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.