Replacing Storm Damaged Trees in Virginia, Maryland, or DC

Well, it looks like Winter Storm Titan!!! (cue dramatic music) is fizzling out already, but that’s not to say it didn’t bring ice and snow with it. Luckily it’s still early enough that deciduous trees haven’t leafed out yet so those should be ok, but ice and snow are heavy. What if your tree (or shrub) sustained storm damage?

Ice damage tree Virginia

The first step, obviously, is to wait to evaluate things until it’s safe. This means no going out in the midst of a storm, standing in the road while the plows are trying to do their job, or no going anywhere near downed wires. It seems silly to have to say but I’ve seen some crazy stuff.

Next, look at your storm damaged tree and evaluate how much of it’s been damaged. If you prune off the affected limb(s), will it still look good? Will it still be balanced enough not to be at even more risk from the next storm? If you’re really just talking about a broken limb or two, a little pruning could be all that’s needed. If you’re at all unsure, a licensed arborist is the sort of professional who can better advise you.

If it’s clearly thrashed, it’s time to replace that storm damaged tree. I prefer to call my tree guys for this type of work as they’re better equipped to do the job safely and efficiently. They’ll secure the area, address the most dangerous limbs first, and then (depending on the location of the tree) either drop it in a safe spot, or cut it into pieces which are then lowered safely to the ground.

If you want to actually replace your storm damaged tree and not just remove it, you’ll want to remove the stump as well. Your tree service can typically grind the stump for an additional fee. Just be sure that, if you want a new tree in the same spot, you have the grindings (wood chips) removed and the hole filled in with topsoil. Trees can’t grow in wood chips. It’s like a weird cannibalism thing.

Deciding on a replacement for the tree is a great reason to involve your favorite DC area landscape designer. Maybe the tree got damaged because it was the wrong plant for the place. We can make that determination and move forward from there. If you want professional guidance in selecting a great tree, contact me for a consultation. We’ll turn that tree damage into the best thing that’s happened to your yard this week!

How to Remove Concrete Steps and Slabs

I read online garden and landscape forums from time to time. Seeing what questions homeowners post there gives me a little insight into what you all are thinking. It’s akin to reading Cosmo to better understand women back when I was single, except this actually works.

One question that comes up a fair bit is “how to I remove my concrete patio/steps/slab/etc?” Having removed dozens if not hundreds of tons of concrete while I was in the field, my personal choice is “hire someone else to do it.” If you’re dead set on doing it yourself, here’s what you do:

Assemble the right tools

When I was a kid, my dad had me demo the concrete stoop that was poured against the back of our house back in the 1950s. Since I was free labor and he was in no rush, he gave me a sledgehammer and told me to figure it out by the end of the summer. It kept me off the streets and out of trouble, and (little porkchop that I was) the exercise did a body good.

You’re a grownup, with grownup responsibilities and such, so you’ll want to be more efficient. You’ll need:

  • a long-handled sledgehammer
  • a jackhammer (an electric 60 or 70 pound jackhammer is available for cheap from most rental yards)
  • a long pry bar (aka a spud bar) or, at the least, a pick

You can also rent a 14″ demolition saw to cut the concrete into smaller pieces, but if you’ve never used one before…. they’re not called “widowmakers” because they tickle if you nick yourself.

Technique is everything

Every once in a while I do something really manly. It confuses the neighbors
Every once in a while I do something really manly. It confuses the neighbors

The goal is to get the concrete to crack, then connect the cracks to create manageable-sized chunks you (or a helper) can pry apart and discard. That’s it. You don’t need to pulverize the entire slab unless you’re planning to use it for fill. I usually pick a spot near an edge or corner and start jackhammering. Almost immediately, you’ll see a crack run across the surface and a piece will break off. Move the point of the jackhammer farther in by a foot or so and start jackhammering again until another piece breaks off. Just repeat this process until the entire slab has been reduced to small chunks you can toss around, occasionally clearing pieces out of the way. You may need your helper to use the pry bar to raise the slab from time to time so it cracks more easily.

What if there’s rebar or mesh holding it together?

Steel reinforcement can ruin your day. If it’s a mesh grid, you can break the concrete into chunks and then cut the mesh with bolt cutters. If it’s rebar, your best bet is to jackhammer the concrete off the rebar, or bring in a pro with a demolition saw to cut it up.

Getting rid of the concrete

If you need to fill in a big hole, you can break the concrete into small pieces and use it for fill. Some people like to break concrete patios into bigger pieces and call it “urbanite,” and use it for stepping stones or stacked retaining walls.

ConcreteDemo_09_2006 011
That chunk of telephone pole was IN my steps. You never know what you’ll find.

If you want it gone, the easiest thing to do is to rent a dumpster from a disposal company. Just be sure to find out how high you can load it, because concrete weighs more than most other jobsite trash. If you overfill a dumpster and they can’t load it on the truck, guess who gets charged extra AND has to take some of the concrete out? Hint: not me.

You may say, “I have a truck. I’ll just haul it to the landfill/transfer station myself.” If you have a small truck, like a Ford Ranger or Toyota Tacoma, DON’T do this. If you have a full-sized pickup, you can haul some concrete, but be very careful. A half-ton truck (Ford F150, Chevy Silverado 1500, Toyota Tundra) is wimpier than you might think.

If you have a truck that will tow a trailer and you’re comfortable driving with a trailer, you could rent a dump trailer from a rental yard. Just remember the same advice I gave above and don’t overload the trailer. Remember that just because your truck can PULL an overloaded trailer doesn’t mean it will safely STOP with an overloaded trailer. There’s nothing more terrifying than hitting the brakes and feeling a load behind you say “nope, I’m an object in motion and by golly, I’m staying in motion.”

Well that’s it. Once you know what tools to get and a little technique, removing concrete isn’t rocket surgery. Just be safe, and know your limits and the limits of your equipment.

And bend with your knees! That stuff’s heavy. Be safe!


Basic Color Theory for Landscape Design


I’m a firm believer that Nature is awesome and flowers don’t clash. Ever. The view from a hot air balloon of my ideal garden would look like a bowl of rainbow sprinkles.

That said, sometimes you want to play with color for maximum impact. That’s where an understanding of the basics of color theory comes in very handy. If you recall grade school art class, the three primary colors are red, blue, and yellow. Your secondary colors are orange (red + yellow), green (blue + yellow), and violet (red + blue).

Complementary Colors

Complementary colors each help the other pop. Color wheels are excellent tools because they let you see at a glance what colors are complementary. Complementary colors are directly opposite each other – think 12 and 6 o’clock, 3 and 9 o’clock, etc.

Source: (click to visit)

So as you can see red and green are direct complements. With hollies, the green foliage highlights the red berries, which is why it sometimes feels as if hollies are screaming “look at my berries! Look at them!” It’s also why hollies with yellow berries (like Ilex x meserveae ‘Golden Girl’), while cool and unusual, don’t have the same resonance.

Purple and yellow are two complementary colors that I love, especially because they’re so easy to find. Whether you want spring, summer, or early fall blooms, you can usually find a yellow and a purple to play together. It’s not just blooms, either. I took this photo at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, TX precisely because of the color complements. The yellow Solidago and the purple-hued plumes of the ‘Moudry’ Dwarf Fountain Grass… mmm. Tasty!

There’s much, much more to color theory of course. Analogous harmonies, hue, value, intensity… designing with color is much more than picking your favorite Crayola crayon and going to town. This is where it starts, though. Play around and see what you come up with!

Simple Factoids About Landscape Drainage

Last night I signed contracts with some great folks, and they asked me to add some drainage work while the crews are out there. We walked out to look at what was going on, and as usual I was appalled. When their patio was installed, the contractor connected the downspouts on the rear of the house to 4″ corrugated drain pipe. These come together in a “Y”, and then a short piece goes out to a low spot in the yard. Here, the pipe turns straight up and is covered with a grate flush with the lawn.

Hmm. So when it rains, water burbles up out of this contraption and pools at the corner of the screen porch for a couple of days. Plus, all the rainwater at the back of the house is being brought together into a single 4″ pipe. Idiots. So in the interest of breathing some common sense into landscape and drainage design, here are some points to ponder:

  1. Water flows downhill. Elementary, my dear Watson, but often overlooked. Don’t terminate a drainpipe in a flat area if five more feet lets you terminate on a slope. And remember to keep a constant pitch downhill!
  2. Corrugated pipe is fine, but smooth-bore is better. We’re usually gently pitched when running drain lines away from the house, which means the water isn’t moving super fast. That means sediment and funk from the roof can get stuck in the ribs of corrugated pipe and eventually clog. An even bigger issue is that smooth PVC drainpipe is rigid, so it’s easier to keep it pointed downhill. Corrugated pipe will conform to the ground around it, so after settling and a few years of frost there are uphill sections. See point # 1.
  3. 4 + 4 + 4 +4 does not equal 4. All too often I see companies hook 4 or 5 downspouts together into one 4″ pipe. Guess what? That’s a lot of water, and may well be too much for the pipe. If you add water to a funnel faster than it can drain out, what happens? If you want to get an idea of how much water comes off your roof in one storm, there’s a cool rainfall harvest calculator on this page.
  4. Pop-ups are ok, but daylight is better. Pop-up emitters serve a purpose. If you have to end a drain line in the grass, a pop-up emitter keeps you from destroying the line with your mower. It’s also a mechanical system that can fail. If the site allows it, you’re better off ending with the open end of the pipe pointed downhill – what we call “daylighting”.
  5. Be a good neighbor. This one’s pretty huge. Think about where your water is going if you move it to a discharge point out in the yard. If you’re in a subdivision where water moves through the backyards, what does it do to your neighbors if you build raised beds and block that flow? Not only is it rude and crappy, it’s often illegal to alter the drainage in a way that adversely affects your neighbor. Just food for thought.

Drainage doesn’t have to be overly complicated, but it’s definitely worth planning properly. Most residential systems won’t fail this spectacularly, but why risk it?

River birch is a great choice for wet areas!

10 Tips for Landscaping with Kids

With the end of another winter upon us, I’m reminded of my mom’s summertime refrain: “David, go outside and play!” Here’s a list of ten things to think about when creating a play space for your kids (or grandkids, or nieces and nephews, or whomever):

1-    Love The Lawn.

With a little imagination a lawn is a soccer pitch, waterfight battlefield, or a perfect spot from which to lay back and analyze puffy clouds. Do not underestimate the lawn!

2-    Sometimes, the simplest play spaces are the most fun.

A sandbox is easy to put together and provides an inexpensive space that can be repurposed when the kids are older. Just make sure you incorporate a lid; neighborhood cats don’t differentiate between Tidy Cat and play sand.

3-    If you’re adding a playset or other equipment, keep it safe!

Most manufacturers recommend a minimum six foot buffer zone around equipment, and you want a soft surface to cushion falls. Grass doesn’t hold up too well under swings and it can be a hassle trimming around slides and posts. Recycled rubber mulches and specially-engineered wood mulches are popular with community playgrounds but can also be purchased in reasonable quantities for home playsets.

4-    Outdoor toys need a home.

Even something as simple as a bench with storage inside can keep toys out of the rain, and off the grass when it’s time to mow. If you have the space and the budget for a larger solution, why not combine a playhouse with some storage?

Now that's a path!
Now that’s a path!

5-    Plan for paths!

Remember that the shortest distance between two points is often over or through Grandma’s heirloom roses, unless there are several clearly identifiable ways around them.  It may be urban legend, but I was once told that when a new building is built at a college, the designers wait to see where the students create paths before they install the sidewalks. If you’re starting from scratch, why not see where the kids go?

6-    Learn what plants are especially poisonous, and make sure that they’re not planted where they’ll be a temptation.

You can find a number of great lists online (websites that end in .edu are often the best), or contact your local County Extension Office.

7-    A garden full of edible plants can help kids learn where food comes from and why plants are so important.

Even something as simple as a “Pizza Garden”- tomatoes, basil, oregano, peppers, and onions- can encourage healthy eating and a little help pulling weeds.

8-    Edibles are great, but don’t forget to plant for the other four senses!

Those, of course, are smell (lavender, roses, mint, lilac); sight (sunflowers, hosta, Echinacea, hydrangea); touch (globe amaranth, lambs’ ears, silver artemesia, sedum, river birch); and even sound (ornamental grasses, Chinese Lantern Plant)


9-    The magic of gardens is that they’re not just about the people.

Encourage pollinators, birds, frogs, and other critters to give kids a chance to see Nature in action. The National Wildlife Federation even has a program through which your backyard can be recognized as a Certified Wildlife Habitat. You can learn more at

10-    Think about the future when planning your child’s play space.

After all, he or she won’t be this age forever. When I was little, I clamored for a treehouse. My dad and I built one, but it was not your “normal” backyard tree fort. The treehouse was beautifully framed, and built to adult proportions so that when we were grown, the structure could be lowered with house jacks and converted to a garden shed. A wise man, my father.
I should include a rule # 11- just be open to using your imagination and having fun. Listening to my neighbor’s kids screaming, laughing, and running around, I think they’re doing just fine without my Top Ten list. Get outside, spring doesn’t last forever!

10 Myths About Hiring a Landscape Contractor

The other day, one of the industry blogs I follow highlighted a hit piece that someone did about hiring a contractor. I started to write him an email rebutting all his flawed points when I realized what a great blog post it would make! So here you are- ten myths about hiring a landscape contractor, and the truth behind each:

Myth #1- Your contractor’s price is just a first offer based on boom-time rates, with plenty of room to negotiate. Ok, have you been watching the news? How about going by the gas station near landscape yards in the morning? If anyone has a realistic picture of the economy it’s your local contractor. Because I work with a number of contractors, I can tell you that the smart ones have done an amazing job reducing their overhead so they can make their prices as competitive as possible. Never has it been more true that the price you see is the absolute best price they can give. Let’s be honest, you WANT your contractor to at least make a profit on your job. A profitable business will be around next year if you have a warranty issue, if you want additional work done, or even to answer your question of “wait, what’s that blue flower you planted by the shed?” Not to mention, a profitable business will have the trained staff and equipment to do the job right the first time. But hey, if you enjoy trying to track down the mope who brought your pavers to your house in the trunk of his ’84 Datsun 20 at a time, have at it.

Myth #2- You shouldn’t have to pay a deposit to start a job- that’s unethical/ unprofessional! One of the hardest parts of any business is maintaining cash flow. On most projects, the materials make up a good chunk of the cost of the project. Your contractor is not a bank- it is not his responsibility to finance the costs of your project. If you feel that the amount requested is too high, you can ask to have it broken down into smaller draws, based on progression of work. Just be aware that if the agreement is X% upon completion of the framing and you’re slow with the next draw, work will stop until payment is made.

Still not convinced? Look at it this way: there are laws in place to protect consumers from unscrupulous or fraudulent contractors. Even better, if you only hire licensed contractors, you have the full weight of your state contractor licensing board to help solve your problem. On the flip side, contractors don’t have many remedies available to them if a client stiffs them on a job. If it drags out in court, well- see Myth #1. If they’re operating on a thin profit margin, getting stiffed on a big job can put someone out of business. A deposit made along with a detailed contract is just good business. If the issue is that you don’t feel comfortable giving Contractor Bob the money because you don’t trust him, maybe Contractor Bob isn’t the right guy for you and you should find someone else.

Myth #3- You can save money by not pulling a permit, or if you (the homeowner) pull the permit in your own name– Not every project requires a permit. If your contractor tells you a permit isn’t needed and you’re unsure, one call to the local building office- “Hi, I live on Mockingbird Lane and I want to build a rocket launch pad, does that require a permit?”- will answer your question. If a permit is required, you need to have your contractor pull the permit. Period. If she pulls the permit, her name is on that permit, which gives you one more level of documentation should things go awry. It’s also the best way to do it. If you pull the permit and the fellow at the permit store looks at the drawings and misunderstands something that isn’t clear, he could mandate a change that is unnecessary, expensive, and not in your contract- which will cost you more money. As a designer, I’ll sometimes pull permits for my clients, but I still prefer to let whomever’s building the job get the permit.

Myth #4- My co-worker used him, so there are no worries– I’m a huge proponent of referral and word-of-mouth marketing; it’s key to my business. However, some folks have this skewed idea that because someone is a landscape contractor, they can do anything for the outside of the house. No word of a lie, I went in to fix a horrible patio job one time. I asked the homeowners why they ever hired this guy, and they said “he did a great job cutting my neighbor’s lawn so we figured he was a really good landscaper.” I looked at the neighbor’s lawn and the guy really could cut grass like no one’s business. However, he failed to disclose that this was his first patio ever.

When you’re hiring someone for a project, one question you should always ask is “have you done one of these before?” If the answer is yes, ask to see pictures. If you really want to do your homework, ask for references, or even see if you can stop by and look at a job the contractor did. Just because someone loved the job some guy did hanging a ceiling fan doesn’t mean the same guy is qualified to build your new home. A referral is a great place to start, but unless you’re looking to get the same service your friend did, you still need to vet the contractor.

Myth #5- If the address on his cards is a P.O. Box, he’s a scam artist– Sorry, it’s not this easy. Up until I leased my first office  last year the only address I gave out was a P.O. Box. First of all, a post office box is way more secure than a residential mailbox. Who wants to get checks or contracts stolen? Second, when you start a business and register with the state, the volume of junk mail you get goes through the roof. And if you register to do business with the federal government? Sorry, trees. We live in an older neighborhood where the letter carriers still deliver on foot. I don’t want to give the poor guy a hernia with all the junk mail.

Third, some people just don’t understand or respect boundaries. I have friends who have had clients stop by the house, uninvited, on a Sunday morning to talk about plant selection! I’ve also had people assume that because I’m a designer I run a nursery, and they’ve dropped by my Manassas Park office thinking they’d be able to look at plants. I love meeting new people, but I prefer to know it’s going to happen.

Bottom line is all a post office box means is that the person in question wants to separate their business correspondence from their personal correspondence. If you’re uncomfortable with that, mention it to your contractor. They’d probably prefer one person mailing checks to their home address to not getting the job.

Myth #6- You can tell everything you need to know by looking at what they contractor is driving– Nope. Sorry. Again, there are few shortcuts this easy. Until it got totaled last week, I drove a fifteen year old Ford Ranger. I bought it cash, it got great mileage, and it was cheap to repair, so it helped me keep my overhead down- which kept my fees down. Driving an old vehicle doesn’t mean you’re less successful, and driving a new one doesn’t mean you’re overpriced. It’s just a way of carrying stuff from point A to point B.

Myth #7- The lowest bid is the best value– Not necessarily. This is where working with a designer can be helpful. If the contractors are bidding a detailed set of plans and specifications, you can be reasonably certain that you’re getting an apples-to-apples comparison, especially if you have your designer review the proposals. Sometimes someone will try to sneak one by. I put a large custom pergola out to bid to three manufacturers. The first two bids were within $300 of each other. The third bid was $4,000 less than the next lowest. At first, I was excited! Then I looked closely and realized that where I specified 2×12 and 2×10 lumber, they had substituted 2×6 and 2×4 lumber. The finished pergola would look nothing like what I had drawn, and would in fact look downright stupid. I didn’t even ask them to submit a new bid, just tossed their bid in the recycling bin and crossed their name off my bid list.

If you’re getting bids but you don’t have a plan and specification list for them to bid- good luck figuring out the best value, because odds are every company is bidding something different.

Myth #8- The highest bid is the best contractor– Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Again, this is where having a plan and a list of specifications can be really helpful. It’s possible that the highest bidder has the best understanding of the specifications and is bidding exactly what’s asked, with no corners cut, which is why their price is higher. It’s also possible that they’re bidding the same specs as the next highest bidder, but they have a higher overhead or just a higher pricing structure. There’s still no one easy answer. It takes research and determining what your comfort level is.

Myth #9- Throw out the high and low bids and take the middle– The points I mentioned in myths # 7 and 8 come into play here. Are they all bidding the same thing? Are they all comparable companies? After all, if I want a flawless stacked stone wall and I got three bids, the bids may have been from three very different companies. Company A could be a skilled dry-fit stoneworker who has trained at the Dry Stone Conservancy, Company B could be a middle of the road landscape company, and Company C could be a lawn guy who reckons he can stack rocks. Landscape work is not a commodity. You’re not a purchasing agent seeing who has the best price on nuts and bolts, you’re looking for skilled craftspeople to create something where nothing existed. I wish I could tell you there was an easy answer, but if you want the best result you’ll have to do some homework.

Myth # 10- All contractors are out to “get” me– Let’s be honest, there are some bad apples out there who make the industry look bad. Because these are the stories full of intrigue and salacious details, these are who we see on the news. Guess what? The majority of contractors are people just like you who have families, coach soccer, and just want to get paid for the work they do. The contractors I work with do it because they love the work and they love seeing homeowners excited by what they do. What you have to remember is that when you’re looking to get something done, you’re unlikely to get something for nothing. If a price sounds too good to be true it probably is. Do your homework to learn what goes into your project, research the company you contact, and ask questions. If you’re still uncertain, a great place to start is to hire a landscape designer to create a detailed plan. This way you’ll know that the proposals you receive are for the work you want done and you can make a more informed choice.

Just try to remember that the end goal is to create a space that makes you happy and gives you years of enjoyment. Like everything else in life it’s a journey, so make sure you’re working with people who can do the job and with whom you’re comfortable. most importantly, have fun!

P.S.- Still unsure about the best way to proceed with your landscape project? Contact me to set up a consultation and learn how working with a landscape designer can make the process a whole lot easier!

Where to Buy Pavers in Northern Virginia

Since we’re talking about pavers lately, I figured it may be useful to point out where they’re available to look at and purchase. I’m a big fan of display yards, where they’ve taken the time to lay a variety of paver styles and colors so you can see not only what the paver looks like in pattern, but also get a true sense of the color. Trust me, you never want to make your color selection based solely on a photo in a catalog.

One place that’s on my way into Manassas is the Stone Center (warning to at-work web surfers: their website has a video that starts playing as soon as the site loads. Don’t get fired). I stopped on my way home the other day to shoot some video of the EP Henry and Techo-Bloc display areas. Just FYI, the Stone Center also has a display area for Eagle Bay, which is a lower-priced line of pavers and segmental walls. And as the name implies, you can also buy a variety of stone products there- but that’s another post.

Guest Post: Gardening Tips for April

One area of my industry I’ve wanted to do more with is garden coaching- working with homeowners to teach them how to care for their gardens themselves. The curse of running a small business is that there are only so many hours in a day, and rather than clone myself (way too controversial), I went one better and teamed up with a great garden coach. Thomas Bolles hold s a Masters in Agricultural Education from Virginia Tech, and has spent over a decade teaching people agriculture and horticulture. He even spent six months training agriculture students in Afghanistan- temperate Virginia has to be a walk in the park, compared to Afghanistan! I’ve invited Thomas to provide periodic guest blog posts so that you can get to know him as well. If you’re interested in working with Thomas as your garden coach, give me a call at (540) 308-5411 and we’ll set it up.

Enough from me; here’s Thomas!

April is National Gardening Month and the ideal time to break out of your indoor routine and get into the garden.

You need to have an idea of what nutrients are in your soil before you add more to it. If you haven’t already done so, get your soil analyzed. Virginia Tech tests soil for Virginia and Maryland . Contact your local Virginia Cooperative Extension office to get a soil test kit. Test kits are free but the standard analysis will cost you $10 if you’re a Virginia resident or $16 if you’re out of state.

The average last frost date for Northern Virginia is April 15th. Keep in mind it’s an AVERAGE. Keep an eye on your favorite meteorologist until mid-May to make sure you can protect your young plants if there’s a late frost. Plants started indoors need to be hardened off – gradually exposed to outdoor sun, wind and temperatures each day as you approach time for them to go into the garden. Forgetting to harden off may result in dead or stunted plants after a cold night. You can also help your ground absorb and retain heat by covering your beds with black plastic. This will get soil temperatures up so the seeds you sow directly in the garden will germinate faster.

To sow or not to sow is a question many of us never think about. Some people would rather start their own seeds. Some people are intimidated by the idea of germinating their own seeds, don’t have the space to start a lot of seeds or like the convenience of not having to mess with seeds. Personally, I like starting seeds, but for some plants I would rather buy seedlings. If you do buy seedlings, it’s important to do a few simple things to make sure you’ll be successful.

  1. Inspect the plant for any sign of disease
  2. Make sure the plants aren’t excessively root bound
  3. Make sure you know if your plant dealer has kept the plants inside or out (see hardening off above)
  4. Make sure the plants look vigorous and are not excessively leggy.

If you’re thinking lawn care, now is NOT the time to fertilize if you have cool-season grasses (fescues, bluegrasses). When you fertilize in the spring, cool-season grasses grow more leaf area which means more mowing. It also can mean Brown Patch, a rather ugly fungal disease, latter in the summer. When you wait for the Fall before fertilizing your lawn, your cool-season grass will focus more on growing roots. Strong roots will do more than just carry your grass through winter dormancy – it will also allow them to tap moisture deeper in the ground next summer when it’s hot and dry. If you have warm season grasses like Bermudagrass and Zoysia, you can fertilize from May until Fall, but keep in mind that fertilizer plus no water equals a weaker, more stressed plant. So make sure you give your grass plenty of water when you fertilize.

Also of Interest: Virginia Historic Gardens Week is April 17th – 25th this year. See for details.

Looking for Landscape Designs for Small Yards?

small space landscape design

Are you looking for landscape design ideas for small spaces? Be sure to check out my Landscape Packages page. I’ve created several simple yet elegant designs that will work in a majority of backyards, especially newer homebuilder homes. The prices shown are prices that I’ve worked out with excellent Virginia and Maryland landscape contractors to complete the installation. If you want to do the work yourself, or you live outside my service area, the plans are available for purchase. Just call or email me for pricing.

Pondbuilding Basics

Cross Section of Pond

Looking to build a pond? That’s a great idea. There’s a whole industry that’s grown up around residential backyard ponds over the last decade, so it’s easier than ever to get your hands on quality components. The basic steps are the same as they’ve always been: dig a hole, make the hole hold water, install a pump and filter, and fill with water.

How deep should you go? It depends on a variety of factors, but generally you don’t want to go too shallow. If you’re planning on having fish, 24 inches is a good depth. If you want to have fancy fish like koi and you want to overwinter them in your pond, 30 inches is about the minimum depth here in Virginia. However, you need to be aware that in many localities anything over 24 inches deep is considered a pool, and you’ll be required to provide a barrier fence around the pond. The illustration above shows a pond with planting shelves, which is a common way of building a pond. Not only does it provide a place for marginal plants, it makes it easier for you and any critters that may jump or fall in to get back out.

The most common means of keeping water in the hole is to use a rubber liner. What I’ve found to work really well is to use a layer of sand, then an underlayment (fabric layer), and then lay in the rubber liner. Rubber liners give you way more flexibility than the hard plastic shells you see at many big box stores, and provide a much more natural appearance.

Your pump and filter are critical to the installation. Not only do you want to make certain that you’re using the best quality pump and filter, they need to be sized appropriately for the amount of water you’re turning over. I recommend avoiding the big box stores, and buying your pump and filter (and other components) from a reputable store that specializes in pond components. Even with the shipping costs, my preferred pond and water garden store is Tranquil Water Gardens. Yes, the owner just so happens to be my brother, but I go for knowledge and value first- so should you.

The last step, filling it with water, is the easiest, but it’s not even worth it if you haven’t planned and shopped appropriately. If all goes well, you can have a beautiful pond like the one I designed for a client in Fairfax County:

pond and waterfall