Archive for 2008

Monkey Pod Tree

Icon Written by GeoffM1968 on October 1, 2008 – 2:55 am

One of our favorite trees is one we cannot even grow. I guess that only makes sense as I usually want the unattainable. Like that old Hoosier saying goes, “the grass is always greener on the other-side of the road.” I fell in love with Queen Palms in Florida and Monkey Pods in Hawaii, now all I can do is “Stare across the road” and dream. As you can see in the picture we took outside of Kona, on the Big Island of Hawaii, the Monkey Pod is a large graceful tree with wide spreading branches. It just seems to shout, “Come sit under me”!

This native of Mexico was introduced into Hawaii in 1847, when Peter A. Brinsmade a businessman returned to Hawaii with two seeds, both of which germinated. One of the seedlings was planted in downtown Honolulu, the other at Koloa on the island of Kauai.

Monkey-pod is a fast-growing tree that while generally planted as a shade tree and ornamental has been naturalized in many of the islands. It is greatly valued in pastures as shade for cattle on Kauai. While it has spreading crown when planted in the open, it forms a long, relatively straight stem when closely spaced. Its wood is widely used for carvings and furniture. We, also saw many beautiful bowls and dishes carved from the wood of the Monkey Pod.

Actually the Monkey Pod has many names from the Saman of Latin America, to the Mimosa of the Philippines. Somehow we just feel that the name Monkey pod just fits this tree. You just expect any minute to see monkeys swinging through the branches. Of course we never did but, it would have been nice to have seen a few! In retrospect, I guess there are not too many free ranging monkeys in Hawaii, just mina birds and chickens.

The Monkey Tree is said to have medicinal and even magical powers. We, in fact, observed that grass growing under the Monkey Pods was always greener, even in times of drought. Native Hawaiians believe that the trees actually produces rain at night. The unbelievers say that ” the shading effect of the crown, the addition of nitrogen to the soil by decomposition of litter from this leguminous tree, and possibly, the sticky droppings of cicada insects in the trees all contribute to this phenomenon Habitat.” They probably do not believe in the Tooth Fairy either!

Monkey-pod grows where the annual rainfall ranges from 50 to 150 inches. They attain their best growth on deep alluvial soils that are well drained and neutral to slightly acid in reaction. It can, however, grow well on a wide variety of soils when planted and can withstand seasonal flooding. Monkey-pod is frequently found on old home sites near streams in the forests of Hawaii where it is usually associated with mangos and guava. It is, however, very intolerant of frost which means no Monkey Pod our present gardens. I wonder where we could move our gardens to that would be more Monkey Pod friendly?

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Gardening in Heavy Soil

Icon Written by GeoffM1968 on September 1, 2008 – 10:45 am

You would think that since my wife and I have been avid gardeners for over four decades that the first thing we would look for when buying a new home would be the soil. If not the first, at least the second item to consider for plant freaks has to be the growing medium. Actually, we never even so much as kicked the dirt. All we just saw was a beautiful home sitting on top of a very big hill, surrounded by large Red Oaks, Sycamores, and even very big American Elm. The creek running merrily through the adjoining wood-lot was the clincher. It was love at first sight.

Boy was this a big mistake! Our “very big hill” turned out to be a glacial moraine complete with gravel, stones, and very big rocks glued together with some of the stickiest clay I have ever seen. To dig even the tiniest hole required a pick axe. We suddenly realized why the previous owners had planted no trees or even flowers, only a few scruffy junipers by the front door. These nursery-grown shrubs had been fighting for over sixteen years to adjust to the clay soil.

For someone use to sandy soil, taking three hours to dig a hole to plant our first tree (a Blue Spruce that died after only one year) was not a pleasant experience. Nor did it help being told, by the local County Extension Service, how lucky we were to have “a good clay soil as it is one of the best soils you can have as it will grow just about any plant with a little work.”

All we saw was a soil that was soggy and wet in Winter and like pahoehoe in Summer. Clay particles are extremely small, compared with larger sandy soil particles. As a result, clay packs closely and binds water tightly by surface tension preventing it draining away. This same binding power makes it tougher then concrete when it does dry out.

Fortunately, clay soils naturally break into smaller lumps when they shrink, allowing the soil to be worked. We learned that there are brief periods in October and April/May when our clay soil could be easily dug and beds prepared. By prepared we mean adding lots organic matter, especially compost, shredded bark, and wood chips. The key word here is “lots” as too little is worse than none at all.

Work any and all available organic matter in as deep as possible, ideally 10-12 inches, more if possible. While you can do this with a shovel or turning fork we suggest using a rot-o-tiller. We found one of those little tiller/cultivators named after a carnivorous insect, broke up the clumps the best. The important thing is to get as much organic matters as possible worked in deeply.

If you find you cannot work the soil deeply enough, as was our case, consider using raised beds. These do not have to be any fancy framed in structure. We simply kept piling on compost and loamy topsoil followed by tilling until we had build the workable soil to the depth we wanted. On top of this we added several inches of well composted wood-chips to serve as a mulch. Every Spring we worked the old mulch in and add a new layer.

Unfortunately, this will be an ongoing process which you will repeat for the life of your gardens. The good news is that such clay beds tends to be much higher in nutrients than a sandy soil. After twenty years of work we are growing some very wonderful plants in our raised beds. As you might guess:
“WE STRONGLY ENCOURAGE YOU TO CONSIDER RAISED PLANTING BEDS!”

 

Best Plants for Clay Soil

Here are some trees, shrubs, and plants that we have found that do well in our heavy soil:

Trees Shrubs Plants
Ash Arborvitae Coreopsis
Honeylocust Lilacs Echinacea
Beech Mockorange Silphium
Basswood Mockorange Monarda
Concolor fir Cotoneasters Andropogon
Maple Viburnums Hemerocallis
Crabapples Flowering Quince Rudbeckia
Oaks Forsythia Helianthus
Hawthorns Witch Hazel Aster
Yews Hydrangea Asclepias
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Viburnums in the Landscape

Icon Written by GeoffM1968 on August 1, 2008 – 10:18 am

Without a doubt our overall favorite shrub is the viburnum. This versatile genus of shrubs can be used anywhere in the garden. We know this is a very bold statement to make but it is true! Besides having attractive foliage and growth habits, they offer bright colorful very fragrant flowers. Many boast of colorful fruits and stunning fall foliage. In addition, the fruits are appealing to birds and other wildlife. Whenever we need a shrub for a problem area we turn to the viburnum.



The viburnums are one of the most versatile group of shrubs for use by the urban gardener, particularly for those with little time to spare. One of the best features of the viburnums, in fact, is that they require little, if any maintenance. Those that are native to North America are especially adaptable and forgiving if neglected. Most viburnums will adapt to many soil and light conditions. They are also very drought tolerant and will grow in USDA hardiness zones 2 to 9.



Among their best characteristics are their varying growth habits, ranging in size from 2 to 30 feet. Most viburnums also have a full spreading habit, excellent for filling in bare spots. Viburnums can be used in many landscape situations. The smaller forms are excellent for planting close to buildings, and the larger forms provide good specimen and screen planting. Some viburnums are even evergreen or semi-evergreen in colder climates offering four season appeal.



Viburnum flowers range from creamy white to pink. The buds, often shaped like small nuts, are attractive as well. The flowers are borne in clusters, ranging from a rounded snowball shape to a flat lace form. The large, white snowball or semi-snowball clusters of florets are especially attractive when used as cut flowers. Most viburnums have very fragrant flowers which are especially suited for use along walks, and patios where their smell can be richly appreciated.



Most viburnums have very attractive Fall color from purplish red to brilliant autumn bronze. Their fruit is very showy, from mid-night blue to colorful scarlet red. Fruit will often persist through the Winter months, a god send for early migrating birds.



In addition to the aesthetic features, viburnums, are resistant to serious pests. Even deer seem to leave this alone. They require little pruning, although we do occasionally remove any dead wood. They will grow in either sun or shade, however, flowering and fruiting will be more profuse in a sunny situation. Use them in the background, foreground, or mix through the garden at will. We have never seen a bad looking viburnum. This shrub brings out the best in any location.




Tips: Viburnums

While it is very hard for us to select our favorite viburnum the following varieties have preformed well in our gardens:


  1. Viburnum plicatum tomentosum ‘Shasta’ is an elegant improved version of the standard Doublefile Viburnums, smaller and more floriferous. A nice deciduous shrub that has deep green leaves that displays a excellent fall color. Large white flowers followed by bright red berries. Great mid sized plant for groupings or background plantings.
  2. Viburnum cassinoides ‘Chesapeake’ was introduced in 1981 by Dr. Egolf and the US National Arboretum. The flowers are pink in bud, open white, with ever so slight fragrance. This shrub grows six feet high and eight feet wide. Leaves are semi-evergreen, lustrous dark green and wavy, with flat leaves.
  3. Viburnum trilobum ‘Onondaga’ is found in low moist places along forest edges throughout the northeastern United States. This versatile plant prefers moist, well drained soils but does fine in poorly drained and drier soils. This round topped, dense shrub, 6 to 12 feet high has clusters of lacy white flowers in the Spring.
  4. Viburnum dilatatum ‘Michael Dodge’ an exciting new find from Winterthur Gardens with large yellow berries enhanced by the red fall color of the foliage are a show-stopper. It has large leaves, dense growing habit to 5 to 6 inch and white flowers in late spring.
  5. Viburnum lantana ‘Mohican’ A USDA introduction carefully selected for its 6 to 8 feet compact growth habit, thick lustrous deep green foliage and the persistent fall display of its orange-red berries that retain their showy color for more than a month.
  6. Viburnum nudum ‘Winterthur’ is another select specimen shrub introduced by Winterthur Gardens in Delaware. This outstanding Viburnum offers handsome, glossy-green foliage that transforms to deep reddish-purple hues in fall. Cymes of creamy-white flowers in late spring yield clusters of green. Maple-shaped leaves turn purplish red in fall.
  7. Viburnum prunifolium ‘Blachaw’ is easily grown in average, dry to medium wet, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. Tolerates drought. Blackhaw is usually grown as a large, upright, multi-stemmed, deciduous shrub with an irregular crown, but it also may be grown as a small, single trunk tree. Flowers give way in autumn to blue-black, berry-like drupes which often persist into winter and are quite attractive to birds and wildlife.

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Koi Ponds

Icon Written by GeoffM1968 on July 1, 2008 – 10:31 am

Ever thought of having a Koi pond in your yard but did not know where to start or if you even should put one in your yard. We will try to answer those questions plus more in this months Yard Talk. You will want to be prepared as building and maintaining a Koi pond is much different and time consuming than putting in a simple water feature. It took me about 200 hours to build our pond and then I spend about an hour every week in maintaining the pond. First things first, what minimum size pond should you have.

There are many factors which go into answering this question including how many Koi you want to have in your system. For every Koi you have, you want to make sure to have a little less than one gallon for every inch of Koi. Since most Koi will quickly grow to an average mature size of 32 inches, you will want to have a minimum of 320 gallons for one Koi. Since Koi are social animals, you will want to have at least two Koi or yours will continually try to jump out. Therefore, you are now up to a minimum pond size of 640 gallons. Lets put this into perspective so you can visualize this.

You want a minimum depth of four feet for a Koi pond. So with a pound size of 640 gallons with a depth of four feet, the dimension would then be about seven feet by four feet oval which puts the estimated volume at 658 gallons or about five average size bath tubs. Now you have an estimated size pond you need to build for two Koi. Now lets take a look at construction material and equipment you will need to maintain the pond.

The most common material to line your pond with is a rubber liner with a felt padding to protect the rubber liner from the objects in the soil from puncturing the liner. Here in Florida, I have a very sandy soil and I still used the felt padding to protect the rubber liner as it is important to start with a good foundation. You can use other and more expensive material to build your pond with the best being built like an in ground pool. You have to remember, any cement material must be coated to protect your Koi from the cement leaching its lethal chemicals and material into the pond. Once you have selected the material you are going to use to build your pond, you need to now decide on a design.

Remember from our calculations, we used an oval for our estimations for a 658 gallon pond. For a Koi pond, you do not want to have any ledges as birds, which would love to eat one of your Koi, would find this very helpful getting at your Koi. You also do not want to put any type of gravel in your Koi pond as this would let bad bacterial and sludge collect in your pond which is disastrous for the health of your Koi. Think of it like this, would you want your waste to settle to the bottom of your toilet and stay there for long periods of time? With that said, another important thing to remember in your pond design is to make sure the bottom slopes to one central location for a bottom drain to take away the sediment which will over time deposit on the bottom of your pond. I have mentioned a bottom drain so lets take a look at your plumbing and filtration system which is mandatory for any Koi pond.

Many people put in a bottom drain by putting a hole in the bottom of their pond. I propose a better way is to put in a bottom drain which sits on the bottom with plumbing going to your filter and then pump. I am only going to briefly touch on the filtration system as I could dedicate an entire article to this alone. The basics of a filtration system is to remove the particles in your pond. You can do this with a simple bead filter to a more complex chamber filtration system. You have to match the right filtration system for the pond size along with the water and light conditions. The worse your water is from the water source (municipal/well) and the more light you have hitting the surface of your pond, the better your filtration system has to be to have healthy Koi. For example, if your water source is from city water system, then you will probably need a way to remove the chlorine and the more deadly chloramines which many municipalities are using more-and-more. If you are using well water, you will want more aeration due to the fact well water has little or now oxygen which is also deadly condition for Koi. For my pond, I have two filtration systems. I have a bottom drain going to a bead filter, then external pump, and finally back to the waterfall box. The second utilizes a sediment chamber, skimmer box, bead filter, external pump, two UV Filters, and then to the waterfall box.

This brings up another part of the filtration system which drives the whole system, the pond pump. The more energy efficient and better to power your system is an external pump with a leaf basket attached. Again, the size depends on the size of your pond, the length of plumbing, and the amount of lift from the point of when the water enters the filtration system to when it exits the filtration system. The more length and the more height, the larger pump you need. A simple formula is to divide your pond volume by two to get the size of the pump in gallons per hour it needs to move. In our example, you need a minimum pump size of 329 gph.

The next important piece of equipment to help keep your pond clear is a UV Filter. This kills all small single cell organisms including bacterial and algae and is essential to both the health of your pond and keeping your pond from turning green. The size of the UV Filter is again determined by the pond volume and the light conditions. The larger the pond and more light it is subject to, the larger the size UV Filter. To calculate the minimum size UV Filter(s), you take your pond volume and times it by two to get the minimum rated gallons per hour UV Filter(s) you need. In our example, you would need a minimum UV Filter(s) capable of handling a minimum of 1316 GPH.

As you have read, there are several minimum pieces of equipment you need for a Koi pond and I briefly talked about each or mentioned what I have installed on my pond. You can add a lot more equipment to your pond depending on the size and water conditions you have. I will include several links at the end of this article you can use to do some more research if you are dealing with some special water and site conditions. With each filtration system, you will want to make sure to install several valves so you can isolate each for cleaning, repair, and replacement. I learned this the hard way.

Another important design principle for you Koi pond is to ensure the outside rim is above grade to prevent water runoff from your yard getting into your pond. Both the lawn chemicals and nutrients are not good for your Koi. Along with ensuring the outside rim is above grade, you also want to make sure any decorative rocks are above water grade to prevent your Koi from bumping into them and causing skin lesions which would be an entry point for harmful bacteria.

Even if you do not think you have a lot of wildlife, you may need to install some type of protection for your fish. For my pond in Florida, I have a lot of sea birds which inhabit my area and would love to sit on the side of my pond and pick out my Koi for a treat. To help detour this, I installed a netting over the entire pond. You could install this as a cage type system or laying on top of the pond. My pond designed enabled me to bend conduit to form around the edge of my pond. I then painted the conduit to match my rocks and strung the netting across it tying it down with zip ties. It is a bit unsightly but the alternate is not a viable option.

Now you have the basic Koi pond construction. Now lets look at water chemistry and the important variables for Koi. You will want to measure and manage the following water condition levels. Until I determined a baseline for my pond, I measure these often. Now I have determined my pond is stable so I only measure once a week or when I think something is going wrong with my pond and my Koi health. Measure the following:


  • pH – greater than 7.0

  • Ammonia – 0 ppm

  • Nitrite – 0 ppm

  • Nitrate – 0 ppm

  • Oxygen – greater than 5 mg/l

  • Salinity – 0.05% to 0.10%

  • GH (General Hardiness) – 200-400 ppm

  • KH (Carbonate Hardiness) – greater than 40 ppm

You will want to manage both GH and KH to impact pH. The most important part is to ensure you have stable pH without any pH crashes (sudden pH drop) which will kill your Koi. Again lots can be written about this so I will refer you to a couple good articles on KoiVet.com:

Lets assume you have your pond set up for at least a month and have managed all your above perimeters so that they are all stable. Then and only then would you want to introduce your Koi to the new pond. Realize, your just introduced Koi will be very jumpy the first couple weeks until they are comfortable in their new environment so you will want to watch them very closely. I ensured I had my pond covered with a net to ease my mind as I also learned this the hard way. Remember, you will want to follow a strict quarantine routine when introducing new Koi to your pond to prevent disasters results.

Daily and weekly maintenance is a must. I flush my filters weekly and do a partial 20 percent water change. I also make sure to do a visual inspection of all my Koi and pond to ensure all is going well with them. Since I utilize municipal water supply, I must also treat my pond for both chlorine and chloramine prior to adding any fresh water. You must also feed your Koi daily. Rule of thumb, feed them no more than what they can eat in five minutes, two to three times a day. I have mine set up with an automatic feeder using a Koi Cafe which is worth the price. The downside using an automatic feeder, my Koi are not as friendly as they were when I was hand feeding them as they would beg when I walked up to the pond. Now they hide from me.

I am sure many of you are now saying, is it worth all the effort and it is very important you think about that as taking one week off, could have disastrous consequences. For me it is worth all the effort.

Favorite Koi Links

Utilize the following links on better Koi Health and Pond Construction:

Koi General Health

Test Kits

Supply Companies

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Using Ornamental Grass in the Border Garden

Icon Written by GeoffM1968 on May 1, 2008 – 1:11 pm

No Way! No How! Was my immediate response when ask a few years ago if we would be using ornamental grasses in our gardens. My beds were just too small and the sunny areas too precious to be taken over by such big unruly plants.

Of course, this was like when I was a kid telling the little girl next door to get lost saying “Who wants a girl hanging around ?” only to discover a few years later that they were not so bad after all. Needless to say, today we use many varieties of grasses in our gardens.

Why not? Grasses truly are attractive and not rampantly aggressive. Sort of like that girl next door. Like their weedy cousins, ornamentals are tough, resilient and not susceptible to any insect or disease problems. Best of all they require no weeding, spraying, and much less fertilization than other garden plants.

Ornamental grasses are an excellent choice for gardeners trying to create a low maintenance landscape. Once established, they require no watering and only a late Winter hair cut to promote new growth. Even the most novice gardener cannot go wrong growing grasses.

What better plant, with their strong vertical form and feathery flower heads, for a border or privacy screening? The leaf blades add fine texture and colors of metallic blues, burgundy, white, creamy yellow and every shade of green imaginable.

On top of this their foliage is always simmering, catching the sun’s rays in ever changing patterns. Throw in their impressive array of flower plumes and seed heads, add a few butterflies and birds, and you have one very beautiful garden setting.

Ornamental grasses grow best in full to partial sun, but will tolerate a wide range of conditions. Grasses are not fussy about the soil conditions. If you are planting them into an existing bed, just add a few inches of organic matter and till in. For a new bed we like to work the soil deep, adding lots of organic matter. While this does not necessarily improve vigor it does make future moving or dividing easier. Grasses can be planted successfully just about any time of the year. Just be careful to plant them at the same level they were potted at , and water it in well.

Most grasses go dormant during the Winter months. In late January, cut the plants back to within a few inches of the ground. If possible, burn the dead foliage instead of cutting as this promotes vigorous new growth. Whether you cut or burn, it must be done before the fresh, new growth comes up.

Some grass we have used successfully in our garden are:


  1. Cortaderia selloana ‘Pumila’

  2. Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’

  3. Miscanthus sinensis ‘Yaku Jima’

  4. Panicum virgatum ‘Cloud Nine’

  5. Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’

  6. Panicum virgatum ‘Prairie Sky’

While these we found easy to use, there are many more out there to try. We recommend that you visit our Plant Data Base (www.myg.info) and go to Amber Wave’s ornamental grass site (http://www .amberwavegardens.com/) to see just how great grasses look. As you will discover, these rugged plants have much to offer the home gardener.

Tips: Maintaining Ornamental Grasses

To maintain their vigor ornamental grasses will need to be divided every few years. You will begin to notice new growth only appearing at the sides of the clump, leaving a naked center. This indicates that too much woody, old growth has smothered the new growth. Even if a new shoot emerges from the woody core, there is little chance for it’s survival.

While ornamental grass is not the easiest plant to divide it can usually be done by those in reasonably good shape and of strong heart. It helps if you have had practice wrestling grizzly bears or bull dogging. Seriously, it can be a battle. The first time I tried, I gave up. After two hours, three shovels, and one very sore back, decided the task could wait another year.

Tools you will need are; several shovels (you are bound to break a few), a mutt, pickax, a few sharp spades, large knife, pruning shears, and an ax. A sturdy wheel barrow or garden cart is helpful but not essential.

First, cut off the foliage to about 4-6 inches above the crown. Dig the plant up completely and remove it from the ground. While this sounds easy it is not. Most ornamental grasses have deep growing dense root balls which will require a lot of time and effort to dig up.

Next cut the clump into divisions with a sharp spade, a large knife, or more likely an ax. Begin by using your spade to cut through the core on one side. Use a second spade to cut the opposite side. The two spades should face opposite directions. Pull the spades in each direction to pry the first divisions apart.

Begin by cutting the clump into halves, then quarters. The first cut will be the toughest because of the hard texture of the core. As it becomes possible, remove smaller divisions from the clump, by pulling them away from the parent plant by hand. Remove dead or diseased material from each individual division.

Replant or pot all divisions, even a single stalk will produce a new plant if it has a few healthy roots. In a few seasons, your divisions will, grow into healthy, mature plants.

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Picking the Right Landscape Contractor

Icon Written by GeoffM1968 on April 1, 2008 – 1:17 pm

Landscaping that is well designed and maintained not only adds beauty to your home but greatly increases it’s value. Just ask any real estate salesmen about the importance of curb appeal! It has been estimated that landscaping adds 15-20 percent to the value of your home. This is actually recoverable value too, not just a money pit such as hot tubs or pools.

We continually talk about the importance of maintaining your lawn and garden areas with our customers. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to overlook the exterior environment of your home. Even with proper care, landscape areas can become shabby over time. They also can become dated just like the lava lights and green linoleum of the fifties and early sixties.

Like your house, sooner or later you are going to have to renovate your landscape. While most of us can handle the routine garden chores, few homeowners are up to the task of a complete garden make over, especially with today’s wide choice of hardscape designs and installations. How many of us have the expertise to understand, let alone comply, with today’s many zoning laws, building codes, and permit requirements.

This is where the professional landscape contractor comes in. The contractor knows the laws, specifications, material sources, and has the where with all to carry the project through to completion and in a timely manner. He has the ability to work with you and the architect to produce a finished landscape that will add years of beauty and value to your home. Choosing the right contractor thus will determine the success or failure of your landscape installation.

Unfortunately, as a lawn maintenance professional, we often see what happens when a bad choice is made. Every year we get calls for help with problems arising from bad materials, poor workmanship, or a combination of both. This can run from simply reseeding a lawn planted too late in the season to repairing a retaining wall that fell over after the first heavy rain. Without fail, at some point in our restoration, the customer will ask us what they should have done differently.

The first step is to have a plan, be it a simple sketch or a complete architectural drawing. Next determine the scope of the project and what services you expect from the contractor such as installation of plant material, decks and patio, retaining walls, irrigation systems, and lighting. A good contractor should be able to handle all of this for you.

Thoroughly investigate the company. Contact some of your neighbors to see if they have used or heard of him. Check to see how long he has been in business in your community. Make sure to ask for recent references and check these out, visit the jobs and talk with his customers. We freely encourage potential customers to do this, even making arrangements for them, if they desire. We consider that our best advertising comes from past satisfied customers.

While many states require licensing, care must be taken in taking this at face value. Many times a license just means they are good at taking tests. Also, certification by a local or national trade organization may mean only that they pay dues to be able to use that groups logo. By itself, certification or licensing can be misleading.

For you the homeowner, the contractor’s insurance coverage should be a big concern. Landscaping work requires both liability and worker’s compensation insurance. You should require written proof of insurance from the contactor’s insurance carrier. Insurance companies will readily provide this information.

Check out what levels of expertise and education the employees have. Of course, I would not be writing this today if my customers had just based their decision on my horticultural education as my background is in Business Management and Accounting. Here again you need to look at the total package.

Ask how long the employees have been working with them. We encourage potential customers to talk with our people. Not only does the customer have to feel comfortable with the contractor but also the contractor with the customer. We make it a point to walk away from jobs where it just did not feel right.

Be sure to ask about what guarantees the landscaper will stand behind . Do they guarantee the plant material? Will the hardscape items, both materials and labor be covered at no cost to the homeowner? Make sure you know how long the contractor will stand behind his work.

What about the guy just starting out? I am still surprised that so many people gave me a chance with my old scruffy Chevy Blazer and snowmobile trailer. I was enthusiastic, dependable, really love the work, and fortunately many people realized that. I always wanted to do a good job, sure I had to make a living but above all else I wanted to please the customer.

If you find someone with excellent references, good looking projects, who is enthusiastic about the work, and that you feel comfortable with, you just may have a good prospect. The main thing is to take the time to do your homework!

Tips: Selecting a Landscape Contractor

Here is a checklist for selecting a landscape contractor:


  1. Ask and check references on similar jobs completed in your community.
  2. Request a copy of liability and worker compensation certificates.
  3. Find out if landscaper doing all the work or will he be subcontracting.
  4. Determine who is responsible for the design work.
  5. Find out who is responsible for permits, inspections, and code issues.
  6. Make sure the contractor has the personnel and equipment to do the job.
  7. Make sure who is responsible for clean up and the overall appearance of the finished job and will the clean up happen.
  8. Understand the time frame, when will the project start and finish.
  9. Make sure you understand the companies payment terms.
  10. Obtain a written warranty exactly what is covered.
  11. Ask the contractor about professional memberships or certification .
  12. Find out about the contractor office, voice mail or answering service.
  13. Determine how long it takes for the contractor to return calls.
  14. If you wish to work on some of these projects yourself make sure your contractor is agreeable to this.
  15. Do not base your decision solely on the lowest bid or because one landscape plan includes more plants than another does.
  16. Make sure you understand how change orders and extra costs are handled.

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