Mulch Madness – A Guide to Mulch

Mulch Madness – A Guide to Mulch

Key Benefits, Types, and Methods of Using Mulch in California Landscapes

It’s almost insane how many ways mulching adds to the success of California landscapes. It is easily one of the most useful practices one can do in the garden. Mulching is a great way to control weeds, retain moisture and protect your soil. It also hides and protects drip lines, keeps dust down, provides a safe, relatively clean walking surface, and looks better than bare ground. Mulches can prevent erosion on slopes, and organic mulches improve soil structure.

Saves Time and Money

One of the most important benefits of mulching is it saves time and money! By reducing weeds, especially annuals, by up to 90%, landscaping labor costs are reduced significantly. Mulching can reduce or even eliminate the need for costly and toxic herbicides. And mulch can significantly conserve soil moisture, reducing the cost of irrigation. Many California Coast gardens use surface-mounted drip irrigation and mulching serves to visually cover up and protect drip lines, which are vulnerable to damage and weathering, thus saving on costs to repair or replace.

Promotes Healthy Landscapes

Mulching promotes healthy plants and garden areas by reducing competition from weeds by preventing their germination. The decomposition of mulch also adds nutrients to the soil as it breaks down, improving soil by adding organic matter that feeds beneficial organisms. Mulching reduces soil compaction and insulates plants against temperature extremes. A 2-inch mulch layer can cut summer soil evaporation by 20% and lower temperatures in the top 4 inches of soil by 10 degrees. There is a notable improvement in establishing young plants and trees when mulch is used.

Reduces Soil Erosion

Another benefit of mulch is how it reduces soil erosion. Covering the soil simply helps keep soil in place when exposed to rain and wind. This is especially true on slopes, by deflecting the impact of raindrops, which in turn reduces stormwater runoff and creek erosion.

It Just Looks Good

Mulch is often the finishing touch for planting areas. In addition to the functional benefits, it just looks good! A clean, uniform mulch layer helps to really tie the garden together.

Mulching with a Multitude of Materials

There are a wide variety of materials that can be used for mulching. The style and design of your individual garden or landscape will inform as to which types might be best for you. Bark and wood products are the most common types of mulches on the Central Coast. But there are many others, such as stone – from colorful rocks and boulders down to a wide variety of gravel and even decomposed granite. An under-layer of sheet mulching can be employed using newspapers, cardboard and even plastic sheeting. Living mulches (e.g. Dutch white clover) are cover crops planted around crops or between crop rows, adding nitrogen to the soil while discouraging noxious weeds.

We want to call attention to Recycled Organic Mulches. These can include chipped or shredded wood chips, compost, simple fallen leaves or pine needles, or even grass clippings. We also favor chipper mulch from local tree trimming operations. Our endorsement of these recycled materials stems from the fact that these materials are not only potentially an attractive ground cover and mulch, but they are by-products that don’t have to be shipped long distances, and mulching with them contributes to maintaining their usefulness in another form (good for sustainability).

Consider Flammability

With all the benefits of mulching, also comes an issue of organic mulch’s combustibility and wildfire safety. In areas of many California communities, there is a real need to consider how to reduce hazardous conditions, and how mulching can play a useful role and not contribute to wildfire danger.

An in-depth study conducted at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension of landscape mulch types analyzed their relative combustibility, flame height, rate of spread, and temperatures. They demonstrated a wide range of variability in mulch type combustibility, suggesting the need to consider flammability when choosing mulches. In general, it is obvious that the least flammable mulch types should be used closest to vulnerable homes and structures, and the study recommends “not using any organic mulch within five feet of a house located in wildfire-prone areas.”

How Much Mulch?

Planting areas should be mulched as needed to maintain a 2- to 4-inch layer. Plan on refreshing your mulched areas periodically. An annual inspection usually keeps you apprised of how often additional mulching is needed. Keep mulch at least two to three inches away from the stems and trunks of plants to avoid moisture-related fungus and bacteria problems. When mulching individual trees planted in lawns, create a circle of mulch about 2 feet in diameter for each inch of trunk diameter, even out to the edge of the canopy of mature trees if possible. If irrigating mulched areas with overhead irrigation, make sure that the water penetrates the mulch layer. Mulch can absorb the water and prevent its ever reaching soil.

We Love Mulch!

Mulching covers and cools the soil, conserves moisture, suppresses weed growth, slows erosion and adds nutrients as it decomposes. It also hides and protects drip lines. Plus, it looks good. What’s not to love?

The Essential Landscape Design Guide: How to Maximize a Residential Landscape

The Essential Landscape Design Guide: How to Maximize a Residential Landscape

Written by Daniel Mazawa, General Manager
Originally published in Living Lavishly

Transforming a landscape can be overwhelming—there are so many places to find inspiration, and there are drastically different styles to consider. It can be helpful to work with a professional—landscape designers are trained to see the big picture and identify opportunities that elude most homeowners. Here are a few steps homeowners can take to understand the design process and get a grasp of what they want from their landscape:

Analyze the Site
On the Central Coast, there are several different natural backdrops that most homes enjoy. Whether it is a distant view of rolling oak woodlands or a beachfront bluff experience, it is important to understand the setting of a place as influenced by the natural world. Take stock of existing trees or plants on site as well as sun and shade.

The architecture of the home and the neighborhood aesthetic may set the tone for the landscape design style. Consider the experience of driving up to the house and walking around the yard. A guest arriving at the home should know right where the front door is and where to park. The movement around the landscape should be functional and beautiful. Where are the areas of interest? What is the flow and the circulation? Identify the opportunities and constraints in a setting before figuring out what to do.

Establish the Functions
It is easy for someone who owns a home to identify what they want, but it can be a little more difficult to define what they need. Everything takes up space, so prioritizing functions is extremely important. Figure out how much usable space is needed for parking, outdoor entertaining, open utility areas, connecting pathways, and any other high-frequency functions. Pools, hot tubs, sport courts, outdoor kitchens, vegetable gardens, and other secondary functions can be fun additions to fold in.

Consider the best locations for all functions as far as convenience, sun exposure, views, and feel. For example, both an outdoor kitchen and a vegetable garden are convenient near an indoor kitchen, but the garden wants open sunshine and the outdoor kitchen benefits from shade or shelter. Also consider the indoor/outdoor connection as perceived through windows and doors from inside. A pergola can feel like an extension of an indoor room, or a distant view can be framed to be enjoyed from inside.

Define Design Style
A good first step is to decide whether a landscape is going to be geometric and calculated or free flowing and natural. A modern home may work better with a straight-lined landscape, but these forms can deconstruct as they move away from the structure. A natural setting such as a woodland can work well with curves and natural pathways especially if preserving existing trees.

People who like control, simple bold design, or tidy surroundings gravitate towards straight lines with geometric configurations. People who like tranquility, natural settings, or designing with nature gravitate towards flowing curves. Bold Modern style utilizes straight-line end of the spectrum and Natural Style falls on the curved line end. Mediterranean, Southwestern, Cottage, and Japanese gardens fall somewhere between. Having a clearly defined style that repeats and transitions smoothly will make a landscape feel complete.

Design Spaces Before Features
While design features are important, the spaces they create are more important to the user experience. For example, a tree may be a beautiful feature, but the shade and shelter a tree grove provides can create a comfortable room complete with walls and a ceiling. Comfortable spaces are often perceived as a bit wider than they are tall, or 1 to 1.618 height to width per the golden ratio. A pergola 16 feet wide by 10 feet tall is a good example. The same comfortable feeling can be achieved with shrubs and trees.

Conversely, putting too many plants next to a front door entry can make it feel tight and uninviting. Open it up and make the path wide, prominent and inviting. Wide open views will feel more comfortable when framed with trees or from a comfortable viewing patio. The psychology of spaces can be overwhelming, but it is obvious when a space feels right.

Work Out Transitions
Landscape is the glue that holds together spaces and structures. Transitions can be the most dynamic aspects of a landscape, or they can be eyesores. Complex hardscape features such as patios, retaining walls, fences, pergolas, outdoor kitchens, water features, and fire features will often intersect and connect with one another.

Figure out how connections will work to make a seamless transition point. Formal landscapes will often transition to a natural area. Utilize decorative bunch grasses on the edge of the landscape to blur the line between mulched landscapes and natural areas. When utilizing multiple design styles, create transitional landscapes to blend gradually. For example, a contemporary landscape may transition to a natural area going from straight lines to calculated arcs and then to a curved path.

Iron Out the Details
Details in the landscape should emphasize the overall design style and theme. In most cases, color themes should be complementary, so they don’t clash. Choose colors for concrete, stone, wood, paint, mulch, and plant material that paint a picture that goes together.

Textures should also be considered. Fine texture details such as exposed aggregate concrete, small ledge stone, or small plants can feel lost in a large space. Bold coarse texture details like large boulders or big leaved plants can feel overbearing in small spaces. Perennial plants provide color, texture, and movement.

Plants should fit the design style with color as well as layout. Bold masses of plants work well with contemporary landscapes, while multi-species combinations can work well with natural areas. Finishing details can make the difference between a hodge-podge yard and a cohesive landscape.

There is a lot to think about when trying to maximize a landscape. A professional can help. Landscape designers can take ideas and dreams and turn them into a buildable design. Knowing the process before starting design or construction can be invaluable to being able to communicate goals and expectations to create a successful landscape to enjoy for years to come.

I Can’t Get Lumber! Four Tips for Landscaping During a Shortage

I Can’t Get Lumber! Four Tips for Landscaping During a Shortage

Achieve the Landscape of Your Dreams Post-Pandemic

2020 saw an upsurge in outdoor redesigns—from businesses to backyards. Outdoor living investments topped the list of spending as everyone reconsidered the value of open-air seating or, for homeowners, a sanctuary.

Due to shutdowns, however, disruptions in supply chains were common and became major 2020 obstacles. Consumer demand then outpaced supply and drove up costs as products took longer and longer to arrive.

The lumber and resin supply chains took a particularly harsh hit. Lumber shortages resulted from dealers cutting back in light of falling demands at the start of the pandemic. Resin shortages were driven by “many resin manufacturers and distributors declaring force majeure on [many resin products]” in light of major storm fronts hitting Texas and the Gulf Coast. With resin being used for plastics, even PVC and sprinkler parts rose in price. A decrease in workers across the board also stunted supply chain flow, as there are fewer truck drivers able to deliver.

As the country opens back up, supply chains are patching, but the builder industry still cannot expect the speed and supply of pre-2020 years. Roger Ramsey from Ewing Irrigation emphasized that “we will not have the luxury of a full supply chain to lean on”—we are still in recovery, and it will take time to return to snap back.

According to Evan Moffitt, CLT, CLIA, PCA, from SiteOne Landscape Supply, however, “this pricing is likely to stick. Pricing structures will change. It appears that there is no end in sight in terms of the shortage” (emphasis added). Because of this, it is essential to expect your landscape to not only potentially take longer but to cost more.

That being said, there are ways to be strategic while still achieving the landscape you want. Here are four tips for property owners to stay on top of limited resources:

Be Flexible

Do not marry yourself to a single ideal, and make sure to have a backup plan. Availability is still limited, and you should plan for the event that your specific materials might not be the best option. Says Ramsey, “Make sure you have an alternate in mind for each part of your project.” Be open to discussion with your designers on whichever aspects might see trouble.

Communicate

Early and proactive communication of your needs will make for a much smoother schedule. Try to be clear about what you need to be done and when, and the business tackling your project will adjust as they are able. Ask for realistic timelines so that you know what you can expect. Be communicative with your vision, needs, and options so you can be accommodated quickly and without fuss.

Be Ready to Switch Gears

Supply chain disruptions are usually sudden and unplanned, which means that your project might not be finished in the expected timeline. If supply shortages make one section of your landscape lag, once again be flexible—encourage the pursuit of other areas of the project site and be proactive with any adjustments you’re ready to accommodate.

Prepare for Price Adjustments

If you’re on a tight budget, begin with a forgiving vision so that you can adjust as needed to any price jumps or extra costs. “Expect delays,” says Moffitt. “Things will take longer to get. Materials will cost more.” Once again, communicate thoroughly with your landscapers so they know what you can and cannot afford. They will adjust within your margins to make sure that any potential hurdles won’t hurt you financially.

Post-pandemic, property owners continue to invest in outdoor spaces, which means not only are materials in high demand, but so is labor. If you are in the midst of a landscape project or planning to start one, these four strategies will guide you cleanly through the process. Please contact us if you have any questions about your project.

 

“Stay Ahead of Outdoor Living Supply Chain Disruptions,” SLOXpress, CLCA SLO Chapter, April 2021, page 4.

Ask A Designer – FAQ

Ask A Designer – FAQ

Making the decision to commit to a new landscape overhaul project for your home can be daunting. Especially if you haven’t done a remodel project before, there can be a lot of “unknowns” when taking on such a huge hunk of home improvement. Our landscape designers do their best to guide clients through every step – making it as seamless, painless, and stress-free as possible. Every project is different and has its own unique variables, but the basic questions we are asked most at the beginning of the landscape process are often the same. We asked our designers to elaborate on some of their most-asked questions, and shed light on some important topics to discuss with your potential landscape team! 

 

 

How much information/direction does a designer need from the client?

The more information you can share up front with your designer, the more likely they will be able to design an incredible landscape that reflects your personal flair while including desired/ required elements. We love hearing about what styles and elements you do and don’t like so we know what direction to start with on your design. Things like Pinterest and Houzz boards can be super helpful for this. On the flipside, there’s also no shame in not knowing what you want – that’s what we’re here for! Whether you know exactly what you’re looking for, or not, the most helpful thing you can do throughout the design process is provide your feedback. We try very hard to customize each design project to the personality and needs of each client, so when we go through our concept and revision meetings, we want to hear what you really think. Honest feedback during our meetings is the best way to help us give you the design you’ve been dreaming of!

How far ahead should we plan our project?

When planning a landscape project, it’s important to think ahead. Timing will be different based on whether you are building a new home or updating an existing landscape.

For new construction projects, you can count on landscaping to be the final step- just like the frosting on a cake. Sometimes designers work concurrently with architects and civil engineers on landscape plans, but it’s best for your designer to have a finalized plan with building footprint and finished grading to work from. Be sure that your general contractor helps plan for landscaping by adding sleeving underneath any concrete or asphalt for future irrigation pipe. Planned correctly, landscape installation can begin during the final construction stages.

When updating an existing landscape, planning is more flexible. The best time to plant in our region is fall, so that root systems can develop over the winter months. Construction crews can book out anywhere from 2-6 months in advance, so make sure to get on your builder’s radar early. This is one major benefit of working with design/build companies like Madrone.

Check with your local municipality to find out if you need any permits for your landscape. Shade structures that are attached to your home or are built within a certain proximity to your home may need to be permitted. There may be water usage allowances for irrigation, and permits are often required for graywater irrigation systems. Permit filings can take 6+ weeks to be processed once received.

What is the design process and how long does it typically take?

The design process is the time that you, the client, spend with a landscape designer on the conceptual vision of your outdoor space. Every designer or firm has a unique process, but generally will start with visiting your site and asking questions about your needs.

Once the designer has developed an understanding of your project, they will create an overall layout on paper, then gradually start to specify treatments, finishes and building techniques as ideas are approved.

At the end of the process, the owner will receive a complete set of construction documents which will serve as a tool for estimating construction cost and to ultimately guide the installation.

The length of time spent on design will vary based on size of project, number of built elements, complexity of site constraints, and the number of changes made during the process. If a design isn’t agreed on at the first or second draft, more revisions may be necessary. Most landscape designs can be completed from start to finish within 3-6 months, while others can take up to a full calendar year.

At what point will we know how much our desired landscape costs?

Our design process includes using cost information as a tool to help guide design decisions. Once we’ve established our initial concept plan, our next step is to revise and refine the landscape plan and provide the client with budgetary installation prices. This estimate includes individual line item descriptions, quantities, and costs for every element of the project. This means you can see clearly where every dollar is being spent, and where there are opportunities to substite materials or methods with less expensive alternatives, without sacrificing functionality.

How much does a landscape cost? What are the variables?

The cost of a new installed landscape can vary widely. Just like designing a house, with all things being equal, it will cost more to design a large area than a small one. The price then increases depending on how many built elements you want to include and the types of materials you choose.

Click here for a basic outline of some of defining elements that will ultimately determine the cost of your landscape design and installation.

While these are some of our most frequently asked questions, we understand that there are always specifics to address throughout the design process. But, when it all comes together, a blank dirt lot can become a whole new outdoor experience full of life, laughter, and quality time with each other (and nature)! 

Our Design Services page here has a lot of useful information as well, but if you have further inquiries, you can always call our office and a friendly staff member will assist you!