From wreaths on lampposts to garland on staircases, looking around towns in New Hampshire, it is easy to see that there are few things as festive as a real Christmas tree. Lighting ceremonies are held in village squares for the larger trees, while homes play guest to a variety of evergreens each year. At Belknap Landscape, we proudly help our clients with holiday décor throughout the Lakes Region. From festive wreaths and trees to warm lights and colorful bows, we’ve learned a thing or two about getting the best results for your enjoyment during the holidays. Here’s our advice for making your real Christmas tree last the entire season.
Pick out a tree that fits your needs and appears healthy. The biggest challenge in making your tree last the longest is keeping the tree hydrated. This means you need to start off with a tree that is as hydrated as possible.
Avoid trees with clearly dehydrated areas. Look to avoid limbs that are turning brown, as well as needles that shed easily or are particularly brittle. Take the time to gently brush the limbs to see if they retain some elasticity, and the needles remain in place.
When you get the tree home, cut off about one inch from the base of the tree before you bring it inside. This fresh cut will allow the trunk to absorb water more efficiently. If you cut your tree yourself and are immediately bringing it home, this may not be necessary, but if you’re unsure how long it has been since the tree was cut—take this step.
Consider spraying your tree with an anti-transpirant such as Wilt Pruf. This will reduce moisture loss through the needles into the ambient air. As the most significant variable to making your real tree last the longest is hydration, this step can prove valuable. Follow the instructions on the container and allow your tree time for the product to dry before moving your tree indoors. This is also an excellent step for your fresh wreaths.
Set up your tree away from heat sources. Close sources of heat will dehydrate your tree faster, but another consideration is safety. A fresh tree is flammable, and as the season progresses and the tree dries, they become more of a fire risk. Keeping your tree away from heat sources is the best way to mitigate the fire risk.
After you’ve installed your tree, water it immediately with enough water to keep the base of the trunk submerged. You do not need to add anything to the water, but you must check the water regularly to ensure the base remains submerged. A fresh tree uses a surprising amount of water, with around a gallon a day usage being common in many instances. At a minimum, we suggest checking your tree’s water daily.
When it’s time, dispose of your tree responsibly. Remove all decorations, including tinsel, and follow the policies your local municipality has in place. Throwing your tree in the woods, along a road, or in a body of water is littering. While the material is organic, it is irresponsible and detrimental to the environment.
Trees add a beautiful, dynamic dimension to any outdoor space. Several things however, can affect the health and viability of your trees, and an unhealthy tree can be a hazard. It’s essential to take the time to check on your trees for safety and health. Here’s an easy guide to tree care basics. Please be aware of these symptoms before surveying your trees, and use care in approaching or standing under a problem tree.
Is your tree leaning?
Trees can grow to be quite large, and their mass must be well supported. A healthy and safe tree has a network of roots that not only gather water and nutrients but also anchors the base of the tree into the ground. A leaning tree can put stress on the anchoring abilities of its roots.
Leans can be caused by tree growth patterns, weather events, changes in soil conditions, and a variety of other factors. When checking on a leaning tree, it’s important to note the severity of the lean. The ground around the base of the tree should also be inspected. Are there cracks, swells, or disturbed areas in the ground? These could be evidence of the cause of the lean, or a problematic symptom caused by the lean.
Regardless of the cause, a leaning tree can be dangerous and is more likely to fall. Unfortunately, in many cases, depending on the severity of the lean, a leaning tree may need to be felled.
How does the foliage look?
Dead, thinning, or missing foliage (leaves or needles) is a clear indicator there’s a problem with a tree. It’s important to note the extent of the foliage issues. Is the entire tree experiencing this problem, or is it isolated to a branch or section?
In some cases, foliage problems are indicative of a disease or fungus problem. If caught early, diseases and fungi can undergo treatment and you may potentially save the tree. If allowed to persist, illness can render a tree unsavable, and, eventually, a safety issue, so don’t delay!
Sometimes foliage problems are caused by trauma. A rotten, dead, or dying part of a tree needs removal for a few reasons. First, these are safety hazards. As dead limbs age and decay in a tree, they are more likely to fall, causing property damage or personal injury. Second, dead or dying areas of trees are a detriment to the healthy part of the tree. A tree will continue to attempt to support dead areas with nutrients that could be utilized in good areas. Finally, these dead or dying areas on a tree can harbor pests and create avenues for threats to the overall health of the tree.
Is the trunk in good condition?
The trunk is the backbone of your tree. It is the conduit for water and nutrients to pass from the roots to the canopy. It is the structural foundation off of which grow the roots and branches, and of course, it supports the weight of the tree. Trees need healthy trunks to remain viable and safe.
Check your trunks for structural problems like voids or deep cavities. These can create problems for a tree to support the significant weight of the tree or may be indicative of other issues. Press on the trunk to see if it feels firm to the touch and not rotten. Finally, utilize a mallet to knock on the trunk and check to see if it sounds hollow. It’s not unusual for trees to experience problems causing them to have no visible structural issues outside, yet harbor significant problems inside.
Look for missing bark. While small patches of bark may be missing for a myriad of reasons, large areas of missing bark could indicate a significant health issue or trauma. A good rule of thumb is to seek help in the following instances. First, if the missing bark exceeds 25% of the tree surface. Second, if there are indications that bark is missing due to disease or pests. And, third, if the missing bark area presents additional damage such as a large gouge or rot.
Does your trunk have signs of fungi or pests? Look for mushrooms or lichens. Fine or coarse sawdust can be an indication of pest activity. Both pests and fungi will erode the health of a tree’s trunk, causing it to topple or die if left unchecked.
Are there cracks or splits?
With the significant weight associated with tree limbs, exposure to weather conditions, and other events, it’s not unusual for cracks or splits to occur in many areas on a tree. In particular, look where branches shoot off from the trunk, where branches have offshoots to other branches, the exposed roots, and the trunk.
Splits and cracks represent significant weak spots in a tree, as well as areas that may develop into more problematic conditions. In many cases, splits can be repaired, or portions of the tree removed to ensure the long-term viability of a tree. If these conditions are left to persist, they typically evolve into situations that can create a hazard for the tree’s health, property damage, or even personal injury.
Are there fallen branches and limbs around the base of the tree?
The occasional fall of a branch is normal. If a tree seems to be shedding branches regularly, or if you find larger limbs, this could indicate a problem.
Branches and limbs could fall due to a health condition causing them to weaken in the canopy and break off easier than if they were healthy. Your tree may also need pruning. Pruning a tree will enable better light and air penetration, resulting in healthier limbs, a more attractive tree, and less shedding of branches and limbs.
It’s important to note that if you have a tree that is chronically shedding limbs, it may not be safe to inspect the tree from the base. In these instances, utilizing binoculars to examine the canopy is a best practice to consider.
Know when to call help
Tree care can be a complex and dangerous project to undertake. In many cases, a property owner may see better results by consulting a professional. When choosing a professional to diagnose or work on your property, there are a few things to consider.
Nationally Certified Arborists have the training and expertise to care for your trees. In instances of disease, fungi, or any other challenges, this expertise cannot be substituted.
Tree pruning and felling are inherently dangerous. As a result, it is wise to ensure the professionals you welcome on your property are fully insured, trained, and have a safety program. A professional landscape or tree firm can, and will gladly provide information or documentation on these items upon request.
Finally, there’s a difference between tree-care professionals and general laborers. Tree care is a profession that requires technical education, training, and years of practice to master. As one would expect from an electrician, plumber, or any other skilled tradesperson, the differences in ability and results between a tree care professional, and general laborers are significant. While an unskilled tradesperson may claim they can perform tree work, that doesn’t mean they could or should. And without trade specific insurance, you may be liable for accidents or incidents on your property. Hire a professional for your own protection and peace of mind.
Landscape permitting can be a complicated process. Thankfully a good landscape contractor can make this process quicker, easier, and less expensive. If you’re considering hiring a landscape contractor, have a conversation with them about permitting. Make sure you’re clear about who is responsible for permitting. Good landscapers will happily complete this process for you and provide awareness of the following aspects.
Landscape permitting can be a unique, and creative process. All properties have characteristics unique to themselves, and these characteristics can cause the permit review process to take longer than expected. For example, properties on Lake Winnipesaukee, or in the Lake Wentworth watershed, may involve different local, state, and even federal permitting agencies to be involved. Meanwhile, property in downtown Laconia may require less review. Practice patience to accommodate your unique property and its features.
Be Prepared to Make Changes
Do you love the idea of a large patio on the lake? You may need to change your materials from stone to permeable pavers, or you may need to reduce the size of the patio. Are you in love with the idea of a specific flower in your garden? That flower may not be able to survive in our climate zone or native soils.
As the permit process develops, changes in the landscape plan may be required. Specific conditions on your property, including climate, soil Ph, sun exposure, and wildlife, will play a significant role in your landscape plan. A well-practiced landscape contractor will know how to navigate these challenges to help you find a solution you’ll love, and still comply with permitting rules.
Beware of Invasive Species
The introduction of new plants into a landscape can be an eye-catching and essential aspect of your design. Unfortunately, not all plants can or should be added to your property. Invasive species plants, for example, are non-native plants that can propagate beyond your landscape, and compete with native plants. These species place strain on the environment, and once introduced, they can be a challenge to remove.
Your landscape contractor should be well-versed I invasive plants and able to offer you varied alternatives.
Smaller square footage projects can move through the planning and permitting process faster, however, this is not always the case. The complexity of design and impact on the environment are significant influencers on time required for planning and permitting. For example, installing sod and a dozen trees on a nearly level two-acre property several miles inland from a water body is a fairly straightforward wetland permit application. It will likely take less time than, for example, a 300 square-foot patio that features a 20’ natural stone retaining wall, landscape lighting, and a built-in outdoor kitchen on a lakeshore. The property example on the lake requires planning for the installation of electric and gas features, and will take longer to be fully permitted for a key reason. In this instance, the Department of Environmental Services, the local town agencies, and perhaps even the Army Corps of Engineers may need to issue a permit.
Consider the Environment
An educated landscape contractor will fully understand how changes to your property can affect the surrounding area. An ethical landscape contractor will work with you to create a landscape which both creates the space you desire, and also minimizes the impact that space has on the environment. Finally, an effective landscape contractor will work with you to educate you on the importance of these factors and find solutions that work.
For example, having a lush green lawn that traverses your property up to your shoreline may be your preference, but that may not be your best option. Maintaining turf can require ongoing fertilization and irrigation. These practices can create runoff, which will shuttle chemicals into the lake. These chemicals can and likely would harm the lake’s health.
Which would you rather have: a beautiful lawn or a beautiful lake? Thankfully there are laws and regulations regarding how close chemicals can be applied to the shorefront. As a result, many times, a lawn isn’t as viable a choice as other plant life right at the shore.
Permitting is a Requirement
Too often, we see property renovations in ways that are contrary to the laws and regulations of New Hampshire. Often in these cases, the homeowner is either unaware that the permitting process is required, being avoided, or, worse, they encourage this behavior to get their desired outcome.
Eventually, both of these behaviors will cause a problem. Non-permitted work, when discovered, will be required to be brought into compliance. As a result, further expense is placed upon the property owner. This, paired with any citations, can prove to become a significant financial burden. In these instances, the final result may be more expensive, less functional, and lacking in aesthetic desirability. Following the proper permitting process can help avoid this and create the best outcome for your landscape. An early compromise is better than the later forced solution.
Before You Buy, Research
Landscapes that are in permit violation, poorly constructed, or contain invasive species, become the burden of the property owner. When you are purchasing a home, do your research to ensure you will not inherit these complications.
Local municipalities can assist you to be sure all recent work on the property was correctly permitted. A home inspector can help you diagnose some potential issues. A good landscape contractor can review the property for invasive species and acceptable construction on landscape features.
Inspecting the land as well as the building before you buy is important and can save you problems and expense down the road.
The change of seasons can be a critical time to care for your landscape. Changes in temperature, lighting, and precipitation have significant effects on your outdoor spaces. Today we’ll cover some tips and reminders to get the most out of, and best protect, your investment in your landscape this fall.
Fall is the best time to seed your lawn
Lawns invariably benefit from over-seeding by replacing old, dying plant material with younger and more resilient seedlings. An over-seeded lawn typically produces a more healthy and viable turf while also discouraging the opportunity for weed growth.
In New Hampshire, fall brings cooler ambient temperatures while the soil conditions remain relatively warm. This provides an environment where new grass seeds can germinate in favorable conditions while having less competition because of a lower weed population. As a result, the seeds are more likely to mature into healthy turf.
Fall annuals and seasonal displays
Due to the incredible variety of tree species in New England, we typically do not experience a shortage of color and beauty during the fall. As a result, we can overlook or underutilize our existing planters, gardens, and outdoor spaces. Once the leaves have fallen from the trees, our outdoor spaces can turn drab and unappealing quickly. But there are things you can do to keep your property beautiful year-round.
Seasonal décor can include frost resistant organic additions like chrysanthemums, harvest items like cornstalks and pumpkins, or decorative fixtures like holiday lighting or festive features. These items can turn an otherwise drab property into an eye-catching, vibrant space you’ll be happy to call your own. Preparation for your decor plan may be necessary. For example, your local retailers or landscapers may have more limited supplies, your homeowner’s association may have restrictions, or you may simply want to have time to view a variety of options.
Adjust your landscape lighting to coincide with daylight saving time and changes in seasonal sunlight
Landscape lighting is a great way to accentuate your property after sundown while also keeping it safe. Either a digital or mechanical timer control many of these systems, and it’s essential to alter the timer as needed for changes in seasonal sunlight or daylight savings. It’s inefficient to have your landscape lighting on when the sun is still lighting your property, or when the light isn’t necessary. Conversely, as daylight periods get shorter, the time landscape lighting should be utilized grows.
There are numerous ways to resolve these challenges. If you have a digital or mechanical timer, adjusting the timer in relation to your specific needs is a quick and economical solution. Installation and utilization of photoelectric sensors is another solution which can provide an “automatic” feature to your landscape lighting cycles. Both of these solutions can be performed by a qualified landscaper, with the latter in particular requiring specific training.
Cut back select perennials
During the fall, certain perennials see health advantages when cut back. These cut backs can help reduce exposure to potential fungus or disease in the late fall and winter seasons. Other perennials are easier and cleaner to cut back after a few frost cycles, but before the plant material dies or becomes limp and difficult to handle. In these instances, the cuts made are crisper, the results are cleaner, and the plant is better prepared for new growth in the spring.
It is important to understand that cut backs are beneficial for only select perennials. A landscape or horticulture professional is best prepared to know which plants would benefit from a fall cut back, and the best method to realize the desired benefits.
Fertilizing shrubs for an extra nutrient boost before winter and frozen ground
Most plants change their physiology based on the season. In many ways, plants like shrubs go into a state that is comparable to hibernation. Much like hibernating animals, a plant’s ability to gain nutrients before winter is vital to their survival in winter and their recovery in spring.
Fertilizing your shrubs in the fall is important to provide them with nutrients. The soil in the fall is warm enough to absorb water and nutrients while also being able to convey the nutrients to your shrubs. This will enable your shrubs to prepare themselves better to maintain health through the winter, and give them a head start in the summer.
Apply anti-desiccant on broadleaf evergreens
Desiccation occurs when a plant is unable to replace the water in their leaves quicker than water lost through transpiration. Winter is especially problematic regarding desiccation. This is because as the ground freezes, available water for plants is severely reduces while the ambient humidity becomes very low, and this exacerbates transpiration.
Anti-desiccants are typically best applied in temperatures between 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit; this is commonly mid to late fall in New Hampshire. This time also happens to be immediately before the winter season when plants are most at risk. We’ve found rhododendrons, holly, inkberry, and boxwood receive good results from fall applications of anti-desiccants.
Protect your vulnerable plant material from deer
By far, the best way to prevent damage from deer is to select plant material that is unappealing to them. Unfortunately, this may not be an option for you based on your existing plants or preferences. To further complicate matters, as fall and winter persist, deer may be forced to find nutrition from sources other than what is available to them in the spring and summer. Their resourcefulness may drive them onto your property if you have available food sources.
One way to mitigate deer damage is to restrict deer access to your property. Fence installation options may be permanent or temporary. It’s important to ensure the installed fence is both secure and high enough to deter the deer from your property. Otherwise, you may find deer become “fenced in” on your property, which creates new challenges. Another way to prevent deer-related damage is to use a repellant. There are commercially produced repellants, as well as organic items that utilize a putrid smell to deter deer.
Regardless of the solution or mixture of solutions utilized, the best plan is to complete installation of deer protection before the ground freezes and first snow arrives.
Winterize your irrigation system
While daytime temperatures during the fall can remain relatively warm, at night the chances of freezing temperatures increase. As a result, it’s important to be mindful of your irrigation system and garden spigots. Failure to remove water from these systems, typically through the use of compressed air, will likely result in damage to the system.
In addition to costly repairs, a damaged system will refill with water as scheduled if it is not turned off. This can lead to additional property damage through erosion or environmental damage caused by excessive runoff. In the Lakes Region, we need to be mindful of runoff that can include the results of a damaged irrigation system.
Whether you do it yourself, or hire a landscape professional, the tasks you perform in the fall can have a lasting effect on your landscape for seasons to come.
So, you’re thinking about working as a landscaper, and you think you know what to expect. Maybe you do, but there’s a good chance there will be some surprises for you. Here are five things you don’t know about a career in landscaping.
There is a difference between Landscapers and Property Maintenance professionals.
This is a common misconception because in many areas these two professions overlap. Both may perform tasks like lawn mowing, plowing, and even general horticultural tasks, but to group them together is a disservice to both professions.
Landscapers specialize in the improvement of the land. This can include the installation of hardscape features like patios and walls, plant life like perennials and trees, and durable fixtures like irrigation and lighting. These tasks typically require additional knowledge, training, and equipment that a property maintenance company may not possess.
Property maintenance professionals specialize in maintaining the entire property. They may perform tasks that landscapers do not commonly oversee. This includes work such as winterization services, property monitoring, maintaining property features such as a swimming pool, and light repair work. This requires knowledge, tools, and equipment that a typical landscape company may not possess.
When choosing your career path, it’s essential to understand these distinctions so that you can move toward the profession that fits best for you.
You’re never done learning.
There is a persistent belief that landscapers are more “doers” and less “thinkers.” If you’re looking for a job that will not challenge you to learn and grow, being a landscaper may not be for you.
Landscaping is a career that requires professionals. As in many professional career paths, education and growth are needed to build proficiency. It’s not uncommon for individuals and their organizations to earn professional certifications from a wide variety of development sources. In our company, we have professionals certified in general landscaping, irrigation, hardscape paver installation, dry stack wall building, and tree care, to name a few.
Landscape professionals commonly utilize math and science skills in their daily work environments. The calculation of slope ratios, square footage, volume, and estimation are regular occurrences, as are the identification of plant species, climate conditions, and the water table. When seeking this as a career, you must be comfortable using these skills both for your own career satisfaction and also in support of your clients and business.
You don’t need to “deal with people.”
Landscaping is a service. A landscaper is a person or organization providing skilled labor and services to other organizations or people. By its nature, services require dealing with clients.
While it is accurate that a landscaper’s interaction with a client may be brief or infrequent, it does occur, and excellent service skills should be provided. Landscapers should educate, inform, and interact with their clients regularly to ensure the service being provided is as expected, and fulfills the needs of the client.
Anybody can do it.
If the information mentioned prior wasn’t evidence enough against this notion, the industry facts should be. In an industry poll, 77% of landscape firms responded that their business growth was hindered by the lack of qualified hirable candidates. These companies want to grow, but struggle based on the lack of skilled help. If anyone could do it, they could hire anyone and grow.
The notion that anyone can landscape is a driving force behind the lack of qualified candidates. Some individuals who are considering a career in landscaping believe their willingness to “show up” is a qualification, and as a result, they neglect to learn what the industry views as prime qualifications.
Is it possible to begin a career in landscaping without qualifications? Yes. If you are willing to start in an entry-level position, plan on a learning curve as you gain the knowledge and trade skills to become a qualified professional. Otherwise, you may want to consider joining a horticulture, agriculture, or equipment operations educational program. Many high schools offer these programs, as do colleges and universities such as the University of Massachusetts Stockbridge, Paul Smiths College, or the University of Maine Orono. Some landscape businesses like Belknap Landscape also offer an apprenticeship program as a way to gain the skills you’ll need.
There’s little opportunity or growth.
The Lakes Region Planning Commission, in a study conducted with the State of New Hampshire, predicts that landscape job opportunities will grow by 9.4% by the year 2022, with supervisory positions in landscape also increasing by 8.4%. This is more than double the area average in job growth and outpaces many high demand professions such as nurse assistants, computer programmers, and network administrators, to name a few.
Additionally, landscaping is a career which can present personal career growth opportunity. While working for a landscape company, depending on their size and long-term goals, there may be several levels of supervisory or management opportunities for an employee to achieve. As a landscape company owner, expansion and company growth may be realized. Both are dependent on the acquisition of skills and qualifications required to grow, but as in most careers, motivated difference-makers do have opportunities they could realize.
Landscaping could be a good career choice for you. To learn more, reach out to your local landscaping company and talk to their Human Resources Department. As with any career choice, the more you know and understand before you begin, the more successful and rewarding your career can be!
Your landscape contractor is a resource for you to make and keep your property looking it’s best. You can rely on a good landscape contractor to know about your land, plants, and hardscape and how to keep them in the best condition possible. Good landscapers provide a valuable service, but there’s a few things they can or will do that you may not have considered. Here’s 5 things you might not be aware of.
Did you know that a quality, well-maintained landscape can add 12-15% to your property value? Landscape is a durable and long-lasting addition to the form and function of your property, and a good landscaper can help you realize these benefits.
Through the addition of usable outdoor spaces, a landscaper can transform the perceived living area of your home to include the outside. This can give your property additional areas for relaxation, hosting guests, or general use. A good landscaper can help you determine a plan to both fit your needs and budget while achieving your desired outcome.
Consider your outdoor space. Is it being utilized well? Do you enjoy being outdoors on your property? Could it be better? We’ve helped clients realize fantastic outdoor living spaces by adding a patio, fire pit, pergola, garden, pool, or even an outdoor kitchen. This translated to both an immediate increase quality of life for them, through enjoying their new outdoor spaces, while also increasing the value of their property.
Landscape is often the first recognized aspect of your property that guests and potential buyers notice. While boosting value and curb appeal, landscape is also an indicator of homeowner care and maintenance. When selling your home, you want to communicate both your pride of ownership as well as reasons why a buyer may want to purchase this home.
Is the property attractive? First impressions matter. Consider working with a landscaper to give your front yard or entryway a facelift.
Is the landscape well cared for? If not, what does this say about how the home may have been cared for? Ongoing landscape maintenance is important as plant life can overgrow a property quickly, or even cause damage. A professional landscaper can maintain or reclaim your property making it more appealing to a buyer.
Many landscapers have the ability to apply pesticides to properties in an effort to control turn and plant pests which may damage the landscape and plant life. This is an important part of their work and is typically a common expectation, but did you know they can also be an important partner in keeping your home pest free?
Most pests enter the home from the outside. A landscaper can help remove avenues of entry through maintaining good pruning of trees and shrubs. Landscapers can also remove debris and overgrowth which serve as homes and attractants to many types of common pests. Keeping ground cover trimmed, leaves and organic material picked up and disposed of properly, and even the choice of plants used in a landscape are often overlooked ways to minimize pests on your property, and as a result in your home.
Flooding, erosion, or water related problems
Water management is an important aspect of property ownership. Water can have a damaging effect on your land and the structures on it. A good first step in managing these risks is understanding how your landscape has an effect. A good landscape contractor can help you realize areas of concern and in many cases provide solutions.
One-way landscapers can assist you in preventing problems associated with water is through grading or ensuring your property has the property slopes in place. A landscaper can help introduce new or correct existing slopes to encourage water movement away from structures or areas of concern.
Landscapers can also introduce drainage solution which may include different types of drains, swales, or dry wells designed to move or hold water. Many of these solutions can be integrated into a landscape and look natural or not be noticed at all by the homeowner.
Erosion is another struggle many property owners face regarding water management. Erosion can be quite damaging and difficult to replace. Your landscape professional can help mitigate erosion through proper water management practices as mentioned, in addition to the selection and introduction of plants designed to maintain soil integrity.
Finding a contractor
While we’ve covered that landscapers can do many things to benefit your property, there’s a number of things a landscape simply cannot, or should not attempt. A good landscape will know and understand these limitations, but also be able to help you find someone qualified to help.
In the landscape industry we work along side pavers, home builders, septic installers, and a wide variety of trades professionals on a daily basis. We get to know and see first hand who provides quality work, is responsive, and responsible. As a result, a good landscaper could be a good resource for finding someone to work on your property. Reputable professionals typically know of other reputable professionals, and providing referrals is something we’ve done on a regular basis.
Irrigation is an important part of keeping your landscape healthy and vibrant. A good irrigation system and program can protect your investment and keep your outdoor space looking great while also helping to conserve water. Unfortunately, not all irrigation systems are the same, and there’s things you should know to get the most out of your irrigation.
The dangers of over-watering
Plants need water, and a lack of water is a leading cause of plant loss. It’s best to make sure you’re giving them all the water they need. Unfortunately, there is such a thing as too much water.
Overwatering can cause mechanical damage to your sprinkler system or turf. These systems are designed to run periodically for a brief period. Allowing your system to operate for too long, with too much pressure, or too frequently, can cause components to break down and fail.
Excess water can lead to disease, moss, compaction, anaerobic soil conditions, and dead spots in your turf or be detrimental to your ornamental plantings. Certain disease conditions and fungi thrive in chronically moist environments. Thatch, the dead plant material in your landscape, needs periods of dryness to decompose. Otherwise, it remains in the turf and can cut off vital oxygen, water, and nutrients to live plants. Additionally, weak turf or diminished plant hardiness can result from immature root zones as the plants have never had to seek water. Finally, overwatering can change the consistency of your soil, making it denser and reducing the critical aeration plants need to thrive.
Another consideration is runoff. Living in New Hampshire means we need to be mindful of runoff as we strive to protect the water quality of our ponds, rivers, and lakes. Overwatering can lead to runoff as excessive water will not be absorbed and as a result runs along the surface of the ground. This overwatering runoff could make its way into Winnipesaukee, Winnisquam, Squam, or many other bodies of water.
How long to water
The ideal situation is to water heavily but infrequently. This allows the plants to take in available water and for the roots to drive deeper to find extra water, thereby boosting the health of the plant. Irrigation does not need to run every day in most cases.
An experienced landscape irrigation specialist will help you understand the amount of water that your plants or trees need and the frequency of watering.
When to water
Not all times of day are good for watering. The effects of temperature, sun, and foot traffic all play a role. Aim for dawn as your ideal time to water. This early schedule allows for leaf wetness and decreases your chances of disease. Your plants will evaporate properly as the morning progresses, and yet it also allows water to stand long enough in the soil to encourage absorption.
If watering in the evening is needed, it should be shortened from solely watering at night, and preferably as part of a systematic approach that still includes dawn watering. In the evening, you should look to replace fluids the plant has lost through evapotranspiration — the combined effect of evaporation from the soil and surfaces around the plant, and transpiration from the plant.
While the basic concepts of irrigation are generally easily understood, the process has many deceiving variables. Poor irrigation can cause problems beyond that of the system itself and can lead to plant loss and property damage. Qualified irrigation technicians understand the math, science, and service principles that create a sound irrigation system.
Get bids and compare. Not all irrigation specialists the same, and like hiring any professional, the lowest bid is not always the best option. It can be helpful to utilize a company that employs more than one certified irrigation technician. This will reduce mistakes and allow the technicians to confer, check each other’s work, and provide the best possible outcome for you.
Irrigation controls have come a long way, thanks in part to technological advances. Older irrigation systems may be manually or mechanically controlled, and while those systems serve basic purposes, new systems provide features which can save water, time, money, and effort. Gone are the days of irrigation running when it is raining, or about to be raining, or irrigation performance and changes which required tinkering or manual adjustments.
Many new irrigation control systems can be controlled remotely. Some can sense weather or atmospheric conditions, or gather information from a remote source. They can monitor, or be observed, in ways allowing you have greater control on efficiency, reducing the risk of over-watering and time-consuming changes.
Irrigation systems have a life span
It’s not uncommon for property owners to forget about their irrigation system. If it works properly, it’s out of sight and out of mind — until one day it isn’t. Something has broken, and the system needs replacing. A broken irrigation system can create headaches and property damage.
Irrigation systems have a lifespan of roughly 15-20 years. Much like your roof, refrigerator, or furnace, at some point it will need to be replaced. Proactive maintenance can prolong the life of an irrigation system, but as the system ages, repairs will become more frequent. It’s recommended to have your system checked annually, and, in conjunction with a professional, have a realistic replacement plan as they age to 15 years or more.
What is hydrozoning
The practice of putting plants with similar water needs close together is called hydrozoning. This helps ensure the best chances of health for the plants on your property.
If plants requiring a lot of water are intermingled with plants that require little water, an irrigation system will not be able to provide the appropriate levels of water needed in that garden or lawn. Some plants will receive too much or too little water, based upon the system not being able to meet the variable needs.
To best execute hydrozoning, the plant species requirements need to be known and understood. Plants with needs in common need to be planted together. Once this planning is achieved, the irrigation system can be programmed to fulfill the general requirements of the plants in that zone. A landscaping team with both a certified irrigation technician and plant specialist with a background in horticulture are best able to assist you in creating hydrozones.
Eastern White Pine has comprised the backbone of our landscape for many thousands of years. Why are many of these trees suffering recently?
‘White Pine Needle’ cast and ‘Brown Spot’ are fungal diseases which attack the prior season’s foliage. These diseases are problematic in cool and wet spring which we’ve observed in the past number of seasons. The infected trees are further stressed by severe summer droughts which have also been a problem for consecutive years. Fungicide sprays are impractical since many trees reach more than 100 feet in height, and researchers have not discovered any viable control methods.
Spring of 2019 has been particularly cool and wet. Our fear is that these conditions combined with last summer’s record breaking drought have stressed some of our White Pine trees beyond the limits of survivability.
Our focus should clearly be on sound cultural practices, particularly fertilization and irrigation during drought conditions. Please contact us for more information or to schedule a consultation.
Last week we received a client referral to take over landscape services for a mismanaged local property. It’s always hard to see the results of a contractor who didn’t care enough or was unable to provide a needed service. From property damage to poor installation and even unsafe conditions, as a leader in the landscape industry in New Hampshire for over 30 years, we’ve seen a thing or two. We’d like to help you, our neighbors and community members, know how to protect yourselves from this type of situation.
Choosing a landscape company can appear deceivingly easy. Not understanding a few things can cost you time, money, and peace of mind. So, what should you know? In general, when hiring any type of landscape contractor, it’s helpful to do the research and ask them directly if their website or materials are not clear.
Here’s what you need to know.
Is the contractor insured?
Someone working on your property should have you, their customer, as well as their own company’s and employees protection in mind. As a good practice, they should carry commercial coverage in the following types at the following limits:
Commercial General Liability of at least $1,000,000 for each occurrence and $2,000,000 general aggregate coverage
Commercial Auto Liability of at least $1,000,000 combined single limit. Some small businesses assume their personal auto insurance is enough, but if they are using a personal vehicle to do business, their personal policy will not cover them in the event of an incident.
Workers Compensation Insurance of at least $500,000 because if they do not have it, and something happens, the customer may become liable. Even a sole proprietor should carry this, even though the state of NH does not require them to have it.
To cover any higher claims in any of these areas, it is a good idea to carry Commercial Umbrella Liability coverage of at least $1,000,000.
A customer can ask the contractor for a certificate of insurance from their insurance company, and it can be faxed or emailed to them so they can be sure the contractor has the proper insurance. It comes directly from their insurance agent.
Is the contractor certified?
Proper green industry certifications help you know that your contractor understands how to accomplish the tasks for which they will be hired. Improper mowing, pruning, or mulching can be detrimental to your plants. Incorrect installation of landscape features such as patios, walls, and perennials will severely reduce the lifespan of the investment.
Are they licensed?
New Hampshire requires licensure for a variety of landscape activities. For example, many methods used to control pests may require several applicable licenses, whereas the purchase of materials is not governed. This means an unlicensed, unknowledgeable worker may apply products to your property in levels that are unsafe, or illegal. In the Lakes Region, this can have especially detrimental effects on our lakes and waterways, not to mention wildlife or even your own personal health.
Are they members of professional organizations?
Membership in the National Association of Landscape Professionals, or the New Hampshire Landscape Association, enable members access to continued education or professional development. This helps clients know their provider maintains knowledge of current practices and industry trends.
Are they drug-free and do they complete drug testing?
This company will be sending employees to your property. You should have confidence that these employees are the type of person you’re comfortable with working and operating machinery on your property.
Do they have a safety program?
Landscaping activity often requires the use of equipment which could be hazardous. Landscape firms are obligated to ensure the safety of their employees, clients, and the general public. In NH companies with 15+ employees are required to have a written safety program. The absence of a safety program is a serious red flag.
How long have they been in operation?
Unfortunately, the landscape industry has been plagued by ill-prepared or unscrupulous operators. Longevity is a good indicator of ethical and viable business practices.
Do they have existing relationships with other contracting firms and suppliers?
A good contractor will have a strong network of supporting partners who provide them with materials or services. Lack of partnerships, or the ability to give examples, may indicate they are not a reliable partner or may not have adequate support to overcome unexpected challenges.
Do they utilize professional grade equipment?
This is an indication that a company not only takes their profession seriously, but it also increases the likelihood they are capable of completing their tasks efficiently and accurately. Additionally, professional equipment is more durable, ensuring reliability.
Are they well-reviewed?
Online reviews can be a good indicator of how a company treats its clientele and the quality of their work. Houzz.com is an excellent resource to get reviews on contractors.
Are they responsive?
If a contractor is slow to respond to you before you’re a client, it’s unusual that will improve once you have become a client.
Do they answer your questions directly?
While many of the questions above can be answered through your own research, some of them you’ll need to ask the contractor. If they seem unable or unwilling to answer your questions, that is a problem. This indicates they either cannot provide you with adequate, safe, and consistent service; or they may be unwilling or unpracticed in providing good initial customer care.
Other considerations when choosing a contractor should include the type of service you need. Are you looking for someone to maintain your property by mowing, mulching, weeding, and other reoccurring activities, or are you looking for someone to improve your property through the addition of patios, walls, drainage, and perennial installations? While many companies offer “full-service,” few companies do all aspects well.
If you’re looking for someone to maintain your property:
Do they have someone who is dedicated to ensuring the satisfactory completion of the hired tasks? An owner, account manager, or supervisor should regularly check the quality of work, and follow up with the homeowner. You shouldn’t be the only one making sure your property is being cared for correctly.
Can they explain to you their processes and why the methods they use are essential? Proper mowing isn’t just making sure the grass is trimmed, just as pruning isn’t just cutting off parts of a plant. Having an awareness of horticultural best practices will ensure the health of the plants you own while minimizing damages and loss to your property.
Do they have a plan? What if their mower breaks down, their staff calls out, or it rains for 6 days straight? How do they ensure they still provide you with the services you are paying for?
If you’re looking for someone to improve your property:
Do they have experience and a portfolio of work they’ve completed that they can share with you? While every company has a beginning, your property and the investment you’re making are valuable, and the best indicator of future success is past performance.
Can they complete all the steps your project requires? From design to procurement, and through installation, there are many variables in this process. If not, whose responsibility is it to complete these tasks, and are they certified, licensed, insured, and well-recommended?
Who handles permitting? In many cases, you will need a state or local permit. If your landscaper is comfortable working without a permit, that’s a problem. If your landscaper isn’t involved in the permitting process, that could also be a problem. Permitting ensures work is done correctly, safely, and legally. The legal penalties of unpermitted work typically fall on the landowner. This can and often does prove costly.
Will you have a dedicated project manager? The project manager ensures quality, the fulfillment of the scope of work, and timeliness of completion. They are also your liaison for the process, keeping you informed, and answering your questions. Not utilizing a project manager could lead to frustration as your project may go over budget, over time, or not achieve your intended purpose.
Invasive Species – Microstegium vimineum commonly known as Japanese stilt grass
When spring arrives people in New Hampshire like to take time to beautify and improve their outdoor space. Through the introduction of new plants, shrubs, and trees, one can make their outdoor space healthier and more enjoyable. We at Belknap Landscape spend much of the spring helping clients choose, place, and install a wide variety of plant life, and we know this process can be as complicated as it can be fun.
When choosing plants, a homeowner or landscape professional may consider aesthetic, viability, or practical variables. It is also essential to be mindful of the plant species itself. Simply put, some plants, when introduced to your property, can be harmful or even illegal. Mindful selection of plant choice helps us to be good neighbors and stewards of the land, and contributors to the long-term health and beauty of the landscape. One reoccurring challenge is invasive plant species.
Avoiding invasive species
Invasive Species – Hesperus matronalis commonly known as Dames rocket
Invasive Species – Lonicera spp commonly known as Bush honeysuckles
Invasive plant species, in particular, are problematic for both the property owner and the greater natural environment. When introduced, these plant species often out-compete and asa result overgrow native species. This has a detrimental effect on the ecosystem, which, in many cases, cannot be easily overcome. Responsible property owners and landscape professionals have a moral and legal obligation to be mindful of and not to introduce invasive plant species.
Spotting an invasive species isn’t easy. The sale of invasive species is illegal in New Hampshire, and local nurseries will not carry them. So how do they get in our state? Some potential sources include online purchases of plants, using inexperienced or out-of-state contractors, or transferring plants from out of state to properties in New Hampshire. Homeowners can arm themselves by becoming more informed and asking questions with their vendor or contractors.
Invasive Species – Euonymus alatus commonly known as Burning Bush
Thankfully the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension has resources readily available to help understand, identify, and report invasive species. You can visit this article for more information on this vital subject.
Utilize this resource as a guide for plant selection, or to identify if you have an invasive species on your property. You’ll also see ways to help mitigate this problem and get involved in protecting our native plant species, and still enjoy a beautiful well planted outdoor space.
Photos provided courtesy of the NH Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food