Avoiding Salt Damage this Winter

‘Tis the season of snow, ice and freezing temperatures!  While many of us can appreciate the climate and enjoy the outdoor activities, others of us dread shoveling the driveway and walkways, de-icing the steps and scraping the windows of our cars endlessly.  Driving and even walking in the snow and ice can be hazardous. Many homeowners rely on chemicals to ensure that steps and walkways are safe for visitors. If your property has stone or brick pavers, however, you may want to avoid the damage that can result from using salts or chemicals on them.  Here are some tips to avoid salt damage to your hardscape this winter.

  • Avoid sodium chloride in your de-icing products.  Rock salts have many negative consequences that go along with them.  They can eat away at your concrete (including pavers) that sacrifices the aesthetic quality of your hardscapes.
  • Replace chemicals with safer alternatives while still maintaining safe walkways and steps.  Many landscapers suggest kitty litter or sand as an alternative to the chemicals that can eat away at your pavers or brick and unfortunately cut down on the lifespan of the hardscape.
  • Before using any de-icer get rid of as much snow as possible.  Try to get down to the concrete/pavement/brick.
  • Apply de-icers sparingly to avoid damage to both hardscapes and organic life in the surrounding area. Only use in areas where people walk and will need a safe pathway to your home. (Safety first!)
  • In the spring, wash down sidewalks, building bases, and areas near vegetation to help disperse the residue of the product.
  • Sweep up any extra chemicals that may get into the lawn as it melts through the snow.
  • Consult your hardscape installer to find out their recommendations for removing snow and ice.  After all they know your product the best.
  • Some hardscapes could benefit from sealing.  Talk to your installer about what product you have and what can help protect it through these harsh New England winters.

Increase Curb Appeal with Hardscaping

Thinking about selling your home in the near future?  Looking for ways to set your home apart from the competition? The National Association of Realtors reports that good landscaping can increase the value of your home by up to 15 percent. That is nothing to sneeze at.  For example the North Shore  2014 year-to-date median sales price for homes  has been $320,000. 15 percent of $320,000 is $48,000. Home improvement expert Bob Vila says on his website that landscape design can actually add up to 20 percent of value to your home. Either way you do the math the result is remarkable for the value of your home.  Here are some tips from Realtors and Bob Villa about increasing your home’s curb appeal with landscaping and hardscaping.

  • Villa warns that all landscaping should be planned out not haphazard planting of a few plants or bushes.
  • Create a focal point in the front yard that leads the eye to the front door.
  • Raised flower beds and hardscaping define spaces and can amp up the color scheme.
  • Create eye catching elements such as lush bushes flanked by colorful annuals or perennials.
  • Install a patio with a fire pit to create an inviting focal point to make the area usable even in the cooler weather.
  • Design a stone kitchen for fun nights of BBQing and dining under the stars.
  • By designing clear paths and stonework the buyer will see clear areas to plant their favorite flowers and bushes.
  • Beautiful stonework should replace old or worn-looking cement pathways to create a welcoming element.

Fall Landscaping Mistakes to Avoid

Autumn is an amazing time here in New England when the trees put on a spectacular display and the weather cooperates with mild, sunny days and crystal clear nights.  It is temping to sit back and enjoy the show but that could be a big mistake for your landscaping and hardscaping.  Fall is a time to finish up all the needed tasks in the yard, garden and patio. Here are some suggestions to help you avoid common fall landscaping mistakes.

  • Hardscaping Issues Many homeowners overlook walkways, stairs and patio hardscape when they are doing the fall rake up and clean up.  Fall is a great time to thoroughly clean and power wash all brick and stonework not only for beauty but for function as well.  This is a good time to carefully inspect for cracks, chips and damage that will need to be replaced or repaired.
  • Giving Up on Raking – While raking leaves  for the umpteenth time it would be easy to forget about places where leaves to collect like walkways and stairs.  Excess fallen leaves can hide sidewalk or walkways that are in disrepair, or can get wet and becomes slippery underfoot.  This mistake could be painful or lead to injury if you or a member of your family have an accident due to slippery leaves.
  • Neglected Yard Tools – Most people falsely believe that all the outdoor gardening and landscaping is over when the winter rolls around.  Late fall is a great time to maintain all tools and equipment you use in your yard.  Cleaning, inspecting and repairing any broken tools is a good idea to be sure they are in proper working order for the next season.
  • Ignoring your Lawn – Fall means your lawn is getting ready to go dormant for the winter.  A lawn that is properly fertilized and given one last watering will fair far better through the freezing winter.  A last mowing is also in order.

The what and why of hardscape

Most homeowners want their yard to be not only functional but beautiful as well – a retreat from the stress and hustle of everyday life.  How do homeowners decide where the best place is to put a patio or flower beds?  How do they ensure that the drainage is adequate or  yard level enough to install raised beds of plants or pavers for a walkway?  This is where the professionals at a hardscape design company come is handy.  Let’s look at what hardscape really means and why it might be the best choice for your yard.

What is hardscape? Structures like driveways, fences, walls and brick or rock paths are examples of hardscape design. The most impressive yard makeovers are those that successfully integrate the softscape – trees, shrubs and flowers – with the hardscape.

Why Choose Hardscape design?

  • Aesthetics – Adding hardscape to your yard can extend the look of your home regardless of whether it is traditional or contemporary,   Walkways, fountains, planters, walls, fire pits and a variety of other elements can be expertly designed to add to the beauty of your home and take advantage of the natural elements that already exist.
  • Curb Appeal – Many, many homeowners are adding hardscape to paint an immediate positive impression for potential buyers.  A home that’s beautifully landscaped sells for about 10 percent more than a home without the same attention to things like landscape design, according to real estate experts.
  • Environmental Need – Your yard had specific needs.  There are many elements of hardscape design, such as retaining walls and drainage that are used for more than aesthetic reasons. A retaining wall, for example, can be used next to a sloped lawn, to stop the encroachment of water, while different elements of drainage are hidden through other elements of hardscape design.

 

 

Cold Weather Prep for Bushes and Trees

Planning for the long winter ahead can seem like a daunting task.  Unless you are an outdoors-man (or woman)  you may feel like the winter offers nothing but cold temperatures, heavy snow and biting wind.  At least we can cozy up in our heated  homes with comfort food and warm clothing.  Your landscaping, like trees and bushes, have no choice but to survive the harsh New England winter outside in the elements.  What, then can you do to prevent or minimize problems that could occur over the winter?

Fall is a great time to inspect and plan for the health of your trees, bushes and shrubbery that adorn your property.  In addition to the usual raking, cleaning of gardens and flower beds, and preparing for winter,  experts suggest that homeowners consider the following tips for bushes and trees.

  • Watering – Before the ground finally freezes consider giving your bushes, trees and shrubbery one final watering.  Watering trees and shrubs before they go totally dormant can help them better tolerate winter conditions.  Winter winds can make the needles and foliage dry out further and turn brown.
  • Barriers – Winter poses many risks including wind and heavy snow.  Barriers made of wood, burlap or plastic can protect branches from breaking or suffering harm from the winter conditions.
  • Alerts – It is common for snow plows and even hand pushed blowers to cause damage to bushes by piling snow on top.  Many homeowners find it helpful to use alerting sticks in orange or red to show how far snow can be thrown before its weight will injure the trees and bushes in the area.
  • A word on salt – Winter de-icers like salts can do irreparable damage to bushes and trees if too much gets into the soil.  Consider throwing snow into an area without shrubbery or risk the shrubs having a salt burns of trouble growing in the spring.
  • Rabbits and other critters – If rabbits are a big problem in your area, winter care of trees and shrubs should include putting chicken wire cages around the plants they find most tasty.

Winterizing your Irrigation System

In previous blogs we have discussed the importance of fall yard clean up, garden clean up and getting your lawn equipment ready for the winter.  Fall is also the time to do the annual winterizing of your irrigation system.  As landscaping and stonework professionals we have seen the problems associated with not doing this job carefully and completely.  It is our suggestion to have a professional team complete the annual blow out and inspection of the irrigation system.  An irrigation specialist or the company that installed your particular system would be best.  If that is not possible, then be sure you follow all the necessary steps and follow the instructions for your type of  system carefully.

In order to avoid a damaging and costly repair all irrigation systems should be winterized before the first frost.  This can happen at different times across our region depending on your location.  Each system has different components that need to be emptied of water and cleaned thoroughly.

  • The Water Supply – Shut off the water supply using the main water valve.  This main valve and components leading to it and to the outside should be insulated for the winter months with wrapping.
  • Water Removal – Depending upon the type of system and your level of knowledge and expertise, there are several methods to drain and remove the existing water from the system.  These include: a manual drain valve, an automatic drain valve or the compressed air blow-out method.
  • Valves and Backflow prevention – If your valves and backflow preventers are above ground they should be insulated for the long cold winter they are about to encounter.
  • Heads – This is a good time to inspect and make any needed repairs to the sprinkler heads throughout your lawn.  A summer of foot traffic and activity can bend and damage heads.  Some heads are removable for easy cleaning and storage through the winter.

Without proper preparation your sprinkler system might be damaged by freezing temperatures. Be sure to take proper steps during the water removal and cleaning stages so that you don’t have serious repairs or replacement to do next spring.

Lawn Equipment Fall Care

Fall signals the end of pruning, cutting, watering and of course, mowing your lawn.  Your weekend chores have been cut dramatically with the onset of the colder weather.  While fall may signal the end of outdoor work for many of us it also should be a time to have tools and equipment properly serviced, cleaned and stored.  Let’s look at lawn equipment and the steps you should be taking to care for them every fall.

Read the service manual for all of your tools and equipment such as your mower, tiller, aerator, trimmer and hedge clipper.

Mower/Trimmer/aerator

  • Drain the gas from your mower at the end of every season.  Either empty it or run it until it runs out of gas. Lawn mower repair technicians say old gasoline is one of the main suspects when a mower won’t start.
  • Drain or replace the oil as well.
  • Clean out the undercarriage of the mower.
  • Inspect the air filter and change out the spark plug.
  • Have the blade sharpened before storing it in a shed or garage.

Garden Tools

  • Clean all tools with warm water and soap if possible.
  • Dry each tools completely to avoid rust.
  • Use linseed oil to maintain wooden handles. Fiberglass handles merely need  a good cleaning.
  • Consider having the tools lubricated with oil to keep them working properly.  For extra rust prevention, fill a 5 gallon bucket with builders sand and pour a quart of new motor oil over it. Use this as a shovel cleaner/oiler each time you put your tools away.
  • Have blades sharpened and examined at your home improvement store or repair shop.
  • Inspect each tool for damage including broken parts and rust.
  • Store in a dry shed or garage. Do not lean them again the wall or on the floor.  Moisture is the enemy and walls and floors in garages and sheds can get very moist.

Increasing home value with hardscaping

Thinking about selling your home and looking for a way to increase its value while boosting your curb appeal at the same time?  Hardscape landscaping may the best way to get the biggest bang for your buck.   In fact, hardscaping is one of the few home improvements you can make that not only adds value immediately, but also increases in value as the years go by.  In contrast,  interior decor and design concepts regularly go out of style and mechanical systems wear down thus not allowing a homeowner to capitalize on the investment as much as one would hope.  Let’s look at some of the statistics and reasoning from real estate studies and experts that show the benefits of landscaping with hardscape.

According to a real estate study done by the Herald Tribune, “The addition of trees, shrubs, plants, walkways, lighting, fire pits, raised planting walls  and patios can increase the value of your property by 20 percent — almost instantaneously. Real-estate professionals have always known this. In yet another study done in Greenville, S.C., showed houses with “excellent” landscaping could expect to sell for 4 percent to 5 percent more than homes with just “good” landscaping. But those with only “fair” landscaping would sell for 8 percent to 10 percent below “good” houses. Virginia Tech found the numbers to be even higher.  For example: the advantage for a $300,000 home ranged from 5.5 percent to 12.7 percent. That translates into an extra $16,500 to $38,100 in value!

The number one thing that real estate agents noticed was that home buyers appreciated was if the yard had sophisticated planning to the hardscaping.  It is more than just sticking some planters in the corners of the yard and laying pavers for a fire pit.  Hiring a landscaping designer to help plan this design in a way that compliments the flow, size and natural elements of your yard.

Fall Clean Up Check List

Just like clockwork every fall the leaves give all of us in the northeast a spectacular show of color.  While this burst of color comes with refreshing crisp air it also comes with a “To Do” List for the yard and garden.  To help you get organized and complete your garden and lawn chores here is a  check list for fall clean up.

  1. Rake – Clean up all of those beautiful leaves and dig up the thatch that has built up.
  2. Clean out the garden – remove annuals and debris.
  3. Mowing and watering – Mow shorter in the fall especially the closer it gets to winter.  Water as needed.  The roots will thank you as they will need nourishment to get through the winter.
  4. Have the soil tested.
  5. Aerate to allow water, oxygen and nutrients to get to the roots.
  6. If this is the time you fertilize be sure to use a slow release fertilizer.
  7. Mulch and Compost – insulate garden beds as well as add much needed nutrients to the soil.
  8. Stack wood and order if needed.
  9. Put away patio furniture/fire pits and close water features.
  10. Clean grill and sweep the patio.
  11. Trim bushes and provide wrapping and protection for delicate bushes. Prune trees after they have gone dormant.
  12. Clean and put all garden tools away for the winter.
  13. Have lawn mower serviced and cleaned.
  14. Repair any fencing or patio stones as needed.
  15. Buy bird seed for the winter.

Fall Garden Care

For die hard gardeners, putting the garden to bed every fall can be a sad process.  If done well, however, it can be a sign that the garden will be healthy and prosperous next spring.  The end of gardening season can be a great time to reflect back on the things that were successful and those that flopped.  Let’s look at the proper steps to closing your precious garden this autumn.

  1. Clean the Area – Dig up all the dead or rotting plants that will not grow again next year. Clear the garden of all weeds and annuals.
  2. Access Damage – Check the fencing and posts that surround the garden and that keeps out those pesky animals that just love to nibble on your garden.  Now is a good time while the weather is cool to fix damage to the fencing. Assessing damage could also be taking stock of any pests that have damaged the area.
  3. Mulch or Compost – Some gardeners add mulch or compost to help keep down weeds and hold moisture in.  The mulch/compost also serves as a good insulator during the colder months. The addition of the mulch and compost will add much needed nutrients that were lost during the summer months.
  4. Divide – Fall is a great time to divide overgrown plants like Hosta.
  5.  Watering – Water your perennials and flowering shrubs in the fall; they will thank you for it this winter.
  6. First Frost – Once the ground has frozen hard, cut perennials back to 3 inches and mulch them with a thick layer of leaves or straw.
  7. Bushes and Shrubs in the Garden – Protect small trees or shrubs from extreme cold by wrapping them in burlap or covering with a wooden shield so that the snow will not damage the branches.
  8. Indoor Plants – If you plan to harbor some plants indoor this winter this is the time the make the move before the weather gets too cold.

A few easy steps this fall can make to an easy start next spring.  Instead of thinking of the fall clean up as the end, instead think of it as preparing for next year!