Landscaping Tips

Landscape Tip # 1 Install a weather-based sprinkler controller. Over the last five years, most of my projects receive a weather-based sprinkler controller. When I first started installing them, I had a difficult time communicating exactly what it is they do. Sure, people could understand that its design made it shut-off when it rains and that alone would save them money but how does it know how much to water the lawn, the slope, or the the flowers? Also, clients would ask why they did not need to adjust it seasonally like their old sprinkler clock? People were baffled.

Since then, the best comparison I have is that it is like an outdoor thermostat for your sprinkler system. Most likely, your current sprinkler clock is a lot like the old wall heaters of the past which were lacking a thermostat and only had settings for off, low, med, or high. How much better would your sprinkler system work with a thermostat? aka weather station. How does it work? Good questions…

We program each weather-based sprinkler controller with all your pertinent information: Zip code, site conditions, and water requirements per zone in your yard. The weather station then monitors and adjusts automatically based on daily temperatures and weather data per your site. This system completely takes the guest work out of watering your yard AND will save you money. Call us to today to learn more and we’ll set up the right kind of Weather-based Sprinkler Controller for your yard. Visit to learn about the many rebates that are available for your sprinkler system.

Landscape Tip # 2 Improve soil properties organically with compost and gypsum. Here is a landscape tip you can do that improves plant health, saves water, saves money, and will not require you to call us or even your gardener unless you want to. Apply gypsum to lawns and both gypsum and compost to shrub areas one time a year. Its really cheap and can all be loaded in nice clean bags on a tarp into the back of mom’s SUV with the seat down. 1/2 cubic yard and about (4) 50lb bags of gypsum is a good amount for most average size lots.

Most homes planting ground in South OC have 3 big negatives, hard packed clay soil that is already quite alkaline, alkaline water that adds injury upon insult, and very little organic matter.

Gypsum balances soil PH. You can have your soil tested by sending a sample out to a lab or purchase a kit to check its PH but 9 times out of 10 your soil here in South OC will be very alkaline. Because we are also the last to receive our water supply what water we receive is also alkaline or termed hard water. Gypsum will move clay soil towards the middle of the PH scale but its effects are temporary and the gypsum will eventually wash out so you almost cannot put enough down. Make it look like it just snowed then water it in a little with your sprinklers then move onto the next step so you do not have to look at the gypsum for very long.

Compost  and or peat moss which is even a better long term PH balancer is great.  If you can cultivate the compost and peat moss into the top 3-4 inches this will solve all sorts of problems. If your soil is just hard as adobe then just throw compost minus the peat moss right on top. Next year if your ground is not completely root bound it will except deeper cultivation.  In time water will go into the soil instead of running off and fertilizer if you should choose to use it will penetrate the ground not run out into the storm drain.

Landscape Tip # 3 Add a 12-volt incandescent or LED lighting system. Over the years of meeting with married couples about what they want to do with their landscape and hardscape I have come to the conclusion that outdoor lighting is a guy thing. Second to a built in BBQ, lighting is what the Husband will usually bring up. Why, I am not sure exactly. Maybe us men like the wow factor or maybe its because some of us leave for work and come home during at least half the year in the dark so lighting is what we notice when we get home.

Lighting is an investment and I would say there are 3 options.

  • You can have a package of 12 plastic fixtures and a 300 watt plastic transformer from a big box home improvement store installed for about $ 1,000. But soon they will get broken and not work and so again probably every 3 years for the rest of your time in that home you will need to replace them.
  • You can spend around $2,500 for 6 copper path lights and 6 copper spot lights with a  300 watt stainless steel transformer that will last potentially for 20 years. This incandescent system will need bulb replacements every 3 years or so and will also require more electricity costs than the last option.
  • Which is the LED option of installing 6 copper LED path lights, 6 copper LED spot lights and a smaller 150 watt stainless steel transformer for about $ 3,500. The genius behind LED’s is that the bulbs are rated to last about 20 years they are equally as bright but the power consumption is much less. In the past most of my clients have gone with option # 2 but why do some clients go with option # 3 more and more these days?

By far the most expensive option is # 1 throw away plastic lights. Option # 3 according to many industry tables is considered actually cheaper in the long run over option # 1 and # 2 because of maintenance and electricity costs. The choice is yours…Save a lot now but spend even more over time. Go some where in between, or spend more now and make it back in the long run. Call us and we can help you see the light… that is best for you.

Landscape Tip # 4 Improve curb appeal by replacing that old cracked side walk or driveway. We have all lived in a home with horendous cracked concrete either in a driveway or pathway. This reality has made some people dismiss concrete as a choice for flatwork and view its replacement as an absolute waste of money. In most cases the reality is that the forces of bidding and many people accepting the low bid has created a lot of substandard concrete flatwork that is destined for repeated replacement. Thankfully concrete is able to be crushed and reconstituted as roadbase or other usefull sands and gravel mixxes, but the better option for your long term finances and the planet is to do it right the first time.

Get at least 3 bids and have them itemized. What details might you look for in the written contract? Thickness of slab? Preperation of subgrade? Pre saturation? Rebar? What size and spacing? What PSI of concrete? Does the contractor have a C-8 aka a concrete specialty license or is he in reality a gardener or handy man with some trowels? Will tooled joints be applied the day of the pour to minimize or completely eliminate visible cracking? What texture or color options are available to make the flatwork more appealing. Good concrete will last and look good. If you do not believe me drive up into Talega some day and look at all the Builder installed driveways. They are all basic gray but very few I have ever come across have failed. I am sure the builders of those homes got a fair price but they did not lower construction method standards  or allow a low bid with vauge promises to influence their contractor choice.

When you drive down your street which homes stand out as appealing?  Usually the ones not only with a freshly painted front but in particular those with beautiful landscaping and yes tastefull intact driveways and entrances since those make up sometimes 50 % of the total area. If you have the desire and resources, why not replace any substandard concrete flatwork? Then enjoy your home while you live in it and if you decide to sell it anticipate a quicker sale at a higher price.

Landscape Tip # 5 Create an outdoor kitchen with a built in BBQ or pizza oven. Not a lot of encouragement is generaly needed on my part as the designer and contractor to help a potential client see the benefit of building an outdoor kitchen. I would say about ½  of all the clients I have ever met with have brought to my attention that “this is where they think the  built in BBQ should go” or “that this is where we want the gas line ran for the portable grill.” The rest I imagine do what some of us have done in the past and run to the hardware store for another tank of propane right in the middle grilling Carne Asada for our guests.

Those who may be considering a built in outdoor kithchen usually have some ideas of what they want to do based on a friends house or some sample pictures off the internet. Both which are excellent starting points or sources of inspiration but, unless you have built several of these their might be a few important specifics you miss;

Which way does the predominant wind blow and how should the BBQ be positioned? Many people picture this huge long counter area with bar stools directly adjacent to the BBQ but will people really sit there and if so how many? It may be easy to pick how we want the outside to look but what construction is best? Wood, Aluminum stud, pre-fabbed, or reinforced masonry? Why is one so much better than the others? Where should it be located in the yard in relation to the neighbors and your main kitchen? How will the cook face? Towards a wall or fence, or the guests, or out over a view area?  What details might you want to consider having that only add a small amount of cost; BBQ light? Small refrigerator? Beer Tap? How about something more substantial that could be thought out ahead of time and even added latter if neccesary, like a pizza oven? (you may never have pizza deliverd again) How about sizing the gas line and electrical needs? What about weather protection? These are just some considerations. Give us a call, we have built a few and we would be happy to help you decide what will be best for your outdoor kitchen, design, and budget.

Landscape Tip # 6 Install a water feature for estetics and to reduce noise pollution. Back when their were far fewer cars on the road it was quite desirable to have ones home right on the main Highway.  It made sense, you were closer to shops, work and school and also you could see and greet people when they passed thru. As time went on 2 lane roads became 4 lane roads  and 4 lanes became 8 or more lanes of freeway. What was once an occasional roar of speeding car or a braking truck has now become a constant drone of mixed road noise.

What to do?

  • Play your music really loud all the time.
  • Buy ear plugs for the whole family and scream at each other when you need to talk.
  • Situate a water feature in your yard to impart tranquil sound into your living areas.

If you choose C your goal is not to mimic the sound of The Vernal and Nevada Waterfalls at Yosemite but rather to create just enough pleasant natural sound that some of the undesireable noise fades into the back ground. The other obvious benefit is that you, your guests, neighbors and even the hummingbirds have something pleasant to look at and visit.

Get in touch with us today and we can show you pictures of:

  • custom stone water walls we have built,
  • Naturalistic ponds, watefalls, and streams that can be built into a small hillside or in the corner of a yard, or
  • How a precast concrete waterfountain placed in just the right area with some screening shrubs will work.

Looking at a few pictures along with our consultation could help you decide on the right water feature and location in your outdoor area.

Landscape Tip # 7 Remove lawn that is not specifically used as a play area. Some of the first lawns were installed by Nobility during the 18th Century in England. Neither they or any livestock ate the lawn, and so these lawns made a visual statement to the commoner, that they were wealthy enough to grow something just for the sheer pleasure of it. Here in their front yards they were growing something, on purpose, for no reason.  We may find ourselves also growing something, on purpose, for no reason. More recent history may explain why. When I first began designing an installng yards it was almost always assumed that people were going to install half or more of their yard as turf. Sod was certainly cheaper than any hardscape. (it still is if you ignore the long term maintnenance costs) Water, especially in the previous decades was so cheap that the instant soded lawn was adopted into almost all landscape designs.

Prior to shutting off the main to your sprinkler system and installing a tribute to the Joshua Tree National park in your back yard take some time to assess what areas should actually in fact be lawn. For instance a back yard lawn is sometimes the only safe place for young kids too play outside and be supervised at home. Also some lawn serves to make an area seem more open and larger and can be made more water thrifty. (see tip # 1 “Install a Weather Based Sprinkler controller” )

If you are thinking about redesigning your yard this may be an excellent time to consult with a profesional and eliminate lawn all together in your yard or at least reduce its overall footprint. Enviromental impacts aside, and there is a lot to consider, using lawn only were it is used as a play area or reducing its size by moving your lawn border a few feet out into previous lawn areas creating more shrub area will reduce your maintenance and water bill. Repurposing lawn areas for raised veggie beds, a fire feature, an outdoor kithchen or a larger patio for entertaining will take an initial investment but it will make your yard more usefull. Give us a call. We would be happy to help you and your lawn move in the right direction.

Landscape Tip # 8 Install a fire feature such as a fire-pit or fire place for cool evenings. Some of us have seen the license plate frame; “San Clemente Best Climate in the World”. After two months of foggy weather we may start to think that whoever came up with that slogan was only here from August to Decemeber. The fact still remains that we don’t own snow shovels, huddle in huge screened in tents even during the daytime and we reserve our 100% deet for camping somewhere else. What seems to happen is that despite the great weather we do have, we can get a little picky about what we consider a nice day and it gets even worse when it comes to the evenings that really cool down with the usual onshore breezes. This chilly daily cycle might make us rush into the comfort of our homes and miss one of the nicest times to be outside; The evening. On top of that, outdoor evenings now have to compete with not only the TV, but every other sly form of electronic media. This is may be your summer to draw a line in the sand and regain at least a few evenings a month of enjoying the outside and the conversation of family or friends.

What can help is a professionaly designed and of course legal fire feature. (Have your designed fire feature approved by the City Building Department as required)  Gas heaters are nice but lack some elements that can be found from various versions of the two following fire features. To start… an Outdoor Fireplace is not only enjoyable at night but can also be a showpiece in our yards during the day. A Gas Fire Pit in the right location with ample seating allows our guests to circle around, talk, stay warm, and go home without smelling like a beach fire. Give us a call and have us consult you on where might be the best location, which feature may best fit  into your yard, and how to design it to so it can warm your outdoor evenings for years to come.

Landscape Tip # 9  Plant vegetables in a raised bed or in pots with a drip system. Over the past decade my wife and I have grown both small amounts of edibles in containers and now larger amounts in raised beds.  We progressed from buying the random hybrid tomatoe or hot pepper at the nursery to growing most everything from seed shipped via mail order from a seed catalog. One shipment included a free packet of carrot seed. I had heard that tomatoes appreciated carrots and vs versa, essentially perfect companions. I sprinkled some seed around the base of the tomatoes and in two months I had an amazing amount of different sizes, shapes, and colors of carrots. Neither my wife or me particularly liked carrots. Despite this my wife still opted to incorporate them into some dishes so that we did not just throw or give them all away.  The carrots were sweet and full of flavor, they were crunchy and crisp, yet softer than their cousins from the  super market that threaten to chip a front tooth.  So then we started growing things we never ate before like baby bakchoi, and colorful lettuces that are not even found at the high-end grocers, and virtually everything proved to be just like that carrot… yes like the carrot on the end of the stick leading towards a better small garden.

If you have even a small area that gets 6-8 hours of sunlight set up a raised bed or some large pots. Fill with bagged planting mix or delivered bulk planter mix. Add an additional zone for a drip system that will take away the need for your constant daily attention and enjoy your work. Of course there are more details than can be covered here so either hire a professional or buy a book like “The Vegetable Gardeners Container Bible” by Edward C. Smith or “Small Plot, High Yield Gardening” by Sal Gilbertie and Larry Sheehan.

Landscape Tip # 10  Create a Landscape design on paper and install it in phases. The economy is supposedly on the up swing… Despite this most of us do not have the money to budget redoing our entire front and back yard all at one time. An obvious solution is to rework one area such as the front or back yard, or reintsall an aspect of our yard, like the softscape and lighting, or an area of the hardscape. The problem that can occur is that after a number of years and a number of projects our yard may lack planning and good flow with consistency of theme.  An excellent solution is to draw up a plan that takes into consideration the entire outside of our home or commercial building, and also the desired end result. Working  with a professional who can design, build, and recommend where to start, will result in a yard that is completed as you have the funds but looks like it was done all at one time.