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Landscaping Benefits and Lawn Maintenance Issues
Property value benefits of landscaping
According to a Clemson University study, “Homeowners wanting to increase the value of their property will do well to consider the cost-effective, return potential of quality landscaping, and to safeguard their investments by hiring licensed, professional landscape contractors to perform the work.” This study found that quality landscaping can result in more than a 100% return on the investment. Statistics compiled by The Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association are helpful:
- Landscaping can increase the resale value of a property by as much as 14%
- The sale of a property can increase by as much as six weeks
- A landscaped patio can increase property value by 12.4%
- A landscaped curb can raise property value by 4.4% and hedges can add 3.6%
For those who are not yet thinking of resale value, there are numerous non-monetary benefits to enjoy from landscaping your commercial or residential property. Landscaping can block unpleasant views, reduce noise levels and decrease crime, in addition to improving and optimizing the appearance and use of the property. Workers that have a view of trees and flowers feel less job stress and more job satisfaction and fear and anger is reduced when views of plants are possible. Additionally, when properly selected and placed, plants can lower heating and cooling costs by as much as 20%.
All of these benefits are dependent, of course, on designs and installations being done in a professional, competent manner. Poor construction, improper installation and low quality plants can turn your property into a liability. Furthermore, unskilled maintenance can quickly ruin your investment.
Why hire a landscape maintenance company?
Improper installation and maintenance of landscaping projects actually decreases and detracts from a property’s value. Maintaining the trees, shrubs, plants and grass on your property requires more than sufficient watering and occasional weeding and pruning. Soil must be monitored for proper pH levels, compaction, nutrient content, water drainage, and grub control. Trees must be trimmed for maximum growth, as well as safety, and sprinkler systems must be maintained to protect the investment. With so many factors influencing the health of your lawn, maintenance can quickly become overwhelming. By hiring a landscape maintenance company, you eliminate all hassles associated with property upkeep. Qualified professionals will often know, just by looking at your lawn, where grubs are likely infested, whether a certain tree will thrive in a certain area and if your yard could benefit from a lime treatment to balance the soil pH levels. They will know when to aerate, when to plant and when to prune. Meanwhile, you won’t damage your turf through over-aeration or waste money on improperly applied lime treatments. Hiring professionals with the knowledge and experience will not only eliminate hassles for you, it will safeguard your investment by keeping it healthy, ensuring you the maximum amount of return.
How to hire a landscape company
Once you have made the decision to hand over your land care to someone else, you have to make a selection on which company to hire. No matter what area you live in, you undoubtedly have many, many options. It seems everyone with a truck and a mower has opened a lawn care business and choosing a legitimate, respectable company that is knowledgeable, but will not take advantage of you can be a daunting task. While jobs such as mowing and leaf removal require little expertise, other tasks, such as fertilizing and pest control, require knowledgeable practitioners and, in some states, licenses. Just as you can damage your plants, trees and turf with improper land care, so, too, can the company you hire. While it is tempting to hire the cheapest company, cheaper is not always better. As the saying goes, you get what you pay for. Quality workmanship from a company with a solid reputation goes a lot farther in the long run than the cheaper alternative, if the alternative ends up killing your vegetation.
Part time vs. full time operation While part timers that mow grass on their off days from regular jobs may be convenient, they often are not insured and have no training. In addition to being unable to provide you with services such as fertilization or aeration should you desire it, they will not recognize signs of distress in your yard in order to recommend those services should you need it. By hiring a full time landscape company, you can generally be assured that they have the expertise to notify you of any problems, educate you on potential solutions and develop a maintenance regimen with you for your property. Furthermore, they will be insured so you will not be held liable for any accidents on your property that occur to their workers and they will have the necessary governmental licenses to spread the chemicals your property needs.
National vs. local Hiring a national lawn care company may seem like a safe decision – they must , after all, know what they are doing to operate such a large business! But while they may be known in several states, are they familiar with your state? Do they have the training relevant to your location, such as soil conditions, weather trends and regional insect and bacteria problems? Local companies will most assuredly understand YOUR locale as it is THEIR locale. Their properties will be susceptible to the same problems and they will most definitely know the best solutions. Additionally, they will not take their profits, your hard-earned money, out of state. Supporting local companies always benefits your city, but in the case of land care, it can also be a protection for you. Local companies have more at stake in the way of your satisfaction, as word in a city travels much more quickly than it does across a nation.
Whichever company you choose to hire, be sure to ask for a portfolio and, if possible, drive by some of their client’s properties. Check their reputation with the Better Business Bureau and get testimonials from other clients. Nothing is more important than doing research before you hire any type of contractor – if problems arise and you have not done your homework, you will have no one to blame but yourself.
You want to be sure any company you hire has experience and a solid reputation. More importantly, you need to make sure they are insured. If your land care company does not carry general liability insurance, the property owner could be held responsible for accidents which occur while work is being done. To protect yourself, ask for proof of insurance and workman’s comp before anything is done to your property! Reputable contractors will understand that you are just doing your homework and will gladly offer documentation. Be wary of any that try to convince you this is unnecessary – they may have something to hide.
Property owners take great care in watering, fertilizing, weeding and protecting their lawns but few realize that improper mowing practices can undo the care they so diligently show to their lawns. Mowing has an immediate impact on your lawn and by observing proper practices you can ensure you are contributing to the development of a high quality lawn. The two most common mistakes are cutting grass too short and mowing too infrequently. When mowing, you should never remove more than 1/3 of the grass blade’s height. By removing more, you can cut into the crown of the blade and damage it. Furthermore, mowing grasses too low leaves limited leaf area for the grass to sustain photosynthesis, which reduces grass vigor. Lawns that are too short also have shallow root systems, which become apparent during summer stress periods: as soil moisture drops, these lawns will begin to die. By leaving the height longer, you keep grass healthy and reduce the number of weeds by providing shade and competition to weed seedlings. If you miss a mowing and your grass is longer than usual, cutting at your regular height is, therefore, detrimental to the grass. You should reset the mower to its highest cutting level and then three or four days later cut again at the normal height. This ensures maximum protection for your lawn.
Knowing when to mow is also important. Mowing during the heat of the day causes undue stress on the lawn and mowing when the grass is wet leaves it susceptible to disease. The best time to mow is in the evening when the sun is less intense and morning moisture has long burned off. You should also vary your mowing patterns. Retracing the same lines every time you mow can harm the grass that is constantly run over. Mowing at right angles to the previous direction will prevent grass from repeatedly being pushed to one side and minimize stress on those areas.
Aeration is a process which introduces air into the soil, an important ingredient in maintaining the health of soil. Plant and grass roots need sufficient air, as well as water and nutrients, to grow but different soils have different air qualities. Clay and silt soil particles are tightly packed and allow less air to penetrate grass roots whereas sandy soil particles allow for more air penetration. Because all soils are not the same, those that contain a large amount of silt or clay need aeration to increase the air supply to plants. Aeration also allows for better water drainage, an important benefit as too much water in the root zone is detrimental to growing plants. But plants are not the only organisms that need air in the soil: microbes that decompose organic matter and supply nutrients to plants need this basic resource, as well as earthworms, insects and other arthropods which help maintain healthy soil.
Aeration in lawns can be accomplished by dethatching, plugging or spiking. Dethatching requires removing grass thatches, plugging involves removing plugs of grass and soil and spiking entails punching holes into the soil. All three allow air, water and nutrients to penetrate into the soil to the roots of grass and plants. Generally, the best time to aerate is when grass is actually growing, as it allows for quick recovery and the best exploitation of the newly loosened root zone. Therefore, spring and fall are appropriate times but the weather should be the number one determinate when aerating: the soil should be warm and not too wet. Lawns that have been properly maintained should only require one aeration per year but lawns that have been neglected may require more treatments or more passes in an effort to get it properly balanced. As aeration injures turf, you want to be sure not to over-aerate and to institute the practice at the prime time for your turf. By the same token, not aerating enough or at improper times will likely do nothing at all.
Grub and insect Control
Grubs are the larval stage of beetles and live in dirt under grass. White in color, they are C-shaped, have a brown head, six legs and a dark rear section. They eat plant roots, killing grass and flowers, and unsuspecting property owners often are not aware of an infestation until their grass starts to die. Furthermore, grubs attract other pests, such as moles, skunks, opossums, rats, mice and birds, which will tear lawns apart to get these tasty treats. Grub damage is by far the most common cause of damage to grass, as these insect pests are quite common and can occur anywhere in the US. In Missouri, the two main types of grubs are the Southern Masked Chafer (annual grub) and the May/June Beetle (three year grub). Lawns with grub damage exhibit grass that can easily be pulled up and reduced grass vigor. The damage usually appears in late summer, as the eggs become larvae and begin to feed. This is not, however, the time to treat. Insecticide must be spread before the eggs are laid in order to be effective. June and July are the best times to apply insecticide, with the month determined by the product you choose. In the case of May/June beetles, you will need to treat for several years in order to kill grubs at various stages of development. Granule products are designed to work slowly and are appropriate for those wishing to prevent grub infestations. For those who already have a grub problem, apply liquid chemicals first to act quickly followed by granules for longer-term protection. In any case, make sure there is good soil moisture either from rainfall or irrigation before application. While grubs, and their accompanying pests, can be a tremendous aggravation, treatment and prevention are relatively simple if chemical instructions are followed.
Mulching is one of the most beneficial practices you can use to keep your garden healthy. It also one of the simplest. Mulch refers to a protective layer of organic or inorganic material spread on top of the soil. Properly used, mulch limits weed growth, conserves soil moisture, regulates soil temperature, reduces compaction and protects the soil against erosion. It may also reduce the spread of some soil-borne diseases. Organic mulches, such as bark chips, grass clippings or straw, improve the condition of the soil, as they release organic nutrients during decomposition. The organic matter helps keep soil loose, which improves root growth, increases water drainage and allows the soil to better retain water. The result is a less frequent need for watering, thereby conserving it. Both types of mulch retain heat from the day and release it into the soil during the night, moderating soil temperature. This is extremely beneficial during the winter, as plants undergo much less stress during freeze-thaw cycles. In summer, mulch keeps soil cooler by blocking direct sunlight. Limiting sunlight also controls the growth of weeds, as they are smothered under the layers of material. Lastly, mulch provides a “finished” look to your flower beds, tree rings and gardens.
The best time to spread organic mulch is dependent on what you are hoping to achieve. When adding mulch to flower beds, it is best to wait until the soil has warmed completely in the spring as the mulch will slow soil warming due to its insulating properties. The same is true for vegetable gardens. If you are applying mulch to moderate winter temperatures, the best time to apply is in late winter after the ground has frozen but before the coldest temperatures set in. This delayed application helps prevent rodents from nesting in your mulch over the winter. When spreading mulch, be sure not to apply it directly in contact with tree trunks and plant stems so as not to promote attacks by insects and diseases. Finally, remove weeds before spreading mulch to help stop their proliferation.
Sprinkler system maintenance
Sprinkler systems should be inspected yearly to keep them running efficiently and also to prevent unnecessary water usage. The system controller should be checked at the beginning of spring, before running the system for the first time that year. Open the box and check batteries, wiring, clocks and the irrigation cycle that is set. This is the time to make any necessary repairs, replacements and resets needed. Once you have inspected the controller box, you should check the sprinkler heads, valves and emitters. Before running the system for the first time, remove the last sprinkler head in each line and allow water to run for a few minutes to flush out any debris and dirt. Then replace the sprinkler head and run one valve at a time. For each valve, check position and spray pattern. Look for heads that are clogged, misaligned, tilted or buried which prevents efficient application of the water. Look for leaks and misting which would indicate high water pressure problems. Lastly, if your sprinkler has filter screens, check to see if they need to be cleaned or replaced. When making any adjustments, the goal is to have the water be applied as evenly as possible. This ensures the most efficient use of the water.
Steps for winterization are simple: turn the water supply to the system off at the main valve and set the system to “off.” Turn on each valve to release any pressure built up along the pipes and drain any water in the pipes to prevent freezing damage. If your system does not have drain valves, you will need to blow out the system using compressed air, a practice best performed by professionals. By following these steps for sprinkler system maintenance, you will protect your system for years to come and create the most efficient irrigation system possible.
Pruning is the act of removing or reducing certain plant parts that are not required, are no longer effective or are of no use to the plant. Proper pruning enhances the aesthetics of a landscape but it also serves functional purposes of training a plant, restricting growth, maintaining plant health and improving the quality of flowers, fruit, foliage or stems. Pruning, when done incorrectly, can ruin trees and landscapes so it is important that it be carried out by someone with knowledge and experience. The idea that anyone with a chainsaw can be a landscape pruner is incorrect and every year, more trees are killed or ruined from improper pruning than from pests. As with anything, the more you understand the vegetation on your property, the better you will be able to maintain it and keep it healthy for years to come.
Trees Diseased tree limbs and branches that protrude into walkways are removed for safety but selective removal of branches throughout the canopy of a tree is sometimes performed to increase light, reduce wind resistance and strengthen a tree against adverse weather conditions. The best time to prune trees without showy flowers is generally late winter or early spring, before new growth develops and when the structure of the tree is easily visible. This also maximizes healing during the growing season. Flowering trees should be pruned during the dormant season to preserve the current year’s flowers; i.e. trees that flower in spring, such as dogwood and redbud, should be pruned immediately after flowering. The exception to this is in the case of dead limbs which should be removed right away to prevent insect infestation and diseases.
Shrubs For flowering shrubs, it is important to understand how the plant grows and blooms so as not to decrease the flowering potential. Shrubs that flower in the spring do so on last season’s growth and should be pruned soon after they bloom to encourage vigorous summertime growth and plenty of flower buds the next year. Shrubs that bloom after June usually do so on growth from that same spring and should be pruned in late winter to encourage vigorous growth in the spring.
Technique Pruning cuts should always be located where general growth will occur so that the plant will form a callous over the cut. Cuts should be clean and smooth to promote rapid healing, prevent bark tearing and reduce the chance of disease transmission. Before you begin, make sure your tools are sharp so they can cut the branches cleanly, without ripping. Proper pruning cuts are made where one branch or limb attaches to another, called the node, and are made so that only branch tissue is removed. Stem tissue should always be preserved in order for the wound to seal effectively. The cut should begin just outside the branch bark ridge and angle down away from the stem, preserving the branch collar. Cutting flush with the stem of the plant injures stem tissue and can result in decay. Similarly, cutting too far away from the stem leaves a branch stub which delays wound closure. Cutting just outside the branch collar at an angle leaves your tree or shrub in the best position to heal itself and continue growing for years. (For trees needing a large branch removed it is best to consult an arborist, as a three-cut approach needs to be used to ensure the health of the tree and the safety of the person removing it.)
Shrubs should be pruned in the same manner as trees, as topping (cutting off the tops) and tipping (cutting off the tips) are harmful to the plant and will weaken and reduce its growth. By properly pruning the plants and trees on your property you will exploit their growth potential, which will provide beautiful returns for many, many years.
Turf grasses need a near neutral environment in which to flourish. Sour soils, which are acidic, and sweet soils, which are alkaline, are both detrimental to grass growth. Highly acidic soils can occur from misuse of high nitrogen fertilizer, excessive amounts of organic soil conditioner such as peat moss or compost, and from dropped evergreen needles. Acidic soils are a sign that calcium and magnesium levels need replenishing and, together, these two chemicals are lime. Therefore, adding lime is an effective way to balance acidic soils and furnish plants with important nutrients. Lime is not a fertilizer product but, rather, a type of soil conditioner. Additionally, it increases bacterial activity in the soil which promotes air exchange and aerates the root zone. Lime is best applied in the fall and spring, as temperatures are cooler and moisture is more readily available. You want to be sure to test your lawn’s pH before treatment, though, as too much lime can be just as damaging as not enough. You want to test several areas of the property, as the pH may differ depending on surrounding plants and runoff from sidewalks and streets. Though not a cure-all for lawn problems, lime treatments are an essential building block for balancing and maintaining the health of your soil and turf.
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