Category Archives: Home and Garden

Learn More About Landscape Design

There was a time when most people thought landscaping was little more than lawn mowing, weeding and planting a few flowers. In recent years, landscaping has taken on a whole new meaning. Good landscape design can add to the value of a home, dramatically increase your living space, and contribute greatly to an improved home lifestyle.

As a trade, landscaping has been divided into three main fields:

Lawn care companies
Landscape maintenance firms
Landscape design firms
Lawn care companies specialize in mowing, raking, edging, seeding and otherwise caring for the grassy areas.

Landscape maintenance firms are primarily concerned with periodic maintenance of shrubs and flowerbeds.

Landscape design firms that handle landscape construction and planting under the direction of a landscape designer or architect. This last group deals with everything from patios to fountains to rock gardens.

Most people have no long-term plans for their landscaping. More often than not, changes in the landscape are triggered by sales on plants at the local nursery or home center. Some of these impulse purchases die before being transplanted and plants that are successfully transplanted end up providing a final look short of expectations. While nearly every household does some landscaping, few achieve the results they seek. In most neighborhoods, truly appealing landscapes are few and far between.

Why do so few people create truly satisfying landscapes? It certainly isn’t for lack of trying. It’s nearly always for lack of attention to the design. A good landscape designer can help you integrate all kinds of practical and aesthetic considerations into an overall plan that achieves the effects that are most important to you. Whether you want to attract birds, impress the neighbors, or create fanciful outdoor recreation areas for grandchildren, landscape designers can help you pull it together so that it really works.

Most people assume that landscape designer means “big expense.” This is not necessarily the case. Designers can help you work within a budget and can help you implement the landscape plan in stages spread over several seasons.

Most homeowners who do their own landscaping end up redoing parts of it time and time again, trying to create the right look without creating a maintenance nightmare. This is not a recipe for saving money. A designer can help you develop an approach that doesn’t waste your time and money.

To get help with your landscape design, there are many ways to gather ideas:

Landscaping and gardening books
Home and gardening magazines
Computer-based landscape design tools
Flower shows and home shows
Home centers and nurseries
For the most comprehensive design help, use a landscape architect or someone with equivalent training. These people have studied landscaping from every angle over a long period of time and are in the best position to help you juggle thousands of variables to end up with the ideal plan for you. Even if you decide to formulate a plan on your own, have a landscape design professional review your ideas before you start moving dirt around or buying expensive plants.

Tips To Working with Landscapers

Landscapers are a little different than the typical home improvement contractor in that they will not only be outside of your home, but they also won’t even be touching your home. The good thing about this relationship is that a landscaping project will not upset the daily flow of your home. What’s difficult is knowing exactly how to go about a working relationship with contractors who never enter your home. While landscape service professionals are not going to come into contact with the members of your household as much as kitchen remodeling crews or flooring installers, there is still good reason to make sure the contact you do have with your landscaping crew is amiable.

What Landscape Service Professionals Expect from You

An unwritten rule of home improvement projects is that if contractors are working outside, they don’t typically come in the home. If they are working inside, then it is proper etiquette to offer them use of your facilities. However, landscape service professionals are doing a pretty tough job, and a few indoor amenities can go a long way in keeping the contractor/homeowner relationship (as well as the project in general) flowing smoothly.

Landscape service professionals are going to need a few basic things to do their job. A source of water, a few electrical outlets, and some parking spots on or near their work site are things you should point out on day one. In some cases, landscaping companies will bring a port-a-john along to the jobsite, but if they do not, offering the use of your bathroom is a gesture that will pay off. Sure, landscaping is dirty work, and coming into the house during this kind of job could lead to a few foot prints on your floor. However, since a few dollars spent on carpet remnants will eliminate the risk of stains, having your crew use the closest bathroom available is going to keep productivity rolling and, in the end, reduce total labor hours.

What You Should Expect from Landscape Service Professionals

The contractor/homeowner relationship goes two ways, and if you are courteous to your crew, you should expect courtesy in return. On the first day of the job, have a talk with the crew leader to set up ground rules. If you smoking or swearing make you uncomfortable, let your crew leader know up front. If you have pets on your property, establish any boundaries your crew should observe early. While you might feel like you’re being a little demanding, your crew will often appreciate you taking the time to inform them of any actions that could have led to friction.

It’s a good idea to set up meetings with your crew leader to discuss how the project is going. On projects that are only going to take a week to finish, consider daily meetings; for very lengthy projects, a weekly meeting may be enough. These meetings will be your time to ask questions about the project, voice any concerns you have, and give credit where credit is due. If your crew of landscape service professionals is behaving less than professionally, you’ll have a designated time to air your grievances without offending anyone; on the other hand, if you’re completely pleased with how the project is going, you can use this time to let your crew leader know you recognize his or her efforts as well as those of the rest of the crew.

Pampering Landscape Service Professionals

We’ve heard stories of homeowners providing crews with pizza on Fridays or even taking their workers out for a cold one at the end of a project. While this can definitely solidify a strong contractor/homeowner relationship, landscape service professionals are not expecting to be pampered. If you feel like buying a pizza on Fridays, go for it, but for most crews the following courtesies will be more than enough to keep the good vibes circulating:

If your garage is not full of items or vehicles, the garage is a great place to offer landscapers an escape from the sun. Landscaping projects are hot and difficult work, and the cool concrete floor of the garage and shade from the sun is a nice bonus.
Usually, landscapers will feel free to tap into your outdoor water source, but if they do not assume the use of it, this is something you could offer. If they are installing a sprinkler system, then most likely they are already doing this.
If the day is particularly hot, you might offer your crew a jug of water, some lemonade, or something cold to drink. Landscapers are used to the heat and used to being hot, so they most likely will bring along a water jug or some cold soda. However, happy landscapers do spectacular work, and if a little lemonade can help get your crew pumped on a hot day, the benefits often go both ways.

Should Know About Landscape Maintenance Checklist

The first thing to remember with any landscape is that it’s a living, breathing entity. Even the simplest, easy-to-care for yard will need watering, feeding, cleaning, and disease prevention. If you aren’t a big fan of yard maintenance, it might be wise to implement landscaping that’s easy to maintain. Indeed, landscape maintenance is much more involved than the average homeowner believes. Mowing, mulching, and weeding are frequently done but rarely done right. Often, the difference between solid and poor landscape maintenance is in the details. Taking those few extra minutes to do the job right will pay off enormous dividends with a more beautiful lawn and fewer maintenance problems in the future.

So, how do you do the job right? Simple: you research, create, and diligently follow a landscape maintenance checklist. We’ve conducted the research for you in this handy checklist, but this is only a baseline for your individual lawn and landscaping. Different landscaping features and design may require their own maintenance items, but this will get you started…

Landscape Maintenance Checklist

Planting areas

Some plants require constant attention, while others won’t add anything to your landscape maintenance. Check on the condition of your plants during spring.
Covering ground with organic mulch will help soil retain moisture and keep weeds at bay.
After the first hard freeze, cut back plant branches and cover them with mulch.
Many flowers do better when you dead-head them (i.e., pinch off spent blooms), which encourages new growth.

Insect control

Sometimes a plant can be washed clean with a strong stream of water. Many garden centers sell insects such as ladybugs to get rid of bugs and worms.
Chemicals are also an option; however, use extreme caution when applying them.
Consider using household “natural” chemicals to control insects. For example, placing a shallow plate filled with beer in your slug-infested garden usually will attract and kill these pests.
Weeding

Removing the entire weed by its roots is the surest way to get rid of it.
Herbicides do work, but use caution when applying. They will not only kill the weed, but also other nearby plants.
Keep weeds to a minimum by covering the soil with an inch or two of mulch.
Weed prevention

An inch-thick layer of mulch will keep your planting beds relatively weed-free.
Grass is a plant that grows thick and bushy when healthy and will usually choke out any other weeds.
Some chemical fertilizers come with a “pre-emergent,” which kills the seeds in the spring when the plants are dormant.
Mowing

Don’t cut grass too short. Longer grass is healthier and retains water better.
Many mowers come with a mulching option that cuts grass into tiny bits and returns it to the lawn. This returns important nutrients to the soil, and reduces the need for fertilizer.
Leaf removal

Remove all leaves from grassy areas. The layer of leaves can restrict the amount of light reaching the lawn and trap water near the roots.
Fertilizing

Depending on your climate, fertilize your lawn and growing beds two to five times per growing season. Both chemical and organic options are available.
Hedge and tree trimming

Shrubs and trees require seasonal pruning. Prune away dead branches as well as live branches that are getting out of control.
Many hedges need to be re-shaped several times during the summer, but never prune or trim during the fall. This will stimulate growth during a time when plants should be in their dormant phase.

Sprinkler maintenance

Winterize your sprinkler system during the fall by draining or “blowing out” the water from the pipes and turning off the timer.
In the spring, you’ll need to re-start the system by turning on the timer and the master valve.
Spring clean-up

Rake out the leftover leaves and trash that has built up over the cold months.
Consider applying a fresh layer of mulch to protect fresh shoots from frost. Over time, mulch will work its way into the soil and revitalize it. Choose mulch made of small organic pieces like “bark fines” or recycled cocoa shells. Mulch made from larger wood pieces such as cedar strips or aspen will take longer to break down.
Thatching

Thatch is a layer of dead grass that builds up over time just above the soil surface and needs to be removed.
Aerate regularly and de-thatch in the spring while the lawn is still dormant.
Core aeration

Aerate your lawn at least twice a year to allow air and water to cycle in and out of the soil.

Know More About Ornamental Trees and Plants

Just because you don’t have a lot of space doesn’t mean you can’t plant a tree in your yard. Small ornamental trees can assuage your impulse to have a tree in your yard without overwhelming your home and ruining its curb appeal. Ornamental trees and plants are, as you might imagine, ornamental, as opposed to trees and plants used for commercial gain. For the purpose of residential landscaping, however, the term often refers to smaller trees that can’t be used to support hammocks, tree houses, or tree swings. For truly tight areas, you may need to be content with an ornamental plant, but even these small additions can add beauty and/or fragrance for your home.

Flowering Ornamental Trees

Flowering ornamental trees are often the most prized possession of a homeowner’s landscape. They combine the beauty of a flower with the size of a small tree, creating a truly magnificent addition to your yard. You can choose a tree with any number of blossoming traits; you can plant a saucer magnolia for its large pinkish white blooms, crape myrtles for their long blooming period, or dogwood trees for their horizontal branching.

Weeping Ornamental Trees

Weeping ornamental trees are another favorite of many homeowners. Their long, slender, looping branches are coveted for their immense and unique aesthetic value. Some weeping trees, such as the weeping cherry tree, are also flowering trees. Also like a flowering tree, different tree species can be chosen for size, flowering traits, and growth seasons.

Ornamental Plants

Ornamental plants are a great idea for your landscaping and your interior decorating. Plants or shrubs are different from trees not necessarily in size, but in the lack of a single, distinguished trunk. Some shrubs can be pruned to give the appearance of a trunk and are mistakenly referred to as an ornamental plant. While ornamental trees almost always need some sort of care, ornamental plants typically require diligent care to achieve the best results. They are usually planted expressly for the enjoyment of a home gardener.

Ornamental Tree Care and Hiring an Arborist

Hiring an arborist can be a great idea for many homeowners considering ornamental trees and plants. Even if you fancy yourself a generally knowledgeable gardener, an arborist will probably be able to offer you advice you either didn’t know or wouldn’t have considered. They may be able to warn you about how specific species perform in your local climate, what special care may be required. They can also give you ideas about how your yard can continue to be transformed and beautified for years within the framework of the ornamental tree you’re planting this year. An arborist can also help you if you need to remove a tree currently on your lawn or give some tree pruning tips, or even some advice on different types of tree diseases.

Hire a Landscaping Contractor

Landscaping contractors are one of the most vague and most easily misunderstood contractors in the home improvement industry. Small, independent contractors might focus on small projects like delivering and spreading mulch, helping out with your spring planting, installing lawn drainage, or a sprinkler system. Larger companies are more commonly referred to as design/build firms, and these professionals will create and implement a comprehensive landscaping design that will transform your yard into head-turning, envy-of-the-neighbors, residential oasis. But most people still refer to them as landscaping contractors.

Depending on the type of service you need, landscaping can get expensive. The average cost to install landscaping for residential properties is $4,000, according to data collected by HomeAdvisor from homeowners all over the country. That said, your particular project and its cost may bear little resemblance to this average. Some landscaping contractors install in-ground as part of their services. A new concrete swimming pool alone might cost $40,000 or more. Yet, there are several ways to get the most value for your money. The following can help you save money on your next landscaping contractor call:

Before you call:

Compare hourly rates or job rates of several landscapers.
Make a list of possible landscaping options. You might only be able to have a portion of it done, but let the professional make the call on what should come first. Also, your landscaping contractor might cut you a deal for having it all done at once rather than in phases.
Some landscapers will allow you to buy your own trees and shrubs. You can often save money this way.
Consider skill and experience over a cheaper hourly rate. Having an inexperienced, inexpensive landscaper who doesn’t do his job properly can require you to have another landscaper out to fix his mess. Avoid those mistakes by hiring quality first.
Landscaping Thoughts:

Depending on the size of your yard and what you want done to it, you might need to hire a landscape architect to design your landscaping. Be sure to include the cost of the architect into the total cost of your landscaping.
If you and your landscaper can secure a little time, talk with the professional about current trends, options to save you money, plant options that need less water or work better in the shade, not to mention are a compliment to your yard and home.

Ideas to Consider:

If you don’t currently have a sprinkler system, now would be a good time to have one installed. If you already have one, make sure you have the capability to water the new items that will be added by your landscaper.
Call a landscaper out once a year just as a checkup. Your professional will be able to walk onto your lawn and tell you what needs more care, what could use less care, and other tips to keep your lawn looking amazing.