Five No-Cost Landscaping Tips

By Del Aguilar, of All Seasons Lawn & Landscaping.

January 29, 2011

Are there ways to improve your landscaping that will not cost you a fortune? How can you get great results without falling into a financial black hole?

Truth is most landscaping does take money, but there are some low-cost and no-cost options that you can put into action that will help you to get the best results. Landscaping in northern Nevada’s Great Basin is challenging to say the least. The average annual rainfall is 4 inches to 8 inches and the growing season is less than 160 days. Temperatures in the spring, summer and fall can fluctuate 40 degrees to 50 degrees in a single day which plays havoc on our trees, shrubs and perennials, not to mention the vegetable gardens. Our summers are characterized by 90 degree to 100 degree temperatures coupled with hot dry winds, making it difficult to keep plants from turning brown and shriveling. While these ideas will not cost you a lot of money they will cost you time, so prepare for that.

These are fantastic ideas for getting started. They also work! All too often I see plants planted in the wrong place or sprinklers heads added to a zone to water a dry spot in the lawn which only makes, matters worse. Many landscape problems are easy to solve and diagnose and here are simple problems and solutions that occur in the field.

1. Find the cause of Dry Spots. Without getting too technical, turn the system on, then try pushing the sprinkler head riser (the pop-up part), down. If it goes down easily, this should raise red flags telling you that there is not enough water pressure to irrigate efficiently (head to head coverage), hence dry spots or “green doughnuts”. If this is the case, visually audit the entire station while it’s running. Examine each head to make certain the loss of pressure is not caused by worn or leaky wiper seals, mix heads (two different sprinklers with two different operating pressures and flows), a leaky valve or two stations coming on at the same time. If your findings take you back to a water pressure problem then try retro-fitting the existing sprinkler system with low pressure and low volume heads or nozzles, i.e., MP Rotors. Investigate every possible solution you can to fix the problem for the long term and don’t take the “band-aide” approach.

2. Don’t “baby” your trees! Other problems seen in the landscape are trees damaged by stakes and tie wires left on the tree too long. As a general rule, and the accepted arboriculture practice, stakes can be taken off after the first season. Given, certain areas require additional time but for the most part they need to be taken off after one year. I have seen five year to 10 year old landscapes with staked trees. This will slowly kill a tree and weaken it. What happens over time, the wire that wrapped around the tree to anchor it in place when it was.

Fig. 1.0 Tree stake and ties left on a 5 year old tree.

young, becomes imbedded into the trunk as the tree trunk expands (Figure 1.0.).

A weak spot is then formed and its’ at this point where the tree will snap off in a strong wind if left unchecked and corrected. If the wire is left on over time, the wire will girdle the tree and kill it. If a tree cannot stand by itself after 2 years, there is something wrong with the tree.

3. Prune at the right time. One common issue includes pruning flowering perennials at the wrong time of year. This is particularly true with roses. I mark April 15th on my calendar to prune roses in our area, give or take a few days. The reason for this date, roses are stimulated to grow right after you prune them. If you prune say in February or March, young tender shoots will be killed by our historical late frost weakening or in some cases killing the rose. April 15th is far enough along in the season for young tender growth to escape a frost. Another plant that I see pruned at the wrong time of year are lilacs. These are to be pruned after they flower in the summer and not in the fall. When you prune spring flowering plants in fall, you remove next spring flowering buds.

4. Know your soil…
Probably the most important landscape issue we face are the diverse soil types in the Truckee Meadows. Our area has clay, sand, sodium affected and rocky soils. Planting in any one of these soil presents problems. One simple way to avoid problems is to check the soil texture. The soil texture will tell you of you sand, silt or clay soils. Knowing the soil texture will help with irrigation and fertilization. For example if you have a sandy soil without to much research, you have to know this soil drains fast taking with it precious nutrients. Having this information can help with your irrigation and fertilization scheduling. Here is a simple way of determining the soil texture type. Grab a shovel or soil probe and scoop out a ½ fist full of soil 6 inches to 8 inches deep and place it in the palm of your hand. Slightly wet the soil while kneading it to the consistency of putty. Then try to make a ribbon by pressing the ball between your thumb and forefingers. If the soil makes a long ribbon, an inch or more you can conclude you have clay. If the soil doesn’t make a ribbon and falls apart, you have sand or mixture of sand silt and some clay. If you can make a ribbon about ¾ inches long you have a sandy clay loam. Drainage is another issue we have in our areas and if you don’t want perform a soil texture by feel test then another quick way to see if the soil drains is by digging a hole 8 inches to 12 inches deep. Fill it with water and let it stand for a few hours then fill it again and let it stand for a day. If the hole has water in it after a 24 hour period you have a drainage problem. If it’s dry or moist you can safely assume the soil will drains adequately and over watering won’t be an issue. Knowing the soil texture type will help you manage your watering frequency and length of time.

5. Check for overwatering. This seems crazy in the desert right? The first sign of over watering is wilting. The second clue, the leaves turn a light green color. This happens because the root ball is sitting in saturated soil and can’t take up oxygen which plants need to grow. To correct the problem, cut back on the amount of time the plant is getting watered and allow the soil to dry out but, not completely. To check for over or under watering use a soil probe or shovel to check the soil moisture and the distribution of water. While you are probing the soil near a wilting plant and can’t penetrate the soil with a shove or probe, obviously the plant is not getting enough water. If you shove the probe or shovel in the soil and it slips in and goes out easily, and is water dripping at the end of the probe, the plant is being over watered.

These are just a few challenges in northern Nevada. We can’t control Mother Nature but we can take care of problems in field by getting the proper training and taking the time to train to your employees. And as I always say to my crew, “if you don’t know what the problem is, don’t be afraid to ask.” There is no such thing as a dumb question. You can get the word out there without spending hundreds of dollars.