Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Do-It-Yourself Landscape Part #1 Design Goals

When you first decide to tackle that landscape project you may want to gather your thoughts before you grab a shovel.

First thing to consider is what are your design goals?
Some goals may be:
  • Curb Appeal
  • Re-Sale
  • Add Function
  • Update
  • Fix Problems
Remember the old Saying "Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative"
That is the best way to describe adding CURB APPEAL.
Some of the most noticeable and usually needed element are adding or revamping walkways, especially if you have been stuck with the original builders idea of a walkway that is barely wide enough to walk on or lacks function or creativity.

When adding plants or other design elements look at the Architecture and Style of the house. Victorian style house you may choose a more pyramidal style tree such as a Linden or Cleveland Select Pear. For a Modern style house, a more round tree may work better like Ginnala Maple, or Hawthorn.

Another Design Goal may be for Resale. In this case you will want the maximum return for the least investment. Simply replacing overgrown shrubs with smaller versions, getting rid of the out of style junipers, and most of all eliminate all weeds. Irrigation systems are one of the best investments for your landscape, and despite the typical cost of $2000-7000 you will get that money back when you sell.

Keep the plants to a minumum but remember to add color and texture. Not every potential buyer will appreciate a large perennial garden especially if they are looking for low maintenance. Keep the design with simple clean lines that flow, you may want to invest in some select larger specimen plants by the doors or patios.

A third design goal may be to add Function to your landscape. This may be a Courtyard, a Circular Driveway, Patio, BBQ, or any element that will improve your enjoyment of the property.
Typically these are larger ticket items and unlike most landscape improvements will not have as great of return on investment.

Another design goal may be to fix problems. Especially removing those old junipers, replacing a decaying timber wall, or thin out overgrown plants.

The Last design goal may be to Fix Problems. These are the problems that you must address or the issues will cost more in the long run, and could possibly cause other major issues. 90% of the time this will involve drainage issues, keeping water away from the foundation is always need to be a consideration in every landscape project no matter how big or small.

I have seen many "Landscapers" install berms for a decorative feature, but the homeowners soon find that they have disrupted the flow of drainage and now have a water feature where the flow of drainage has been stopped.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Weeds in the Landscape!

Nothing is more disheartening then seeing your hardwork (or hard earned money) being overrun by malicious uninvited rouge bastards!

What is a Weed?

Now that we have that out of the way, what is a weed? My definition is any plant growing where it is not wanted. The most obvious are yellow dandelions in the green lawn, or bindweeds creeping though your bushes. This year I found a buckthorn growing in my mugo.

If you have a new landscape, unfortunately you will have weeds. It is inevitable that even with the best weed fighting precautions some weeds will emerge the first year. Typically I expect to find weeds exploiting any gap in the weed fabric; at the edger, base of plants, or in the soil that was installed on top of the weed fabric with the mulch (mainly rock mulch). The main thing is to eradicate the weeds before they can get established, as if you can stay on top of them from the start you will never have a weed problem- until they blow in from the neighbors.

Why do they haunt my garden?

Weeds will occur any time the soil has been disturbed. When you think about it you are asking for it. By cultivating the soil for a new garden or new lawn you are improving the conditions for the desired plants; loosening the soil adding nutrients and water, and As it happens this is exactly what the weeds need as well. Left unplanted you will get a bumper crop of weeds in 2-3 weeks.

Where do they come from?

Weeds lie dormant in soil for decades just waiting for the opportunity to see the light of day.

In undisturbed soil the weed seeds at the surface have all ready germinated and been dealt with.

By tilling or digging in the soil all these dormant seeds are brought to the top and given a chance will capitalize on the situation.

How to deal with these demons from the deep?

Best defense is a good offence, you must out compete. By planting your desired plants soon after preparing your soil, they will be using the nutrient before the weeds have a chance to germinate, greatly reducing the number and virility of the invaders.

Hire only the best!

Chemical agents should only be called in as measures of the last r

esort. I do have to admit that I keep two chemicals on standby at all times. Round-up™ (Glyphosate) is a must have in my arsenal, it works by being absorbed by only the Green living tissues (and roots) of plants. Most trees and shrubs are protected by their corky bark (leaves are still susceptible), and once dry the chemicals are no longer active. This means you can plant within a few da

ys of spraying. Use Round-up™ to eradicate any green weeds that have sprouted before they have a chance to flower and spread. Also, Very important NOT to use the extended release formulas because they are not as friendly and have a pre-emergent additives. Pre-

emergent means that the weeds seeds have not germinated or sprouted; Post emergent means that the weeds have grown and are green. So on to the Pre-Emergent, this is usually a granular

and gets applied to areas that are not going to be planted such as under wood mulch between

shrubs. Being pre-emergent means that it will not harm any plants all ready established, including perennials and annuals but will harm bulbs. These chemicals will typically be effective for 2-3 months.

Now that you are armed (and no longer dangerous), with this new kn

owledge go forth and conquer!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Saint Patric's Day Clean-up.

Spring is in the air, St Patric's day will soon be here.
In the world of gardening in Colorado's Front Range the Green Holiday marks the start of the yard work season. Mid March is the perfect time for some essential maintenance for your yard and garden such as cutting back perennials and grasses left for winter interest, raking up the wood mulch and the neighbors leaves that have accumulated over he winter, applying pre-emergent herbicide to planting beds, freshen up wood mulch and give everything a good wash and soaking.

First, cutting back and perennials and grasses that were left for winter interest. Some examples would be Autumn Joy Sedums, Rudbeckia, Feather Reed Grass, Pampas Grass, Iris, etc. These are examples of some of the great plants that will give your yard great appeal over the dry winter months.

Next, raking and cleaning up the yard in general. In Colorado wind is a regular visitor and with it brings, (and moves) all of the wood mulch and leaves from your own house and all of your neighbors and re distributes the wealth all over the yards.

After that, it may be time to apply a pre-emergent herbicide. Pre-emergent herbicides will keep ANY plant from germinating. This can be a life saver if you are battling weeds around in your planting beds. It is generally safe to use around shrubs and trees, use with caution in perennial and annual beds, and DO NOT use near bulbs. In Colorado the timing is wrong for lawn weed control such as annual grasses or crab grass.

Freshen up mulch beds. Now is the time to replace the much that was redistributed over the winter. Remember that I recommend that wood mulch be placed directly on the soil, as weed fabric will provide a sooth surface for the mulch to slide on. To be effective wood mulch needs to be 3-4" thick to prevent the weeds. To Recap apply pre-emergent on top of existing wood mulch, then add replacement much to a total depth of 3-4".

Lastly; the lawn, trees, shrubs, patios, etc., will benefit from a good rise and soaking. Some years mother nature will help with this but 2009 does not seem to be one of those years.

So BEFORE you indulge in the second green beer, enjoy the crisp spring air and get out in to the yard and get a jump on the yard maintenance, your efforts will pay great dividend's when you can spent you time planting instead of weeding and maintaining.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Common Landscape Installation Mistakes.

Today I visited one of my clients, the contractor he had selected needed some guidance on the location of a Tree. When I arrived on site I quickly saw many small details that were not up to my specifications or expectations. I completely understand that landscaping has become very expensive for what seems to be a simple process of planting trees, pounding some steel into the ground, running some irrigation lines, and then covering it all up with fabric and rock. A no brainer right.... OOOPS.

The first item that caught my eye was that the grade had not been properly cut around the driveway and sidewalk. The proper way to handle this is to cut the grade down against all hardscape 4" and a minimum of 18" into the landscape. This creates a gentle, natural edging that will hold the mulch (rock or wood) in place. On this job the grade had not been cut down at all. The ramifications of this will be immediately evident as the much will be spilling onto the sidewalk as soon as the mulch is installed and inevitably the addition of edger will soon follow to add an unnecessary, and ugly addition, let alone added expense.

The Next thing I saw was the drip line installed on top of the weed fabric. This is a major headache in the long run. The clients will be continually having adjust the mulch to keep the lines hidden. If this happens in the backyard, with the dog, it is all over. The Dog has the best toy ever.

On to the Hardscape. To preface this, it is important to know that Denver Colorado has the most freeze thaw cycles of any inhabitable place in the world. Most places will freeze for weeks or months at a time. In Denver we can have 2 cycles a day.
Back to the Hardscape. The sitting patio I designed was "Up Graded" not sure if it was a client request or contractors recommendation. Because of the issues mentioned i do not recommend mortared patios especially flagstone. Flagstone is a porous, natural product and will absorb moisture and so may the grout between the stones. It is just a mater of time before nature takes its course and the patio will start losingg grout then stones will lose there bond to the base. The most troubling element of this installation was the thinness of the stone used. I would estimate about 1/4" thick. I would never go less than 1"- 2" is better.

Now on to the planting of the trees. To my Horror I found a tree that the burlap was still in place and the tree was planted 8-10" to higher then the recommended 2-4". If the twine is still in tacked the tree will die within 2 -5 years. Important to note that burlap in other parts of the country will decompose on its own, this would not be a problem. In Colorado it will not decay we do not have the moisture to support the bacteria to aid in the decomposition.

Lastly I noticed the Lawn that had been sodded late last summer. The bumps and humps are very noticeable and could easily interrupt a game of Croquet

All of these items that I noticed were quickly shrugged off by the contractor. In my opinion there is absolutely no excuse for a seasoned landscape company to have such poor craftsmanship. These are all rookie mistakes that after one warranty call they should have learn the lesson. It does not cost any more to to these things correctly, not even in these hard economic times can these contractors rationalize the extra minutes it would have taken to do the job right the first time. I am not sure what the cost difference between my recommend contractors price and the price that was paid. I am sure it will be more expensive let alone frustrating. What happens all to often is the customers do not know what to look for and end up with a high maintenance, non thriving landscape- not to mention that ultimately my name is on it.

Oh ya the tree in question, well it was in the right place after all.

Not the end of the story. After I blogged, I had to notify the client of the condition of his landscape. I have been burned before by giving my two cents without being asked and ending up in the middle of trouble, but in this case the clients know that things were wrong and were glad to receive my email. I ended up walking though the project with the clients and with my copy of the plan in hand and it ended up much worse. The plan had loosely followed.
Basically the contractor did not remove any of the existing planting that were too be remove and just planted around them.
The original tree issue, turns out that because the sod had been laid out in the wrong spot the tree needed to come forward 3' to provide the screening that is was designed for.
IN the end the clients asked what grade i would give the contractor. I replied hesitantly a "C", then we talked about the price and compared to my Designers Cost Estimate that the price was right in line with the contractor's performance.

Landscape Edger

I am often asked "What Edger do you recommend".
Having been designing and installing landscapes since the mid 80's i have some strong opinions about edger. This comes from having installed 10,000's of lineal feet of edging, and supervising the installation of 10x that.
Metal edging in what I most often recommend for a few reasons.
First, it is important to understand how far metal edging has come in the last 5 years. We all remember that razor sharp edging and the associated black safety cap that was a pain to install and did not stay on for long anyway. That edger has been replaced by Rolled Top Edger where the top 1/4 in has been mechanically folded to create a rounded edge. Now the only danger areas are then ends if not installed. This type of edging is available in several gauges (Thickness). An upgrade to Rolled Top Edging is "ProSteel" this edger has interlocking tabs that the edger pins recessed into. The edges are rounded and the edger is painted green. This edger has been used on commercial projects for 15+ years.

Many people like the look of concrete edger. I have some serious reservations with this type. Being a very picky designer type, I am always adjusting and readjusting the metal edger to get the perfect curve or an absolutely straight line. With concrete you just do not get that perfection. You are working with a material that sets up fast and a machine that is not exactly high performance in the steering department. There is no going back once it is on the ground, if you want to change a bed you are out of luck especially if you went with stamped and colored. It is nearly impossible to match an existing edging. My next issue is that the concrete is placed on top of the grade and typically is not recessed into the ground like other edgers, allowing for aggressive roots to penetrate underneath the concrete. In Colorado we have the issue of expansive soils. During the wet seasons the ground swells and in the drought years the soil shrinks causing concrete to crack and or have voids under the edger. Water retention had also proven to be a big issue. If great care is not taken to pay attention to drainage patterns the flow of water may be stopped, especially bad if the edger hold water on top of plants or near a foundation. If this occurs then cuts will need to be made through the concrete- ugly.

Bender board Type Edging, I have seen and it is OK. the main problem I have noticed with this type is the Freeze thaw cycle in Colorado will have an hydraulic action and can lift the edger up and out of place. Another problem is there are not pins or stakes that are made specifically for this edger, so you must improvise. Most often wooden staked are pounded into the ground and screws used to secure the edger. My last hit to this edger is the damage caused my an accidental mower blade or over zealous string trimmer.

Plastic edger has many of the same issues as the bender board but does not hold up to Colorado's high UV light during the hot summers.

I have to say that no edger is the silver bullet to end all of our edging needs, as soon as i figure out the magic combination of ease of installation, longevity, and flexibility I will be calling from the mountain tops.