Plants like dew drops, drops will do.

water drop

 

During this extremely dry summer we all have had to water our plants. This is a time consuming job and, if done improperly, a waste of water. Following are some tips that can help not only save you time and water but will make what you do more effective.

In other posts I have encouraged putting water in the hole as you plant out your annuals and vegetables. When this is done the plants will not wilt and they will not need water for three days at least. The amount of water needed to sustain a new plant for this long, if done this way, is about a cup per plant (likely less). IF we watered these gardens AFTER planting it would take more water than I can imagine and hours of time. A guess at 10 gallons per plant during this transplant stage is not unreasonable. There are several reasons for this.

  • The soil is not compacted and much of the water is working at bringing the soil back to its naturally healthy state. (by putting water in the hole when planting the soil is compacted properly when hole is filled)
  • The water is being applied to the whole of the garden instead of the plants in need.
  • The water is evaporating off the leaves and the top of the dirt
  • The water is running off and not soaking in.
  • Enough water, over the whole garden, has to be applied to soak the soil at least 3 inches. (THIS IS A LOT OF WATER)

There are other methods of doing what I am suggesting. The main point is to get water slowly to the plant so it soaks in over time. One method is to fill a two litre plastic pop bottle and turn it upside down in the dirt by the plant. I have never tried this and do not know how long the bottle stays filled or how often this needs to be done. If you use this method or have another idea please engage in the comment section where you have seen this post. The idea of course must conserve water.

What I do is turn the hose on until it barely drips. (hardly noticeable) Place the hose at the base of a tomato or your favourite shrub/flower and leave it there for a couple of hours. (overnight with grapes and shrubs) I set mine so slow that IF I forget it does no harm. Setting the hose at a fine dribble, slow enough that there is no run-off, is appropriate but only if you are there monitoring. It does not take long. There is no water wasted and I have to schedule watering less as I end up with more than enough water for each plant to do well for several days.


The simple often has the deepest roots.

There is a very very simple way to plant annuals. Planted in the way described below the plants will suffer less shock and need far less water. In fact there is no need to water for at least three daysafter the work is done. There is less of a mess. There is less strain on your muscles. The plants are easier to space symmetrically.

The reason the following planting tips help so much has to do with how plants are watered. Plants neither like nor need a cold cup of water; they are not thirsty in the way we are. They much prefer the water to be drawn up from below at just the right temperature. When the compaction of the soil is too loose there is no way for the roots to draw the water up. If you dig the flowers in with a small trowel and, worse yet, do it immediately after turning the soil you are actually hurting their chance of survival because there is no compaction. The first few days of watering are not giving the plants water as much as it is naturally compacting the soil making it possible to pass water properly later. Imagine giving a taste of water from the tip of your finger to a thirsty man. This is what you are doing.

How we do it is to poke the soil with a poking stick made for the poking, or an old shovel handle. My favourite is a four foot 2`x2“with a slightly tapered end. We start by clearing the mulch from the area to be planted. When we rake back the mulch we leave it in piles in the open or rake it onto a bag so we can redistribute evenly and it is easy to work with. The next step is to punch the holes with our 2×2. As we do not buy fancy planting stick with a place to use our foot to push the wood in we hammer the post from the top to make the cute little dimples. (not too deep please) This saves an awful lot of bending. A transplant solution is made up and this is squirted in the holes until they are half full. An old large soft type water bottle is best for this but please mark clearly with an X or throw out when done. It is at this point the additives are placed in and around the hole. By having our compost mix in a separate bag it simply saves the step of loosening some dirt from around the plant to top off the hole and press the plants in.

Do not water for three days. The plants will not wilt. Please note that in planters this compressing of the soil can be even more important, especially if you are using all new soil. A smaller pokey stick will make it easier.

Please watch this blog for further advice on planters. If interested give us a call about our retrofitting of planters to make them go for weeks without water. Great for those that vacation and businesses.

Summary

  • If you do not use mulch and are planning on turning the soil to add compost
    • do in the fall
    • do it early in the spring
    • don’t plant until two weeks after turning work is done (minimum)
  • If you have mulch it should not be disturbed
    • sprinkle fertilizers and compost on top of mulch for shrubs and perennials
      • do throughout year, not just the spring
    • rake away and re distribute if you are planting (annuals)
  • Poke holes
  • Add water, plants and soil and compact
    • water in the hole should not crest the surface making mud when planting
    • spread mulch back over area when done

Recycled stone hand excavated. Note companion of fox in rear

Recycled stone hand excavated. Note companion of fox in rear

This wall will last longer than prefab. All the cracks a garden to plant

This wall will last longer than prefab. All the cracks a garden to plant

 

We have all seen them. Those retaining walls that have cracks forming in them after only one year. Just try driving by and NOT seeing that flaw. It does not happen. That crack is always there. Now, if you travel overseas and see those natural dry stone walls they have built you will never notice the cracks.

There is a reason why on the one hand those cracks in the new “perfect” wall are ugly scars and why the beauty in the many many cracks in the dry stone wall are character. Perfection has failed in one while in the other ingenuity and resourcefulness has triumphed.

To many it is inconceivable that our garden should be a story. One would never ask perfection of a forest or a walk through a meadow and, though a garden is neither of those, it should achieve some of the goals of that forest and meadow. Soft slippered moss on rocks hold a story, create a mood. So also that fern relaxing in a sun beam at the base of a tree or that Trillium surprising you as you round a corner. The Queen Anne when seen up close reveals a beautiful the pattern of her lace that is imperfect. In nature we walk down steps made into the roots of a Cedar, not quite made to code, to get to something that draws us. There is even the intrigue of a broken twig with Coyote hair caught in it or the scat from a bear that needs to be considered in our plans. Intrigue is good.

This post uses retaining walls to get across a different way of thinking because they are a great example of how we tend to want our world square and level. Bringing the element of depth is very difficult because most of our minds fall apart as we work through the three dimensional, let alone entering into the elusive fourth dimension of plants and nature. A garden plan should include what we will call depth and when you do this it becomes far simpler than one would think. Retaining walls will not have to be square after all. This seems very poetic, and I suppose it is, but actually it is a thought process that can save people money.

To me one of the biggest problems with retaining wall is how limited they are to different curves, the unsquareness of a garden. Trying to accomplish a radius other than the one engineered into the wall system will mean it will fail. This means the wall holds all the cards and other sight lines are sacrificed. When space is limited and when a design screams for a custom solution it often cannot be found in pre fabricated concrete.

Prefabricated retaining wall systems demand that the base for the wall is properly put down and compacted correctly. A pre fabricated wall demands that the water behind the wall is well drained; it WILL freeze and heave the wall if not. You will need the right size blocks. You will need the right fill placed behind the wall. NONE of these are negative, they are just fact. No effort is made here to try to better inform the DIYer with trips and ticks, this is simply to say DO IT AS THE MANUFACTURER says. It is to suggest strongly to the DIYer or someone getting a cheap wall done that the greatest cost to these walls is in designing the space, the material costs like drains and fill, the labour to prepare the site properly and/or in the cost of redoing it in the future.

Please note that for all that these walls are perfect along walks, in limited space and for larger grade differences like between houses; especially if they are to rise more than 3-4 feet above grade. Just make sure you do them right.

What we do best are ‘breathable living walls” ; unique old school garden walls. These last and last and look great, especially when planted out and matured with gardening. We are always on the lookout for projects that demand a properly installed wall, whether pre fab, natural stone or concrete. Schepers Property Maintenance brings an expertise to these projects that comes out 30 years experience building them and gardening around them. If the project is to big for us we work closely with people who can.

Summary

  1. Plan the landscaping around a wall first and consider different wall options
    1. if the wall is designed to be part of a garden and will disappear behind plants
    2. if the wall demands varied curves to work
    3. if the wall is less than three feet tall
    4. if the area to be worked on is landlocked and not easily excavated
  2. In situations where a larger wall is necessary and where space is limited
    1. resolve to excavate and prepare site properly
      1. ensure contractor has the capacity and experience

      2. INSPECT the preparation work before the stones are to be laid
    2. Make sure you clearly understand where the wall will be drained to and maintain this drain. (nothing jammed in it, do not alter grade)
    3. Ensure the right fill/ aggregate is used for various stages.
  3. When gardening around the wall be aware of limitations.
    1. Shrubs planted too close? Roots can damage walls
    2. do not dig deep and disturb drain immediately along back of wall
natural stone wall repair

Repairing an existing wall


110628 nancy

 

A properly designed garden means that where and how it is edged is well thought out. It cannot be stressed enough that it is here, where your garden meets the lawn or the neighbours’ fence, that you can have the most impact. Improper design means that your garden will become labour intensive and the investments made in the plants could be lost.

This post is self serving in that it is encouraging you to book a consult. Yes this is one of many topics that will be discussed. Type of tools, placement of plants, plants to avoid and such things as available light will be also be gone over. The reason for this specific post is because of a quote we just sent in. If the garden was edged with Schepers Property Maintenance’s “hidden edge” there would be a saving of close to $500.00 yearly on labour costs. It would take 3 to 3.5 years to retrieve the costs of getting it installed. The plants would be healthier and safer. If you are one who does the work yourself a consult may not save you money but it will give you more time to enjoy you yard.

The raised dirt garden edge is not the best edge for your plants. The soil dries out faster, the mulch sloughs off and the rhizomes from the grass still get in your garden. These grasses tend to be trimmed down and beaten into hiding but they are still there. If ever the garden is not maintained this grass will soon take over. It is the most labour intensive task in the garden. There are other ways to properly edge a garden that look great and save the property owner time and money. We can help.

Our goal is to promote gardening and to make it as enjoyable as it should be. Learning techniques refined from 30 years experience and talking over plans will make that possible. When we arrive for a consult we are not quoting the work. This is not a fancy way to make you a customer; though that is a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

When planning the edges here are some key points to consider.

  • Never plant too close to the edge. This is a costly mistake and will give a very messy appearance.
    • The perennials and shrubs in the garden, fully grown, should just kiss the hem of the lawn or walk. Annuals can be forgiven if they start to crowd and edge into the lawn.
  • Never let an edge go. Choose type of edge and then diligently maintain.
  • Fence lines are the hardest to weed and trim. Resolve these issues first with design changes and maintenance techniques. (and our hidden edge)
  • Do not be afraid of a larger garden. A shrub/ perennial garden 100 by 100, properly mulched that has but a 10 foot edge takes less time to maintain than a 30 by 30 garden with a 60 foot edge. Always consider the edge.
  • Plastic edging is not the best and takes maintenance. It is also more labour intensive to install too as it should not have any kinks. Do not instal around a tree as it will pop out sooner than you think. Check often and repair and reset as needed.
  • Stone edging, especially round ones are the worst. Every gap is a nursery for grass. ASK US FIRST!

2015-09-10 12.01.24

 

Hardscaping: Thoughts on Interlock

When hardscaping your property it is important to know what you can expect from the different materials available. We are gardeners and view the world of your yard through a lens that judges the maintenance requirements and how the materials work to help create the effect you want from your property. We know that in the end it is in the plant choices, the garden design and the the location and size of the hardscape that effect the atmosphere of your yard the most; not the material choice. This post deals with the maintenance expectations of the interlock only.

Let me give you an example. The quaintness of interlock, that feel of being more natural, is lost if there is no garden to help with the effect. Inversely a concrete walk can easily be softened and made to belong by good garden design. It is the garden design that makes the difference every time. Some more examples? The biggest mistake in walkway designs is making the shrub bed it borders too small. It looks right when initially installed but it does not take into account the growth of the shrubs. The walk becomes crowded and obscured, uncomfortable to walk on. To compensate the shrubs are pruned too close. They loose their natural softness and begin to brown. The perennials encroach. Had this walk had been properly placed there would have been a temporary loss of proportions but in time it would naturally fit; saving you time and money. Placement is more important that material.

Yes the point is to plan the garden first and to consult with experts. Yes we are expert. In fact we mostly use other companies to do the hardscape work for us as our capacity is limited. They are good. We may install a walk in the back yard, edge a garden with concrete or make repairs to hardscapes but we do not install a large project like drive or entrance way. We will get quotes, schedule work and over see the job.

In heavily trafficked areas we would shy away from interlock. The reason for this is simply that it is the hardest to maintain. It is in severe weather conditions that this becomes most evident. Interlock freezes first every time and the very nature of it makes it the most difficult to clear. The applied salt, when used, does not sit on the surface as well and as it dissolves and does its job it will sit in all those little cracks. Interlock is the hardest to shovel, at least when the weather is severe. The choice of equipment used is limited if one does not want it chipped or flawed in anyway. During the last freezing rain event we had to do the interlock areas first and, on several properties where all else was clear, there was still a need to schedule return visits. The thing about interlock, because of its density, is that it does not transmit heat from the sun well and it does not retain heat well. This includes transmitting the warmer ground temperature in the early winter, meaning snow accumulates on it first. The one joy of interlock for maintenance is the sound the shovel makes as it clears a light snow, the soft little percussions at each joint that, cobbled together, have a very unique effect on serenity.

Interlock is not a BAD choice despite all that. It does mean that of all drive materials it would be a good idea to have sand on hand to deal with ice. I was considering interlock in fact for our drive despite all these “fails” and the reason in the end I eliminated it as an option was not to do with winter maintenance. Interlock was not chosen because it is nearly impossible to make it safe with people with handicaps. It would work well in the drive or on a straight run of walk but at all the transitions in grade it is extremely difficult to eliminate trip hazards. I have yet to see a raised interlock/ retaining wall front stoop that does not have areas that sink and create little trip hazards over time. These occur at the edges where the joint between the retaining blocks and filler bricks meet. This happens to be the place where handicapped people rely on a smooth consistent walk, right at the railing.

Interlock is not a bad choice despite all that. Interlock can still work and I know companies that could do it right, even in my drive. The worst thing about interlock is not the fault of the material but the conceptions we have of it. The first one I will deal with is the connotation of easier. It is not easier to install…properly. Like with all hardscapes it is in the end the base material and the site preparation that matter more than what goes on top. Proper preparation is critical and though I am loath to say it, it is even more important with interlock. There is less forgiveness in details with interlock and any mistake matters. To be honest one of the reasons I was considering interlock for our home is that “it was something I could do well” This reasoning is flawed when you consider I would still need a back hoe to properly remove the existing drive and old base materials. It is no small task to bring in the right material either. Proper packing techniques are critical. Yes the actual laying of the bricks and perhaps the cost saving of supplying them would be something I could do but it will still take a different capacity than I offer to properly prepare the area. So, the flaw of interlock? Simply that it seems like a good DIY project but in fact it is not. It should not be seen as cheaper and easier.

The last flaw with interlock? The connotation of quaint. I have attached a link to a post about my aunts house in Holland. I have also included pictures of cobbled streets. North Americans do not get quaint is the end conclusion. It is ironic that a cobbled drive has a million cracks and all of those cracks are a petri dish for something. Moss and weeds. In my aunts house the “weeds” were Columbine growing up, they had a name and they were welcome. Likely she actually sowed them. If one truly understands quaint and unique they would take walks and be on the lookout for different mosses to propagate in the cracks. They would create a mosaic and, by propagating the moss, they would smother out dandelions and their ilk. We have a customer that is doing this. We have made a moss garden. (it is harder than laying the drive…just beware)

Stones and bricks put down as interlock are meant to tell a story. They discolour and weeds grow. If you do not want weeds and moss in your drive it will take more maintenance and perhaps concrete or asphalt is the better choice. In the end a perfect drive is a beautiful thing and I enjoy the look but a perfect faded interlock drive looks the same as asphalt or concrete. The bright colours or contrasting tones you chose will fade and that initial contrast and freshness will wane. Which brings us back to the first point about design and the ‘fit’ of your drive in the yard.

I always encourage people about a final consideration. It is in the lingering guests that a home truly pops. You know the feel. The long good byes on the front stoop. A porch light left on to help visitors see. I have yet to see hardscape or gardens make difference in a good conversation or the warmth of a hug. Interlock or any change in your yard should be to make relationships happen better. Relationships by the way mean spilled wine and sometimes even puddling oil and recognizing this truth may also help influence what clothes you put on your house when guests arrive.

We are always on the lookout for garden makeovers. Yes we will undertake the whole yard and yes we are very good.