• February 01, 2010
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Sprinkling System Winterization

Sprinkling system winterization. For most of you this is kind of a pain of a job. Where is this backflow device thing located? Which valves do I turn? When should it be done? In the following blog I will discuss some of the procedures, do’s and don’ts of winterizing your backflow.

Most systems that have been installed in the last 10 years should have an inground double check backflow device or anti-siphon device depending whom you talk to.

And by the way, if you never get around to doing this it’s not necessarily the end of the world. We are fortunate that the ground for the most part doesn’t freeze in the lower valley very often. That’s not to say that it never freezes, just that most folks forget to do this and then turn the clock back on with not too many problems from the past winter.

The optimum way to winterize a double check is to use compressed air by either a low volume pump or air tank. Be careful to not exceed 80 psi. Start by opening any manual drain valves down line; next, open all of the lateral valves manually by what I call cracking the solenoid ½ turn, or opening the small air relief valve ½ to one full turn; do each one separately as you blow the air through that lateral valve system.

Now you are ready to blow out the system, connect the air supply to the double check valve bleed tappets and slowly blow the air into the valve, pushing water down line from the backflow device to the lateral valve lines and out the sprinkler heads.

When finished, leave the bleed tappet valves on the double check open. I like to stuff some old rags or insulation into the box just in case for some freak reason there is a hard freeze.

If this is not possible or you just don’t want to mess with this just turn off the water supply to the double check valve and open up the bleed tappet, stuff some rags or insulation into the valve box and you should be good to go until next spring.

If you have older systems or purchased atmospheric vacuum breakers for each solenoid valve, make sure that the main water supply is off and that the device has no water in the exposed pipes or device.

This device will freeze for sure if you forget to winterize because they are above ground, if this happens replace with an inground double check valve and you will not run the risk of freezing temperatures.

Ok now that that is done it’s off to Hoodoo for some much overdue skiing. Oh yes if you want to read a much more interesting blog go to chucks page at hoodoo.com

Thanks, Tim....

  • February 10, 2010
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Paving Stone Installation

There is a lot of good information out there on installation of paving stones. Most landscape books and the manufacturers will give out excellent free information. There are a few tricks, however, and some points which, if you leave them out, will lead to deterioration of you're finished product over time.

Some key points

  • For patios, always compact at least 4" of crushed rock (available in quarry). That means rock that is from the hills, not a river bed.
  • For driveways we usually compact 8" of crushed rock but definitely no less than 6" to handle the weight of a vehicle depending on the size, car, truck...
  • Excavate to original, undisturbed sub grade. This is most important for driveways if there is a large rock that is in the way and creates a hole. Fill the hole with rock (not dirt) and compact.
  • Always compact your rock at least 6" wider than the outside finished edge of the patio or driveway, creating a strong, solid edge line for snap edge or concrete, depending on what is used for securing the edge of the pavers.
  • Cut pavers with a saw that is meant for the job. Most rental yards have them available and you will pay for the machine and for the usage of the Diamond tip blade. They will charge by the amount of usage of the blade measured when the saw or blade is returned. We also will use a small 4" or 6" hand grinder to make very small cuts that can't be made with a larger saw. A small grinder with a solid stone is also handy for touching up and finishing off detailed cut edges.
  • After layout and before securing of edges, compact entire surface with plate compactor. Be sure to completely clean and cover the surface with a woven fabric to ensure that the finished surface of the stones are not damaged.
  • When topping gravel with sand, set stones in no more than 1" of sand. If more sand is used settling will occur at some time later on. Never use more than 1". If desired slope is needed, raise the base rock keeping the 1" of sand at all times.
  • Slope is very important. Pavers are rigid and, if set level, water will set on them. Therefore it is vital that there is slope one way to a drainage point for patios and driveways, or sidewalks are crowned in the middle. A rule of thumb is 2% grade over a patio or driveway. You can get by with less depending on how much time and detail you put into the sub-base remembering that a slight settling could result in puddling.

Chronological installation

  • Draw, diagram, paint on the ground and layout using string or rope to define the area to be excavated at least 6" to 12" wider than the finished patio area.
  • Remove the dirt, or sod, separate good dirt from bad and separate sod. Dirt can be used in other flower beds or hauled off.
  • Typical stones are about 2 1/2" thick so for patio you will excavate 4" plus 2 1/2" plus 1" for sand to set stones into.
  • Install crushed rock over entire area and compact. Some people use a woven fabric under the rock between the dirt and the rock but this is usually not necessary and overkill. Only if there are soft, non-draining sub soils in the patio area would this be used and then again, I most likely wouldn't install a patio in an area with soft sub soil, or install drainage to eliminate this problem.
  • After base rock is completely installed, compacted and checked for proper slope and compaction, top the entire area with sand. I always instruct my crew to completely cover the entire area with the 1" of sand and check it with the transit before laying out the first stone. This will save time later if for some reason the base is not exactly right. It is a mess to fix later. I have made my guys pull stones off of a patio and re-do it more than once just because they broke my rule and started setting stones in one corner before checking the entire patio with the gravel base and sand installed.
  • At this point you are ready to lay stones. For large patios we use ¾" galvanized pipes about 8' or 10' long, placing them down in the sand about 4' to 6' apart. This allows the installer to screed the sand and get a perfectly level surface between the pipes. String can be used across the entire area to check the pipes set in the sand before the area is final screed, remembering to always check the project multiple times with a transit.
  • There are many patterns for layout, see your manufacturer's diagrams for a certain pattern. It really doesn't matter where you start. If adjacent to a structure, a line can be created and may help with a particular pattern. Layout the entire patio over hanging the edges. When completely laid out, use a crayon for marking the edges for cutting.
  • Some folks will install the edging before cutting but we find it easier to layout the area and then mark and cut. We only use the plastic edging in grass areas and in flower bed areas we always use a small bead of high strength concrete for securing the edge.
  • After all of the cutting is finished and before the concrete edging is placed, machine compact the entire area and place woven fabric over the area to be compacted, protecting the surface of the pavers.
  • Topping sand is used to fill in the gaps and cracks between the pavers (regular mason sand can be used). I recommend using the new polymer topping sand. It comes in different colors and, when finished, seals the cracks like concrete. The patio must be completely dry. Start on one end and dump out a bag of sand using a broom to push the sand around filling the cracks. When enough sand is laid down and the cracks are somewhat full, repeat the compaction process and sweep and sand again until there is no more sand settling taking place. Finally, after this process and making sure that the patio is swept clean of loose sand, water the patio with a fine mist from a hose nozzle and allow the water to settle down through the sand. After drying, the patio will be sealed.
  • At this point we will spread a small bead of concrete around the entire patio securing the edges together. If done right and with the proper underlying base, the concrete will not be seen and will properly secure patio.

Tools and products for this project

Digging tools, shovels, pick.

Transit, string, and string level.

Heavy rubber or sand filled hammer.

Small scrapping or leveling tool (anything will work for this - putty knife, small piece of wood)

Brick cutting saw, small 4" hand grinder for cutting and grinding (can be rented)

Plate compactor, not jumping jack compactor.

Paving stones from local manufacturer.

Topping sand, can be purchased from manufacturer.

Concrete in bags. Smaller bags are easier to handle.

Gravel- ¾ minus, fine mason sand without dirt or large pieces.

Sealing the patio

Sealing can be done, after the patio is done and dry. There are pros and cons to this process. If you can get used to your patio with just the natural look it will save time and money. Once the patio is sealed it will need to be re-sealed depending on how the sealer wears over time. I have found that most products will wear in the foot traffic and sun areas. Shaded areas under tables or structure overhangs will not wear the same, so if you can do without the sealer it is less work down the road.

The advantage is that the sealing will greatly enhance and bring out the colors in the stones, much like when the patio is wet, after drying tends to keep the wet look.

There are multiple types of sealer. I have found that the only ones that really work well are the oil based sealers. There are organic, environmentally safe types of sealers but I have not found one that works very well. Check with your manufacturer.

Some local manufacturers and wholesalers/retailers

Western Interlock- local to Salem and Willamette Valley.

Mutual Materials- available locally and regionally.

Willamette Graystone-

Lowe's and Home Depot can have some good deals and carry concrete and sand.

Willamette Graystone and Mutual Materials have stores located throughout the NW. Western Interlock has a few locations outside of the Rickreal plant.

Pumilite is a local Salem distributor for Willamette Graystone products.

I will give you my opinion of the best Paving Stone company for this local Salem, Willamette Valley area. I like Western Interlock. They seem to have a real handle on their quality control. Check out each manufacturer for types of stones that will fit your needs as each has a little different style but all of them have a quality product.

OK, as you can see this is kind of a long article, and, yes, installing a patio can be done if you are up to the task. Of course you could just hire it done and save yourself, including your back, a lot of pain and trouble....

As always....Good luck!!!

  • March 02, 2010
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Spring Container Planting

I have recently had discussions with a couple of clients about planting in the native soils of our area and thought I would pass the discussion on to you folks.

Planting Container Plants:

Most of you don’t realize how much work you have ahead of you when you buy all those new plants at the local nursery. First, you must work with the ground that you have on your property. I’m guessing that it is pretty heavy, therefore, be sure to amend the hole that you dig with some real good stuff.

Basically, anything organic will work, such as rotted leaves, grass or old food. You can also buy professionally composted materials sold at nurseries or sold in bags. Chicken or steer manure is excellent also as most anything will work well in the heavy clay soils of the northwest. If you have your doubts you can have a soil sample sent to a local testing agency and they will recommend nutrients that you can get at local nurseries and supply locations.

It’s a good idea to pay a little extra for a heavy duty shovel to do the job. Once you have your shovel, soil amendments and fertilizers, you are ready to dig the hole.

Now the work begins. As a rule, we always dig the hole at least twice as deep and three times as wide as the actual root ball or structure of the plant. The reason for this is because native soil is very heavy and the plant has been grown in a container with some nice potting soil. Imagine putting on a wet suit and jumping into the ocean. This is what the plant feels when you take it out of the container and place it in a hole that it barley fits into with no drainage.

After your large hole is dug, backfill the bottom of the hole up and compact it with your hands. Next, take a stick and lay it across the hole. The crown of the plant should be above this point so that when you add your mulch to the finished planting area the plant is at its natural height in the soil.

Backfill with your hands compressing the amended soil as you firmly backfill using your foot to pack the soil around the top of the plant – the firmer the better. This will ensure that the wind and water will not erode the new soil.

New plant needs time to develop firm roots. I consult clients time and again about dead or unhealthy plants that just seem to sit there and wilt after they have been planted for a few months. Usually you can reach down and pull them right out of the ground and the root ball looks just like the day it was planted. This does not need to be the case. If properly planted your success rate should be 100%. In time, the roots will break into the clay soils and grow out wide and healthy with the width of the drip line canopy of the plant.

Short List of Things to Remember:

• Compost and fertilizer, whether labeled organic or not is basically all the same. Most anything will do.
• Buy good quality tools (spade/shovel) with strong a handle.
• Dig the hole 2 x 3 – twice as deep and three times as wide.
• Compact firmly around hole.
• Stake and tie larger trees and shrubs to protect from wind.

Quick tip- when fertilizing existing plants, don’t throw the fertilizer on the top of the ground Instead, use a spade, shovel or straight edge and make a slice in the ground pushing the spade into the soil at the drip line canopy of the plant and insert a handful of fertilizer. Not only will the fertilizer last longer, it will get to the root zone faster. Most any lawn or shrub fertilizer will work just make sure it is not weed and feed.

Have fun planting . . . just remember doing it right is a lot of WORK!!

  • May 28, 2010
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What's in your grass...

After working on your lawn this last month, you may be wondering why your lawn has so many different types of grass. I will try to explain as best as I can so that you will have a better idea of which direction to go when budgeting your valuable time and money on your future landscaping projects.

Most of the foreign grasses that invade your lawn do so because there is a breakdown for some reason, usually lack of maintenance. In the spring, all of the local un-mowed fields, meadows and roadsides that have tall un mowed grass will go to seed. The wind picks up the seed as do cars, trucks or anything else that the seed can lodge into and then they eventually end up in your lawn.

When your lawn has a dead area, possibly due to many factors, the seeds settle into the bare spot and germinate. Most healthy lawns will keep the majority of these weed seeds out if properly maintained because the seed needs both light (photosynthesis) and water to germinate. However, even the best manicured lawn will have unwanted grass eventually. I figure the life of the best maintained lawn is no more than 10 years unless it is over seeded annually.

Because grasses are all in the same genus you cannot spray out to differentiate from one grass or another. There is not a selective herbicide that will do this. Roundup, which is a non-selective herbicide, can kill the affected area and after 7 days be re-seeded with the desired grass, usually Perennial Rye.

There are a few main types of grass that will invade your lawn if you do not spend the time maintaining your green space. Here are a few. Call me and I will come over and show you the difference.

• Perennial Rye- This is the desired grass and is used predominately by sod farms in our area. It is a deep, rich green color with fine blades, and when you dig into the root crown it will show red as the root crown enters the soil. It is forever a perennial. Maintained properly, just like a Rhododendron, it will not spread because it is a bunch grass.

• Turf type Tall Fescue- Newly improved, this grass is used in some applications for lawns, although in my opinion, falls short of the quality of Perennial Rye. It is a dark green, thicker leafed Perennial bunch grass. It is more drought tolerant than the rye but is suspect to weed seeds because it is more of an open growing grass in the lawn. Sod farmers are starting to grow this grass and time will tell if it becomes popular.

• Fine Fescue – Sometimes called Chewing’s Fescue, or Red Fescue, it includes all different types of fine bladed Fescues. These grasses do better in shaded conditions and can be mixed in with rye grass to fill in under trees with lots of shade, especially Chewing’s Fescue. Susceptible to wear patterns, it thins when exposed to full sun and has a tendency to create thatch in poor soil areas like the soil most likely in your yard. I have experimented with this variety without much luck. It is a very high maintenance grass.

• Poa Annua- This grass is an annual blue grass that is labeled by Oregon State Extension as a noxious weed. You can identify this grass by its yellowish green color and low growth habit. It is an annoying grass usually taking over in hard, compacted areas of the lawn. Over the next few months this grass will go to seed, propagate and spread with white seeds growing below your lawn mower height. It grows great in the poorly maintained areas of the lawn. Poa Annua plays havoc on golf greens because it will grow below the desired Bent grass on the golf green and below the reel mower height of 3/32nds of an inch. It is impossible to eliminate once it germinates in your lawn. If this happens, spray out with Roundup and over seed with Perennial Rye.

• Poa Trivialis- This is also an annual that spreads by rhizomes and rarely goes to seed. It is hard to spot and will blend in with Rye until it spreads throughout the entire lawn and then must be killed out with roundup.

• Annual Rye-In most lawns this grass turns into a bi-annual and sometimes lives multiple seasons. It blows in with the wind during spring and summer seeding months. It is sometimes confused with Poa Trivialis.

• Tall Fescue- In most cases, this perennial is not a favored grass and blows in during the spring and summer seed months. It has a very wide blade, the widest in your lawn. It is course and dark green, very thick with a heavy crown. It will not spread because it is a bunch grass, but it is definitely an eye sore in the lawn. Dig it out by hand or spray out with roundup and re-seed with Perennial Rye.

• Bent grass- Sometimes called creeping Bent; it is predominately a coast grass that adapts well in dryer climates. There are many different varieties and you can identify it by the round, matted growing patches in your lawn. It will eventually spread throughout the entire lawn. Spray out infected areas with Roundup and re-seed.

• Velvet Grass- I have seen this grass take off lately. It is a perennial and spreads by rhizomes and by seed. Identify this grass by its light green color and fuzzy wide blade. Unlike the other grasses, this grass will spray out using 2-4D, yet is hard to entirely eradicate because the 2-4D is a contact herbicide and usually won’t completely kill the rhizome root system. We usually just kill the infected area with roundup and start over.

• Orchard Grass- This perennial bunch grass is very dark green with a wide stiff blade and looks a lot like Tall fescue. It usually has a broader leaf and crown. Eradicate by pulling, digging out of ground or spray out with Roundup.

• Crab Grass- I don’t see as much of this as the others above because it is more of a warm season grass, thus it would be a summer annual here in the Willamette Valley. Again, there is not much you can do but dig it out and over seed the affected areas.

In review, the list of possible desired grasses for your lawn would be Perennial Rye, Turf Type Tall Fescue, or Chewing’s Fescue. Thee rest are mostly noxious weeds and should be prevented and eradicated from the lawn.

Remember that the best way to control all of these grasses is to properly maintain your lawn. A healthy balance of water, food, aeration and soil PH balance will enable the desired lawn, most likely Perennial Rye, to maintain deep roots. Deep roots means the grass will be thicker up top, thus eliminating most of the unwanted grasses in your lawn.

  • August 09, 2010
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Gopher Control

For those of you that are having problems with gophers in your yard and have the stomach to snuff out the little critters the following is a way that we have had success slowing them down.

Take an ordinary apple and cut it into wedges, then take some peanut butter and roll some mole bait, cyanide seed or other poison into the peanut butter and attach it to the apple slice by carving out a hole so the peanut butter sticks into the hole.

Take a few of the fresh mounds the critter creates using a shovel peel off the dirt and using your fingers find a new run, it will be in the form of a hole about an 1-1/2 around right at about the ground level or just below and drop the apple wedge in so that it slides down into the hole. Make sure to cover the hole with the fresh dirt so that there is no light or air making it down the hole, the gopher will move along the hole and find the apple get to chewing the peanut butter and the poison will get stuck into the mouth and it will then be digested.

Good luck mole hunting, and if this is just too much for you throw a party for the moles by watering in the summer, they love the soft ground and will just keep having a party and multiplying at your expense...

  • September 28, 2010
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Water Feature Installation

We have recently been working on some great water features so I thought I would write up a little info on how we do them explaining the details of how we like creating some real works of art.

When we install a water feature we always include the following items for a complete installed feature:

  • Auto filler to keep the water filled to the proper level.

  • Clean out valve.
  • Overflow drain.
  • Flex hose, fittings, bulkheads, foam.
  • Proper skimmer and filter system.
  • Properly sized 3 year warranty pump.
  • 60 mil rubber liner and underlayment.
  • Flow adjustment valves.
  • Rocks of various size and textures.
  • Plant materials and mulch.
  • 5 year warranty on all workmanship and a 3 year manufacturer pump warranty.

I personally design and vision all of the features, managing a very talented installation crew.

We always start by completely digging out the entire feature forming the pond, skimmer areas, mounds and shaping, form fitting the skimmer, pipes, sumps and other components before the liner is placed.

Next we place the under liner and liner using sand to buffer the low areas and corners of round areas so that the liner will not stretch when water is added, working carefully around the liner as to not puncture or damage the liner.

The rest of the feature is artwork that a very talented crew creates over a period of days or weeks depending on how large the feature is, taking their time using concrete, dirt and sand, placing every rock at the right angle and degree so that the water flows exactly off of each rock to create the masterpiece.

I always purchase and place plant materials myself to highlight and accent the feature according to the style and tastes of the client.

It takes some real experience and creativity to install a nice water feature and when finished I have never seen two features that are the same.

My advice is to hire us to do your project, if you care to take on this yourself make sure that you have all of the materials on site before you start and be prepared to spend at least 3x as much time and effort that you originally planned on spending.

Some things to ponder when building:

  • Make sure a splash area is inside of the edge of the liner or the feature will leak, creating problems over time.
  • Be sure to let concrete set for at least 2 days before running water.
  • Place all components that need to be accessed, valves, pump, electrical fittings, etcetera in boxes for easy access and cleaning.
  • Test all bulkheads for seal before burying these areas, most problems I see are at these locations.
  • Size the right pump, always use a pump that has slightly more capability than you need, you can always turn water down if not needed.
  • Make sure that the pump recirculates all of the water 4 to 5 times per hour or more to keep the feature clean.
  • Use a licensed electrician and secure a dedicated circuit for your pump to operate from.

There are a lot more details and tricks of the trade that I can share with you, if you are installing a pump and need help just e-mail me and I will answer your questions the best I can. You can use our "Contact Us" form located HERE.

Good luck!

Tim Barnes

  • December 29, 2014
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Lawn Installation/Soil Amendment

This is the first of a periodic information blog for you, the homeowner, to use as you please. The information here will apply to two different categories: one for installation or construction of the landscape, the other about maintenance of the landscape.

[NOTE: Within the industry when we have a landscape installation project we call it construction. You will hear me refer to this term often.]

Lawn installation/soil amendment

By far, the most requests for information I get from friends and clients is about lawn installation, so I will start the first blog with this topic.

When installing a lawn there are a few key criteria that you will want to address. The most important is soil structure. Most lawns are not properly installed, especially in the new home subdivisions of South and West Salem and the Portland Metro area. For the most part these areas are up off the valley floor and tend to consist of mostly reddish heavy clay loam. In truth, it really doesn’t matter where you are in the Salem/Portland area, as the soil will not support a healthy long living Perennial Rye Grass lawn by itself. It must be amended, and here is why.

Perennial Rye Grass is the predominant grass grown in the Willamette Valley. In fact, we grow approximately 80% of the world’s rye grass right here. This grass is used primarily as an answer to the dying off of warm season grasses on golf courses throughout the eastern and southern United States and many other foreign countries. In the cool season, Perennial Rye Grass is over seeded due to its very quick germination (about 3 days) and fast growth (to about 2 inches in 10 days), allowing the golf course to keep its lush green color year around.

Perennial Rye is a bunch grass and is started from a single seed, yet it is a perennial. For example, it is like a rhododendron plant. If you take care of it, it will last a very long time, developing deep strong roots. It is no different with grass. The most important freedom that the grass can have is the ability to develop deep strong roots. This can be done by incorporating into the soil anything and or everything to enhance and break up the clay ground allowing air to develop around the soil particles, stimulating micro organisms to break down and feed on the organics that create a healthy soil structure for a healthy soil medium and deep root growth.

You will notice in your old lawn what looks like many different types of grasses. This is due to many factors, mostly poor soil and drainage. During the spring season when the farmers are harvesting seed and many wild grass fields are going to seed, the wind will pick up the seed and land it on your yard. If your yard is unhealthy and the soil poor, your lawn will have holes or openings in it, and this allows the unwanted seeds from noxious weeds and unwanted grasses to germinate, thus starting an unhealthy trend in your lawn. There are many other factors that can also lead to unwanted seed germination, but the main defense is to have a healthy, thick lawn with deep roots, the main reason being the thicker the lawn the less likely seeds will germinate because the seeds themselves need light and water to tell them it’s time to germinate.

When the homeowner calls us for a consultation I usually see roots to a depth of about 1 inch or less, which explains why the lawn is very thin and dies out very fast. especially without a proper watering system. The ideal root depth is twice the depth of the top growth, or about 3 to 4 inches, and this can be done with the proper installation. I have seen root growth as deep as 10 inches on some very well maintained golf greens, and while your yard isn’t a golf green, a nice depth of 3 to 4 inch roots will give you an incredibly thick and healthy lawn.

With lawn construction there are many other factors that are vital to consider, like water, fertilization, and aeration, but amending your soil is one of the most important steps in the construction of your new lawn.

Landscape Maintenance DIY

Now that you have a new lawn installed, the key to its longevity is the care that you give it. If you can afford to hire a professional company, (that is, a company with experience, references, licenses, and reputation), this is the best option for your mowing and plant materials maintenance of your yard. If you are doing it yourself, here are some ideas for you.

This time of year the grass is dormant. Hopefully you or your yard service applied a winter fertilizer to the grass. I consider this the most important fertilization of the year due to what is called translocation of the roots. As the growing season winds down, the roots take food from the grass plant and stores it. In the spring, the grass reverses this this procedure, and gives extra food to the grass leaves to help the plant come out of dormancy. Fertilizing the plant in early winter late fall, October or November will greatly increase the health and color of the grass come spring.

Watch for crane fly infestations in early April and treat at the end of April or early May if needed.

A shot of Lime in the pellet form in the spring will help to balance the PH of the soil and move roots lower. Do this every year for about 3 to 5 years depending on the soil acidity, better known as PH.

  • December 29, 2014
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Landscaper Shopping

As a landscaping contractor, I continually try to see things from the homeowner’s point of view. Being a homeowner myself – a farm owner, actually, but that’s another story - I ask myself, if I were in the market to hire a landscaper, who would I choose to hire to maintain my landscape investment, and why.


For starters I would make sure that the contractor or maintenance company has insurance that is current and up to date. You can do this by simply asking them for a certificate of insurance that is dated for the calendar year, then call to confirm that they are still paid up.

As a responsible homeowner, most likely you will meet with and interview or discuss your potential projects with many different companies and individuals. What should you be looking for?


Next I would find out if they are a licensed contractor with the Landscape Contractor’s Board of Oregon. They do not have to be licensed with the LCB to do maintenance, but if they are doing business in Oregon they must operate as an independent contractor with a business license, and pay taxes. A guy who is making change with cash out of his pocket most likely does not have a license, is not paying taxes and probably doesn’t have insurance.

Unfortunately, the law doesn’t differentiate between kids making a little extra money, and a small operation of adults doing far more than simply mowing a lawn (but who may not have any more expertise.)

The following are just some of the pitfalls of going with a small one man operation with no license, bond or insurance:

  • You are potentially putting your yard into the hands of someone who may be on a steep learning curve;
  • If the guy disappears with your money, you have virtually no legal recourse;
  • An unlicensed and uninsured contractor has no accountability to you, the customer, if you are unsatisfied.

We have done a number of jobs that were started by unlicensed contractors, most of whom walked off the job. I would say, without exception, the designs and executions were a mess. Of the bids, both verbal and on paper, I have seen, most were unprofessional, and very few if any, would benefit you, the customer.

Well, their trucks look nice: A Contractor's Image

Image is important, but the bottom line is that the job has to get done. Nothing could be worse than seeing a contractor’s bright, shiny, clean trucks driving around, while your project –the project that you contracted for on this date for said amount, and in a timely manner - languishes in neglect from that same contractor. Hmm… well let’s see they sure have nice trucks, don’t they? All I can say is did your contactor do what they said they would do, nice truck or not? (In case you're wondering, yes, we do have nice, clean, shiny trucks.)

Don't shortchange yourself: It pays to Check References

I believe that the number one way to find a good contractor is to check their references. This can be done in a variety of ways, but best of all is to schedule an appointment to look at work at one of their completed clients homes. Good contractors will go out of their way to show off their work and so will the client and you will be on site at the job that you know that they installed.

Many web sites feature jobs that contractors may or may not have done. Check for before and after pictures. If there are no before pictures, the completed job may not be theirs. Again, do your homework.

There are other factors to look at when looking for a contractor. It’s really not much different than when looking at any business. How do their people sound when they answer the phone? Do they even answer the phone? Do they call back in a timely manner? If so did they book an appointment and keep their word about the meeting time? ( Ok, full disclosure. This is probably the most difficult part of the business for me to keep up with. Sometimes things come up with a job, or I run over with other meetings. Still, I am able to be close to on time for about 90% of my schedule.)

For more information on your legal rights as a consumer please visit the LCB Landscape Contractors Board of Oregon web site here it is spelled out in black and white along with much educational information.

Well, there you go. My hope is that this will help you in selecting a contractor for your next project. Please feel free to e-mail me with ideas or corrections.

  • December 29, 2014
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Water Requirements for Grass, Plants and Soil

Water Requirements for Grass, Plants and Soil.

You know, I just kind of write these blogs as you folks, our clients, call in with questions on so many of the different phases of the landscape industry, and I have to admit that I am sure learning a lot about what you guys want. So thanks so much for the input!

I want to discuss the water requirements for plants and grass. It’s that time of year and man, is this year different than most. Yes it’s cool and a little wet, but it’s getting late, and although it may seem like it’s still winter the days are longer and the sun is warmer so it doesn’t take long to dry out your plants and grass.

Lawn watering

My rule of thumb is when I walk on a lawn I like to feel the lawn under my feet, kind of like feeling the road with a BMW or Porsche, but I wouldn’t know much about that since I’ve never owned one – oh, ya talk to my brother about that and he could tell you.... If I can feel the soil under the lawn push down just a little then I can judge the amount of water to adjust on the automatic controller running the system. Remember that watering is all about the soil under the grass and how deep the roots are. Use the heel of your foot and walk the lawn every day and you will get good at it.

Plant Materials

Plants are different from grass; they need less water because the roots are in the ground deeper than grass roots. When watering plants, look at the slope of the grass. If the grass slopes toward the plants in a certain area, chances are those plants will not need as much as the other side of the yard above the grass. The water from the lawn may be enough to water them.

It is really important when you install a new water system or adjust your current one that it covers the areas that it is intended for, grass, plants, shade and full sun areas.

Watering Schedule

For grass, the ideal schedule is to water thoroughly through the root zone. The problem with this is most folks’ roots are so shallow that after about 5 minutes of watering, the water is already past the root zone and running onto the street, or has so thoroughly saturated the clay soil it cannot handle any more water and runs off onto the plants, street or soaks the foundation of your house, or your neighbors’. Ideally, 8 to 10 minutes is more than enough for most lawns once per day or every other day. If the soil is really bad and the roots very shallow (and, unfortunately, this is the case with most lawns ), some controllers have a cycle and soak setting on the clock which allows you to set a schedule at 2 to 3 minute intervals. If not, there are usually 3 to 4 start times on program A, B or C. You can set your controller to start on that lawn station and water it for 2 to 3 minutes, 2 or 3 times per day and less water will be wasted.

Plants will do well with 1 or 2 waterings per week depending on soil conditions. Check by taking a shovel and making a deep slice at the root zone or drip line of the plant opening up the root area, allowing you to determine if there is water and how much at the roots.

In Conclusion...

I carry a shovel in my truck when checking maintenance accounts to determine how much water is needed, and our crews will check them every week and report back on the condition of the soil, plants and grass.

The most important thing is to know your soil. This takes time and it’s called maintenance. People constantly tell me they want a low maintenance yard. Well I’m sorry to break the news to you but there is no such thing as a low maintenance yard in Oregon with our year round season. So good luck, and if you are tired of maintaining your yard give us a call!

  • December 29, 2014
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Project Management

This season is very different than last year due to factors like the fuel increase and just an overall lack of confidence in the future for some folks. Therefore, I will discuss how we manage projects to give you the confidence you need to trust us not only with your money, but with the outcome of the overall project.

I bid a lot of jobs every season, and try my hardest to listen to you folks to find out just what you want and offer my suggestions and ideas from 20 plus years in this ever changing industry. I would consider Westside Landscape a very good project management company in an industry with a lot of what I would call misrepresentation and poor quality management. Many companies have the philosophy that what goes in the ground no one will see. The problem is this always comes back to haunt the company or the person who contracted to do the work.

It’s important to get good references. The good companies will have this information on their website and you should be able to call and visit job sites that they have completed and talk to owners that worked with them. I personally would not go just off of a portfolio. Even though the pictures may look impressive there is no guarantee that the job went as planned or the customer is happy. I even know of companies that copy and paste pictures of jobs that they never have completed or did in the first place.

Design/Build or Formal Landscape Design?

Next, decide if the project should be design/build or work off of a formal landscape design. 90% of our residential projects are design/build off a detailed sketch and contract. We ask you, the client, to put your trust in our experience allowing some flexibility in the development of the project and as the project progresses. There is usually a base contract with the addition of change orders as the job unfolds. The design/build can save you money by foregoing the paper design adding flexibility later.

Some clients want a formal landscape design; costs will run from $50 to $150 per hour of the designer’s time depending on the fee. Sometimes the fee can be waived if the project is contracted with the firm later. In most cases a good sketch of the details and footnotes about the different detailed areas is good enough, along with the contract to satisfy most people, again ask yourself can you trust this person or firm and have you done your homework before you sign a contract.

It’s very important to have a well written detailed contract as per the Oregon Landscape Contractors Board specifications. You can contact them here at Landscape Contractors Board.

Organization, Communication, and Accountability

Another good idea is to have a written out chronological schedule of how and when the work will be done, some of this detail should be in the contract but realize that there will be glitches in the timing and processes of the job and not all problems can be foreseen. Things just change and life is unpredictable, but if you start with a good written contract and agenda and communication most likely any challenges down the road will be worked out. Your job will go smooth and you will be very pleased with the overall management of the project.

We try very hard to communicate with each client at least every other day as a project unfolds and have qualified supervision at all times on a project. We ask that all questions and inquiries go through the office and at that time an onsite job meeting can be scheduled or someone will get back that same day and usually within the hour.

Another thing we do is when we start a job is that we try to work straight through and have people on the job site until the job is finished. The biggest complaint that I hear is that the contractor started the job and then pulled off for a number of days or weeks or just disappeared all together, without so much as a phone call. This is a very important item that should be in the contract in order to have a timely finish to the job.

Miscellaneous details

There are lots of other details to consider like will there be an onsite toilet on the job, where are the materials going to be disposed of from the job site, how much cleanup will be needed and am I, the homeowner, responsible for any of this? Are there permits needed and pulled before or at the time of startup? Who is the person in charge and do you have their contact information and name?

I hope this helps in your decision to choose a contractor. It’s our goal for you to put your trust in our management of your project, and it is our job to earn your trust from the start to finish of your project.

  • December 29, 2014
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Sprinkler system installation

We install about 50 sprinkler systems per year covering both the residential and commercial markets. Both systems are similar, commercial systems are usually just larger and may have more expensive equipment required. I will talk about what to look for in a good quality residential system.

First of all, as always, secure 2 to 3 bids from Landscaping Contractors Board (LCB) licensed contractors with at least 3 to 5 references.

Have a written contract that includes all of the components and details of the system, written instructions on how to operate it, a detailed plot plan/as built of where the valves, wires, heads and pipe routs are.

Most importantly, get a written warranty of at least one year so that you have a growing season to operate the system and to get the bugs out on the adjustments, etc. We give all of our customers complete 5 year warrantees on all parts and labor associated with any manufacturer’s defects or installation problems.

As for sprinkler manufacturers, we use mostly Hunter Industries and Rain Bird. Both are very good companies, but I like the Hunter systems, as they are a little more user friendly and the company tries very hard to take care of their warranty issues and has very good customer support.

Some items to look for in your proposal

  • Pipe depth- 16 to 18 inches minimum on main lines and at least 12 inches or more on lateral lines.
  • Back flow device- state law requires that the contractor pay for and secure a permit to install the state-approved anti-siphon apparatus, better known as a back flow device. Main manufacturers are Febco or Watts, and they are both good products.
  • Wiring – all systems have wires that connect the solenoid valves to the controller. Be sure that the wires are taped to the bottom of the pipes so that if there is a break sometime down the road the wires will not be cut by a shovel and can be easily located for the repairs.
  • Insist that the contractor put in writing the cleanup details for the job. Your yard will be somewhat torn up, and it is the contractor’s job to put it back the way it was. Yes, sometimes it is hard not to remove a plant to install the backflow or remove some sod for the pipes. It will save you much headache, however, if you secure a detailed plan of action about how the trenches will be repaired with seed or sod. If plants are damaged will they be replaced? If so how much is allotted for this in the proposal and where will they be moved or replaced to.

While these are not all of the details of a system, they are a few things to look for in the course of selecting a landscaper. Do your homework, get as much as possible in writing and remember that the more time you spend covering the details in the job, the less will have to pay for down the road. Better yet, give us a call (503-585-9517) and we will give you a free estimate on your project.

  • December 29, 2014
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Grass in the Autumn and Winter

Yes I know I should have written this a long time ago but I had to go off and get married, then of course go on the honey moon for 3 weeks right in the middle of our peak season. Yes, I am still paying for it and trying to play catch up, but I've got a beautiful and supportive bride, so give me a break; the tradeoff was worth it.

Grass in the Autumn and Winter. . This is the time that the grass is going dormant and from what I learned in school and from years of experience, now is the best time to fertilize due to something called translocation. It is a process where the stored energy in the plant moves (or translocates) from the foliage to the roots, where it stores the energy for the upcoming spring, giving the plant that energy to start back up in the spring. As a rule, the lawns that are greener and healthier in March have been fed the past fall.

For fall time, I like a fertilizer that is low in nitrogen and high in slow release percentages. Fertilizers are basically urea nitrogen coated with plastic. The coating breaks down slowly by moisture content and as it breaks down the fertilizer is released. The higher the slow release percentage the longer the fertilizer lasts. Look for a fall mix like 12-5-15, which is higher in phosphorus because the phosphorus is good for root growth and establishment.

As for your plant materials, mulching is a good idea for any perennials that you will be cutting down for the season -- also any blueberries or fruiting shrubs, helping them on frozen mornings.

Applying a fall fertilization is also a good idea for plants, root feed trees and shrubs. Using a regular shovel, push the shovel in the soil at about the drip zone and apply a small handful of fertilizer into the slice in the ground that the shovel makes. This method is much preferred (and more efficient) over spreading the fertilizer on top of the ground were most of it runs off.

Remember to turn off your watering system and have your back flow device winterized.