We’re celebrating National Lawn Care Month by sharing our best lawn care tips on the blog and through our favorite social media sites Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. Today we will start by giving you a run down of what to do during the month of April to get your lawn in top shape, but watch the blog and social media for more tips throughout the month.
Top Tips for National Lawn Care Month
- Increase your mowing schedule: To avoid stressing your turf, it is recommended to never mow more than 1/3 of the blade at a time. This is why it’s best to mow weekly or at least biweekly during the growing season, especially if you live in an HOA with strict guidelines for lawn height and condition.
- Do an irrigation system check: Normal use leads to regular minor repairs, but the unusual number of days below freezing this past winter has put additional strain on your irrigation system. A spring check up will identify any leaks or cracks, while also replacing, repairing, or cleaning any damaged or clogged heads. Thus insuring your lawn gets moisture when and where it needs it most.
- Fertilize if needed: A healthy lawn is the first line of defense against weeds! A spring fertilizer treatment will replenish much need macronutrients lost over time, while giving your lawn a boost before triple digits temperatures set in. Test your soil to determine what formula your lawn needs. Be sure to water every day for 7-10 days after application to insure proper absorption, but don’t overwater and create run off. You want it to stay in your yard and not go into our water supply.
- Nip weeds before they seed: Now is the time to treat weeds with a post-emergent herbicide. Do it before weeds flower and go to seed, to avoid multiplying the problem. Do remember that a healthy lawn is the first line of defense against weeds! For broad-leaf weeds such as milk thistle Round Up works just fine. You can also ask for guidance from your local nursery or lawn care pro.
- Tame those pests: Spring not only brings beautiful blooms, but pests too. Fire ants in particular are most active in spring and fall and look for wide-open spaces, such as your turf. Take back your yard by treating mounds with pest specific bait. Check out our blog post on treating fire ants for more tips.
Note: Remember for all chemical and organic applications carefully read all instructions and follow guidelines to insure your safety and to protect against environmental contamination.
These are just are top tips for April, but caring for your lawn is a year round thing. In addition to our blog, the people who host the web page for National Lawn Care Month also provide other great tips and advice.
Of course, if you have any questions feel free to post them in the comments section and we’ll do our best to answer them!
Treating fire ants is a common concern in Central Texas. It seems those little buggers become active and take over our yards right when we’re ready to get out there and use it. You don’t have to forfeit your yard to fire ants. You just need a plan of attack so you can take back your yard.
Identify the Culprit
The first thing you need to do is make sure that you are actually dealing with fire ants. Certain types of ants are actually predators of fire ants. We don’t want to kill those! Also, different types of ants and pests require different treatments. Using the wrong treatment can not only waste time and money, but may harm the good bugs you want to keep around.
To identify fire ants, you want to look at three things:
- Appearance: fire ants are reddish brown to reddish black with a stinger on their abdomen.
- Location: Fire ants like to set up their homes in a bright sunny location, and create mounds that can be as much as 18″ tall.
- Behavior: Fire ants are inactive during the hottest part of the day, and appear mostly in the spring and fall. They feed on living insects and dead animals, as well as sweet and fatty foods.
Attack: Chemical Free Approach
If you are looking for natural, chemical free solutions there are a few you can try.
- Pour boiling water on each mound (3 gallons). Most of the time this kills the mound. It’s always best to do this right after it rains.
- In early spring add beneficial nematodes to your soil. These nematodes not only kill ant larvae, but other soil-dwelling critters such as grubs. Add them at to moist soil right at dusk for best results.
Attack: Go for the Kill
As much as we love all natural methods, they don’t always do the trick, especially if you’re dealing with a large, prevalent infestation. You don’t have to pull out the blowtorch nor do you have to douse your entire yard with chemicals. Instead do the following:
- Choose a bait product that is formulated specifically for fire ants. Baits are safer and more effective than contact sprays. Always use fresh bait, as the product can go stale and lose its efficacy over time.
- Apply baits when ants are on the hunt for food. A popular method for testing this is what I like to call the picnic method. Place a potato chip near the mound. Once they start swarming the chip, its time to apply the bait.
- Never apply bait before a rain. It won’t stick around long enough to do its job.
Another thing to consider is to get your neighbors on board. Just like with weeds, a problem in your neighbor’s yard can quickly become yours. If you all treat at the same time, you can eradicate the problem and do a better job of keeping it from coming back.
As always, whenever using chemical applications, read the directions carefully. Follow the instructions and don’t use more than is recommended and be sure to wear protection. Keep all chemicals away from pets and children and store properly to avoid spillage and contamination.
There are many benefits of an irrigation system, especially here in Central Texas where we’ve been in what seems to be a perpetual drought. Whether you’re concerned for the environment or just your pocketbook, there are many reasons to install an automatic irrigation system.
Benefits of Irrigation System to Your Pocket Book
Some people are put off by the cost of installing an irrigation system, but few realize that an irrigation system not only earns back its initial investment, it also brings additional cost savings and equity earnings. Here’s how:
- Cuts down your utilities: Automatic irrigation systems take the guesswork out of watering and help reduce water loss due to evaporation and run off. This can reduce your monthly water bill by as much as 70%.
- Protects your home’s value: Your landscape can constitute up to 20% of your home’s total value. A functioning and well maintained system helps you water evenly and properly, ensuring your outside investment maintains its value.
- Makes your home sell faster: When buyers are looking for a new home they want something that is beautiful, well cared for, and easy to maintain. An automatic irrigation system addresses all three by helping maintain a lush landscape and providing a convenient and easy way to water.
- Saves you time: Time is money, and your time is very valuable. The time you save not hand watering your yard or dealing with weak, thirsty plants can be spent doing the things that matter most to you. Plus you don’t have to remember to do it!
- Earns rebates: Certain municipalities and even some HOA’s offer incentives for water wise practices, including the installation of irrigation systems. Click on the link to learn more about the City of Austin Waterwise Landscape rebate (http://austintexas.gov/department/waterwise-landscape-rebate) program.
Benefits of Irrigation System to The Environment
In addition to protecting your pocketbook, an automatic irrigation system is beneficial to the environment.
- Reduces runoff: Runoff is the number one way groundwater becomes contaminated. A controlled system, especially one with sensors and automatic cutoffs, greatly reduces the amount of runoff carrying pollution and debris into our drinking water.
- Reduces water use: Conserving water is a big deal, especially during a drought. An irrigation system lets you protect our precious resource without sacrificing a lush landscape. A cycled system works to get the right amount of water deep into the root system where plants need it most, so you need to water less.
Bottom line, an irrigation system is worth both the initial investment and the ongoing maintenance costs. An irrigation system puts so much back into your pocket, plus it saves you time with better results than hand watering. Do note that the State of Texas requires that a licensed technician install landscape irrigation systems.
If you want to learn more about Irrigation systems check out the following resources:
Choosing a landscape company for you home is a big deal. You’ve invested a great deal into your estate. It’s more than just a home. It’s a reflection of your style and hard work. You want to take care of your investment, which is why you want to insure that any professional you hire approaches your home with integrity, skill, and prestige. So how do you find that person or company?
High-end residential property requires an eye to detail and a commitment to doing what’s needed long before it’s asked. With that in mind there are several key things to consider when choosing a landscape company.#1 Do they have a history for caring for high-end residential homes and HOA’s?
High-end residential needs vary dramatically from that of other residential homes. Often needs include regular irrigation checks, ongoing trimming and care of ornamentals, assistance with pools and lighting, and seasonal upgrades and stonework. Look for a company that has a history tending to the needs of high-end residential homes and HOA’s as they will be familiar with the standards and list of items that need to be maintained. Its always good to get referrals or look for testimonials and portfolios of work done at similar properties.#2 What services do they offer?
As a busy professional you want to do everything you can to streamline your home life. A company that offers more than one service under a single roof minimizes the number of companies you have to deal with. Also, by offering multiple services by one company the cost per service is typically cheaper, as they are able to provide them at the same time, eliminating travel expenses and management costs.#3 Are they insured?
When dealing with machines and tools accidents can happen. Even the best-trained crew can occasionally cause a little damage. If they are insured it protects you the property owner from any liability. It also shows that they are prepared in the event that something does go awry.#4 Are they licensed?
Certain elements of the landscape require a licensed professional by state law. Irrigation and the application of certain grades of pesticides require that a licensed professional oversee the work. You can ask for license numbers and verify they with the appropriate state agency.#5 Is the company professionally managed?
How a company conducts itself says a great deal about how they will handle your property. A well managed company has a system for scheduling and following up on work, billing and managing client accounts, and has a website, business cards, answering service, and other professional attributes. A company that is invested in business tools and administrative support is also invested in building a happy customer base.#6 Are their staff and trucks professionally presented?
Even if they are at your home for just a short while, its important that everyone from the manager to the workman be professional looking. Marked trucks that are well maintained and clean work spaces are also a strong indication of their overall professionalism.#7 Do they have contracts with reasonable terms?
Although contract is typically a word most don’t want to hear, when it comes to landscape maintenance they are a good thing. Long-term contracts allow you to spread out the cost of seasonal upgrades and maintenance items across the full year. Often there are price breaks included for contract customers along with preferential treatment and ongoing care and maintenance. As long as everything that is included is lined out in detail and all terms–including cancellation policies–are put in writing, contracts make it easy for you to manage your cost and your landscape needs throughout the changing seasons.
Overall, it’s important to do your research and check the credibility and history of any company you are considering. You’ve put a lot into your property. Don’t take a chance with just anybody.
How Outdoor Kitchens Add Value to Your Home
Living in Central Texas comes with many perks–mainly less winter and more time to spend outdoors. Except for those 2-3 months of crazy summer temperatures, much of our weather is quite mild. That means that outdoor spaces are incredibly important to a home’s value, even more so than in other parts of the country.
There are several ways to take advantage of this great weather and add value to your home. One that has become increasingly popular over the years is the addition of outdoor kitchens.
Outdoor kitchens boost your home’s value in a number of ways.
#1. Outdoor Kitchen Increase the “Liveable” Area of Your Home
Outdoor kitchens extend your living space by drawing several of the main activities–cooking and eating–into the outdoors. They are wonderful for entertaining and for adding on to kitchen space without incurring the costs and headache of a home addition. They also make it easy for everyone to interact even while one or more are engaged in the cooking process. Often outdoor kitchens include a dining or living space as well, adding more space for entertaining, games, family celebrations, and recreation.
#2 Outdoor Kitchens Earn Their Money Back and Then Some
According to the National Home Builders Association, outdoor kitchens earn back up to 130% of their value. That means an overall price increase of up to 30%. Realtors caution that out door kitchens don’t always result in a price increase, but if done well with quality materials they can increase the overall value of your home.
#3 Outdoor Kitchens Are Top Selling Points For Home Buyers
Even if the outdoor kitchen doesn’t significantly increase the price of your home, studies have shown that homes with outdoor kitchens sell faster than those without. As new construction increases and the competition from sellers for buyers stiffens, every little edge matters.
And being in Texas we can’t help but point out how outdoor kitchens are a great place to watch some Texas football!
In any case, whether you’re looking to extend your living space, looking to add value to your home, or looking to sell quickly, outdoor kitchens are a smart investment.
photo credit: Landscape Design Advisor via photopin cc
School is back in session and store shelves are lined with fall and Halloween decor. Its still summer like weather, but the season is changing. The end of summer doesn’t mean the end of beautiful color in your landscape. There are several fall bloomers that do well in a Central Texas garden. Below are a few of our favorites.
This flower is synonymous with fall. The native perennial has a bushy appearance with gorgeous violet blooms the emerge September through November. Drought tolerant once established, Fall Aster prefers a sunny spot with well-drained soil.
Shrimp plants–who gets its name from its shrimp like flowers– continue to bloom through fall, attracting hummingbirds with their hues of salmon, yellow, pink, and red. An evergreen bush, shrimp plant likes part shade and is drought tolerant.
This beautiful evergreen shrub is another Texas native. A favorite among Central Texas landscapes, the Salvia blooms come in many colors, but many are familiar with the red variety. Drought, pest, and disease tolerant, once established this plant is incredibly low maintenance.
We all want our yards to be the envy of our neighbors, but not all of us have the budgets to go hog-wild creating an elaborate landscape. Whether you’re doing it yourself or working with a landscaper, there are several ways you can remain budget conscious while still getting that outdoor oasis you’ve always wanted.
Start With Smaller Plants
The yards we love the most are the ones with majestic trees, full grown shrubs, and billowing flowers. It takes time to get a tiny seed to that point. Nurseries invest in space, labor, water, and maintenance to grow that $2-$5 plant into a $50-$500 plant. If you’re willing to wait, and don’t mind starting with smaller versions of the same plants, you can invest in young 4” and 1gallon to 5 gallon plants for a fraction of the cost of their full grown counterparts. With the same care and attention you’re baby plants will grow into the big beauties you want.
It also helps to mix slow growing and fast growing plants together. The fast growing plants give you some instant satisfaction while you wait for the others to catch up. Buy the faster growing plants in the smaller sizes and splurge on a few larger plants to add both height and to serve as an anchor for your garden design.
Use Native and Adapted Plants
Another way to cut costs in the plant arena is to use native and adapted varieties. They use less water, are better suited for local conditions, are more resistant to local pests and disease, and require less care and maintenance, which saves you money in the long run. Many exotic and non-adapted plants require more work to keep them alive (which runs up replacement costs), and can sometimes bring pests and diseases that kill off other plants. Non-adapted varieties also tend to be invasive, competing with and often killing other plants. Overall, as a long-term investment native and adapted plants are the biggest bang for your buck.
Work in Phases
Every big vision has to start somewhere. Instead of trying to tackle your entire space at once, try working in phases. Look at your wish list and prioritize the projects. Then knock them out as funds are available. This way you are still seeing progress, but without making a huge financial commitment all at once.
One caveat; do get your initial irrigation system lined out first. You don’t want to have to go back and tear up beds and turf to add or reconfigure irrigation pipes. If you’re working from a plan, your irrigation tech will know how to set up your system so that you can adjust it to fit your needs as you complete additional phases.
Use Stone Sparingly
Hardscapes are very popular these days, but those beautiful stone patios and structures come with a big price tag. Depending on the type of stone you want, the materials alone can be quite expensive. Because stone is heavy and difficult to work with it takes a great deal of labor, which further drives up the price tag. If budget is a concern, think about using stone as an accent element, rather than as the basis for your overall design.
There are also several faux and modified stone products available that can give the same look and appeal of stone, without the expense. Many are just as durable as stone, but are lighter, cheaper, and easier to work with.
Think outside the box when it comes to materials, accent pieces, and design. Be willing to experiment with natural and found pieces, especially when it comes to those garden accents. If you’re working with a contractor, ask for their input. Often they know about alternative materials and vendors who can provide comparable plants and materials for less than retail.
Most of all be flexible. Working on a budget doesn’t mean big restrictions on what you can do. Decide what you really want, look for opportunities to save, splurge on the statement and anchor pieces, and be willing to think outside of your original vision.
Landscaping on a budget doesn’t mean a tiny, boring yard. It just means it will take a little more patience and creativity to turn it into the oasis of your dreams.
With recent rains and the sudden spike in temperature, we’ve received quite a few calls about how to deal with garden pests. Texas is certainly known for its critters, big and small, but harsh chemicals are not always the answer.
Its important to think of your yard as an ecosystem. You depend on it for beauty, recreation, to add value to your property. If you have pets its also their home and play area. Then there are the native wildlife, beneficial insects, and the many streams, aquifers, and water sources that are connected to it. That’s why its so important to be smart about how we deal with pests, so we can avoid poisoning our pets and other beneficial critters or contaminating our water supply.
The first thing you need to determine is do you really have an infestation, or did you just notice one or two pests that you’d rather do without. If your yard is healthy, those bad bugs won’t last long as they fall prey to beneficial insects like ladybugs or get eaten by birds. If you truly have an infestation, there is a process to follow.
- Determine the infection level. If the bugs have only latched on to one plant, it may be best to sacrifice that one plant, remove it from your yard, and replace it with a healthier one.
- Identify the reasons for the sudden infestation. Often it’s a sign of a bigger problem like unhealthy plants are an imbalance in your yard’s ecosystem. Are your plants healthy? Are there any natural predators around to manage the pest problem?
- Start with the least toxic options first. The City of Austin has a handy guide that shows the common treatments available and their toxicity to mammals, fish, bugs, and birds. You can also talk to your lawn care provider and see if they are educated on Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and ask them for assistance.
- Once the problem is under control, put a plan in place to keep it from happening again.
Bottom line yes bugs aren’t our favorite things, but they are part of our ecosystem. So we do have to deal with them—to an extent. We just have to make sure that we do it in a way that is both considerate of our larger community and that truly gets to the heart of the big problem.
The sun is shining in Texas, and for many that’s an invitation to get out into the garden, start barbecuing, or just lounge on the patio. When enjoying your outdoor space often you see the tree, shrubs, and flowers, but like many you probably take your mulch for granted—you do have mulch, don’t you?
Mulch is a vital tool in the smart property owner’s toolbox. It serves several purposes. Namely:
- As a Weed Barrier: Mulch blocks the light and suffocates weeds.
- For Moisture Retention: By blocking the light, mulch helps your soil retain more moisture so you have to water less often.
- As a Finishing Touch: Mulch adds a clean, decorative touch to your yard, helping boost curb appeal (and your home’s perceived value).
Mulch is just as varied as the plants in your yard, ranging from recycled to man made. Mulch can be made out of recycled rubber, straw, wood chips, glass, and rocks. Wood chips tend to be the most common and can be stained or left natural depending on the look you want to achieve.
Wood based mulch also comes in untreated and treated forms. Untreated means it was simply mulched and resold. Treated means it went through a heated process to kill off any weeds, insects, or diseases living on the mulched limbs. Most free mulches offered by municipalities are untreated. Because they’re untreated they often bring unwanted weeds and diseases into your flowerbeds. To be safe, always default to treated mulch. It doesn’t do you any good to bring in a product that causes the same problems it’s supposed to prevent.
Depending on the type of mulch you use, it can wash away over time, so be sure to replenish it so you can keep a 3” layer. Avoid doing too much or you can suffocate your plants for nitrogen and other valuable nutrients. When in doubt ask your nursery professional or lawn care pro for tips on mulch choice and application.
A question we are often asked is what exactly is a weed? The simplest answer is that a weed is anything you don’t want. This is because what’s considered a weed in one situation is considered beneficial in another. For example milkweed is often the bane of the residential landscape, but it is prized in the butterfly garden as an attractant for the great monarch butterfly. Some homeowners purposefully put bermuda grass in their landscape while others consider it a nuisance. Its largely preference.
A better way to look at it is a weed is something that competes for resources with the plants you have chosen (and wish to keep) in your landscape. Weeds, or the plants we didn’t purposefully put in our landscape, appear when the existing plants are weakened or missing. This usually happens when plants aren’t properly cared for and the soil and conditions are unhealthy. The best way to deter weeds is to insure strong and healthy plants. Of course something will always find its way in. That’s why its important to get on top of weeds before the become a huge problem.
How to stay on top of a weed problem:
- Pull weeds at the first sight of them. Don’t let them mature and go to seed.
- Put all weeds either in the trash or send to the city compost. Don’t let them sit or decompose in your yard, unless you have a heat treated compost system.
- Use pre-emergents to prevent weeds from sprouting (generally applies during the cooler months).
- Use post emergents to deal with weeds after they’ve sprouted.
Although pulling weeds is the best method both in terms of eliminating the entire plant (since you pull it up by its roots) and in terms of avoiding chemical applications, it is not always possible to manually address every single weed infestation. Sometimes a little help is needed. The city of Austin has an excellent guide on common herbicides and their toxicity level. Round Up is an excellent option for the home owner. First of all, Round up can be directly applied to the offending plant. Second, it doesn’t travel through the soil like most chemicals do, meaning it won’t seep into our water system or travel to other areas of you yard. However, Round Up is non-selective, meaning whatever you spray is what gets killed. So if you spray a weed and some gets on a neighboring plant, that plant will be affected.
The guide listed above gives other options for weed control as well. No matter which application you choose be sure to read and follow the directions carefully to avoid doing harm to yourself, your pets, your landscape, and our community water supply.