May 2010 (pdf)
I have written about this topic in the past but I think it’s important enough to be discussed again. Just as I need reminders in areas of my life that are somewhat foreign to me, I expect our readers need reminders from one year to next like the suggestions contained in this article. So a repeat is good for us and for our plants!
A landscape renovation is one of the most exciting improvements a homeowner can undertake. It not only adds to the outward appeal of the home, but it also creates useful space that is uniquely colorful and welcoming. It also is a great investment. Statistics show that a well-designed landscape can add 15-20% to the value of a home. Still, there’s a hitch. Unlike most home improvements, a landscape is not static. It is very much alive. If it is not cared for, both the beauty and the value of your investment will diminish. In this month’s article, I am going to repeat one idea again and again so that the truth of it will be remembered: A beautiful landscape stays beautiful when it is properly maintained.
Through the years, I have revisited clients whose gardens we have renovated. All too often I find that their landscapes, though well-designed and installed, have lost something as they’ve matured because of improper maintenance. All the plants have been pruned the same way and at the same time, even when buds were forming.
These landscapes could be vibrant if properly maintained. The problem is that many of us do not know what proper maintenance is, and neither do the typical mow and blow maintenance crews. These men are certainly hard working, but they lack sufficient knowledge of ornamental horticulture to give plants the care they need. Since there is a need for quality care, we have developed a residential landscape maintenance program.
Our 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 mini-mize weeds, while encouraging healthy growth. 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.
In addition to the timely application of these products (they need to be applied from February to May), trees and shrubs are properly pruned and the irrigation system is checked. A beautiful landscape stays beautiful when it is properly maintained,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. I can, however, recommend that you learn the names of your plants, and research them via Google or Western Garden Book to become informed of their habits and requirements. Taking leaf samples to the local nursery to help you identify the plant is a great start. This will help.
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. When the sprinklers pop-up, they should 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. This only causes areas that are adequately watered to become soggy because the real problem is that a sprin-kler is too low and not adequately clearing the law, or a wrong nozzle size. Consider switching to water conserving nozzles which, depending upon your water district, may have rebate value to them (read July’s article on my website, I explain in detail about these nozzles).
The drip system is often overlooked since plants do not turn brown as quickly as the lawns, but it should be checked. Look for visible leaks, for emitters that popped off or 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 because the plants have overgrown the area of placement. If this is the case, you can run the system manually and then 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 the 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 new residential client there are typically one or two that are leaking, visibly slimy and the wires are unprotected and brittle.
The kind of maintenance described above are jobs most homeowners prefer to hire out. There are others that are not complicated, such as aeration and de-thatching. Get some neighbors to go in on the cost, and do several yards at once. Most rented equipment has a minimum use of three hours, much more time than one yard needs. Purchase some marker flags (sold in the irrigation section of most hardware stores) and flag your sprinklers so as not to hit them with the aerator/de-thatcher.
Other simple tasks include removing stakes from trees (I think after eight years they can come off, don’t you?).You can also remove the ties that are by now girdling the trunks. By checking the voltage in your landscape lights, you can prevent future shorts and burn-outs. Make sure to rewrap the connecting wires with good water proof wire nuts. If you travel a lot, consider installing a smart timer, which self adjusts the watering schedule according to weather sta-tion 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 body can fight infection. Similarly, organics strengthen the plant by introducing vital nutrients and beneficial soil organisms that build a healthy soil environment (read my January issue where I go into length on this subject).One tremendous soil builder is mycorrhizae, a type of fungi that attaches itself to the roots of the plant/tree, lives symbiotically with plants for mutual benefit. The mycorrhizae draw sugars from the plant and, in return, develop a “root system” several times larger than the plant’s own roots. This allows the plant to draw moisture and nutrients from a wider area, making it grow better and stronger. Plants supported with mycorrhizae are also more able to resist disease and endure periods of drought. So, specifically look for organic fertilizers that have both endo- and ecto-mycorrhizae.
In closing, these are all important tips and procedures for keeping your landscape healthy, and growing. Plants and trees want to live, and they are constantly communi-cating with us—just not in English. Yellow leaves, wilting branches, sticky stuff, stunted growth are some of the ways plants communicate. We just need to be better observers. Remember: A beautiful landscape stays beautiful when it is properly maintained.
If you are a do-it-yourselfer please use this article as a guide. If you need help, please do not hesitate to call at (916) 765-9040 or visit our website www.executivecareinc.com. Executive Care Landscape Management, Inc. is a local full service residential and commercial landscape company. We specialize both in commercial (H.O.A.s, etc.) landscape maintenance and residential custom installs and re-dos. If you have missed previous articles, they can all be found on our website under publications. There are a total of 15 articles written to increase your understanding of landscape maintenance and design. Lastly we appreciate the support of the community, and ask that if we do not return your call in a couple of days, that you would recall. I am not always able to understand the message. Thank you for reading and until next month, good gardening!
Last month we discussed Loropetalums (Chinese Fringe Flower), and the proper use and misuse of these plants. Improperly usedthey are misshapen, competing for space and bulging out at theside. To put a picture in your mind, I would compare it to an elephant in a bikini—not a pretty thought.
This month I want to discuss a plant that is not as misused as it is misunderstood. It is Coloenema Sunset Gold. Native to South Africa, it is a beautiful wispy plant, bright and great for gold accents in the yard. It has a big brother called Pink Breath of Heaven that is also wispy but has green foliage and tiny pink flowers. Both bloom from early to mid Spring, need good drainage, and have a great fragrance if you break a twig. They should be sheared about every 3 months, and about every two years pruned hard and re-grown.
The beauty of these plants is their wispy, soft growth. When they become boxy, they lose that; so a hard prune is in order occasionally. Only do this in mid-Spring or early Fall, so it has time to re-grow before summer or winter, and always leave some foliage on it. Starting at the top, prune to the wood (no foliage), leaving trimmed foliage on the sides. Then wait for the top to grow out before you prune the sides (also to the wood). This hard pruning is only for plants that have really outgrown their space. Normal trimming should be done for those that are still within their boundaries.
Now the reason I say that Coloenema Sunset Gold is misunderstood is because it is actually two different varieties under the same name. The true Sunset Gold has a low growing habit, while Coloenema Pacific Sunset, also golden in color, has a more upright growth pattern, but both when young look similar. Sunset Gold is ideal for the front of a planter. Pacific Sunset is used for height at the middle or back of a planter. If you plant Pacific Gold in a forward spot, you will end up with an elephant in a bikini.
Till next month, Blessings