It’s Throwback Thursday! This is a project in Birmingham that you can see the before photos, and then the completed project photos from phase 1 a few years back, and finally phase 2 that was updated this year! Each collage shows the different phases of the same area.
We’re in the home stretch!
In this Team Great Lakes discussion, our horticulturalist Jeremy provides tips on preparing your landscape for the upcoming winter season. Included are tips to help prevent winter losses, and much more! Also, enjoy the images of our fall and seasonal pots and displays as they discuss.
Your landscapes will always require some form of care, there is no such thing as a care free landscape. A landscape will require frequent weeding, trimming, and the occasional dividing of your perennials and ornamental grasses, to maintain the original design intent of the landscape.
When a landscape is originally installed, thoughts towards what plants will go in will determine what level of care the landscape will require. Hedges will require regular pruning or the hedges will become unruly and can overtake the surrounding plants. Plant selection can help reduce pruning frequencies for example; if you are looking for a small evergreen hedge that you wish to stay small, you want to choose a plant that will not mature to a large size. This will reduce pruning frequencies. This same practice can also be applied to flowering shrubs. The industry as of late has started to develop plants that have a much smaller mature size such as Little Lime Hydrangea. These smaller mature sizes can reduce pruning times and are great for smaller spaces that cannot contain its larger counter- part; Limelight Hydrangea.
The same thought in pruning goes for well-established landscapes. Older landscapes unfortunately do not have that luxury, but the use of chemical growth inhibitors can be implemented to reduce level of pruning.
Weeding is universal in all landscapes, if weeding is not done nature will reclaim it; extreme vigilance is necessary when the wind, birds or other animals deposit weed seeds within your landscape. There are many methods used to try and reduce weeding such as Preen, which only prevents weed seeds from germinating, it does not stop weeds that already exist, which is a common misconception. Another issue that most people do not know is that Preen can also inhibit your groundcover from spreading. A second chemical application used is Round Up, this chemical is a non-selective herbicide that will kill almost everything that it comes into contact with. Yes, there are plants out there that can understand such an assault, so even Round Up is not the complete answer. Round Up is a great product, and when used as directed it can be a great tool to help reduce weeds within the landscape. A physical barrier is also frequently used, which is great if you are trying to smother existing weeds that are a nuisance, but the usefulness ends there. What most people do not understand is that organic matter will end up on top of the barrier. Whether you use mulch (which will break down to become soil) or any other type of organic material, soil will eventually end up there via wind, birds etc. The best way to combat weeds is to plant a landscape that can help smother the ground reducing that competition. Plants such as Hostas and other ground coverings cover the ground, reducing the spaces in which weeds can grow. Planting such plants, again, is not a guarantee that weeds will not grow. They need to become established first, maintaining a weed free zone until that time. Once these plants have become established your weeding frequencies will be greatly reduced.
Another great way to help reduce weeds within your planting space is to provide a 3” layer of mulch that has a great matting capacity, this means the fibers fuse together. This matted layer not only provides a great level of water retention for the soil, but creates a thermal barrier that helps prevent weed seeds from growing. Again this is not a guarantee that weeds will not grow, sometimes just physically removing them is the best option.
Winter preparation can be an intricate part of your landscape maintenance. Being prepared can be a difficult thing to adjust for, one cannot know what kind of winter we are going to have. Your best way to assure that most of your plants will make it through the winter is to make sure you select plant material that grows well within our growing zone. Zones are based on low temperatures throughout our county. Choosing plant material that is on the boarder of the zones can leave you a little heartbroken if the winter’s low temperatures dip too much lower than those plants tolerances. Winters with a great deal of snow can be very good to retain soil temperature by creating an insulating layer, while winters with little snow and a great deal of cold can wreak havoc on all of your landscape plants. Broad leaf evergreens are extremely susceptible to winter desiccation. This is when a plant tries to draw moisture from the frozen earth and there is nothing to draw from or when there are high winds that pull the moisture right from the leaves causing the plants leaves to fold in and turn brown. How to prevent this is to either physically adding something around the plant to help protect the plant from the damaging winds and to shade the plant when there is a great deal of sun during those late Indian Summers that we are known for. Another option to help reduce this is to add a chemical application called an anti-desiccant which will help close the plants pores and help prevent water loss. Perennials can also be susceptible to harsh winter weather that can not only cause them to be stunted for the season but also can cause them to parish. To assist this adding mulch to help insulate the soil is a great deal of help and if you have a particular sensitive perennial that you are growing that is on the boarder of our growing zone you can place straw on top of them to help keep them for the winter. A winter like the one that we have just had is something that no one can prepare for, no matter how far within the tolerances you are with your plant material, temperatures fell far below what we have seen in many decades so remember mother nature can be very unpredictable and we must be prepared for almost anything.
Once your landscape has become established, your bed maintenance should be greatly reduced, granted that you do not have a hedge filled formal garden. The general removal of the occasional weed, along with seasonal pruning and the occasional dividing of perennials and ornamental grasses should be all that is needed to maintain a healthy and well-kept landscape. Keep following our future blogs on tips on transplanting and dividing.
Outdoor Living, what does your Oasis look like? Creating an outdoor oasis will depend on the person or family that it is being created for, each will be a custom creation based on their needs. Many factors such as: children, pets, entertaining requirements, along with the new term called “staycation” where homeowners come home to their own personal resorts in their back yard. Other factors such as: personal taste, special features that the home owner is interested in seeing, such as outdoor fire elements, water gardens, as well as kitchens. These factors help the designer create the perfect space for homeowners.
The perfect oasis consists of all nature’s elements: earth, fire, water and air. Having each element represented can help create a zenful retreat. Earth represents resistance to change; earth elements are represented by the soil, mulches and stone. Fire represents drive and passion and this can be represented by a fire pit or fire place. Water represents adaptability and flexibility and tends to be one of the most relaxing elements, typically used to add white noise to the background, helping to drown out “nuisance” noise, providing an environment for an individual to relax. There are numerous types of features that can be created to represent the element water, ranging from ponds to small fountains. Wind represents the freedom of movement, compassion, and wisdom, and is hard to represent in the landscape because it can only be seen with help of another item, using elements such as ornamental grasses or wind chimes to show the movement that the wind creates.
When creating an outdoor retreat one must consider how to create separate rooms or extensions from the home. The open concept that homeowners are trending to is more of what one should be thinking about when dealing with an outdoor space. These spaces are just designated to be what the homeowner/designer wants them to be. Walls and ceilings are represented differently in the landscape for the most part. Walls can be represented by planting a hedge row of something cutting off a space like a fence, or by planting something that just gives the illusion of separation, something that will give an opaque, diffused view. Ceilings can be represented in a couple of different ways; one by planting a tree with a canopy. Another way to represent a ceiling is to add one in the form of a pergola or shade sail, not only are these items functional by providing much needed shade and shelter, but they can be quite stunning.
The human senses can be a powerful tool to help create the perfect oasis, sight being the most influential of the senses. Sight is our most powerful sense and therefore it would be a given that the view is going to be key to the design process of your oasis; location, site lines along with color combinations. Site lines and open spaces allow for a more family friendly environment, making the space more conducive to entertaining. Color can set the mood along with its ability to create drama and appeal. Warmer colors such as red, orange, and yellow draw you in and can induce a warm and bright feeling that demand attention and evoke excitement, while cooler colors like blue and green can evoke a calming effect. The color purple has a tendency to go in either direction; this would depend on the colors that it is used with, while white is used to intensify the surrounding colors. Color can be one of the most important parts of the landscape, without them your landscape would be green and void of interest or excitement.
Sound is also another important aspect to your oasis. By creating a space that allows for nature to be prevalent; sounds like birds, insects, small mammals, etc… The saying if you build it they will come is a true statement. Creating an environment that allows for nature to thrive will add not only to the beauty of your oasis, but allows for you to enjoy the sounds of nature. While creating an environment that allows for nature to inhabit the space, specific plants can help draw them in. They create noise as the wind pushes through them, these subtle sounds add to the ambiance creating that peaceful natural retreat. The addition of a water element can also add to the creation of background noise, the amount will all depend on how much water is involved and how far it has to fall. The larger the amount of water and the farther that it has to fall the more noise that you have. This tactic is usually used to blot out the surrounding noise from nearby traffic and neighbors. One last item that can be added to your environment would be the placement of speakers throughout the space; your home has speakers so why not have them throughout. With the option of speakers the homeowner can create the perfect amount of background noise.
The remainder of the human senses; taste, touch and smell, are minor within the landscape, but still can have quite an impressive impact on your oasis. Smell being one of the most abundant can impact your oasis more so than the other two. Some plants can produce an array of odors ranging from sweet to putrid; because of this the designer needs to be aware of what these odors will be. For example, one of the most popular landscape plants in the industry is Pear. These can produce a strong odor of ammonia and the use of this plant should be limited around areas that are being utilized for dinning or gathering. Plants such as lilac and certain verities of viburnum produce a strong sweet smell that can be overpowering to some, so knowing your client is very important; does your client enjoy sweet odors, are they allergic, etc. Touch and taste are specialty features within the landscape and are usually utilized for herb and/or sensory gardens. Most homeowners are not viewing their gardens from that vantage point. There are many plants within the landscape that utilize these senses, taste being used with fruits, vegetables and herbs. While most gardens are visual, some can take on both rolls and can be quite functional as well. Some homeowners take a more natural and utilitarian roll in the landscape, growing items that can be utilized along with the esthetic. The ability of a homeowner to stroll through their oasis, kneel down, and touch and feel can be that basic. Many plants within the landscape have characteristics of softness or fuzzy textures, but as stated above most homeowners hardly take the time to stop and smell the roses, let alone kneel down and pet the lawn. Plants such as lambs ear and wholly thyme have a soft fuzzy texture that is quite unique, while plants like viburnum and dogwood have tiny little hairs on their leaves that can cause itching and skin irritations if exposed for long periods of time. On the other spectrum sharp thorny plants can be used as a deterrent for unwanted trespassers under windows or on property edges; plants such as roses and barberry are frequently used items within the landscape that have a visual esthetic that outweigh the negative aspect of the plant in most homeowners minds, unless small children are a factor.
As you can see there are many things to consider when designing a personal oasis, knowing your homeowners personal likes and dislikes, style, and needs, along with color combinations etc.
Spring Cleanups are very beneficial for the health as well as the appearance of the landscape. Cutting back perennials that died to the ground over the winter allow for the plant not to have to fight through the old debris, allowing for more nutrients to get to the soil quicker than having to go through the decomposing remains of last season’s growth. The composted material that has been removed can be added back to the beds at a later date once all the larger material has been broken down to a usable material that the plant can readily pull up. Leaf debris also need to be removed as well, as it can smother your plants making it hard for them to develop and places a great deal of strain on a plant in the early spring. An example of this can be easily shown on your lawn when leaves are left on it for too long, the lawn will show signs of struggle with yellowing and browning, but unlike the rest of your landscape plants your lawn has the ability to quickly rebound. Plant development in the spring is very important, especially if the plant is not native to its surroundings. If a plant has to struggle in the early spring it could severely diminish its ability to grow, develop, and thrive throughout the season.
Pruning can be beneficial, but this will all depend on what plants are within the landscape. Plants develop differently from each other; flowering times, periods of sap production etc. Bud development is a very important key if the esthetics of the plant is the flower. If the plant blooms on old growth then spring time pruning would remove all the flower buds that were set last season. These plants will need to be pruned after the flowers are spent; plants such as dogwoods, crab trees, forsythia and rhododendrons all fall within this category. Plants such as paniculata hydrangea, spirea, rose of sharon along with roses, fall within the category of plants that bloom on new growth. Spring time pruning will not remove any potential flowers for the season and would more often than not benefit the plant by thinning the plant out, forcing the plant to develop new healthy growth. Particular evergreens such as boxwoods and yews can be pruned at any point to keep that tidy look (if that is the desired look.) Do it yourselfers should research the plants that are within their landscape, as improper pruning methods can have adverse effects not only on the appearance, but also their health.
There are many different kinds of mulches, each with their own unique qualities and benefits. Many types of mulch are just for the aesthetic purpose; while these can be visually appealing they do nothing for the health or longevity of your landscape, and can eventually hinder. Materials include decorative stone, recycled tire mulch, along with any materials that have no organic content. Inorganic materials may not have to be replenished annually, however in the long run can lead to the decline in your landscape. Stone mulch can increase the soil temperature, burning the root systems while also making it more difficult for moisture to penetrate the soil. Decomposition is the key to the health of your plants; as organic matter decomposes it releases nutrients that become available for the plant to pull from the soil. Organic matter also provides the soil with moisture holding capabilities, help keep the soil cool and provides a vapor barrier to keep weed seeds from germinating. Mulch should help accent the plants, not overshadow them, remember the plants are the focal point in the landscape.
Installation practices are also overlooked; mulch should not just be installed freely with no consideration to the plants. Without proper installation practices, you can end up harming your landscape in the long run by causing rot and suffocation. If mulch is placed too close to the base of a plant, the decomposition process along with its moisture holding capacity can start to decompose the plant. Mulch volcanoes are a common site and can cause the trunk of the tree or shrub to start to decompose, making it susceptible to a great deal of pests. The root flare of the tree should always be visible and mulch should be no thicker than 3” deep, this allows for proper gas exchange between the air and the soil along with moisture penetration. Mulching perennial beds can be just as helpful, the same practices should be performed, and these herbaceous plants can be affected much quicker than woody plant material. Mulching in the spring prior to the plants emerging is the best time (based on the ease of installation); this allows the plants to be able to push past the mulch, even though installing the mulch after the perennials have grown out allows for you to put less material down. Timing isn’t of a great deal of importance; just the fact that mulch has been installed is the important fact, the benefits of installing organic mulch surely outweigh the pros to using an inorganic product.
Timing is everything when planning pool decks; spring time schedules fill quickly and it is usually first come, first served in this industry. Planning and development should start late fall to winter at the latest, this allows timing for changes. Michigan has such a short lived pool season and most pool owners will want to make the best of the time in which they have been given, so beginning construction as soon as the weather permits would be in their best interest.
When designing your pool deck there are many options to choose from, concrete and pavers are two options. Cast concrete pavers can come in many shapes, styles, and sizes giving the home owner multiple looks to consider with just as wide of range of costs. Installation cost is also something that the homeowner needs to consider when dealing with pavers; pavers are more labor intensive to install than concrete. Concrete is much easier to install and much quicker. Aggregate can be added to your concrete to give it a more modern look but will also add to the cost. Another option is staining your concrete to give you a custom look at a fraction of the cost of a high end paver.
Good old fashion plain vanilla concrete is one option, and for variety exposed aggregate is a process where an additional stone element has been added. The aggregate can range depending on the look the homeowner chooses. The process for installation is basically the same as installing plain concrete but the final step is to wash off the top layer of concrete to expose the aggregate, hence the name. Once the aggregate has been exposed and the concrete has cured, the cuts and sealing can be performed.