Plant Your Spring Bulbs Now to Enjoy their Beauty after Winter Is over

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The days are getting shorter, and the temperatures are dropping. This means it is time to prepare your yard for spring. Yes, we do have to get through winter first, but fall is the time to plant spring blooming bulbs. Tulips are amazing plants, but they are a tasty treat for deer and rabbits. The good news is that there are  many other bulb possibilities besides tulips.

Daffodils (Narcissus spp.) are an amazing spring blooming bulb you can add to any landscape. They grow in sun or shade, they tolerate heat and cold, grow in just about any soil type, plus deer and rabbits leave them alone. Traditionally, they are a cup shaped flower surrounded by a ring of petals in various shades of yellow and white. Now breeders have discovered and developed varieties with all kind of crazy shapes like the Rip van Winkle variety which looks more like a tissue paper star than a regular daffodil. They have also released varieties with amazing colors as well. Rosy Cloud and Apricot Whirl are great examples of these.

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Another bulb to get in the soil now are Alliums. They are in the onion family, but they produce some of the most beautiful blooms imaginable. This is another plant animals leave alone. These flowers look like fireworks frozen in mid explosion. The most extreme example of this comparison would have to be Allium schubertii. Some almost look like candy from Willie Wonka’s chocolate facotry! Globemaster in bloom looks like a giant sucker growing from the ground. Other amazing varieties that also need some recognition include Red Mohican and Mount Everest.

There is still plenty of time to plant these spring beauties. You have until the ground freezes and you can no longer get a shovel in the ground, although if you get out there now while the temperatures are still somewhat warm, it will be more enjoyable and your bulbs will have the opportunity to root and establish themselves. After a long cold winter, when you see the bright, cheerful faces blooming in your yard and reminding you of the beauty still to come, you will be very glad you did.

 

Increase the Beauty and Value of your Home with Landscape Lighting

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Falling leaves and cooler temperatures aren’t the only signs of the changing seasons. As the days get shorter, the amount of natural light decreases leaving even the sunniest homes darker and in the shadows.

The fall is the perfect time to add a low voltage, energy efficient landscape lighting system to your home. It serves so many more purposes other than illuminating and accenting your landscape by night.

A well designed lighting system can do many things for a home. Landscape path light fixtures will welcome your guests and usher them to your front door. Lighting the entrances to your home will increase security and also increase safety by making it easier to see stairs and other types of pathways. Landscape lights will also expand your visible lighting space -a patio can become an outdoor evening entertainment area with a flip of a switch. Adding a lighting system will also increase your curb appeal and add value to your home.

Landscape lighting is a finishing touch that demands attention. It’s one of the most visually dynamic design elements you can impart to your home. It’s about beauty, value and aesthetics. It’s about safety and security. It’s about discovering new ways to use and enjoy your property.

What Kind of Groundcover Does Your Landscape Have?

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Groundcovers serve many purposes in a landscape. You may wonder what exactly is a groundcover? The definition of a groundcover plant is “an  herbaceous, perennial plant that is less than 12” tall.”

There are several groundcover choices that spread at a steady pace and don’t choke out other plants. Some groundcovers that have better manners include Pachysandra, Myrtle (Vinca) and Bugleweed (Ajuga). These plants mingle well with other plants.

Groundcover plants can be aesthetically pleasing to the eye by adding additional color and texture to the landscape. They also have functional purposes as well. For example, they can help solve erosion problems. Another positive aspect is that groundcovers require less mulching than other beds without groundcovers.

One of the best reasons to incorporate groundcovers into a landscape is that, once they are established, they are very effective at keeping weeds at bay. Bare soil and unplanted beds are an open invitation for weeds to take root.

Groundcovers usually have a tendency to creep and crawl. Don’t panic. Not all ground covers are the same. Yes, some groundcovers can be weedy and invasive, because a weed is actually any plant out of place. Some groundcovers to be cautious of include Ribbon Grass (Phalaris), Snow-on-the-Mountain (Aegopodium) and Chameleon Plant (Houttuynia). These plants are very aggressive and hard to eradicate once they are planted.

There are several groundcover choices that spread at a steady pace and don’t choke out other plants. For a shady site, we recommend Pachysandra. Myrtle (Vinca) and Bugleweed (Ajuga) will tolerate full sun and shady conditions. What is wonderful about groundcovers that tolerate any light conditions is that you can use them thoughout your landscape and that creates continuity in your design.

Curb Appeal Matters

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As the home market continues to grow, today’s buyers have more to choose from in the way of inventory. Any home that’s up for sale must make a positive first impression to would-be buyers, so curb appeal matters now more than ever. Exterior remodeling projects typically deliver the greatest return-on-investment to home sellers. The resale value of any remodeling project will depend on a variety of factors, such as a home’s location, its overall condition, the quality of the surrounding properties, and regional economic circumstances.

Keep in mind that people aren’t just buying the house itself, but also the landscape. Here are a few things to think about when assessing your home’s landscape. Are there shade trees on your property? Trees like maples and oaks can decrease your summer cooling costs, create a nice space for relaxation and increase your property value up to 15 percent. Ornamental and flowering trees, such as Japanese maples, flowering cherries and dogwoods are also desirable. What about your shrubs? Are they planted in the right place? Are your plants well cared for? Have they been pruned at the proper time and in a proper way? When it comes to your property’s plants, their health is just as important as their presence.

There is much more to consider besides plants. What about your property’s contours? Does water run away or towards your house? Is your property flat? Contours add character to a landscape. Is there an irrigation system? Sprinklers are a big plus for gardens and lawns. What about the circulation pattern to enter your home? Is it clear where people should park or enter the home? Are the driveways, patios and walkways in good condition? There are many factors to consider when evaluating your home’s landscape. If you are concerned and would like input from one of our talented landscape professionals, please call Alfresco Landscapes today. We will be more than happy to meet you at your home and discuss landscape options.

Native and Hardy Plant Species Bring In the Birds

If you are a nature lover and enjoy watching the birds come to visit your home, I am sure you encourage them by filling a bird bath or bird feeder. You can also help birds and all other forms of wildlife by selecting drought tolerant, native, and hardy plant species.

Plants native and hardy to the soils and climate of West Michigan provide the best overall habitats and food sources for wildlife, while generally requiring less fertilizer, less water, and less effort in controlling pests. Native plants may support 10-50 times as many species of native wildlife as non-native plants.

Reducing the need for water and chemical inputs can maintain or enhance biological diversity. Wildlife gardeners concerned about conservation should strive to incorporate the type of plantings as much as possible in their plans.

When you think of native trees in Michigan you probably think of red maples and white pines, but there are many trees with ornamental value producing beautiful, showy feathers that eventually produce berries and seeds – food for our feathered friends. Good examples of these are the flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) and the crabapple (Mauls), both gorgeous trees which produce blooms and fruits.

Birds eat many of the fruit, berries, and nectar that come from other types of landscape plants also. As for shrubs, there are plants like winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata) and numerous species of the genus Viburnum that fit into this category too. There are several perennial choices, such as blanket flower (Gaillardia) purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), and black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia). These come in many shapes, sizes, and colors with new varieties created all the time. These flowers all produce a lot of seed and nectar.

So, take care of the birds by using native, hardy, and drought tolerant species. This will allow the birds to take care of your plants – after all, birds are pollinators too!

Hydrangeas: To Prune Or Not To Prune?

14556899595_a4066abe50_mIt’s a question we get asked all the time. Unfortunately, it’s a question that’s not easily answered. First  of all, it’s very important to know what kind of hydrangea you have before pruning. If pruned at the wrong time, chances are they won’t bloom in the current or following season.

All hydrangeas can be put into one of four different categories: Mophead/lacecap, Oakleaf, Peegee, or Annabelle. Mopheads/lacecaps are usually the pink and blue varieties, and are the only ones that open with colored blossoms. They also have very short leaf stems (petioles) and hold the blooms close to the main stems. Oakleaf hydrangeas have a leaf similar to an oak tree and have white blossoms in a cone shape. Peegees are all white or cream when they open and often turn pink as they age. To be certain, look at the leaves. You’ll notice three leaves growing from one point on the stem and distributed in a whorl around the node. Annabelles (often called snowballs) have large blooms that open green, turn white and gradually turn green again. They also have long leaf stems that hold the blooms away from the main stems.

Once you determine the type of hydrangea you have, only then can you know how and when they should be pruned. Mophead/lacecaps and Oakleaf hydrangeas bloom on old wood. Old wood are stems that have been on the shrubs since the summer before the current season. Prune these types of hydrangeas in the summer before August to give them plenty of time to grow. This new growth will hold next year’s blooms. Peegees and Annabelles bloom on new wood, so these should be pruned in the fall or very early spring. All the new growth in the spring is what will form blooms later that same season. Remember, you can always prune dead stems or branches at any time.

In general, it’s always good to know what you’re pruning before you pick up your pruners.

What Edible Plants Add to Your Ornamental Garden

While growing your own food has become trendy in recent years, vegetable gardens often lack the level
of aesthetics found in ornamental landscape beds. Plus, vegetable gardens can take up a lot of valuable
space and are usually away from the house. We say marry the two by incorporating veggies and herbs
closer to your living space and within your landscape.

There are many edible plant arrangements that are just as gorgeous as ornamental options: for
example, the addition of purple basil into plant beds. The drastic contrast of purple against green is one
of the hottest combinations right now. In addition to the beautiful color, the basil’s wonderful smell
adds a wonderful aromatic element when planted close to the kitchen or grill.

Lemongrass is another herb experiencing a surge in popularity. Lemongrass compliments most other
shrubs, grasses and perennials. I highly recommend keeping this one near the patio. Not only is it a
beautiful plant that tastes great with chicken dishes, it actually repels mosquitoes!

Another great way to grow fresh vegetables in a beautiful way is by using large pots and containers. Many
varieties of tomatoes thrive in containers. Cherry or grape tomatoes are nice because they are
lightweight and usually have a very high yield – you can even go vertical with them. All tomatoes are
natural climbers, so give them a structure in the container to climb. It can be as simple as three wood
stakes tied into a teepee or purchasing an ornamental obelisk or garden trellis.

There are also many varieties of flowers that are edible. One that’s often found in ornamental beds, but
not as much in vegetable gardens, is lavender. Yes, lavender is edible and delicious. The next time you
make a pitcher of lemonade, try pouring it through a coffee filter filled with snipped lavender. Lavender
is also called for in Herbs de Provence. A mixture of dried herbs from the south of France, Herbs de
Provence usually includes basil, thyme, savory, rosemary, tarragon, lavender, fennel, marjoram and
chervil.

Embrace the green movement: incorporate some edible plants into your ornamentals. You’ll be glad you did.

Spring tips that will help you avoid common summer landscaping maintenance problems

Spring Into Action

With spring fast approaching, many people start to evaluate their existing landscapes and start looking closely at how they’re maintained and what landscaping maintenance needs to be done now. It’s almost time to spring into action; and if you take care of some things sooner, it will mean less work later.

How about eliminating that Saturday afternoon spent pulling weeds? We recommend applying a pre-emergent herbicide in mid-spring, which prevents new weeds from germinating. Applying the correct type of herbicide at the right time of year is crucial for saving you hours of tedious, backbreaking work during the summer months.

In addition to using chemicals to attack weeds, applying a fresh layer of mulch on an annual basis will help choke them out. Not only does mulching help prevent weeds, it also adds to your landscape’s aesthetics. Bark mulch is much more than decorative, as it’s also beneficial for plants. Bark helps retain moisture in the soil, which means less watering. It also breaks down into organic matter, creating food for your plants and requiring less fertilization in the process.

Another way to save time in the yard is by using a slow release fertilizer in the spring. This type of fertilizer will usually last up to three months, which means two applications should get you through the season.

How do the areas between the landscape beds and lawn look in your yard? These edges should present a neat and clean appearance and frame the planting area. Keeping these edges maintained by cutting a new edge or lifting and raising your edging in the spring inhibits the adjoining turf grass from creeping out of bounds.

Keep all of these tips in mind as spring approaches. We know maintaining a landscape requires a lot of work; but if you take action now, you can enjoy your yard more later on.

 

 

Why Winter Is The Best Time For Pruning

It may be hard to believe when you look outside your window, but spring is just around the corner. As the ice and snow melts and the temperatures begin to rise, some of your landscape’s trees and plants will need pruning in order to look their best. Plants maintained by proper pruning will produce more flowers and fruit, be more effective at fighting off pests and diseases and experience better health overall.

Pruning in the winter is a time-tested method for achieving the best spring growth. Plant life is largely dormant in February and March; pruning at this time will clear the way for vibrant new growth in April and May. It can also be easier to prune at this time as without leaves and blooms obstructing your vision, you can get a better look at branches and stems.

Trees ideal for pruning in the late winter and early spring months include spruce, cherry, poplar, crabapple and juniper, to name just a few. Pruning some tree varieties, like maples and walnuts, may cause sap to flow. This is a minor issue, and will likely stop once the leaves start coming in.

Others trees, such as elms and dogwoods, are more likely to “bleed” more heavily. For these, it might be good to hold off until the summer. Take note that anything that blooms in spring has formed its buds, and shouldn’t be pruned until flowering has occurred. As for shrubbery, barberries, mallow, hydrangeas and camellias can all be pruned in cold weather conditions.

As far as pruning techniques to employ, make sure to cut at an angle that mirrors the branch collar, and cut large tree branches into three parts. Take off roughly one-third of the branch to cut down on weight. Then undercut the remaining stub to avoid ripping the trunk bark when it comes away from the tree. Lastly, make the last cut on the top of the branch, next to the branch collar.

When it comes to practices to avoid, don’t leave any stubs behind, as they act as entry points for insects and disease to infect healthy trees. Also, cut in relation to your tree’s natural growth pattern. Scalping your trees leads to not only an unattractive appearance, but will also promote weak new sprout growth.

If you keep proper pruning practices in mind, your landscape will be in great shape when spring finally arrives. If you have any questions about the best pruning options for your landscape, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us here at Alfresco!

How Can I Get the Most Out of Michigan’s Native Flowers?

Planting native flowers in your landscape is a great way to beautify in a way that is distinctly Michigan. By integrating plant life that is from the area, you can create a greater continuity within your landscape. Native plants also thrive in a way imported plants might not, due to their origin in the area.

There are some factors to consider when thinking about what native flowers might work best within your landscape. For example, if you have areas of your yard that have little shade and are open to a good amount of sun exposure, it might be best to plant dry land varieties, such as wild geranium, three-lobed coneflower, and golden Alexander. If your landscape has a drainage area, or if you want to install a rain garden, wild blue flag, turtlehead, and great blue lobelia would all be excellent choices likely to thrive in such a space.

If you want to get the most out of native flowers, plan out how you will go about planting them. Certain varieties are more suited to certain seasons, and staggering the planting will allow for greater diversity and more variation in bloom time. By working with a professional landscape designer, you can determine a plan that allows you to optimize the color and pollination benefits native flowers make available to you.

At Alfresco by Paul Burd, we’re happy to answer any questions you may have about native flowers, or any other landscaping services. Please feel free to give us a call or send us an email anytime!

What Water Features are Right for Me?

There are as many different kinds of water features as there are landscapes that can house them. While the variety of features gives you an almost endless amount of choices, the vast amount of options available can be overwhelming. There’s no one right water feature answer for any given landscape; but by considering aspects of your design, we can work to decide on a solution that will complement what you already have in place.

Fountains

Fountains range from classic designs to modern, ornate to sleek. You should consider the installation of a fountain in relation to the landscape design choices you’ve already made. A fountain in the classic Greek style would look jarring in an environment that favors sharp geometric shapes, jut as an abstract fountain made from obviously artificial materials will look out of place next to soft, curved design elements.

Ponds

Ponds can vary from very small accent elements to large bodies of water that become the focal point of a landscape. The size of your property will be the best determining factor as to what kind of pond will work best for you. Consulting a professional to determining the best course of action is encouraged.

Waterfalls

Waterfalls can really add that final touch that makes a yard a rest and relaxation destination. One thing to think about regarding the installation of a waterfall is your preexisting landscape design. If your yard goes up against a rustic wooded area with a large amount of tree cover and natural vegetation, an informal waterfall that replicates the feeling of the great outdoors might be the solution for you. But if your landscape is more manicured and precise overall, a formal waterfall constructed from carefully cut stones could be a better fit for the established tone of the landscape.