable responses received for the 2018 survey. Of those, 63 percent were from private family landowners, 16 percent were from consulting firms, 15 percent were from private forestry firms, 1 percent were from publicly funded organizations, and 3 percent of respondents reported “other” for their organizational type. The remaining 2 percent did not list an organization type. Results presented are adapted from the “2020 Cost and Trends for Forestry Practices in the South” Special Report in the November/December 2021 edition of Forest Landowner magazine.

Mechanical Site Preparation

Mechanical site preparation was reported on 86,235 acres at an average cost per acre of $159.75 (table 1). This activity included practices such as shear-rake-pile- bed, subsoiling, and drum chopping. Of the total acres reported, 84,435 included information on the number of passes—single-pass operations was the most common reported consisting of 79 percent at an average cost per acre of $136.08. The cost of single-pass operations averaged 34 percent less than double-pass operations. There were not enough responses to report triple-pass operations.

 

Table 1. Mechanical Site Preparation Costs Per Acre

* Too few responses.

AllAll86,235131. 44164.05200.88159.75
All166,418102.01155.83123.41136.08
All218,017169.41200.56*182.12
All3*****

 

Planting

Pine seedlings were the only seedling type planted that had enough data to report in 2020. A total of 172,599 acres of pine seedlings were planted (table 2). The majority of respondents (53 percent) reported hand planting, 13 percent reported machine planting, and 34 percent reported both methods. Most of the pine seedlings planted were bareroot loblolly pine (Pinus taeda), which made up 72 percent of the total acres reported.

Pine seedlings planted averaged 582 per acre for hand planting and 570 per acre for machine planting (table 2). Overall, hand planting cost 31 percent less to plant than machine planting, and bareroot seedlings cost 25 percent less than containerized seedlings.. The average cost of machine planting bareroot pine species on cutover land was 25 percent more than the average cost of hand planting all bareroot pine seedlings on similar sites.

 

Table 2. Hand and Machine Planting Costs Per Acre and Cost Per Seedling to Plant

* Too few responses. Overall planting costs per acre do not include seedling cost.

Hand Planting
Cutover land, all pine, bareroot66,45767. 0065.7374.3268.820.12589
Cutover land, all pine, container35,59385.3390.0281.8286.400.15575
Cutover land, loblolly pine, bareroot65,24768.7566.5076.8070.430.12588
Cutover land, loblolly pine, container23,39485.6789.7383.4086.800.16555
Cutover land, all pine102,05077.8674.4076.9975.880.13582
Oldfield, all pine2,368*85.24*80.980.14585
Oldfield, loblolly pine, bareroot1,538***81. 140.13604
All hand methods, all pine104,41878.2976.5275.7676.590.13582
Machine Planting
Cutover land, all pine, bareroot64,21382.21100.52101.6694.210.17571
Cutover land, loblolly pine, bareroot56,99585.10102.47101.6698.800.17573
All land type, loblolly pine, bareroot57,81585.10103.4495.2197.670.17580
All machine methods, all pine68,18183.3999.5696.2994.000.17570

 

Prescribed Burning

Forty-seven percent of survey respondents reported prescribed burning in 2020. A ground drip torch was used in all cases for a total of 136,456 acres at an average cost per acre of $31.12 (table 3). Regional differences in costs were reported. In general, prescribed burning practices reported in the Piedmont were more expensive than in other regions.

 

Table 3. Prescribed Burning Treatment Costs Per Acre by Ignition Type and Burning Purpose

* Too few responses.

Ground, drip torchSite preparation29,838*33.7239.4734.76
Ground, drip torchUnderstory control84,96123. 7131.90*29.11
Ground, drip torchAll136,45625.8732.1933.6531.12

 

Chemical Application

Chemical applications were reported by 53 percent of respondents who treated 280,959 acres in 2020 (table 4). Site preparation, midrotation release, and herbaceous weed control were the top reasons for treatment with the majority of acres (54 percent) treated as part of site preparation activities. Sixty-one percent of acres treated were aerially sprayed. Overall average cost per acre for all treatment purposes and all methods was $77.11 (table 4). Overall, aerial application methods were less expensive than ground application methods. Additionally, average cost per acre was higher in the Piedmont than in other regions.

 

Table 4. Chemical Application Costs Per Acre by Treatment Purpose and Method of Application

* Too few responses.

Site preparationGround42,57973.1691.40*87.08
Site preparationAerial108,970*79.5485.7784.58
Site preparationAll151,14982.3484.3893.1086.07
Mid rotation releaseAll32,99172.7483.5493.8783.13
Herbaceous weed controlGround47,909***51. 98
Herbaceous weed controlAerial48,142*52.49*55.13
Herbaceous weed controlAll96,05153.8054.3961.8756.09
AllGround110,63964.5283.23100.2479.91
AllAerial170,197*67.3075.4773.62
AllAll280,95973.0975.5684.4877.11

 

Fertilization

Few respondents (16 percent) reported using fertilizer as a forestry practice. Those who used fertilizer reported treating 66,082 acres at an average cost of $87.83 per acre (table 5). Aerial application of fertilizer accounted for 72 percent of all fertilization treatments reported in 2020.

 

Table 5. Fertilization Costs Per Acre by Purpose of Application, Application Method and Fertilizer Type

* Too few responses.

AllGroundAll18,717***83.79
AllAerialAll47,365***93.50
AllAllAll66,082***87.83

 

Fire Protection

In 2020, twenty-eight percent of respondents reported using some method of fire protection on 173,375 acres at an overall average cost per acre of $19. 49 (table 6). Protection methods reported included firebreaks, fire plows, and tractors. Primary methods of fire detection included self-observation, forestry commissions, neighbors, and hunting clubs.

 

Table 6. Fire Protection Costs Per Acre

* Too few responses.

All173,375***19.49

 

Timber Cruising and Marking

Timber cruising was reported by 39 percent of survey respondents. Most respondents (73 percent) reported using variable radius plots at an overall average cost of $12.45 per acre (table 7). The overall average cost per acre for all methods was $13. 31 (table 7).

The majority (46 percent) of the 35,875 acres of marked timber operations reported in 2020 were completed for thinning purposes. Only 27 percent of respondents reported completing any type of marking activity on their lands.

 

Table 7. Timber Cruising Costs Per Acre by Inventory Purpose and Method Used

* Too few responses.

AllFixed plot186,569*13.91*14.19
AllVariable radius500,38815.409.86*12.45
AllAll687,11115. 8112.1114.4113.31

 

Table 8. Timber Marking Costs Per Acre

* Too few responses.

Thinning16,501***32.17
All35,875*32.3330.2131.52

 

Precommercial Thinning

Precommercial thinning is often completed early in a rotation and when trees may be in an overcrowded condition. For the 2020 survey, only 9.5 percent of survey respondents reported precommercial thinning on 3,797 acres (table 9).

 

Table 9. Precommercial Thinning Costs Per Acre

* Too few responses.

All3.797***144.05

 

Custodial Management

Custodial management costs may include activities such as road construction and maintenance, boundary line maintenance or surveys, insect and disease management, or legal fees. In 2020, 86 percent of respondents reported custodial management activities on more than 3.1 million acres (table 10). Due to the increase in respondents who participated in this question, we were able to list acres and cost for multiple operation types. The overall average cost per acre for custodial management should be used with caution due to the differences in costs among a variety of operation types.

 

Table 10. Custodial Management Costs Per Acre by Operation Type

* Too few responses.

Insect and disease detection and treatment635,542***47.52
Road construction and maintenance1,909,393*125.21102.6498.08
Maintaining property boundaries1,625,779***15.62
Legal fees1,416,067***2.49
All3,112,43536. 4663.4052.8452.25

 

Figure 2. Percent change in costs of forestry practices from 2018 to 2020 (A) and from 2016 to 2020 (B).

Changes in Costs Estimates

When comparing 2020 to 2018 averages, the majority of costs decreased except for chemical application and timber cruising (figure 2A). Comparisons to 2016 averages show that all costs increased (figure 2B).

Forestry practice costs in the South have been more variable in the last ten years than in past decades. This is due, in part, to the forest industry being affected during much of this time by suppressed stumpage prices. The economy and housing market crash in 2008 put financial pressure on corporate forest products companies. This pressure caused restructuring of many companies into Timber Investment Management Organizations (TIMO), Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT) or to divest of timber-land management of investments completely. In addition, the low softwood stumpage prices during this time likely influenced decisions of landowners and managers that may have played a role in the variability of cost of forestry practices. Compared to 2018, the price for diesel and other petroleum products were less in 2020, which in part, could explain the decrease observed in many of the forestry practice costs. Further, liability concerns and labor issues seem to be impacting costs of forestry practices, particularly in relation to tree planting, timber cruising, and prescribed burning. This should be something to keep an eye on in years to come.

 


Adam Maggard, Extension Specialist and Assistant Professor, School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, Auburn University

New December 2021, Costs & Trends of Southern Forestry Practices 2020, FOR-2115

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Planting trees and shrubs price and cost
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Shrubs and trees are an important part of a well-groomed and landscaped area. Trees are also considered an ideal source of shade. On the territory you can plant not only fruit, but also decorative green spaces. Planting trees and shrubs is a complex process that requires knowledge of many subtleties. The Hektar company offers you a service for tree planting. The entire work process will be done efficiently and quickly.

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In addition to the fact that in the process of planting small trees our craftsmen observe the necessary rules and all the subtleties of the horticultural field, we additionally pay attention to the place of purchase of seedlings. Therefore, the Hektar Company fruitfully cooperates with a supplier of young seedlings of green spaces. Each tree and shrub is purchased by us from a specialized nursery.

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Tree planting begins with a thorough examination of the seedlings. If during transportation some of them have dried up, then we immerse the roots in water for a while before planting. Thin and long roots are cut off. Special attention should be paid to pruning the side shoots of seedlings. The crown remains with more than 4 side shoots, we remove the rest. Pruning work is carried out exclusively with garden shears or a sharp knife.

In this process, soil preparation is also an equally important step. Workers prepare strips 1 to 1.5 m wide and about 0.5 m deep for planting seedlings. The strips are dug up beforehand, additionally we add special chemical fertilizers. If trees are planted in the spring, then the soil should not be too wet or frozen. The seedling is placed in the prepared pit so that the distance between the soil and the root collar is no more than 6 cm.

Prior to planting, the bottom of the pit is carefully compacted and a small peg is driven in, which will not allow the seedling to break from the wind. Then we place the seedling in the pit and carefully distribute the roots. Landing is usually carried out by at least two of our qualified specialists. One of which controls the position of the plant, and the other - fills the hole with earth. At the end, the pit is trampled down and watered abundantly. The finishing action is to tie the planted seedling to the peg.

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We recommend watering the seedling twice. Thorough moistening of the soil must be done before the onset of frost. Slowing down the evaporation of moisture from the ground can be achieved by regular loosening of the earth cover. We will be happy to ennoble your site with a variety of trees and shrubs at a low price. The quality of the work will also pleasantly surprise you! For regular customers there is a flexible system of discounts, also if you order a set of services for the improvement of the site, we will provide a tangible discount amount.

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Thank you. Have a good harvest.

23.10.2019

Ludmila, Rastorguevo

We turned to Hektar to carry out the improvement of the territory of the house. We bought a cottage, but the land was abandoned and not well maintained. Thank you for the prompt work, affordable prices, quality and professionalism. We also installed an irrigation system. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts and wish you success and prosperity!

10/27/2019

Thanks for the feedback. We will come in the spring to launch the system.

09/27/2019

Irina , Troitsk

Our family entered into an agreement with Hektar several years ago. The guys every year equip the lawn on the site and take care of it. Everything is clear, neat, in accordance with the wishes of our family and modern technologies. Bravo for the quality work, which we are very, very pleased with! The lawn not only pleases with lush greenery, but also with functionality. We rest on it, and the children play with pleasure.

09/29/2019

Irina, thanks for the feedback. See you next spring.

09/04/2019

Nikolay

I had an overgrown area, thank you for putting the whole area in full order and mowing the grass. Everything was done efficiently, quickly and accurately, I am very satisfied. I recommend Hektar as a reliable and responsible partner.

09/06/2019

Thank you for leaving a review.

08/22/2019

Olga, Rasskazovka

Thank you for landscaping and planting garden ornamental plants.


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