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.
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.
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.
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.
While down spouts on your home are quite important, they can cause erosion if they spill out or if the grade is pitched negatively toward your home, most notably causing water issues at the foundation. Getting water as far away from your home is the most important goal. Installing underground drainage can transport the water far enough away to allow the water to naturally percolate into the soil, along with giving your home a much cleaner look.
Sump Pumps are often part of dealing with drainage issues. Depending on where the house is located and how much property the home is sitting on will negate what the options are for dealing with this issue. If property size is the issue then a subterranean plan may be the course of action; this involves digging a hole that is large enough to contain a PVC barrel that will allow water to sit. This is called a leaching system, and will allow the water to percolate naturally. If the yard is large enough, sump pumps can be dumped through the same process the downspouts are.
Rain Gardens can be utilized for just about any water issue that you have ranging from downspouts, to sump pumps along with runoff. The main purpose of a rain garden is to keep the water on site allowing for natural percolation. This is accomplished by creating a basin where water can flow to via grade. This basin will hold the water until it is naturally absorbed into the soil. This process is aided by planting particular wet land and water loving plants that will absorb water along with recomposition of the soils to allow maximum retention of water.