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On the surface we all understand the overall concept of maintaining your landscape. The word “landscape” could be referring to your yard, shrubs, flowers, patio, pool area, garbage can area, front yard, backyard, side yard, etc. When I tell someone I do landscaping, they often assume I mow grass, because that is the most common. When we talk about landscape maintenance, just know that I’m referring to all the areas outside your home, this goes for anything that is not a part of your home such as: windows, doors, or shutters.
When I refer to the word “maintenance” I’m referring to the system one would create to keep the outside of their home in a certain condition. Hopefully, you spotted the two important words in that previous sentence. The first one was “system,” and the second was two words actually; “certain condition.” Why are they important? Well, in order to maintain anything, you have to first set the standard for what it’s going to look like.
Often people move into a new house and they begin trying to maintain the landscape. However, the landscape could be underdeveloped, so you really don’t want to maintain the current plant sizes, or they could be mature plants, but not trimmed in a way that flatters the home. A landscape designer can help you in establishing proper goals for maintenance.
The next word is “system.” This word refers to the tools, and techniques used to both encourage your landscape (everything outdoors that’s not your house) to reach your “certain condition,” and to maintain it once it arrives. Now, let’s jump right in here.
As with anything you own, your landscape needs to be maintained. There are both practical, and superficial reasons to keep your landscape maintained. The practical reasons like: raising home values, protecting your home from pests, having grass to do activities in, and keeping water from destroying your home, are all things to consider.
I often go to homes where they have done all the practical things and none of the superficial. They have eliminated plants, trees, pests, and even spray weed-killer around everything. As there certainly is nothing truly wrong with this approach, these people realize they are missing out on one of the great experiences of owning a home. That’s enjoying a beautiful landscape (everything to do with the outside of your home.)
As a landscape designer myself, I’ve seen many beautiful environments created from nature. I’ve also maintained some of the best. What I’ve found is the superficial benefits to maintaining a great landscape is something you can’t really put a price on.
I may be able to compare it to something else to help you understand what it brings. I’ve visited several ocean beaches across the south, and one of the things I’ve experienced was awe. You just stand there, staring. Partly because of the vastness of everything, but also because of the beauty. Beauty is defined as a combination of all the various components all working together. A beautiful landscape is a combination of every component of your outdoor environment all coming together to form something amazing, and that’s the real benefit, or reason you need to maintain your landscape.
I’ve mentioned the word landscaping as a word which defines all the components of your outdoor environment. Now, I’d like to break down each one to form a comprehensive list of things you might add to a checklist. This could be a checklist to help you gather tools to maintain each aspect of your landscape, or to create a schedule for each category of maintenance services.
As we explore each category, it’s a good idea to keep a notepad handy as we will be discussing the different details regarding the maintenance for each type of landscape maintenance, as well as the tools most commonly used for it. I want you to also remember the two major components we talked about earlier.
Those words are “system,” and “certain condition.” I’m going to be shortening “certain condition” to “goals,” as this better describes what we will be discussing. So for each type of landscape maintenance we will discuss different systems or ways to maintain it, and we will also discuss different ways to layout goals for your maintenance as well.
I also want to point out, each one of these categories requires a little experience, or practice. If you’re new to owning a home, and maintaining your own landscape don’t be too hard on yourself. It takes time to get comfortable with what works for you. If you have been maintaining a landscape for a while, I hope you can glean some good ideas from this guide.
If you are hiring a professional company to maintain your landscape, this can serve as a checklist for proper communication to them about your goals. Occasionally, you can also let them know what sort of tools you prefer to be used on different aspects of your maintenance as well. Although, for most professionals, if you layout the goals properly, they will use the right tools to accomplish them.
The biggest area of the average American’s outdoor environment is usually made up of grass, and grass needs to be mowed. When thinking of the goals for your lawn mowing, you need to consider the length of the grass, what you use your yard for primarily, and how many dead spaces and weeds you will tolerate. These three make up about eighty percent of your lawn mowing maintenance.
The grass length decision can be decided based on how flat your property is; simply because, if you have a lot of dips in your grass, you can easily cut the grass too short. The rule of thumb is; the more dips you have the longer you want to cut the grass. This provides you with an even look. You can always work to flatten your yard, so you can reduce the length of grass if you prefer that.
Keep in mind too, short grass is not conducive to walking in your bare feet, so if you enjoy that, might be better to have longer grass even if you have a flat yard.
Tools are another thing to consider. Your typical lawn-mowing tool kit should contain: lawn mower, weed-eater, edger, and blower. Each tool performs a different function. Lawn mowers vary in size and brand, but the main thing to think about is push-mower versus riding mower. The way we decide this is to think about our goals for the grass.
Riding mowers can but a lot of weight on the grass, and can eventually create wide unsightly patterns in your grass. If you do decide to use a rider, you want to change up the way you cut the grass every few cuts. So if
you cut it back and forth for two cuts, you will want do swap to the other direction for a few cuts as well. This allows the previous area to heal.
You could also go with a push-mower, but these can make the work-load tough if you have a large area. Push-mowers are better suited for small areas where you can’t get a riding mower. They also use them to prevent minimal damage to the grass when mowing, as the tires on a push-mower aren’t as wide, or as heavy.
If you have concrete, you want to consider getting an edger. There are powered edgers, and manual push edgers. If you have a small driveway and sidewalk, the manual edger is only about thirty dollars, and can serve the purpose with minimal effort. You can also get a steel bladed edger as an attachment to your weed-eater or as a separate powered device.
Whichever you choose, keep in mind that if you have concrete, your best to have an edger of some kind. Also, as a pro-tip, you want to steer clear of using your weed-eater string as an edger. Many professional companies do this because it’s faster, but doing it is very dangerous. It can shoot rocks, and dirt at your house or cars, or worse at your face.
Weed-eaters are a vital tool in your lawn-mowing kit. They provide a way to cut grass in areas you can’t get to with a rider, or push-mower. As a professional, we use gas powered weed- eaters, as they pack the power for small or large jobs. For a home owner, I usually recommend investing in a battery powered one. Simply because small engines can be very frustrating at times, and if you aren’t familiar with them, you might want to toss yours across the yard.
If you do however prefer to get a gas powered one, make sure you use premium gasoline when mixing the oil and gas together. Most home improvement stores sell pre-mixed gasoline as well. If you use these, you will greatly reduce the amount of bad mowing days you will have in the future.
When you are practicing, you want to keep the throttle, or the pressure on the trigger at a minimum. Squeezing the trigger all the way down all the time, can be dangerous, and also it will eat all the string. With practice, you should be able to control the weed-eater, and keep it from hitting the fence you are trimming around, or the tree trunk of that new tree in your yard. The more things you hit, the shorter the string becomes. I also recommend spending some time learning how to wrap the string in your weed-eater head when you first get it. This invested time can make up the difference in lots of bad days, and a few bad days.
As you might think at first glance, sodding might not be a type of maintenance. I wanted to include it because it is something people consider when they are maintaining their yards. Sod is simply grass that has been grown at a farm, and they dig it up into squares or rolls, and sell it to put down in your yard. Sod can take you from dirt to fresh green grass almost overnight.
The issue is, most people have a difficult time appreciating what they have purchased, or they just don’t know how to maintain it. The maintenance of sod is the most difficult when it first goes down. Depending on the time of year (i.e. hot or cold) you will need to water it more or less.
When sod gets transplanted from the farm to your yard, it needs to stay damp. You don’t want it to ever dry up, because the roots have no way to quickly recover. The roots are shallow, and because of this, even the slightest water shortage can cause them to dry up. Also, when sod is cut at the farm, sometimes it’s cut thinner or thicker than other pieces.
If you see an area die quicker, it’s usually because the dirt cut underneath that piece was small. So the volume of water on the entire thing should be judged on keeping the area damp. If it’s more the seventy degrees outside in full sun, you should water morning and evening. This gives your sod the best chance of survival.
As a rule of thumb, your sod is going to sprout weeds just like any grass would. You will need to treat for weeds, and fertilize your new grass. It’s best to give your new sod about six months to get settled in before you start blasting away with fertilizer, or any sort of weed-prevention.
Your flower beds are where your shrubs, small trees as well as flowers are planted. The maintenance of these requires a good layer of some sort of mulch, pruning, pulling weeds cutting edges and many more little things. The main thing we will focus on here is cutting edges. Your flower beds should have an established shape. This shape is the goal of maintaining the flower bed. A landscape designer can assist you in establishing a proper shape to your beds. Then you will need to maintain that shape.
There are a few tools you can use to maintain your flower beds. One of those is an edging shovel. Edging shovels are flat on the back, short in length, and only go about four inches into the ground. Their design is meant to cut the grass roots and deter them from growing into your beds. You can also use a regular shovel to accomplish this task as well.
You could also install some sort of solid material border to accomplish the same thing. However, every type of edging is going to require some sort of maintenance.
If you have a home, you are the enemy of pest. Maybe not the enemy, perhaps you are the object of their affection. The use of chemicals around your home can be dangerous to pets, and small children. For this reason, I always recommend seeking the help of a professional. However, there are a few things to understand about pest control. You need to first decide on a goal for prevention, and then you need to address problem areas.
Prevention of pests involves regular clean-up of corners to prevent spiders and such from creating homes. You also may spray a prevention liquid in the corners of the inside of your home, as well as window seals.
Addressing problem areas involves directly addressing certain pest you can see intruding on your home. This might be as simple as seeing ant beds in your yard, or as serious as seeing mice, or roaches in your home. In these cases you can buy specific products to handle each situation. Always remember to consult a professional before applying chemicals around your home.
Some tools you may need might consist of a brush on the end of a long pole, to be used to sweep high corners of the inside, and outside of your home. You might also invest in a small pump sprayer so you can purchase some of your prevention chemicals in a concentrate. This can save you money in the long run.
As kids, playing in the leaves could be fun, but as a home owner, leaves can become an issue. When deciding the best way to handle leaves, your first thought should go to the quantity of leaves you yard is creating right now. If you have giant oak trees in your yard, you may be faced with an enormous amount of leaves, as well as acorns. This can be an overwhelming task for anyone to address. On the other hand, if you only have a few leaves, it might be something you can handle with one of your current lawn maintenance tools.
You have to decide if you are blowing them into a pile to be bagged, or if you are blowing them to the street to be picked up. These backpack blowers can also push the acorns into a pile as well. If you don’t get rid of the leaves, the sunlight won’t get to the roots of your grass properly, and slowly you will have no more grass.
When working with your flower beds, one of the things you will need to do is remove weeds. This can be the same for your yard as well. A weed is really just a plant growing in an unwanted place. As such, you can find unwanted plants in your yard, as well as in your flower beds. Removing them is the best way to ensure they don’t come back again. We don’t recommend using chemicals to kill weeds in your flower beds or your yard, but there are ways to do it. Before we get to those, let me share a few ways to remove them.
Most weeds will pull out if your soil is damp enough, but occasionally you need to loosen the soil before the weed and its roots will come out. If there is a lot of them, you may want to use a garden knee pad, and a weed removal tool. You can get these at most home improvement stores, or you could use a straight claw hammer which works about the same.
Your goal is not to chop up the weed with the hammer, you want to stick it in the ground and loosen the soil so you can then remove the weed by pulling it out. It’s easy to assume the weed removal tool is a hoe, and is used for chopping up the weeds. A hoe is used to cultivate plowed soil, not to pulverize your weeds.
A five gallon bucket is recommended for you to put the weeds in as you go, then you can dump the bucket into a wheel barrow as it gets full.
Trimming trees or having them removed can be a very intimidating decision to make. This is a rather large topic, the main goal of this guide is going to be to direct you in the right direction to find and implement the right tool for people. You usually will only want to remove a tree if it’s leaning over your house, or if it’s dead.
Keep in mind, if it’s winter your tree may not have leaves on it, it doesn’t mean it’s dead, this might be obvious but it’s worth noting. Trees often have dead branches, and that doesn’t mean they are dead, although it could be a good sign.
Keep in mind, if it’s winter your tree may not have leaves on it, it doesn’t mean it’s dead, this might be obvious but it’s worth noting. Trees often have dead branches, and that doesn’t mean they are dead, although it could be a good sign.
When removing a tree, you need to think about three major components. The tree itself, the stump, and then the roots underground. Often a tree removal service can remove all three for you, but there are a few things you should know. The first is to make sure they are going to get rid of the tree once they take it down. Then you want to know how they are going to get rid of the stump and the roots.
Don’t assume because they are going to take down the tree, that they are also going to deal with the stump and roots. Usually they will recommend the stump be ground to wood chips. In these cases, it’s good to ask what they are going to do with the wood chips. Most of the time they leave them there for you to deal with. However, if the tree is really large, the task of removing these can be overwhelming. Make sure you know what you’re getting into.
Tree trimming can harm your trees and lead to them dying if you’re not careful. A good rule of thumb is to try not to ever have to cut large branches. This means trim more often, as the tree grows. The other thing you can do is to make sure you leave about six inches of the branch sticking off the tree or other branch you cut it off of.
This might sound confusing, so, another way of thinking about it is to make sure you don’t cut it all the way back to where it’s coming out of. The reason is found in how a branch heals from being cut. It allows for about three inches or more of the branch to die, as it seals itself off from the cut area. If you cut in all the way back to the tree, it will end up having a dead spot in the trunk of the tree. Resist the urge to cut in all the way back to the tree.
We all know plants need water, this means from your yard to your flower beds you need to supply them with water. There are many different types of watering systems, all of which we won’t go into here. The main thing we are going to cover is in deciding how much water to use.
To decide this, it’s best if you understand the root system of a plant. Plants dig into the soil with roots to find water. The deeper the roots, the stronger the plant will be with the water get’s low. So, if you have a potted plant, you’ve made this plant completely dependent on you for water. The same thing can happen to your grass. If you water all the time, and never let your grass have to search for water, it can make your grass highly dependent on you for the water it needs.
This isn’t usually a big deal, but for strong grass, it’s better to water deeply. Which means, water for longer periods of time, and wait for longer periods of time before you water again. This allows the water to soak into the ground, and the plants you are watering will dig a little, making them strong and healthy. This is a general rule applied to most plants and grasses.
In an effort to be complete with this guide, we are going to discuss two different types of mulching. The first is applying mulch to your flower beds, and the second is mulching the leaves, or grass in your yard. A lot of people think mulch goes in your flower beds so they will look good, but this actually isn’t the primary purpose of mulch. Its primary goal is to help hold moisture in the soil long enough for it to soak down into the roots. This is why you want to water deep, and have a layer of about three inches of mulch around new plants, or trees.
Spreading mulch is easy, but maintaining a good layer is difficult. If you use pine bark, you will find the deterioration rate of the mulch is much faster than that of a hardwood mulch. Because of this, you will have to add more pine bark more often than you would hardwood mulch. So using hardwood can reduce the amount of times you add mulch throughout the year.
The next thing we’re looking at is mulching grass and leaves around your yard. Most mowers have mulching capability. A mulching mower basically covers the shoot where the grass usually comes out. This allows the blades to chop the grass or leaves up a little more.
The main thing to think about is the same thought you had when you were cleaning up leaves. How much leaves or grass are you mulching? Mulching grass can be good for your yard, if you cut your grass often, however, if your grass is really thick, you will simply end up with large clumps of grass, or excessive amounts of chopped leaves on your yard.
The rule of thumb here is the same as when you were mulching your flower beds. Think about the deterioration rate of what you are mulching. If there is a lot, it’s simply not going to go away before you are out their mulching again. This will lead to excessive amounts of dead grass, or dead chopped leaves in your yard, and this will lead to blocking the sunlight and eventually killing your grass.
Although a professional can make hedging shrubs look easy, it actually requires a little skill. But that’s not what we are going to talk about in this guide. What I want to address is how much to cut off a shrub when pruning it.
You want to first ask yourself if the shrub is the height you want to maintain, or if you’d like it to be bigger. If you want it to grow, you just want to take off a little bit, just enough to where it doesn’t look shaggy anymore. However, if you want to maintain the height it was at, you will need to make sure you cut the shrub back to the maintained height. Knowing this height is what you need to ensure you hedge properly.
One more thing to add, is the difference in natural pruning and formal pruning. Formal pruning means you are maintaining a particular, clean shape, whereas, natural pruning means you are maintaining a size, but a natural look to the shrub. A square hedge is an example of a formal pruning, where as an oak tree is an example of natural pruning. Nobody should be cutting oak trees in the shape of pine trees. Most shrubs have a natural shape, and it can be maintained with a pair of hand clippers, instead of a motorized hedger.
Motorized hedgers make quick work of trimming shrubs into whatever shape you like. A designer note; have you ever wondered how Disney World has those shrubs cut into characters. It’s actually quite simple. The first make a cage with regular cage material. Only they make the cage into the shape they want. Then they put the cage over the young shrub. This gives the maintenance person a clear goal for pruning. Then they just cut back to the wire every time. See, easy.
Sometimes it can seem like your entire landscape requires some sort of attention all the time throughout the year. But even though there are times when your landscape will require attention, there is a pretty universal schedule you can work with to know when to invest.
In February, it’s a good time to begin thinking about what you want your yard and entire landscape to look like for the upcoming year. If you decide you want to have a weed free lawn for example, you want to know soon enough so your biological lawn care technician can apply what’s called a “Pre-emergence.” This is a simple application to you lawn that keeps random weed seeds which may have landed on your lawn over the winter, from germinating. They usually apply this before the year starts, sometimes in late February, early March. As far as your plants go, you will
want to look at all your plants during this time as well.
For example, if you didn’t trim your shrubs and trees at the end of the year, February is a good time to go ahead and take care of that before spring hits. You want to get rid of the previous years growth, and get them ready for the new year. When you call your professional landscape crew out in February, you may also want to get them to scalp the yard. This is basically taking your grass down to the dirt. Because your grass stays dormant inside the soil, it’s best to take off the previous years grass before the new grass starts to sprout.
All in all, even though there are a lot of times through out the year when you may need to invest in your landscape, I find February to be one of the most productive times to invest in landscape maintenance.
When you’re thinking about investing in your landscape you are going to be hungry for some ideas. You might even get online and begin to search for landscape designs, or ideas. The obvious answer to this question is to hire a designer, or landscaper to assist you, but I want to give you some practical ways to do this as well. There are a number of different websites to look for design ideas, and even Google images can be a great resource as well.
When you’re searching you want to try to narrow down your searches to your particular region or area. You can search for plants, bed shapes, and different ground covers all from the comfort of your own home, for your particular area. You want to gather a bunch of pictures and put them into a folder, or on an online board. Now, it’s time to go through them and look for a common patterns. What’s the common thread amongst all of your pictures. Don’t forget to search for the different landscape areas around your home as well. Like, “back yard patio landscape ideas” and the like.
Once you have assembled your ideas in a folder and studied them, you will want to draw out the area you are working with on a piece of paper. A simple drawing, nothing too complicated. Then you can begin to plan out how things could go in each flower bed.
One of the fun things I always suggest is to draw out the area and make a bunch of copies. Then you can place a bunch of plants in the drawn out bed using symbols that represent each plant, of course, since you have copies, you can do this as many times as you like until you have the look you are wanting.
Be sure to check the height and growth rate of what your planting, you don’t want to plant a short plant behind a tall plant.
Never underestimate the power of experience. In any profession it’s always better to find a mentor of some kind and pay attention. The reason they say this is because you can bypass years of mistakes, and growth time if you listen to someone with experience. In a way, when you hire a professional you are buying time, as much as you are any landscape product. A landscape professional can give you the right advice, the right plant, the correct ground cover based on your exact situation.
This data is priceless when it comes to waiting five years for your plants to grow in. Trust me, you don’t want to wait five years to find out you got it wrong. Of course, you could always get it right, but if you’re wrong, you may have to start all over again. I’m not trying to scare you, but as I said in the beginning, I hope to provide you with the information you need to make an accurate decision. That’s what this guide is meant to do. You will always find things you are really good at, and things you just do not every want to do.
My suggestion is to take the things you enjoy and have time for and do them, and take the things you struggle with or dread, and hire a professional to assist. Keep in mind, even the things you enjoy, you can always hire a landscape designer to come and advise you on where to start and what goals to keep in mind. This little bit of advice could save you lots of hassle down the road.
There’s no need to arrange a botanical miracle in your landscape, but, when these practical things are applied correctly, you can obtain something that brings value to your home, and all who live there.