Landscapes New & Old – Maintenance & Care

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.

© Great Lakes Landscape Design, 2014

© Great Lakes Landscape Design, 2014

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.

© Great Lakes Landscape Design, 2014

© Great Lakes Landscape Design, 2014

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.

© Great Lakes Landscape Design, 2014

© Great Lakes Landscape Design, 2014

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.

© Great Lakes Landscape Design, 2014

© Great Lakes Landscape Design, 2014

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LED & Why

Your landscape brings a lot of interest to your home, so it would make sense that you would continue to enjoy it into the evening hours. There are many benefits to adding low voltage lighting to your landscape; added nighttime interest, accent to architectural aspects of your home, highlight particular features of specific plants within the landscape such as a water features or a piece of artwork that is being displayed. Other important factors to consider are for safety purposes; such as illuminating pathways and stairways which help keep people from tripping or to help guide guests to the front entry or to a designated location on site.

Landscape lighting can be an extension of one’s home with the numerous fixture styles, with bulbs that can be switched out to cast as much or as little light required for the location, material used to make the fixture whether it is cast dyed aluminum that can come in various colors to the high end look of brass, to colored lenses that can create the perfect ambiance for any occasion or holiday. There are many different styles of light fixtures that are on the market, each one has been developed to cast light in a specific way; bullet fixtures are used to accent items within the landscape such as specific characteristics of a tree or address sign, well lights are typically used to illuminate larger spaces such as large walls on one’s home or placed under larger trees, path lights are used to illuminate walkways and staircases. Once fixtures have been chosen placement can be decided upon. The saying that less is more should be heeded, placement should be far enough apart to avoid the “runway effect”, which is the result of too many lights, placed one right next to each other.

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There are various types of landscape lighting that are on the market; solar being very popular due to the fact that they are relatively inexpensive, easy to place, and cost to run them is free. The downside of using solar lighting is that the light output is typically not bright enough, the light fixtures have a tendency to have a relatively short lifespan and if your landscape is shaded, they are useless. Incandescent bulbs have been the main focus in the landscape for many years, the bulbs are relatively inexpensive to replace but due to the fact that the filament is very fragile and can be damaged easily you may have to replace them often. Within the landscape, these light fixtures can be bumped into causing the elements to break rendering the light bulb unusable. These bulbs are also susceptible to extreme heat transfer as these bulbs produce a great deal of heat, with light production and with this you have to be concerned with oil transfer when bulbs are switched out, oils from handling can heat up causing the light bulbs to burn out. Another downside of using incandescent bulbs is placement of the light fixtures, if these fixtures are not laid out appropriately you could be shorting out your system with too much demand or the light output will be limited.

The age of incandescent light bulbs is coming to an end, not only within your home but also within your landscape. Incandescent light bulbs are inefficient, short lived and outdated. As new technology surfaces the old goes by the way side. LED or Light Emitting Diodes have hit the market with a multitude of benefits. LED bulbs draw a fraction of the power and last a great deal longer then incandescent bulbs, and can save you up to 80%. As with any new technology when it first hits the market, the cost is of course greater than the traditional technology, but the more time in the market and the higher the demand the lower the cost will eventually be. Along with the benefits of longer lasting bulbs with less operating cost comes a great deal of labor savings from constantly change out burned out bulbs, along with the initial cost of installation. LED landscape lamps last up to 40,000 hours (that’s 21 years at 5 hours per day.) With incandescent low voltage lighting systems the power draw is a major consideration. Like water pressure, electricity acts in a very similar fashion when dealing with installation, voltage drops the farther it has to travel and the more light fixtures that are attached. With LED bulbs and fixtures the draw is a small fraction which allows you to add numerous lights on a single run instead of the multiple runs that a normal system has to be designed with, which allows you to use less wire and less time to design it and installing it. LED landscape lighting produces little heat in comparison to halogen lights which means less energy is lost through heat. LED bulbs are much more resilient when it comes to movement; they are less likely to burn out due to damage, halogen bulbs contain a filament that can be damaged when the fixture is moved or knocked around in the garden.

Spring Cleanups, Pruning & Mulching

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.

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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.

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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.

© Great Lakes Landscape Design, 2014

Pool Decks

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.

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© Great Lakes Landscape Design, 2011

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.

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© Great Lakes Landscape Design, 2011

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.

Paver Maintenance

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© Great Lakes Landscape Design, 2013

You invest a great deal of money into your hard surfaces, remember to keep your surfaces looking new for years to come with preventative maintenance. Neglecting proper maintenance, your pavers will begin to fail due to multiple factors: natural erosion, weed growth and insects. Pavers are installed with a joint compound that is swept in the cracks. Joint sand is the final key to the interlocking pavement process. As long as the base remains intact, your pavers will maintain their integrity. Erosion can occur when constant water flow starts to wash out the sand from in between the cracks of the pavers; if this occurs the base can start to wash out and your pavers will begin to fail. Once the joint compound begins to fail it leaves the pavers vulnerable, and windblown soil can infiltrate the cracks of the pavers along with weed seeds. As the weeds start to grow the roots will start to compromise the base, forcing the pavers to shift.  The plants roots will start to allow water into the base, and during the winter this will start to accelerate the erosion process. Insects, especially ants, can wreak havoc on your paver base;  they can undermine your base from below and can also make your pavers look unsightly with all of those little mounds. Ants are extremely difficult to get rid of and chemical application may be necessary to remove them.

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© Great Lakes Landscape Design, 2013

Joint compound lasts about 3 seasons and then the compound inside the sand will start to break down giving way to natural erosion. Once erosion and weeds start to grow within the cracks they will need to be removed, this is where power washing comes into play. Power washing your pavers every three seasons will remove any debris that may have blown in along with any organic matter, allowing room for new joint compound. Power washing and resanding your pavers every three seasons will not only keep the integrity of your pavers intact, but will give your paver space looking new and clean.

Exposed aggregate concrete should be maintained and sealed every three seasons to not only keep that shiny glossy look, but also to keep the stone finish from chipping and wearing prematurely.

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© Great Lakes Landscape Design, 2013

What does your outdoor oasis look like?

We need to look at many things when considering a new outdoor living space; what will the space be used for? How do we make the space flow from the inside to the outdoor living space? What style as the home owner would you like to consider, matching existing décor? How much time are you willing to invest to keep up the space? Every style comes with its own level of maintenance such as a formal setting with all the hedges and straight lines.  When hedges are present and they are to be kept in a tight formal look pruning may be required up to 3 times a season.  These are just some items that one needs to consider when developing a design.

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Just to name a few styles there are; Birmingham Beautiful (For the South Eastern Michiganders), English, Asian and Country. Each one of these styles has its own unique qualities and nuances that can be tailored to different levels of maintenance, and to the needs of a specific homeowner. Blending certain aspects of each style can also give a homeowner a very unique look.

Before we delve into styles further we need to look at structure. The most common rule to follow in designing is that form follows function. If a space looks beautiful but does not have any set purpose then what is the point? The space has to convey something; either it has to direct either visually or physically. One must look at it like they are building a house and all the hidden elements that people take for granted such as; electrical (outlets for pumps or fountains, low voltage lighting, and speakers for the music aficionados) plumbing (i.e. irrigation and or water features), drainage (how to deal with water as it enters and leaves the property, including downspouts and issues with standing water).

We need to look at the job as a whole starting with the basics, for example, if you put in a walkway and do not take into consideration where the downspout dumps out, at you could end up with a washed out walk that ices over in the winter.  If your property is large enough and has enough grade to allow, you can direct your roof runoff to underground pipes that will direct the water to an open space. This will allow the water to percolate into the soil naturally. If your space is not large enough you can create rain gardens to help move that process along through retention and plants that will assist in the natural process. If grade is an issue and there isn’t enough to move the water far enough away from your home, then underground retention may be the answer to that dilemma. The process of water retention until it naturally leeches into the earth can be applied if there is excess water that cannot be diverted by any other means.

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© Great Lakes Landscape Design, 2013

Utilities are often overlooked when designs are drawn up. Access points for electrical for items such as coach lamps, water features, outdoor appliances for kitchens, gas lines for fire places, pits and grills and irrigation lines. Any item that will be a permanent structure in your garden must be planned out appropriately prior to installation of any hardscape or softscape item, for once those larger items are installed it is hard to move them and can be a daunting task.  Hard PVC schedule 40 can be used under walkways and patios to move any electrical (DC or low voltage wire), along with speaker wire and irrigation lines. Electricians more often than not will be required to run any electrical line in DC along with any gas line. Direct burial lines such as low voltage and speaker wire is set in place once all hardscape materials and plants have been installed.  Using PVC sleeves that were set in place during the construction phase of the walkways and patios is how these lines along with any other utility line go from one side to the other. Once all the lines are set in place mulch is used to cover, which allows for these lines to be accessed for general maintenance.

Once utilities are set in place construction of any hardscape materials can commence. Location is everything when designing, where a walkway is going to go, how large a patio needs to be, if you’re going to be installing an outdoor kitchen or fire element along with any type of water feature. These items will all need to be placed carefully to allow for flow from one space to the next. The same concept is used when designing the inside of one’s home. If the space is to be used as an extension of the inside living space, site lines and similar building materials may want to be considered.  When designing hardscapes style, material and grade are all items that need to be a concern. There are several different types of materials to choose from; natural stone, synthetic, precast materials such as pavers and poured concrete. Each one of these items can be used to convey any design that the homeowner chooses.

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© Great Lakes Landscape Design, 2013

When designing one has to remember that exterior space is no different than the inside space, it has walls (which can be plants or fences), ceilings (pergolas), and floors (patio and lawn).  The kitchen is one of the most heavily visited spaces in one’s home and many items need to be considered when designing one. Location of an outdoor kitchen is usually placed close to an entrance of one’s home to allow for easy access when dealing with food, also giving enough space so not to obstruct any views or hazards when dealing with an open flame. Size and what type of elements that are going to be needed to accommodate the homeowner are also items that need to be accounted for, size of grill, exterior burners, cabinetry and any other utilities. Outdoor kitchens along with any fire element are usually going to be part of a patio of some kind, at this point the question of what the space is supposed to accomplish needs to be considered; how large the space needs to be to allow the homeowner to entertain, seating (will a seat wall be an option), what kind of furniture does the homeowner envision (oversized vs. slim seating), is the homeowner looking for shade over the patio which can be accomplished through building a structure such as a pergola, adding a retractable awning or as simple as planting a tree?

Water features are a wonderful element that brings peace and tranquility to any space. They can drown out the noise of traffic and neighbor’s as well as gives you the feel and look of a tropical paradise. A water feature can bring added value to one’s yard; it not only adds visual interest but can give added benefits of helping to establish a micro climate in your yard to help decrease the temperature, attract wildlife, and provides added white noise in the background that will help you relax after a long day at the office. Water features help develop an ecosystem in your back yard, bringing your entire landscape together in one small space that can change with additional plantings, lighting, fountains along with fish. Water gardening can also be a relaxing hobby with all of the different kinds of plants, fish and amphibians that one has to choose from. There are many different types and styles when designing, ranging from formal reflecting pools to Asian inspired koi ponds, pond less waterfalls, bubbling rocks, self-contained fountains as well as swimming pools, the possibilities are only limited by your imagination and the space available. The only concerns to consider when designing a water feature are; the needs and anticipations are of the homeowner, materials (based on the other elements within the landscape as well as the theme), type of water feature and the location.

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Designing the softscape around all of the foundation elements can be just as daunting of a task. These items will help dictate the direction the plantings take ranging from focal pieces (that supply added interest and draw the eye throughout the entire year), items that will set borders and screens (for privacy), formal hedges (that set limits and structure), larger shrubs for background along with perennials that provide seasonal interest and color throughout the growing season.

English style gardens have a more formal look that relies heavily on geometric shapes and contrasting items. Formal hedges are used to help create rooms and separation with the compliment of ever changing plant material along with heavy displays of annual color, such as spring flowering bulbs and summer flowering bedding plants as well as plants that display berries or some type of winter interest. Placement of plant materials should be in a fashion that draws the eye and allows for symmetry. The use of curving lines can give a messy feeling along with a mixed selection of plant material and will lend itself to a more cottage garden look, formality and order is the key.

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© Great Lakes Landscape Design, 2013

Country style design is derived from the English style focusing more on practicality and use, filled with plant material that has uses to the home such as; fruiting trees, vegetables, herbs with flowers being used as filler. The modern style has evolved into densely planted flower beds with traditional building materials such as; picket fences, gazebos, arbors, bird houses, benches and walkways that are constructed out of natural stone, brick and gravel. These spaces are usually extensions of one’s home such as garden rooms, terraces and herb gardens. These spaces are meant to appear irregular with no straight lines or geometric form, focusing more on color scheme combined with foliage of the plants, bringing harmony to the landscape.

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Asian inspired design allows for plants to have a little more room to be viewed, focusing more on stone and placement of all elements that will be used. Simplicity is the key when developing this style and usually contains these four elements; rocks, water, plants and ornaments. The items that need to be kept in mind when developing an Asian style garden are; asymmetry, enclosure, balance and symbolism. The selection of paving materials is typically gravel, natural stone and exposed aggregate usually in a free form shape, while stone is usually set in specific places with great thought to focal points in the landscape. Water elements can be set in the form of koi ponds, bamboo water spouts and stone basins. Representations of water can also be used in the form of gravel and raked sand in wave-like patterns. Selection of plant material should emphasize on evergreen varieties, size, shape and textures, with tree selection representing strength and endurance. Ornamentation is the final element to consider, such elements as stone lanterns and rain chains. When all elements are combined they create a tranquil environment for contemplation.

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© Great Lakes Landscape Design, 2013

Once style is selected by the homeowner and installation of all hardscape and softscape materials have been completed, low voltage lighting can be installed.  [Landscape lighting has increased in popularity over that last few years that can increase the safety and beauty of one’s home.] Lighting pathways, stairs and entry ways increase curb appeal while making one’s home not only more inviting, but safer to approach illuminating any trip hazards. Lighting up focal points such as, statuary (artwork), fountains, architectural elements of your home and focal plantings can also bring more interest into your landscape, while also giving you more time to enjoy your landscape.