Let’s Rock

The famous weather predicting groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, said there would be another six weeks of winter. Phil sleeps in a hole in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, but his prediction certainly is playing out here in Houston. We don’t usually have to wait long for our winter to be over and many of us start planning our Spring planting right after cleaning up from our New Year’s eve party.

Planting usually comes early here, but not this year. As winter lingers, we get itchy to start working in the garden. Should we go ahead and plant, or do we risk freezing our Gerber daisies? If we wait, how long should we wait?

We can’t rely on Punxsutawney Phil to tell us what to do, so it’s time to change our focus and build garden and patio infrastructure while we wait for a local Houston prairie dog to give us the all clear. Let’s rock, and look at a few ways stones, rocks and bricks can be used to enhance and beautify the yard and garden areas.

Pathways

Designing a garden often means adding paths to access all areas of the garden for maintenance of plants and as pathways into our tranquil sanctuary of green. Brick paths create a safer surface for young children and the elderly as they can be made smoother and more continuous. Slate stone paths blend more naturally with your garden as grass or moss will fill in the spaces between the stones with time.

Fountains

Adding a water element to a yard or garden brings squirrels and birds to your garden. You may not want to attract these critters if you are growing vegetables. A fountain also creates white noise that helps block out city noises and moving water stirs and cools the hot air so your garden will be an oasis in the dog days of summer. Fountains can be freestanding structures or can be the “waterfall” feature in a pond structure.

Walls

Rock walls are great ways to add dimension and levels to a garden. Walls can also be used to separate different areas of your yard or garden for different uses. Rock walls can vary in height depending on how you want to use them. A wall with a low flat surface gives you a comfy place to sit. Higher walls can provide a privacy screen to hide structures you don’t want to see while you are in your garden, like trash cans or air conditioner compressors.

Fireplace

A fireplace in a garden makes the garden accessible and usable during the winter months. A combination barbecue and fireplace makes it good for all seasons. The chimney of the fireplace can be incorporated into the wall of an existing patio to provide additional shade and protection from wind. A freestanding fireplace can be used as a backdrop for climbing roses, or as a divider to separate areas in the garden. No matter what you choose to do with stones in your yard or garden, stones add beauty and value to the outside areas of your home.

Hibernation or Early Bird?

With the winter months breezing by, many of us wait to welcome the warmth of spring with open arms. With the rainfall and the warmth, growing season begins, and gardens come to life, with colour and vibrancy. I can’t wait either!

Despite every landscape gardeners anticipation of spring, it is important not to lose your presence in the winter months; there is still plenty of time left before the big bloom, and that time should not be wasted. For many mammals, winter is a time for rest and hibernation. Not for us!

Making the most of the winter months places an active landscaper in the position every bird in the world wants to be in; early. So my advice to you is not to wither away during winter; get out in the garden, and get to work!

Being awake before growing season will allow you to take care of all of the jobs that would otherwise slip your pre-occupied mind.

You could start by pruning back those shrubs and woody trees that serve only to poke you in the eye, especially taking care to remove dead, diseased and broken branches. Flowers, such as roses, might also require a bit of a prune. All of this work will be rewarded with a healthy grow-back in spring.

Grasses also need to be prepared for the coming months. Sometimes I forget my lawn exists in the winter. But give it the care and attention it deserves now, and it will give back in lush, green, sunbathing heaven. Trim the lawn down, and then aerate it to provide a greater circulation of air, and to help sunlight to reach the roots. Ornamental grasses should also be trimmed back, ready for new growth.

Small building and installation projects are a great choice for the less busy winter months. I could never get my new decking installed in the summer; I would be too busy lying on it. Take the opportunity to lay down new paths, build a raised bed veggie garden, or reflag the patio. Whatever the job, getting stuck in now will free up time to focus on growing when the time comes.

I think it’s great to stay active even when it seems bleak outside. This is balanced by my inevitable urge to reserve my energy, and stay warm wrapped up inside. No one wants to prune a tree in freezing temperatures,

The good news is, it is also very useful to plan during the winter.

The first step for a landscape garden plan is to draw up an accurate design of the space. If the project requires accuracy, then it should be to scale. Planning without applying the appropriate accuracy of scale can lead to such disasters as extending the decking into the neighbours garden, or ordering three times as much gravel than required for the path. If scale drawing isn’t your strong point, CAD (computer-aided design) is a solid alternative.

With this design in hand you will be able to map out your ideas, and get a visual representation of how they would effect your garden. Research is incredibly important during these stage, and doing it well nips potential errors in the bud nice and early.

Some considerations to account for include; understanding the climate in your area and what you are able to grow, checking soil conditions to see what plants it can support, and checking building regulations. It is important, as landscape gardeners, that we work with the environment that we inhabit. Not only is this a responsibility, it will also yield much more effective results than trying to battle against it!

The final stage in the planning process is in the gathering of materials. With the visual planning taken care of, and all the odd-jobs around the garden completed, (or sub-hired out to young entrepreneurs and grandsons) it is time to gather everything that you need to set your plan into motion; all of the seeds, plants, wood, gravel, and whatever else you require to leap into action.

Like the story of the early bird who always catches the worm, the landscape gardener who works, and plans, through the winter months, reaps the benefits of a more productive and fruitful spring. So what’s it going to be? You can hibernate, or you can go and catch the worm.

Increase Home Value by Improving Curb Appeal

You really only get one chance to make a first impression and this couldn’t be any more true than when you are trying to sell your home. It only makes sense that the first thing any potential buyer will see when driving up to your house is the front yard and, in sluggish housing markets, a nicely manicured and landscaped front lawn can make all the difference between attracting buyers and turning them away.

Because these first impressions can be a deal breaker for many home buyers, you want to be sure that you have done all you can to create curb appeal. The primary reason for this is that many buyers lack the imagination to visualize the landscape of a house they are thinking of buying so you want to do all you can with the front yard to create an alluring and aesthetically pleasing exterior which will have them wanting to see even more of the home.

That said, what can you do to improve your home’s curb appeal? Common sense will dictate the first step: talk a walk outside and get a view of how your home appears from the street. You want to look at your house with the eye of a prospective buyer and take notice of any messy or unkempt bushes, grass or other greenery which may be obscuring interesting architectural features or design elements. Pruning such trees and shrubs will give a more open, expansive look and entice people to take a closer look.

In terms of the lawn, you will want to keep it well-fed and watered. Regular mowing and a manicured lawn tell prospective buyers that the home has been maintained well and cared for lovingly which will increase its perceived value. In addition, be sure to pull weeds from the pavement, walkways and driveway areas.

The opinion of potential buyers is formed as the travel up the walkway to the front door which is why it is important to be sure this area is completely free from dirt, debris and extraneous matter. Try placing a decorative flower pot or two at the entryway to add a touch of comfort and color to your entryway as well.

Although we have spent a lot of time talking about the front yard, don’t forget to work on your backyard as well. Even though it can’t easily be seen from the road it is just as important to potential buyers who may decide to peak over the hedges for a quick look while house hunting. Make sure to organize tools, put away toys and clean up anything left in the yard that can detract from its appearance. Some great ways to liven up a drab backyard are using colored or tinted concrete, adding perennials to your flower beds and installing lighting to accentuate certain areas.

Speaking of lighting, there is simply no better way to enhance curb appeal. Outdoor lighting can be strategically placed along the driveway and behind shrubbery to accentuate desired areas of the exterior. You may also want to consider using sconces and other architectural lighting elements to really give your home a classic and luxury look. Lighting can completely change the look and feel of a home so don’t be afraid to use it to your advantage.

When you are preparing to sell your home, the front yard is one area where you shouldn’t skimp. A visually appealing and well-planned front lawn and entryway will not only entice buyers but will increase the sale value as well. Landscaping is one of the few areas of home improvement where you can actually see the results of your hard-earned money immediately but you still need to be careful that you do not overdo it. Remember not to add elements that are incongruous with the surrounding neighborhood because your landscaping can quickly turn from a great, value-adding project to an eyesore that will drive away buyers.

Try out some of the advice in the preceding article and you’re sure to be on your way to creating a home that will have buyers flocking to see it. If you feel overwhelmed there are many home improvement stores that offer free advice and even offer low-cost services themselves.

 

Life Isn’t All Black and White

There exists an entire science devoted to color, how it is perceived, and what effects it has on the psychology of the observer. Artists rely on their internal knowledge of color to invoke a range of sensations, and to create emphasis, and harmony across the page.

As landscape gardeners it is important that we share the artists’ passion for color, and experiment with it’s uses in our garden. We are, after all, artisans of our space.

Spring is coming, and soon nature shall display her finest garments; the grass will give off a lush green, the trees will blossom into a pure white fluff before giving way to their leaves, and the sunlight will generally be making everything outside look a little more appealing.

Flowers are soon to radiate their color across the land, creating a barrage of alluring and beautiful patterns, and waves of heady sensation. For the landscape gardener this is a delightful time of year; with spring on the way it’s time to get creative with color!

Basic color theory is a must for landscape design. The color wheel provides a great visual representation of the spectrum. The spectrum includes primary, secondary, and tertiary colors. Use the wheel to follow the tips presented below, and gain a greater understanding of how to use color in the garden.

Understanding Warm and Cool Colors

Shades of red, yellow and oranges, are known as warm colors. Planting warm colored flowers can give out a vibrant glow and cause physiological arousal in the space. They naturally grab attention and so can be used effectively to highlight a certain space, creating a focal point that has an innate pull.

Cool colors, such as blues, purples, and greens, are more likely to influence mood by having a calming, relaxing effect. It is important to consider what mood the space is intending to evoke. If creating a garden for meditation, for example, the calming, cool colors of a deep purple flower, will suit the occasion much more than a bright red!

Unity or Contrast?

Using only warm colors, or only cool colors in a defined space creates an effect of unity, and is easy for the eye.

If it is contrast you are looking to create, mixing both warm and cool colored plants together creates the desired effect. The maximum contrast is between yellow and purple flowers. Colors opposite each other on the wheel are known as “complimentary colors”. These are pairs which create a striking contrast when planted together.

Adding Depth

Color can even be used to create illusions in the depth and size of the space. If you have a small yard try placing warm colors, such as reds, at the front of the garden, with darker shades of cool colors behind them, followed by successively lighter cool shades. Perceptually, this creates the illusion of a deeper, larger space.

Blending color

Tertiary colors can be seen as blends of the primaries on the color wheel, and this is how they should be used in the garden. If you are using a color scheme such as reds and violets, finding a plant which falls somewhere in between creates a smoother transition, and more harmony, taking the sharp edge off the contrast.

Neutral colors, such as whites, grays, and silvers, can also be used to take the edge of vibrant color schemes, softening their effect.

Get Started…

The key to perfecting the use of color in landscape gardening, is a matter of theory and practice. Okay, mostly practice! We have already mentioned warm and cool color schemes. Three possibilities have been highlighted already; using warm colors only, cool colors only, or using complimentary colors.

Other suggestions for getting you started are:

  • Analogous colors- Colors that are next to each other on the wheel, such as yellows and reds, provide a high level of harmony in the garden; for when nothing needs to stand out too much.
  • Monochromatic- Using one color may sound bland, but is actually very effective for simple gardens, and can be high in visual impact. For variety, try to plant many varieties of flower which bloom in different shades of the same color.
  • Triad arrangement- Here, three plants equally spaced apart on the color wheel are combined into a complex arrangement, which is more difficult, but is visually impressive once accomplished.
  • Double Complimentary- A variation of the single complimentary set-up, two plants which lie next to each other in color are placed with their opposites on the wheel; the result is a glorious alchemy of unity and contrast.

However you decide to use color in your landscape gardening project, remember to experiment. Enjoy the process of understanding one of nature’s great mysteries through the act of gardening. Color can brighten our mood, calm us down, make us feel comfortable, and guide our attention. Understanding how to work with color will undoubtedly lead to your ability to create more desirable gardens. Happy gardening!

5 Reasons Why Houston Is 2nd Fastest Growing City in US

Houston Skyline
Photo Courtesy of UrbanSplatter

Although most of our country is still feeling the sting of the recession that began with the financial crisis of 2007, you’d be hard pressed to convince any Houstonian of that fact.

Corporations are relocating here, companies are struggling to find enough qualified employees to fill all vacant positions and the housing market is showing no signs of slowing down.

In 2013 alone, over 35,000 individuals moved here. It would seem that the Bayou City has figured out a recipe that works and thousands of people are flocking here every single month to take advantage of our bustling city.

“What’s our secret,” many people want to know?

Houston has never been known as a popular travel destination like some other places in the US.  We have our venues but this city has never been known as being one the most exciting places on the planet. Our cultural arts scene isn’t bad but doesn’t hold a candle to other places like Chicago or New York City.

What is Houston doing different than other places in the country?

It turns out that albeit not being the “entertainment capital of the world,” our city does have many other desirable qualities that make it a highly attractive place to live. We might gripe about a lot of things but at the end of the day, there are five qualities that make Houston one of the best places to be right now.

Low Cost of Living

Cost of Living 4th Q 2012 by State
Map Provided by MERIC

This is a city where you can really stretch your paycheck. Ever heard the saying “it’s not how much you make, its how much you spend?” Well, that especially holds true here. Across the board our average cost of living is much lower than other parts of the country.

Almost everything costs less here than other places including gas, food and housing. Most visitors are shocked by how much lower things are here than where they live.

There are some large metropolitan areas, like Los Angeles, where $100,000 barely affords you a middle class lifestyle if you want to live in a decent neighborhood. A family with a household income of $60,000 can do quite nicely here.

Thriving Energy Industry

Houston Firms Spending Millions To Attact Workers
Souce: BizJournals

Energy is one of the most recession proof industries right now. The world as a whole is consuming energy at historic levels and the global demand it is expected to grow in 2014.

Almost every major national and international energy company makes Houston their first or secondary headquarters. It’s safe to say that you have a solid “backbone” when your top ten major employers include a lineup of ConocoPhillips, Halliburton, BP, CITGO, ExxonMobil and Shell.

What’s more, behind the major oil & gas companies that everyone is familiar with, there are hundreds of other smaller companies just like them who make their home here.

Economic growth is fueled by job creation and there is a lot of that happening here.  A qualified person, especially one with any sort of engineering background, would have no problem finding a well-paying job right now. In fact, because the current employee pool is not keeping up with the current demand, companies are relocating individuals from other parts of the country to fill those empty seats.

Low Taxes Foster Positive Business Environment

State Income Taxes Comparison
Source: TheAtlanticCities

Some other places in the country are known for having high taxes. States like California, New York and New Jersey are notorious for this.

In many cities on the East Coast, individuals are forced to pay a state income tax, city tax and sales tax. That is on top of whatever federal taxes they are obligated to pay.

And, we haven’t even begun talking about what property taxes are in many parts of the US…

Most Houstonians would be shocked if there were to see the total amount of taxes bellow the federal level many other people have to pay every year.

Texas has no state income tax. Houston has no city tax. The property taxes in the area are low compared to the rest of the nation. The only major tax we have to pay, once you get bellow the federal level, are sales taxes.

A single person or a family will save literally thousands of dollars by moving here. A friend of mine who works for Chase got transferred to Houston last year and increased his yearly income by $10,000 just because he didn’t have to pay state and city taxes any longer.

Weather

Houston Weather In Winter
Source: KHOU

Houston, like most of the southeastern states, experiences morbidly humid summers.   I really do not know how anyone could live here if A/C was never invented.  The combination of high heat and high humidly feels like it’s going to suffocate you certain times of the year.

That being said, our weather isn’t that bad. If you think we have it bad, try talking with someone who lived in Michigan. Extreme cold isn’t any more pleasant and their winters can last for five months.

The population as a whole prefers warmer climates. If given the choice, most people will choose a hot day over a blizzard.  Why do you think that millions of New York retirees have been flocking to Florida over the past twenty years?

We might find the weather here uncomfortable at times but Houston, as well as most of Texas, has weather that most people are comfortable living in. From November to March, Houston has exceptional weather with monthly averages in the high 60s, 70s and low 80s.

World Class Medical Center Medical Center

Houston Medical Center
Photo: Smiley N. Pool / Houston Chronicle

Despite being snubbed in the hospital rankings a year ago, we have some of the best hospitals in the world. People come from all over the planet to get treatment here. Our Medical Center gets approximately 160,000 daily visitors per day and over seven million patients every year.

You might not be aware of this but some of the brightest medical students come here every year to finish their PhDs or work on special research projects. Many of them end up making Houston their home. This means that our city is pulling some of the brightest minds from all over the world.

Research institutes, like Methodist Hospital, are able to get many different grants that allow them to bring into tons of fresh new talent every single year. Every city desires to attract highly specialized and educated people but we do it better than most.

Say what you want, but Houston is a city that has done a lot of things right. We might have to work on our higher than average obesity rate but we’ve figured out what it takes to keep an economy moving along.

This has always been a place where a person could make a decent living if he had a good head on his shoulders. Houstonians like people who can get the job done and it looks like that attitude it paying huge dividends.

Caring For Palm Trees in Texas

Caring For Palm Trees in TexasDo you need to add a distinctive, easy-to-grow final touch to your landscape?

If so, adding palm trees might be a great idea! Palm trees grow in many different climates, with some originating from year-round hot areas.

Since Texas is very large, climates within the state can vary.Depending on the region, there are several types of palms that can grow in Texas.

In order to grow a palm tree in Texas, you will want to ensure that the tree can tolerate the climate of the specific location. What really matters is how much cold your palm can handle at night.

Use the information below to help determine the best types of palms to grow within the minimum temperatures in your area.

Warmer Areas

  • Bismarck Palm Tree(grows best in areas with minimum temp above 15°F)
  • Caranday Palm Tree– (>20°F)
  • Mexican Fan Palm Tree– (>15°F)
  • Triangle Palm Tree– (>30°F)

Cooler Areas

  • Mazari Palm Tree– (>-5°F)
  • Saw Palmetto Palm Tree– (>0°F)
  • Pindo Palm Tree– (>5°F)

Other Factors to Consider

Aside from temperature, there are several other factors that must be considered when caring for palm trees. Follow the guidelines below to make sure your Texas palm stays healthy.

Light

If your palm prefers shade, it is best to plant it in shady areas to avoid burning or sun damage. In contrast, if your palm enjoys sunlight, keeping it in the shade will weaken the plant.

Soil

It is particularly important to use nutrient rich soil that has good drainage. Since most urban soils lack the essential nutrients, fertilization will be necessary.

Moisture

Moisture requirements for palms can vary. For desert areas, palms may need moisture once a week or even less. For other palms in non-desert areas, moisture may be required more than five times a week. It is also important to group palms according to moisture requirements if you are planting in multiples.

Planting

  • You don’t want to plant your palm during dry seasons or freezing temperatures. To plant, follow these steps:
  • Dig a hole as deep as the root ball with double the width of the root ball’s diameter.
  • After placing the palm plant in the hole, level the hole with the soil level of the yard.
  • Finally, backfill the hole using soil.

Bracing

To protect palm trees against high winds, you may want to brace your tree for at least a year until its roots can remain anchored. To do this, use three or four braces of 2×4 lumber.

Avoid the following things: 

Too Much/Not Enough Water

Over watering can kill new trees, so this is why soil drainage is very important. Most palms prefer moist soil that is well drained.

Not having enough water can be just as detrimental to your palm’s health as having too much water. Tip: Adding 40% sand to the soil when planting can prevent overwatering.

Planting with Fertilizer

New palms should not be fertilized during the first 8-12 weeks.

Because roots of the new plants are so fragile, adding fertilizer during the planting phase can cause root damage.

Not Fertilizing

After waiting 8-12 weeks to add fertilizer, it is very important to keep your palm fertilized every three to four months.

Palms need the nutrients found in fertilizer to prevent pests and diseases.

Wrong Climate

Make sure to check the climate zone information above before planting your palm.

If you live in a dry desert area, it is best to avoid planting palms that prefer moist, humid climates because they will not grow well.

Get Planting!

It may seem like a lot of work, but don’t let that discourage you from considering these attractive landscape additions. By following these guidelines, you will be able to successfully care for palm trees in Texas.

Pros and Cons Of Gardening With Mulch

There Are Many Types of Mulch To Choose From

When it comes to gardening, mulch serves as a basic security barrier that protects soil from the negative impacts of extreme temperatures.

Although this may sound like good news for gardeners, there are also disadvantages to using mulch due to its smothering ability.

Before you decide to cover your soil with mulch, find out if it is worth it by considering these pros and cons:

Mulch Comes in Different Colors and Are Good For Different Applications Pro
Because mulch acts as a barrier against sun rays, soil and plants don’t suffer from heat damage.

Con
Plant-threatening insects such as slugs and earwigs tend to enjoy the cool and dark shelter that mulch provides.

To help prevent this threat, only apply a thin layer of mulch about 3-5 inches away from the plant bases.

Pro
When water freezes at night and thaws the following day, it shrinks and expands. This effect can cause heaving, an occurrence when shallow-rooted plants pop out of the ground. Mulch is useful because it prevents the melting-and-freezing effect that can lead to heaving.

Pro
In the spring, the weight of the mulch slows down the heating of the ground. This prevents unpredictable weather from tricking flowers into premature blooming.

Con
One problem with slowing down the ground heating process is that it may cause flowers to bloom late. Conversely, it may also planting may occur too early for the soil to handle. If this happens, rake back the mulch or don’t mulch until plants green.

Pro
The savings. Mulch helps save time, money, and water because it allows for less watering by slowing evaporation.

Con
The Proper Mulch Will Cut Down on Weeds In Your GardenThere is a downside to slowed evaporation.When water does not evaporate as quickly, the ground can become soggy for several days. If plant beds become too wet, use a rake to remove mulch to allow for drying.

Pro
Since raindrops hit the mulch instead of directly hitting the soil, there is a smaller risk of the soil washing away or threatening plants with soil-dwelling diseases.

Con
Mulch prevents some seeds from germinating because of its sunlight blockage. This is good for weeds, but not for your good seeds. You can prevent this problem by waiting to mulch until after seedlings have emerged.

Frequently Asked Questions

When using mulch, people often have many questions about its application. How much is too much? How much is too little? When is the best time to apply it?

Unfortunately, there are no simple answers for these questions because the answers vary depending on several factors. Factors to consider include rainfall, weeds, soil, and the specific type of mulch you are using.

To assist you, follow these guidelines to get started:

  • A layer 3-4 inches deep is good to start with. Newspaper is great for protecting against weeds because it is decomposable.
  • To pull weeds more easily, water the soil if it is dry.
  • You can apply mulch at practically any time as long as you are mindful of the slow ground heating process in early spring. Similarly, be mindful of late ground freezing if you mulch to prevent heaving in the winter.

Picking the Best Mulch

Mulch In GardensIn order to pick the mulch that will work best for your needs, consider the different properties of the following types of mulches:

Dark-color mulches are great for absorption and heat retention. While this is good for colder areas, it is a disadvantage for warmer regions.

Light-color mulches work well for reflecting heat and light. This can be bad for surrounding plants.

Some mulch will not remain in place because of loose stones and gravel. Sometimes mulch washes away in rain or blows away in wind. For this reason, heavier or larger bark chips stay put better.

Organic mulches actually improve the soil, unlike stone and plastic. Plastic can also be prone to slime and breaking.

Types of Mulch

Bark
Usually made of pine, cypress, or hardwood and comes chipped, shredded, or in nuggets. Pros: attractiveness and lifespan.

Cocoa Hulls
Pros: Adds nutrients and gives off chocolate-smelling aroma. Cons: Compaction and molding.

Compost
Too fine to suppress weeds and needs to be turned under at the end of the season.

Grass Clippings
Aggressive heating or possible molding if too thick. Needs to be turned under at the end of the season.

Hay
Poses a weed threat with possible weed seed retention. Can settle down.

Landscape Fabric
Good for flowering beds. Use high-quality fabric to cover with a thin layer of nice looking mulch.

Leaf Mold
Consists of composted leaves 2-3 years old. Needs to be turned under at the end of the season.

Fresh Leaves
Shred before use for faster breakdown.

Newspaper
Thickness needs to be 5-10 sheets. Newspaper can be hidden with a thin layer of attractive mulch.

Manure
Pros: Adds nutrients. Needs to be turned under at the end of the season. Tip: Buying it at the store smells better.

Mushrooms
Poses a threat of pesticide residue and cannot suppress weeds. Needs turned over at the end of the season.

Peat Moss
Great for acid-loving plants. Use a 1-2 inch layer and soak in warm water before use. Tip: Louisiana peat might be too acidic!

Pine Needles
Pros: Readily available in piney regions and can last 2-4 seasons.

Plastic
Great at the base of flowering shrubs.

Sawdust
To prevent soil depletion, sprinkle soil with blood meal.

Straw
Lasts 1-2 seasons and may cause soil nitrogen depletion.

Wood Chips
Consist of various recycled wood, so quality varies. Tip: Shouldn’t be used if chips smell sour.
Other Factors to Consider

In addition to looking at the types of mulch, you will also need to consider the following factors:

Beautiful Lawn With MulchAppearance
If you want to be able to show off your flower garden, you will want to ensure that you use mulch that looks good but doesn’t look too good. Shredded bark or bark chips work well. You could also try cocoa hulls. Leaves and pine needles work great for woodland gardens. If you’re not worried about appearances, grass clippings or newspaper might be a great way to save some money.

Longevity
Think about how long you want to be digging in your garden. If you would like your mulch to last until the end of the season, try compost or another fast decomposer. If you would like to protect permanent plants such as roses, use a sheet of landscape fabric, and cover it with bark nuggets or stones. Shredded bark lasts for a long time, and it is great for perennial beds. Tip: Bigger chunks mean longer life. Soft or green materials usually break down much faster than dry wood. For a really long lifetime, try using stone or gravel.

Cost
If you’re on a budget, try virtually free mulches like compost, newspaper, or grass clippings. If you can spare a little more change, bark chips usually cost $2 to $3 a bag. For those who are willing to splurge a little, cocoa mulch might be ideal-it costs more than twice the price of bark chips. Tip: Buying in bulk or hiding cheap mulch under a thin layer of expensive mulch can help save costs. Always think about the longevity when considering costs.

How To Choose A Landscaper For Your Design

Landscaping projects are investments. You want a design thatwill look natural and increase in value over time. To accomplish this, you will need to choose a landscape designer.

If you have never worked with a landscape designer before, you probably have a lot of questions. How do you choose the right one? Are there different kinds of landscape designers? What questions should you be asking?

To get started, consider what needs to be done. Most landscaping companies will specialize in one or more of the following areas:

Architecture/Design
Landscape architects are great at combining multiple aspects of landscaping in order to meet all of your needs in a project that will last a long time. Landscape designers can provide you with the foundation of your project: the landscaping plan. With today’s technology, landscape architects have the ability to provide realistic 3D representations of your outdoor plan.

Execution
This involves the preparation, management, and execution of all of the necessary steps from the beginning to the end of your project.

Maintenance
After a landscape has been created, proper maintenance can serve as great protection to ensure the greatest longevity for your design.

Questions to Ask

Just as landscape designers will ask you a lot of questions, there are also questions that are important for you to ask them.

  • Do you have references?

Knowing what kind of work your designer has completed in the past can help give you an idea about what your design may look like in the future. Be sure to ask about previous projects. Can you take a look at them? Seeing previous projects will allow you to evaluate your designer’s skills in planning space, plants, and overall quality.

  • Do you charge for design?

Many landscape designers consider the designing process itself to be a professional service. As such, there is often a charge. Do not be afraid to pay for the designing process. When designers are paid for their time and service, they are more willing to work with you. As a result, the final project will be more reflective of your ideal outdoor image, and both parties will be more satisfied.

  • How long has your company been in business?

This is an important question to ask because it can save you from running into trouble down the road. If you encounter an issue a few months after the project’s completion, you will want to be able to contact your designer. If the company has been in business for several years, there is a greater chance that they will still be in business if you need their assistance in the future.

  • Do you provide warranties?

If your designer provides installation services, make sure you ask this question! If an installer provides quality work, they should also provide warranties. Warranties can range from a few months to 2 years. There should also be warranties for all forms of hardscaping such as patios, walls, and stonework. Hardscaping should include lengthy to lifetime warranties.

  • Are you insured?

Protect yourself. If an accident occurs on your property, you do not want to be held responsible. Ensure that all contractors and their equipment are insured.

Helpful Tips

  • Always make sure the designer you choose is qualified with verifiable experience. You can also check to see if your region offers landscaping certification.
  • Look at the designer’s portfolio. Are there examples relevant to your needs?
  • Check references. If references can be provided, past clients were probably satisfied with the designer’s results.
  • Make it a point to visit previously developed sites. If landscapers have provided quality work in the past, they will have previous clients who will be willing to show you their properties.
  • Never consider landscapers who refuse to provide contracts. Contracts should be written, comprehensive, and include responsibilities, nature of work, installation, prices, terms, and guarantees.
  • Make sure current landscaping standards are followed with all proposed work. Also ensure that standards are covered in the contract. When standards are not followed, it can lead to many problems including faulty construction.
  • Ask for clarification on all guarantees.
  • Accountability is important. Make sure you choose a designer who will be held accountable for all work performed. Note: All APPQ members are in a signed agreement to adhere to a code of ethics and provide quality service.
  • Create a delivery timeline, and stick to it. Keep in mind that landscaping pace can be impacted or delayed by factors such as weather, but all projects should be completed within a reasonable timeframe.
  • Look out for amateur contractors. There are many companies that compete on the basis of price and will promise to save you a lot of money. Unless they can provide evidence of quality work and long time experience, you may end up with unprofessional service.