Posts from the ‘lawn care’ category

Landscaping in Times of Drought

I remember when I was a kid in the 70s. There was an oil embargo that I don’t really remember. Then there was a second oil crisis in the late 70’s that had cars lining up for gas for miles. My dad hated Jimmy Carter. And California was in an extreme drought. The drought of the century. There was water rationing – and lawns were on the chopping block. It’s funny how history repeats itself. Today, we’re fighting wars for oil. My dad hates Obama. And California is in the drought of the century.

Back then our neighbor, Mr. Heron, was the first to take charge of the drought situation. He tore out the front lawn and put in that quintessentially 70s granite pebble. The front path dissected the front yard perfectly, and he planted a brick encircled mulberry tree in the center of each of the squares that were once lawn. When he was done, all of the neighbors gathered in front of his house to admire his handywork and water-wise efforts. But maybe not the overall aesthetic of his creation. As we walked back to our house, my dad shook his head. Forget simply keeping up with the Joneses – or Herons in this case. He new he could do better than that.

My dad was a firefighter, and there are two things you should know about firefighters. They are heroes, it’s true, but they also have a lot of freaking time off! One of his fellow firefighters designed gardens on the side. So he and my dad got together and designed our front yard. They put in walls and a courtyard with an arbor, that in my now professional opinion, should have been much bigger to make use of much needed shade, as well as further reducing the area dedicated to lawn. They widened the entry path in a very 1970s staggered aggregate and regular concrete pattern, and created deeper planting beds to reduce the size of the lawn. Even as a little kid, I was fascinated by the process, and in love with the transformation the landscape made to an otherwise plain ranch house. I think this is where I first got my love for landscape design that would lead me to where I am now.

Our front yard was the talk of the suburb. People would drive by – even stop – to admire the beautifully landscaped garden. They’d ask questions about the raphiolepis and agapanthus that bloomed beautifully but required very little water.  Of course these plants were destined to become parking lot plants because of their reliability. My dad’s alternative to lawn was a revolutionary groundcover called Dichondra! It promised to be dark green, low water and no maintenance. What it also meant for us was that we could no longer play in the front yard. Every step on the cushiony clovery mat of dichondra left a footprint – evidence for my dad to know exactly who walked on his low-water alternative to that hideous granite cobble in Mr. Heron’s yard. It also didn’t fare as well as promised in our hot valley sun. He converted the area back to lawn when the drought crisis ended…

While history has a habit of repeating itself, it behooves us to build on what we’ve learned, and not return to our old ways. We Californians live in a drought-prone land. Our population is growing. Water is our most precious resource – and there will be times when its more scarce than others. We believe our job here at Lazar Landscape is to take the “I can do better than that” approach to designing and building outdoor living spaces – gardens and landscapes – and make them water wise. Stay tuned for future posts from us where we explore residential landscapes without lawns, lawn alternatives, beautiful drought-tolerant plants, implementing smarter irrigation systems, and even ideas for responsible sod lawns.

Organic Gardening

Now that we’ve been living in our house for about 3 months, we’ve discovered what regular garden maintenance requires.  And it’s a lot.  It’s a lot of man-power, time and even research.  I say research because so far we’ve had to deal with powdery mildew infestations and lawn issues that I realized I wasn’t exactly sure how to deal with.  That’s when I decided I needed to find organic gardening solutions to these issues for our gardens health, our health and our two dogs, who spend a lot of time in the garden.

My first attempt was when I realized a couple months ago that one of our Crape Myrtles was showing signs of powdery mildew.  I noticed it one week and over the next couple of weeks I realized it had spread to other trees and I needed to deal with it.

Powdery Mildew on the leaves of one of our Crape Mrytles

Powdery Mildew on the leaves of one of our Crape Mrytles

Powdery mildew on the flower buds of a Crape Myrtle

Powdery mildew on the flower buds of a Crape Myrtle

Once this tree started to be infected I  knew I had to do something because it had spread across the yard

Once this tree started to be infected I knew I had to do something because it had spread across the yard

The Leaves get a white mildew coat and it begins to kill the branches and can continue to spread through out your garden.

The Leaves get a white mildew coat and it begins to kill the branches and can continue to spread through out your garden.

 

 

 

 

The First articles I read talked about water being the best “organic control”, spray it in the morning and the sun will help to dry it out because powdery mildew does not like water.  I tried that, but it was hard to remember before work to get out there and spray the trees down.  You have to spray in the morning because in the evening the water will actually spread the mildew because the sun wouldn’t have time to dry it out.  Next I tried to just cut out the infested branches.  I ended up cutting out a lot of the first tree I noticed the infestation.  It looked a little odd, but I really wanted to be done with it!  And then I noticed it had spread to other trees and I couldn’t butcher them all.  So I did some research and bought a container of Neem Oil.

Neem Oil to the rescue, easily purchased at Home Depot

Neem Oil to the rescue, easily purchased at Home Depot

It’s an organic oil used to treat a plethora of diseases and pest.  I followed the instructions on the bottle and sprayed all the infected branches and waited 7 days and sprayed again.  After the first week, I could tell the trees looked better already and after the second spray I am happy to say we are powdery mildew free! The powdery mildew has had no effect on our blooms and the tree I first cut branches out is now showing new growth of blooming branches!  I call that an organic gardening success and if we do have another infestation I know just what I need to treat the powdery mildew!

Mildew Free Leaves!

Mildew Free Leaves!

New growth and buds on the Crape Myrtle I first noticed the Powdery Mildew in.

New growth and buds on the Crape Myrtle I first noticed the Powdery Mildew in.

 

Our next organic gardening success was with our lawn.  I noticed it was getting big brown spots (in addition to a few pet spots) and decided to check the coverage and time we had our controller set to.  That’s when I realized a few heads needed some adjusting and our time for watering was way off for this heat.  I did the adjustments and set the clock for the hotter weather, but still felt like this lawn looked so lush and green when we first moved in we must need to treat it with something else.  I asked some experts in the office and headed to OSH for some organic lawn fertilizer, Dr. Earth to the rescue.

Dr. Earth Lawn Fertilizer

Dr. Earth Lawn Fertilizer

It’s completely safe for humans and pets and it worked great.  The best thing for me is that we bought a large bag and on the back of it is a schedule for fertilizing your lawn each season.  Some seasons require applying a greater amount of fertilizer than others.  Now it makes me happy to look out and see a consistently green lawn.  Don’t get me wrong it still has some problem areas, but overall the look completely improved after the fertilizer application.  It did require more watering, especially since it’s been hot, and you want to water it in after first applying it.  My pets had no issues with the product and it was so easy to use that I’m glad I’ve got a plan for every season.

On a side note, I’m totally excited because I decided to try to grow tomatoes.  I bought a couple varieties I researched were easy to grow, Early Girl and a Husky Cherry tomato variety.  I bought some organic soil and planted them in some garden pots and have been keeping them watered.  I planted late in the season, but the warm weather lasts awhile so I figured it is worth it to try.   And so far I’ve got 3 tomatoes starting to grow on my Early girl and counting!  And I’ve been cooking with the herbs I planted at the same time.  Success!

Mustang, protector of the 3 tomatoes and one of my gardening companions.

Mustang, protector of the 3 tomatoes and one of my gardening companions.

Like I said, having a garden takes a lot of work, there is always something that needs your attention, but I’m really excited that I’ve had some success in my adventures in garden maintenance, especially finding organic gardening products that are helping me along the way.

 

Happy Earth Day!

HAPPY EARTH DAY!

With the beautiful weather we had in the San Francisco Bay Area this past weekend did you manage to do anything that made you appreciate the great outdoors and this magnificent planet a little bit more?

I sure did.  It was a weekend full of chores, but to my husband and me it’s more of a dream come true we are still trying wrap our heads around.  You see we just purchased our first home.  We moved in last weekend and are still trying to get settled (not sure that will happen anytime soon, but we keep ticking boxes off the to-do list so it feels good).

We moved from a one bedroom apartment with a little outdoor patio into a 3 bedroom home with a great sized backyard.  One main reason for the move, besides needing more space for us, was our 2 dogs.  We really wanted to have a yard for them to play in and run wild.  And of course I wanted a space to garden and entertain in, beyond our little patio and our tiny one bedroom.

 

Our two pups checking out their new yard for the first time!

Our two pups checking out their new yard for the first time!

Little lawn,  little happy dog!

Little lawn, little happy dog!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our weekend started with our maiden voyage to Ikea for lamps and curtains, some essentials.   Of course you always find more than what you are looking for when you head to Ikea.   For us it was a positive though, we picked up an outdoor table and chairs for the backyard.  It was a STEAL and now we have a place us to sit outside to eat dinner and enjoy our new backyard and this lovely weather we’ve been having!  It also forced me to organize the patio a little bit more.  I had all my plants in containers at our apartment and now I find myself with a plethora of containers to organize and succulents to put in the ground!  My plan was to plant some in a planter outside our sliding glass door this weekend, but time disappeared and the afternoon sun seemed a little too hot when the time presented itself.  But there’s no rush, I know there will be time in the weekends to come.

 

Our new table and chairs from Ikea

Our new table and chairs from Ikea

 

One item high on the to-do list for this weekend was mowing the lawn, which meant we needed a lawn mower!  Everyone in our little neighborhood has been so welcoming – I don’t want to be the neighbor who doesn’t cut their lawn and ours was getting out of control!  We have a small front yard lawn (and a small one in the backyard) so we opted for a simple, classic push mower.  That way we don’t have to worry about having gas, or running over an electric wire, we can just use strength.

 

Getting ready to mow the back lawn for the first time!

Getting ready to mow the back lawn for the first time!

 

It’s definitely a chore, but it felt good being out there together, him mowing and me raking and picking up debris, on our own little plot on this planet.  I felt so proud and accomplished at completing this task.  Being outside and doing work just got me excited that we actually have this house. This yard –  It’s ours to take care of and cultivate and that feels really good.  Our own little piece of Earth.

I hope you had a weekend full of outdoor activities and I hope you take some time to appreciate all we have around us today and every day.  The San Francisco Bay Area is truly a unique place and I hope you do something to celebrate it.   Plant a tree (an item on my to-do list), eat outdoors, cut some flowers and bring them inside to enjoy, appreciate your plot of land, and this wonderful place we live.  Happy Earth Day.

English Cottage Garden Stirs the Senses

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Who knew a tiny Oakland backyard could contain this secret English Cottage garden? When you walk down the short driveway the garden starts to reveal itself in layers through a whimsical wrought iron gate covered with fragrant roses and lush purple clematis. There are so many new and existing plants covering every square inch of soil. The colors and smells wake up your nose and your eyes as soon as you enter.  A huge Coast Live Oak and established Pittosporum undulatum tree create the backdrop screening and canopy for the rest of the garden. Along the sides, we planted a hedge of Podocarpus to create a clean green and narrow screen. Existing established rhododendrons screen the Tudor style garage. The vast majority of the garden is dedicated to planting beds, rather than patios.

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My clients number one priority was to be able to view the garden looking down from their eating nook and they were right. The formal half circle of lawn is anchored by a central bird bath. Pink flowering dogwoods anchor each end and enforce the formal symmetry of the half circle, while the planting beds around the brick-lined lawn are whimsical and packed full with flowering plants. Established rhododendrons on the perimeter and a few existing hydrangea make this new garden installation seem timeless. As with many English Cottage Gardens, there are formal lines and symmetry that relate to the architecture of the building. But the formality is never left exposed to be cold and stark because it is softened by the color and texture of the jam-packed planting beds.

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Although, the back yard is small, it is able to house several distinct rooms that make the garden feel larger. The first room is the largest when viewed from above. It contains the formal semi-circle of lawn edged by generous planting beds. Directly across from the lawn, separated by a brick path, is the original brick patio and fireplace nook. We had to do some additional brick work and patching due to safety issues but the new brick blends in seamlessly with the old. Splashing mortar on the surface of the brick really helped to disguise the new brick. On the back of the fireplace is a small herb garden complete with an espaliered lemon tree. Behind the fireplace we refurbished the existing greenhouse by framing out a row of different salvaged windows and replacing the roof. A coat of turquoise stain makes it blend in with the original door and siding. Beyond the wrought iron fence, two metal troughs act as raised beds for growing strawberries, tomatoes, and even more cutting flowers. Hard perimeters are always softened by plants. The rhododendrons screen the wall of the garage while the vining clematis and rose weave in an out of the fence. The existing concrete retaining wall separating properties is disguised by the Podocarpus and soft blue geranium.

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The biggest challenge in this garden was dealing with the shade the magnificent existing trees and rhododendrons created. Since the Oak and Pittosporum were already established and have large canopies, the lawn and flowering plants below suffer from the shade and leaf litter in the winter time. Additional seed in the winter and thinning of the trees could help, but this is just a fact in gardens sometimes. The symmetry of the lawn and border of roses can’t be changed to anything else. The changes each season brings help you appreciate the garden in different ways throughout the year. When the roses are dormant and bare branches in the winter, the evergreen Daphne perfumes the air with it’s sweet, soapy scent. The winter brings out the beautiful peony blooms of the Camelia, while spring triggers the Rhododendrons to light up with bright purple and pink clouds. The summer brings jaw-dropping displays of puffy purple and pink Hydrangea and peach Alstromeria, while the climbing roses, David Austin Rose and tea rose perfume the air.

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January maintenance tips

Winter in the Bay Area can be a forgetful time in the garden. Since we aren’t necessarily spending our days and evenings outside it’s easy to forget about your garden. However, there are chores that are necessary during the winter months to keep your garden thriving. There are also plenty of fun gardening and enhancement opportunities this time of year too – consider them a bonus! You can ensure a stellar spring garden if you follow these winter gardening tips.

January Maintenance Tips:

Trees and Shrubs: Most shrubs and deciduous shade trees can be pruned now (flowering trees shouldn’t be pruned until after they’ve bloomed) to promote healthy structure and growth during spring time months.
Bonus: Now is a great time to plant fruit trees – bare root trees are now available at many nurseries are typically less expensive than those potted in soil. Dormant fruit trees, like apple, cherry, plum and pear, require a certain amount of hours below 45 degrees to break winter dormancy and produce a healthy crop. Make sure you find the right tree for your microclimate.

Shop early for spectacular bare root rose varieties!

Shop early for spectacular bare root rose varieties!

Roses: For your existing roses, prune no more than half of the new growth from the last growing season. Pinching and pruning encourages vigorous new growth.
Bonus: January and February are the best months to plant new roses, and bare root stock is now showing up in Bay Area nurseries. This time of year the stock should be full with desirable varieties.

Be sure to rake and clean up leaves from planting beds before they cause damage!

Be sure to rake and clean up leaves from planting beds before they cause damage!

Raking: Stay on top of it. Fallen leaves can damage lawns and choke perennials if allowed to sit for too long.
Bonus: Got kids? Consider it a fun day raking the leaves into piles and playing in them. Got (pre -) teenagers? Make them earn their allowance and assign them the weekend chore.

What does a healthy lawn mean to your family?

What does a healthy lawn mean to your family?

A Healthy Lawn: This is a great time of year to aerate and fertilize your lawn. Aeration is a simple process that improves drainage and opens the thatch so water and oxygen can reach the roots. This helps microorganisms thrive and break down accumulated thatch build up. It also helps to reduce compaction which occurs naturally over time. All of this combined improves water absorption, produces deep root growth, and encourages a healthier grass that chokes out weeds. Once aerating is complete, fertilize your lawn to ensure a speedy and healthy recovery.
Bonus: A healthy, well-tended lawn improves the value of your property and the aesthetics of your neighborhood, not to mention the enjoyment a lawn can provide for your family.

Tired of looking at a vacant veggie bed? Plant now there are plenty of veggies to tend to!

Tired of looking at a vacant veggie bed? Plant now there are plenty of veggies to tend to!

Bonus! Veggies! Lots of vegetables want to be planted in fall and winter for spring harvest- it’s not too late! Some of the best to plant now: asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, kale, onions, peas, spinach and turnips. Year round vegetables like carrots, beets and radishes can be planted now too. Maybe this is your year to create the kitchen garden you always wanted – stick to the resolution to eat more locally and garden more frequently!

Rather not get your hands dirty? Call our maintenance department at (510) 444 -5195 to set up an annual maintenance visit. We can get your garden all spruced up for a spectacular spring.

Bonus! Design your Garden! Now is the perfect time to get started on your landscape design. Depending on the size and scope of your project a design could take 4 – 6 weeks, giving you plenty of time to design and build your garden design for enjoyment this year, possibly even this spring!

5 tips for Healthy Lawns


1. Water your lawns properly. Always follow your local area recommendations for water amounts and delivery schedule for the weather conditions of your area and the season. Monitor and keep track of your lawn’s condition before it gets out of hand. Notice if there are any brown spots or excess water run off. Check for any misdirected spray heads and correct them. Always check your irrigation controller and adjust if needed. New lawns should have their irrigation set at a higher frequency until their root system is established.
2. Mow lawns properly. For best results mow your lawn on a regular and frequent basis. Don’t let it get too tall and never cut off more than a 1/3 of the grass height (new lawns should be cut high until they are established). Keep mower blades well sharpened for the best cut and a great looking lawn. Mowing height in the summer should be raised to reduce added stress to the lawn. It will drive your root system deeper therefore improving drought tolerance. Grass clippings should be mulched completely back into the lawn. A mulching mower will help return some of the nutrients back into the soil so you can use less fertilizers. It’s also best to mow more often for faster clipping decomposition. Mow when the grass is dry to prevent clumping. Recommended mowing height: 90% Tall Fescue / 10% Bluegrass blend: High of 3 inches and low of two inches. New lawns should not be cut lower than three inches until established.
3. Fertilize your lawns at least twice a year. Once in the Fall and then again in the Spring (Summer feeding is an option only if needed). Too much fertilizer can encourage water-thirsty new growth and pollute the environment. Use natural fertilizers or the newer fertilizers that contain coated or slow-release nitrogen. These fertilizers release nutrients over a longer period of time and to maintain a steady growth rate. Although the natural fertilizers can be more expensive, they are usually non-burning and cause less stress to your summer turf. They also do not produce “growth flushes” like the traditional fertilizers that contain quick release forms of nitrogen.
4. Control weeds in your lawns. Well maintained lawns are thick and lush to help minimize the invasion of crab grass and other weeds. Apply a pre-emergent with weed control in early February. This will control almost all seed germination of crab grass and weeds for a period of ninety days. If you are reseeding the lawn do not apply a pre-emergent as it will inhibit grass seed from germinating. Many pre-emergent products are combined with fertilizers. When used, these will serve as your first fertilizer application of the year.
5. Aerate and dethatch your lawns. Aeration opens up the soil beneath the lawn and to stimulate root growth, especially when followed by a balanced fertilization. Core aeration also relieves soil compaction in older lawns and high traffic areas. Multiple aerations (2-3 times or more per year) can greatly benefit high-use lawns by helping to ease soil compaction and improve drainage. Dethatching, or deep raking to remove dead matted grass, once a year will allow water and air to reach the roots system more easily.