Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Dealing With Wet, Clay Soils

Kevin and Shawn prepare the base for a new paver patio.
When you dig in the dirt like we do, you occasionally find some unexpected things underground.  This patio project started as a routine excavation.  We removed the old concrete patio and found a spongy, clay subsoil that would not dry out.  If we were to build directly on this soil, our patio would settle and shift. Owner and Project Manager Corey Koch determined that we needed to reinforce the base material to stabilize the patio.  Corey is a Certified Paver Installer through the International Concrete Paver Institute training, the international authority on paver patio construction.

 Corey’s training and experience told him that the answer to the problem was to add both lateral support and vertical support to the crushed rock patio base.  Our team installed Geo-grid to provide lateral support that keeps the patio from shifting from side to side.  Then they enclosed the area with a woven landscape fabric to keep the base rock from sinking into soil, stopping any settlement.  This combination will allow us to bridge the wet clay and provide a stable base for the client’s paver patio.  We will show you more photos after the project is complete. 

 Geo-grid and landscape fabric stabilize the subsoil for a paver patio.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Landscaping Trends for 2018

Landscaping Trends for 2018

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) recently released its 2018 Residential Landscape Architecture Trends Survey, which was fielded Feb. 22 through March 8.ASLA says that residential design is the largest market sector for the landscape architecture profession. Most of that work, ASLA reports, consists of single-family homes but it also includes multi-family and retirement communities.ASLA says flexible outdoor spaces for activities like yoga and outdoor movie nights, as well as charging stations for mobile devices entered the top 10 project types for the first time.The top 10 project types with the highest expected consumer demand are as follows:
  • Native plants – 83.3 percent
  • Native/adapted drought tolerant plants – 83.0 percent
  • Low-maintenance landscapes – 80.0 percent
  • Flexible use space (for yoga classes, movie night, etc.) – 74.2 percent
  • Drip/water-efficient irrigation – 72.4 percent
  • Permeable paving – 74.0 percent
  • Rain gardens – 71.2 percent
  • Reduced lawn area – 70.8 percent
  • Food/vegetable gardens (including orchards, vineyards, etc.) – 70.5 percent
  • Charging stations (mobile devices) – 70.0 percent
Ranking in the top three popular spots for outdoor design elements are fire pits/fireplaces at 66 percent, lighting at 65.4 percent and seating/dining areas at 64 percent.
This year, wireless/internet connectivity was grouped with movies, video theaters, stereo systems and TV, which received 48 percent of the vote in the outdoor design elements category.
A newer answer choice added to the outdoor structure category this year was enhanced railing systems, which includes those with cable or glass. This category ranked first at 51 percent and was followed by pergolas at 48.3 percent and decks at 42.8 percent.

ASLA says the hottest sustainable design elements include native/adapted drought tolerant plants at 83 percent, permeable paving at 74 percent and drip/water-efficient irrigation at 72.4 percent.
For 2018, the top three types of outdoor recreation amenities include dog-related recreation areas at 68 percent, designated areas for other outdoor recreation at 61.5 percent and bocce courts at 42.5 percent.
Source: Beth Hyatt - Total Landscape Care

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The History Behind Washington's Beloved Cherry Blossoms

After a series of tumultuous weather conditions and two peak bloom prediction delays, the National Park Service announced yesterday it is officially peak bloom season for the Washington D.C. cherry trees.
The best viewing days of the Yoshino trees will be for the next four to seven days, but the National Park Service (NPS) says the trees can hold the blossoms up to two weeks under ideal conditions.
Peak bloom date is defined as the day when 70 percent of the Yoshino cherry blossoms are open. It generally occurs between the last week of March and the first week of April, but unusually warm or cold temperatures can result in early or late blooms.
History of the trees 
So where did the cherry trees come from? The short version you’ve probably heard is the original trees were a gift of friendship from Japan, but there is far more backstory to the trees and much has happened to them during their time in D.C. over the years.
The first female board member of the National Geographic Society and travel writer, Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore, encountered Japanese cherry blossoms during her visit to her brother George, who worked for the U.S. Consular Service, and fell in love.

Upon her return to D.C. in 1885, she set out on a mission to have the cherry trees planted in the Potomac Park. She spent the next 24 years presenting her ideas to every Superintendent of Public Buildings and Grounds, only to be rejected each time.
Meanwhile, David Fairchild, a doctor and a U.S. Department of Agriculture official, was also enamored with the Japanese cherry trees and had successfully planted 100 of the trees on his personal property.
Scidmore and Fairchild met during Arbor Day in 1908 and began working on a plan to acquire cherry trees for the park. Scidmore sent a letter to first lady Helen Taft requesting approval of the plan and help in acquiring the trees.
Two days later, she received confirmation from the first lady, who set about making arrangements for the cherry trees. Famed Japanese chemist Dr. Jokichi Takamine, who was in town at the time, learned of the plan and offered Taft a gift of 2,000 cherry trees from the city of Tokyo. She readily accepted.
Yet when the trees arrived in 1910, the USDA found that they were infested with insects, nematodes and diseases. The trees were burned to protect native plants, but it was a tense diplomatic situation. The Secretary of State and Japanese Ambassador made new arrangements and Tokyo Mayor Yukio Ozaki offered a new gift of 3,020 trees.
Twelve varieties were prepared and carefully observed to ensure they were in perfect health before shipping them to the United States. This new batch reached the capital in March 1912 and later that month the first lady and the Japanese ambassador’s wife planted the first two trees, which are still standing today.
The trees quickly became a beloved part of the city and outraged female activists actually chained themselves to the trees when the Tidal Basin was selected to be the location of the new Jefferson Memorial in 1938. President Franklin D. Roosevelt told the activists that the trees were simply being transplanted, not cut down, and the rest of the tree removal was conducted in the night to avoid another Cherry Tree Rebellion.
Three years later, after the recent attack on Pearl Harbor, Americans turned their hostilities toward the trees and four were chopped down. While some called for the cherry trees to be uprooted and burned, the NPS decided to call the cherry trees “Oriental” instead of “Japanese” during the span of the war.
D.C.’s cherry trees were menaced once more in 1999 when beavers brought down four of them and injured others. The furry culprits were eventually caught and relocated.
Fewer than 100 of the original gifted cherry trees remain, but according to, tree grafts were gifted back to Japan and one of them can be found in front of a tombstone in Yokohoma Foreign Cemetery. The marker is for Eliza Scidmore and it reads: “A woman who loved Japanese cherry blossoms rests in peace here.”

Types of cherry trees
According to NPS, there are approximately 3,800 cherry trees within the park. While Yoshino cherry is the most predominant variety, there are quite a few other types present with different blooms.
Yoshino Cherry (Prunus x yedoenis) – Comprising approximately 70 percent of the total number of cherry trees.
Kwanzan Cherry (Prunus serrulata “Kwanzan”) – 13 percent of total population.
Takesimensis Cherry (Prunus takesimensis) – 5 percent of total population.
Autumn Flowering Cherry (Prunus subhirtella var. autumnalis) – 3 percent of total population.
Akebono Cherry (Prunus x yedoensis “Akebono”) – 3 percent of total population.
Weeping Cherry (Prunus Subhirtella var. pendula) –  2.4 percent of total population.
Usuzumi Cherry (Prunus spachiana f. ascendens) – 1.3 percent of total population.
Sargent Cherry (Prunus sargentii) – less than 1 percent of total population.
Afterglow Cherry (Prunus x yedoensis “Afterglow”) –  less than 1 percent of total population.
Shirofugen Cherry (Prunus serulata “Shirofugen”) – less than 1 percent of total population.
Okame Cherry (Prunus x “Okame”) – less than 1 percent of total population.
Source: Jill Odom - Total Landscape Care

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Thinking About Privacy

Thinking about Privacy
Privacy is an important element of many home landscapes.  Here are some considerations when you are thinking about creating a more private space.
Is the space urban or suburban?
If your client is in an urban area, space is the immediate issue. However, this doesn’t mean the situation is hopeless.

One option is using a vertical garden to shield your customers from prying eyes. For homes that are surrounded by taller buildings, an arched trellis with climbing vines can serve as a solution.
Another possible screening strategy for urban areas is to use raised planters with thick ornamental grasses, such as feather reed grass, which soften the barrier between your client and the outside world.  We created one such project in Morton last year.
Formal or informal?
Obviously, for customers who do have more space, the design possibilities are much broader. Depending on the style of the house, current landscaping and the owner’s desires, living privacy screens can be as formal or as informal as the client prefers.
“A natural look can consist of a mix of plants arranged in a staggered fashion,” says Debbie Friedman, principal and designer for Bethesda Garden Design in Bethesda, Maryland. “A formal look can be one plant in a row or hedged.”
Older, regal-looking houses may be more suited for a formal trimmed hedge. Privet, boxwood and Japanese barberry are common shrub choices for the traditional privacy barrier.
When going for a natural look, layered plantings create a vibrant texture. Mix a selection of trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals so that there is a healthy variety. Staggered planting of shrubs, perennials and trees make the barrier seem less harsh, but still creates the seclusion your client wants.
Evergreen or sometimes green?
When it comes down to the actual selection of the plants, determine whether your client is concerned with privacy year-round or if they don’t mind the backyard being visible in the winter.
Evergreens are the popular choice due to their fast growth and constant foliage. Friedman advises using evergreens such as skip laurels or Hicks yew for midsize barriers and Green Giant Arborvitae for taller screens.

Deciduous trees have their perks as well, with pretty blossoms in the spring and bursts of fiery colors in the fall. Small trees such as Japanese maple and flowering dogwoods can help spread out the base of a mixed screen.
“If a new McMansion is being built next door, I often recommend planting a combination of pointy-topped evergreens and wide-headed deciduous trees,” says Cathy Carr, principal of GreenHeart Garden Designs in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Carr also suggests Green Giant Arborvitae, along with Cryptomeria japonica and Nellie R. Stevens Holly, as good evergreen choices for the Zone 7 climate in which she works.
“River Birch is good for damp sites and Sugar Maples have terrific fall foliage color,” Carr says. “Both are fast-growing.”
Plan ahead
The final thing to consider when selecting plants for the living screen is the future size of the plant. Don’t plant shrubs and trees closely together just to get some instant privacy. Keep their mature sizes in mind and give them the proper space to grow, otherwise they will crowd each other and won’t get the sunlight they need.
“You don’t want to plant a 60-foot-tall shade tree when you only need to block the neighbor’s upstairs window that’s 20 feet high,” Carr says. “Installing larger trees requires a major commitment to watering, so maintenance is always important.”
Source: Jill Odom-Total Landscape Care

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Cedar vs. Recycled Plastic vs. Composite Raised Garden Beds 

While researching raised garden beds for a client, I came across this helpful article comparing the materials used to construct them.  

Cedar vs. Recycled Plastic vs. Composite Raised Garden Beds 
by Greg Seaman

Raised garden beds have become very popular in home and commercial gardens as gardeners learn of their many advantages. But the wide selection of models can be confusing to an aspiring gardener.

We’ve used them all in our own gardens, and have years of track records to help you decide on the ideal bed for your garden.
Most raised beds available today are made of cedar, recycled plastic or a composite material using wood flour and polypropylene. Although you can fashion a raised bed out of other materials such as heavy timbers, landscape blocks or water-filled plastic, commercially available raised beds usually stick to tried and true materials, and designs which are easy for a gardener to assemble. Here below are comparisons of the three primary types of raised beds.
Cedar Raised Beds

Garden beds and planters have been traditionally made using one of several varieties of cedar. Cedar is a premium wood characterized by its natural resistance to rot and its ability to hold up well to the extremes of weather. Available in a variety of species, such as Western Red Cedar, Atlantic White Cedar, Yellow Cedar, Port Orford Cedar and Juniper, cedar is the wood of choice for patio decking, fencing, outdoor furniture and many styles of garden raised beds.
·       Beautiful. Many gardeners consider the aesthetic appeal of their gardens to be as valuable as the harvested crops. Without doubt, an attractive garden feeds the soul. Wood is a natural material, and lends itself perfectly for garden beds which complement the natural beauty of the plantings.
·       Weather and rot resistant. Cedar contains “extractive” chemicals, which make the wood resistant to decay. Second-growth cedar is just as rot resistant as old-growth cedar, but there should be no sapwood present in the boards, since the sapwood will rot readily. (Sapwood is the outer wood of the tree and appears milky white in contrast to the red-brown of the heartwood.)
·       Easy to work. Woodworkers enjoy working with cedar because it is stable, once dry, and does not split readily at the ends. Pre-drilling is not required for simple raised bed construction.
·       Relatively lightweight. Compared to other woods, cedar is relatively lightweight. This makes it easier to bring home, carry to the garden and assemble.
·       Biodegradable. At the end of its lifespan, a cedar bed can be left in a low spot of your yard to slowly melt into the earth. Or the usable parts of the wood can be split into smaller pieces and used for garden stakes and trellises.
·       Color turns silver-grey, unless finished. Cedar left untreated will fade in color to a silver-grey. Depending on local sunlight conditions, this usually takes 2 – 3 years. The outside of the beds can be treated with an exterior finish such as Tung Oil Finish, which will brighten and preserve the original cedar color. If you wish to apply such a finish, it is recommended to do this before the beds are assembled and crops are planted.
·       Shorter lifespan vs. recycled plastic. It is difficult to predict how long a cedar raised bed will last since there are variables such as the type of cedar used, the soil conditions in your garden, and the weather patterns of different regions. In dry regions such as the Southwest, cedar will last a very long time. In the rainy Pacific Northwest, the wood may retain moisture for longer periods which eventually creates the conditions for rot and deterioration. However, there are inexpensive and non-toxic wood stabilizers such as Eco Wood Treatment which are effective at creating a moisture barrier and thus preserving the wood and increasing its lifespan. Bear in mind that this and similar treatments will also change the color of the board to a silver-grey. However, stains are available with these treatments which can impart different shades of color to the wood.
When treating cedar with a preservative such as Eco Wood Treatment, treat the wood on both sides and all edges with a liberal application. Once the bed is filled with soil it is too late to apply this treatment, since rot in cedar beds commonly begins on the inside of the boards, where the wood is in contact with the moist soil.
Recycled Plastic Raised Beds

HDPE (High-density polyethylene) plastic is the type used for most recycled plastic raised beds. This is an extremely durable and non-leaching plastic, commonly recycled from milk jugs, which is used not only for raised beds but for outdoor fixtures such as picnic tables, park benches, boardwalks, municipal waste bins and similar applications which must be durable, long-lasting and able to withstand the extremes of winter freezing and summer hot spells.
·       Long lasting. Raised beds made of HDPE recycled plastic are commonly guaranteed for life. Manufacturers often cite a minimum life expectancy of 50 years.
·       Durable. HDPE holds up well to use. If you ram into it with your wheelbarrow, it’s unlikely to result in any damage. Recycled HDPE plastic is resistant to cracking or chipping, even in extreme weather, hot or cold.
·       Stable. Does not leach. Because HDPE is a stable material it does not leach any chemicals, toxic or otherwise, into the soil within the garden bed. Also, the ‘boards’ do not shrink, twist or warp over time. HDPE does not expand or contract during periods of freezing or extreme heat.
·       Available in different colors. Dyes are added to the molten HDPE to provide several color choices for the recycled plastic boards.
·       Smooth finish, retains color. The appearance of recycled plastic garden beds remains consistent even after years of exposure to weather. And because the color is added before the molten plastic is poured into its mold, the color runs through the boards, so if you should scratch the sides of the beds it hardly shows because the color is the same. Light scratches can even be repaired using a small propane torch to melt the scratch closed.
·       Washable. Recycled plastic garden beds can be cleaned easily by washing the surface with a wet sponge or power washer. This may not be necessary for most gardeners, but since recycled beds are available in different color choices, some colors (especially white or grey) may lend themselves to cleaning at the end of each gardening season. Recycled plastics can also be considered an investment since they improve the perceived value of your property, so cleaning the beds can be of benefit especially if you plan to resell your home in the years ahead.
·       Recyclable. Should the time come to dispose of your recycled plastic beds, after decades of use, the material is still 100% recyclable. HDPE plastic is so valuable that future recycling depots may even pay a premium for this material. HDPE plastic can be easily melted down and reused for new products.

·       Heavy! When the package arrives at your door, have a few dollars on hand to tip the deliveryman and have a friend or two ready to help you move it to the garden. Recycled HDPE plastic is very heavy. However, once your bed is assembled and filled with soil the weight is no longer an issue.
·       Not as much linear strength as wood. If you pick up one end of a recycled plastic board, the board will sag more than its wooden counterpart. So recycled plastic beds need some form of cross-bracing to stiffen the sides and prevent them from bowing outwards. A common solution is the use of aluminum “flat-stock”, which is just a straight bar of aluminum drilled on each end and secured to either side of the bed. Any recycled plastic raised bed 6’ or longer should have cross-bracing.
·       Expensive. Because of its inherent qualities of durability and long lifespan, HDPE is considered the highest quality of recycled plastics. The raw material is costly to manufacturers of raised beds, and this cost is reflected in the price. Recycled plastic raised beds are more expensive than cedar raised beds. However, it is easy to calculate the long-term savings with recycled beds, since they do not need to be replaced.

Composite Wood Raised Beds
Composite ‘timbers’ are made of a blend of wood fiber and UV-protected recycled polypropylene. They have a wood grain texture and earth brown color. They are designed to be used with flanged corner joints which can be stacked to make the bed any height in increments of 5.5”. These anchor and stacking are made of durable high-impact recycled plastic resin.
·       Lightweight. The composite timbers are very light. They are hollow boards with a central stiffener. These boards are very easy to lift and assemble.
·       Easy to assemble/disassemble. Because the composite ‘timbers’ are lightweight, and since screws are used to attach the timbers to the anchor/stacking joints, these beds are easy to disassemble and reassemble without damaging the materials. If you move to a new home, you can bring your raised beds too.
·       Uniform, natural look. Composite timbers have a wood grain imprint, and at a casual glance give the appearance of solid wood. But unlike natural wood, there is no variation is color or texture and there are no knots.
·       Weather and rot resistant.
·       Washable. The smooth finish lends itself to an easy clean with the hose. A light spray removes surface dust; any heavier buildup can be sponged off. Abrasive cleaners or scrubbies should not be used or they may scratch the finish.
·       Can be reconfigured or expanded. The composite wood/corner joint system lends itself to expansion. It’s easy to add a layer of timbers to make a taller bed, and because the corner joint flanges are hinged, they can be swiveled. This enables you to design many different shapes of garden beds, using either straight or curved sections of composite timber
·       The hollow boards can be damaged. You need to be careful with the wheelbarrow and shovel because these beds will mark, or even crack, if hit hard enough by a heavy tool. Take special care when using the weedeater, or the plastic whip may scuff the bottom edges of the composite bed.
·       Taller, longer beds may bow outwards. As a raised bed is taller and longer, the increased weight puts pressure on the sides and can bow them outwards.
·       Lightweight construction. Some reviewers feel the material is flimsy and the corner screws are not well anchored, but most reviews are favorable. Once the beds are assembled, however, they do hold together and look good.
·       Some color fading occurs over time. These timbers do have a protective UV coating which provides stability to the finish for years of outdoor exposure. However, over time there will be some fading to the most sun exposed surfaces.

And the winner is …
Well, you knew there wouldn’t be a clear winner! All three of these style of raised beds are worthy of their place in the market. In our garden we use traditional cedar beds, 12’ to 16’ long and 12” to 24” tall. This looks great in our homestead setting. But in a commercial garden or garden center, the recycled beds make a lot of sense because they hold up to heavy use, occasional abuse and still look like new after a quick wash. And creative gardeners will appreciate the myriad design styles available with the composite bed system.