I am going to repeat a phrase so that after finishing this article, one truth will be evident and remembered. A beautiful landscape remains beautiful in direct proportion to the correct maintenance it receives. As a landscape contractor, we go to a lot of effort to design and install a landscape that is unique, colorful and welcoming, which takes time and money. Through the years, I have revisited the homes we have finished, and typically the landscapes look good to the untrained eye but are falling short of their potential. Our clients are not knowledgeable enough and/or too busy to address it properly. Unfortunately, while hardworking the typical maintenance mow and blow crews lack sufficient knowledge of ornamental horticulture to address the issues. All the plants are pruned the same, at times cutting off the forming buds, and watered the same, regardless of sun or shade, i.e. generic maintenance instead of beautiful landscape.
So we developed a program that incorporated the service and chemical procedures that we do in our commercial maintenance division and apply them to supporting our residential clients. The program consists of coming once a quarter to care for that season’s particular needs. For example, in spring (now) we set the stage for the year by applying pre-emergent with fertilizer to minimize weeds while at the same time feeding the lawn and plants. Merit injections are used to control aphids, scale, thrip and other infestations in trees and shrubs. It is injected into the root zones of a tree or plant, such as Crepe Myrtles, Chinese Hackberry, Roses and Photinias. When this is not done, not only does the infestation weaken the tree or plant, but the secretions of the insect cause the cement, asphalt or plants below to become sticky. It can make a mess of your car as well.
Aside from the timely application of these products (they need to be applied from February to April), there is the proper pruning of trees and shrubs, (so many canopies of trees are allowed to grow out of symmetry) and the checking of the irrigation systems. A beautiful landscape remains beautiful in direct proportion to the correct maintenance it receives, and timely pruning and irrigation checks are a big part of it. The pruning requires the knowledge of the growing habit of the plant, so it is difficult to give advice on this, but let me say this, learn the names of your plants, and research them via Google or Western Garden Book and become informed of their habits and requirements. This will help. The irrigation is a little bit easier to explain. The sprinklers for the lawns need to have the correct nozzle size, you do not want to be watering the street because of an oversized nozzle. The sprinklers when they pop-up need to clear the lawn by at least 2 1/2″ to 3″, for proper distribution of water. A lot of times we see dry areas, and our reaction is to water more, causing other areas that are adequately watered to become soggy; when the real problem is that a sprinkler is too low and not adequately clearing the lawn.
The drip system, often overlooked since plants do not turn brown as quickly as the lawns, needs to be checked. Look for visible leaks; emitters that have popped off or have been chewed off by pets, and listen for the sound of running water that would indicate a torn line. If you are able, view the emitters and see that they are not clogged. Often this is not possible in that the plants overgrow the area of placement, so an alternative is to run the system manually while you’re having lunch and then come out and check for visible moisture (it is a good practice to yearly extend the emitters outward, or keep the base of the plant cleared of growth). Finally, there is probably not a more neglected part of the irrigation system than valves; a $25 dollar part that insures the survival of $10k to $40k worth of lawn and plant material. These are so routinely ignored that when we come to service a non-landscape residential client there is typically one or two that are leaking, slimy and the wires are unprotected and brittle.
The above aspects are probably jobs most homeowners prefer to hire out, but others are not complicated, such as aeration and de-thatching. Especially now with water scheduling, aeration and de-thatching should be a must. Get some neighbors to go in on the cost, and do several yards at once. Most rented equipment has a mini- mum use of three hours, much more time than one yard needs.
I could continue to talk about removing stakes from trees (I think after eight years they can come off, don’t you?), removing the ties that are by now girdling the trunks, checking the voltage in your night lights to prevent future shorts and burn-outs, are all things that are not hard to do. If you are a homeowner that travels a lot, consider smart timers, they self adjust their watering sched- ule according to weather station information and plant type in your yard. Also consider giving up some back lawn, or the unused swing set area and turn it into something sustainable by building garden boxes. There is nothing tastier for dinner than something out of your own garden, and a great lesson for the kids too.
Though I have not mentioned organics so far, I am a strong believer in them. They work much like homeopathic medicine, which supports the immune system, so that the immune system can fight an infection. Organics work on the same principle, they strengthen the plant by introducing vital nutrients and beneficial soil bacteria and fungi that in turn provide a healthy soil environment. Especially significant in this is mycorrhizae, a fungi that attaches itself to the roots of the plant/tree drawing sugars from it, and in return developing a “root system” several times larger than the plant’s own roots drawing moisture and nutrients from a wider area. This in turn strengthens the plant, enabling it to grow better, resist disease and endure periods of drought. Specifically look for fertilizers and soil additives that have both endo- and ecto-mycorrhizae.
In ending, these are all important tips and procedures for keeping your landscape healthy, and growing. Plants and trees want to live, and they are constantly communicating with us, just not in English. Yellow leaves, wilting branches, sticky stuff, stunted growth are ways plants communicate. We just need to be better observers. Remember a Beautiful Landscape only remains a Beautiful Landscape in direct proportion to the proper care it receives.
If you are a do-it-yourselfer please use this article as a guide, and if you need help please do not hesitate to call Executive Care Landscape Management, Inc. at (916) 765-9040 or visit our website www.executivecareinc.com. Executive Care Landscape Management, Inc. is a local full service landscape design/install and maintenance company. If you have missed our previous articles on landscape design and care please go to www.homeimprovement-magazine.com to read the February and March issues. Look for May’s article on “Landscape Survival Guide for Stage 3 Watering.” Thank you, and good gardening!