Tree of Heaven

There are two species of plants in the Sedona area that top the list for invasive species and they are the Tree of Heaven and Vinca which is a ground cover. The difference is that nobody deliberately plants Tree of Heaven, however Vinca is widely available at nurseries and is planted often.

Plants that grow out of control or spring up in unwanted spaces are a nuisance to the average gardener. Naïve homeowners who plant these species in the first place unknowingly are creating a potential maintenance headache. Some of these invasive species are so difficult to eradicate completely, that only containment is possible.

The Tree of Heaven or Alianthus is one of the worst culprits to fit the category of invasive plants of Sedona. It is also invasive across the entire United States and is extremely difficult to kill, let alone keep under control. It spreads from seeds that are so prolific and blow through an area, easily germinating in almost any conditions. Once it takes hold, it starts what is called a “colony”.

There are chemicals that are used to both spray the foliage as well as to inject or spray into a wedge cut into the trunk. Personally, I have tried using RoundUp on some small seedlings, but all that does it cause the leaves to wither and not really kill it down to the root. Best way to control young Tree of Heaven is to remove the entire plant. Knowing what these look like is important so if one pops up in your yard, you should remove it right away.

vinca major

Vinca aka Periwinkle

Vinca major, also called Periwinkle is an evergreen ground cover that likes shady areas and can be seen all over Oak Creek canyon under the shade of the Sycamores and Pines that line the canyon. In a garden, it can quickly take over by sending out new runners and rooting along the way. The good thing is the roots are not that difficult to remove and a patch out of control can be removed or contained provided you pay attention and spend the time to do it. 

Another invasive plant of Sedona that I see much of is the Trumpet Creeper. Having an orange tubular flower in spring and summer, it is a popular deciduous vine that clings to walls. The problem is it seems to like to spread underground as well. It spreads like it has rhizomes for a root system. Fortunately, Trumpet Creeper does respond to RoundUp. I would not plant this plant in the first place though. It is perhaps better used as a container plant against a fence or wall.

Bamboo Horror Stories

Bamboo is a type of grass spreading by rhizomes that stem out from the mother root rhizome mass. Some are considered “clumping” while others are “running” types. For a thick screen, many people opt to plant the running kind because it will spread and fill in gaps better than the clumping varieties. The problem with the running bamboo is when a shoot comes up in a spot you don’t want it to. But it can be controlled by simply cutting the rhizome. Enough space must be given to allow the running bamboo to spread. The problem is not understanding how bamboo rhizomes grow and not paying attention.

golden bamboo

Bamboo – you either love it or hate it

Typically, the only bamboo you will see for sale in the Sedona area is Golden Bamboo or Phyllostachus aurea which does well in our Zone 7 climate. Bamboo is usually planted to create a screen. Golden bamboo typically reaches about 12 feet high. Planted along a property line or fence can be risky if it is not contained with a rhizome barrier. You wouldn’t want it popping up in your neighbor’s yard and answer to their complaints.  Therefore, it is best to be prudent and do provide some kind of containment or barrier to the boundaries that you would like the bamboo to spread and cover. Thick plastic material that comes is rolls 24″ wide is available specifically for the purpose of containing bamboo or other root systems.  The key is to not ignore the growth of your bamboo, rather keep an eye on it so that you will notice any new shoots popping up where you dont want them and then can easily cut the rhizome. The reason bamboo is feared is that most people plant it and forget about it until it is too late to be easily controlled.

Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina domestica) is an alternative that does not spread and would have to be planted fairly close together to provide a screening effect. If you like bamboo because of its Asian theme, consider planting it in containers in groups, otherwise do use a rhizome barrier and keep an eye on it.

Research Before you Buy

Many homeowners may the common mistake of buying the pretty plant at the nursery because of its flower and general form whether it’s a shrub, ground cover, vine or tree. Think about this: why would a vendor selling a plant at a retail nursery put a description on the plant label that it is invasive? Of course it would put up a red flag and discourage the sale. Descriptions about the characteristics of plant growth are best researched online or in a good gardening book such as Sunset Western Gardening. There you will find objective useful information whether a plant is considered invasive or not.



The choices for paving surfaces outdoors in the landscape are many and most homeowners moving from another part of the country to Sedona may not be aware of the choices for patio surface materials used here in northern Arizona.

It’s easy to get confused with too many choices let alone what color to select. You should take away from this article some tips and pointers about the pros and cons among all the different patio surface options for your Sedona landscape.

Natural paving materials include flagstone, travertine, slate, Cantera stone, wood, adobe, clay, gravel, and river rock among others.

Manmade materials are mostly concrete based and include poured concrete such as colored concrete, salt finished concrete, exposed aggregate, stained concrete, decorative concrete coatings, stamped concrete, interlocking concrete pavers and tile.

There are many criteria that affect which material is “best” for your situation. These factors below are objective criteria that can be assigned to each patio surface option.


Cost is based on material cost and the labor to install it. Most all natural stone needs to be installed over a concrete slab with a few exceptions. Typically, individual stones or tiles are fitted together with grouted joints. These steps add to the overall labor costs for natural stone making it more expensive than most manmade materials.   

Random, irregular sized pieces of stone such as flagstone, river rock or field stone needs to be manually cut in order to fit together. Precut stone tiles such as slate or travertine are easier to install because there is less cutting.


Natural stone is inherently porous and should always be sealed to keep water from undermining the stability of the stone and the sub slab. Flagstone and slate are particularly prone to flaking. The more porous the material, the more likely it will be harder to clean off stains.

Manmade materials such as concrete, concrete pavers, porcelain tiles are not as porous and may or may  not need to be sealed to maintain their structural integrity but may be recommended for ease of maintenance and cleaning.


Most any natural stone is subject to cracking and poured concrete is also prone to cracking as well. In fact, hairline cracks in concrete are considered “natural”. It is only when the soil is expansive or there may be moisture and/or drainage issues undermining the concrete that the slab can show cracks that are unsightly. These cracks may get worse over time. Cracking in concrete can show through to tiles laid over the slab.

Cracks within a slab under a decorative concrete coating cannot simply be repaired sufficiently. The underlying cause of the cracking must be fixed. This is why reinforcing steel is used in many concrete pours and expansion joints built in to create stress points so if any cracking is likely, it will hopefully crack along the expansion joint and not be visible.

Concrete pavers have a real advantage over concrete and manmade stone in that they do not crack. They are manufactured to be placed over compacted aggregate with sand between their joints. No concrete is used except sometimes to reinforce the edges. Concrete pavers are designed to be flexible if there is some ground movement and can be easily removed and replaced if there is a significant issue with drainage in the underlying soils.


Manmade materials are not any safer than natural materials. What affects safety are issues of slipperiness, heat absorption and uneven surface leading to trip hazards.

With some exceptions, materials that are generally considered slippery when wet are manmade tiles, honed and filled travertine and any smooth surface that has been sealed.

The darker the material the more it will absorb and retain heat making it not only hot to walk on with bare feet, but the overall areas around will be hotter due to the radiated heat. Heat absorption is always an issue when deciding on the decking around a pool.

No one wants to intentionally create trip hazards in their landscape, but using uneven and rustic stone surfaces can do just that. Consider the surface texture of the materials in terms of who will be walking on them. Will you be hosting gatherings where everybody will be in high heels? Do you walk outside barefoot a lot? Do the corners of the natural stone you are considering stick up above the rest of the surface? Keep in mind the more rustic the material, the more likely it will cause you to accidentally catch a toe.

So which is better? There is one more criteria to consider and that is aesthetics. In my next article, I will discuss why aesthetics is the primary factor in the decision making process when selecting a paving surface material.

Climate Concerns

Here in Sedona, we average about 4500 feet in elevation and the low temperatures in the winter can drop below 20 degrees.  Therefore, freeze – thaw is an issue for any patio surface material that can trap water. This is especially an issue when laying natural flagstone over a concrete slab where mortar is used to set the pieces. If the mortar is not set and cured, and still has a certain amount of moisture, it can freeze and expand and lift the flagstone. Same with anything that is set on a mortar base. Do time of installation is important to consider.

Those more porous materials which include flagstone, slate, travertine, adobe brick all need to be properly sealed to keep water out.


JSL Landscape completes landscape remodel at Sedona Golf Resort

The elements of fire and water make a landscape feel more balanced.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live on a golf course? You don’t have to be a golfer to appreciate the park like setting that an expanse of green grass brings to the backdrop of your landscaping.

You would want to share this view with your friends and neighbors right? Well then it should be a backyard landscape designed for outdoor entertaining. Everyone would love to visit and enjoy the features that you built to make it appealing and entertaining. Here is an example of one backyard landscape we recently completed in the Sedona Golf Resort.

Backyard Landscape Remodel in the Sedona Golf Resort

This home was purchased several years ago with the intent to eventually move in at retirement. Meanwhile, it was rented out and as many rental properties go — the landscaping is usually minimal. This was certainly the case with the property. The backyard was nothing more than a hodgepodge of overgrown shrubs. This makes it somewhat easier to create a new landscape since there were no structures to remove or work around.

The plan was to create a backyard oasis that included a pool, outdoor kitchen, a fire pit of some sort, patio areas for furniture and a small patch of grass for their small dogs to play. Being empty nesters, this was truly a backyard for adults to play and entertain their friends.

Being in the Sedona Golf Resort, the project required approval by the Homeowners Association as well as permits issued by the County of Yavapai. The owners were rather concerned about all the guidelines and restrictions, but since I have been to this rodeo before, the process went through without any glitches.

Here are some of the design details built into the landscape:

The pool was finished with black pebble which gives it an upscale sophisticated feel. Scupper wok bowls flank the back of the pool on raised stone veneered pedestals. The stone is also used as the veneer on the bbq island and fire table. The pool also has a “baja bench” which is an extended first step large enough to place a couple of lounge chairs.

The fire pit is actually what is now referred to as a fire table. A fire pit in the middle, but with coffee table height surfaces to make it more practical to sit around and have permanent furniture set up. The fire pit itself is gas fired and we used fire glass called “black reflective gold”. The fire glass picks up the black pebble texture in the pool. A subtle feature that allows the owners to share with their friends about the nuances of their masterpiece.

Tumbled travertine was used for the fire table surface as well as on the bbq island countertop.


Most homeowners who live in Sedona have been around and may have previously had landscape work done working with a contractor and or designer. They may be somewhat familiar with the costs. But if you are just starting out with considering a new landscaping project, perhaps remodeling a home you just bought and moved into, here are some guidelines to consider when interviewing prospective contractors and or designers. Hereinafter, I will just use the term ‘contractor’ for ease of writing.

1. Tell the contractor what your needs and wants are and walk around the property. Part of the interviewing process is not just to give them an idea of what you want so they can come up with a price. People buy from those whom they know, like and trust. So you have to go through a bit of a process to determine those factors. For some, it may only take one meeting. For others it may be over several meetings. At the end of the first meeting, if it is not clear, ask the contractor “How do you work?”

2. What you say and how you say it to the contractor may reveal your intentions and may or may not be in alignment with how they work. So it is better to show the contractor around and let them ask questions without being in control of the whole experience. Homeowners who march you through the project and describe it without hesitation as if they have done it several times before, tells me they have no intention of knowing anything about me and they are just going through the process to get another bid, perhaps the third of fourth. Believe me, I can tell when this is happening and these prospects are not my client.

3. A contractor who gets marched around the property and is then expected to get out his tape measure and give you a bid may stop you and state how he works and that he charges a fee to come up with a design. Most landscaping is sufficiently complex that spray painting it out on the ground and preparing an estimate on the spot is highly suspicious and should be a sign of someone who is not professional and probably not licensed.

4. If you have already talked with several contractors, know exactly what you want and have been given perhaps “free estimates” from others, you now have an indication of what your budget is. Did you pass on the contractor(s) who wanted a design fee to prepare the proposal? That was a mistake because any contractor who prepares a design and proposal is not going to spend the time nor be very thorough with the costing out process nor spend very much time on creativity.

A homeowner who is going through the process of “interviewing” several contractors and getting “free estimates” and or “bids” should not be limiting their evaluation based on the lowest bid. There are many other factors the homeowner is assessing while going through this process such as experience, credentials and references. But the question is, should the homeowner pay a fee to go through this process if the “bid” requires significant time and creativity to develop a thoughtful design upon which the costs can be accurately determined compared to an “off the cuff” ballpark estimate?

What I have learned over the years as a designer and as a contractor, what the client really wants is to experience the finished project. If the project is complex enough and requires a design to be prepared, then requiring a design fee is justified. Other simpler projects may be more straightforward and can be sketched conceptually on paper to show a visual of the design without a lot of time being spent. Again, this goes to the question of asking the contractor how do they work?

It will be up to the individual contractor to determine if they should charge a design fee to prepare a proposal. They could end up working for free, providing valuable design ideas and solutions and never get the job.

The most reasonable way to handle this is for the company to require some kind of design fee that may be credited towards the construction contract. That way, the design/free estimate is prepared with sufficient detail where assumptions are not made, materials are specified and the input of the homeowner is reflected in the design to make it truly custom.

As a design-build contractor, I emphasize the design aspects of a project which allows the homeowner to compare my creativity and value with others who may be more focused on the construction. A design fee on a project where it is justified truly shows my creative skills and allows the homeowner to get to know me as a person, not just another “bid”.

The Amara Resort and Spa is a boutique hotel owned by Kimton Hotels and Restaurants and is located in the heavily visited uptown district of Sedona, Arizona. Catering to the upscale visitor, Kimpton purchased the property about a year ago and began major renovations including the exterior grounds and landscaping. JSL Landscape LLC was engaged to perform a much needed landscape makeover. Since JSL Landscape is a design and build landscape construction firm based in Sedona, the corporate decision makers decided it was a good fit for their needs.

The existing landscaping at the Amara Resort and Spa was in need of a major overhaul as it was not only neglected in terms of maintenance, but the basic design – especially the choice of plants, would have to be totally changed to reflect the desire to create a more “chic” look as was requested by Kimpton’s Director of Design.
During the design process, John Leslie, owner of JSL Landscape, performed a site analysis and made several observations to develop a plan that would provide solutions to the lackluster design and give the overall landscape a clean, sophisticated look. There were several problem areas that needed attention:
1) The main entry lacked a sense of arrival. There was no distinct focal point. No statuary, fountain or other bold statement embellishing your sense of arrival.

JSL Landscape designs and builds a landscape makeover at Amara Resort and Spa in Sedona

Main entry at Amara Resort and Spa before landscape makeover

The main entry was rather simple, comprising the end of a long driveway that looped around the parking area. The Amara Spa was located across the main entry and interestingly, did have a waterfeature in front consisting of three contemporary oblique shaped basins with a metallic sphere which gurgled out water. Unfortunately, they were low to the ground and could not be seen if there were cars parked in the adjacent parking spaces. Furthermore, the handicap access ramp along with the railing was directly in front which really made one question why this fountain was placed there at all.

JSL Landscape designs and builds a landscape makeover at Amara Resort and Spa in Sedona

Waterfeatures are not only too low to be seen, they are blocked by parked cars and surrounded by the handicap access ramp and railings.

JSL Landscape designs and builds a landscape makeover at Amara Resort and Spa in Sedona

A repainting and some pedestals to raise these fountains in proportion to their surroundings was a minor improvement.

In order to improve upon the waterfeature, we built split face stone pedestals to raise them higher at different heights and relocated one of the basins to the main entry of the resort to give it a focal point and tie together the resort and the spa.

JSL Landscape designs and builds a landscape makeover at Amara Resort and Spa in Sedona

One of the fountains was relocated to the main entry and raised much more prominently to provide a focal point and structural element.

This is no Bellagio resort mind you. Sedona’s resort properties are low key and certainly do not attempt to be ostentatious. We also had to keep their budget in mind, so creating an expensive solution that could otherwise be achieved economically was the way to go.

2) The central courtyard where the pool, outdoor restaurant seating and the outdoor wedding venue is located had major problems with its planting design as well as the poor condition of the turf.

JSL Landscape designs and builds a landscape makeover at Amara Resort and Spa in Sedona

The existing courtyard showing the lackluster plantings and scruffy grass.

One of the biggest objections to the existing plantings was the use of deciduous shrubs that would look dead in the winter – especially the use of Red Barberry. Further, there were mass plantings of Deer Grass, which is not a deciduous shrub, but needs to be given a haircut during the winter in order to stimulate new green growth in the spring as well as keep the growth in check.
Other plantings included long continuous rows of Juniper that was pruned to keep it like a hedge. Small Blue Festuca grass was also planted in mass, with most of them dead or full of brown leaves. There were also Arizona Cypress trees newly planted about three feet from the guest rooms. It was determined that they planted the species that can reach 60 feet tall. Presumably, they wanted the dwarf variety but that is not what was planted.
So the solution to the courtyard plantings was to remove virtually everything in the courtyard (there were several Magnolia trees in suitable locations that would stay) and replace with a new planting configuration that favored groupings of a select number of plants in a repeated fashion. This would provide variety and interest, yet avoid the monotony of continuous rows of the same plants.
All of the new plantings would be cold hardy and evergreen so as to provide year round interest. Shrubs and accents would be used to give varied textures without creating a need for continual maintenance. The basic plant palette was as follows:

Lirope muscari (Lily Turf) both regular and variegated
Pittosporum tobira ‘Wheelers Dwarf’ (Mock Orange) both regular and variegated
Raphiolepis indica (Indian Hawthorn)
Chrysactinia Mexicana (Damianita)
Hesperaloe parvifolia (Red Yucca)
Muhlenbergia regens (Deer Grass ‘Regal Mist’ – in limited quantities.

In the shaded areas which made up most of the main entrance we used:

Aucuba japonica (Gold Dust plant)
Aspidistra elator (Cast Iron plant)
Liriope muscari (Lily Turf)
Nandina domestica ‘Nana” (Dwarf Heavenly Bamboo)
Euonymus japonica ‘Gold Spot’ (Golden Euonymus)

JSL Landscape designs and builds a landscape makeover at Amara Resort and Spa in Sedona

A more user friendly courtyard turf scene that invites you to have a seat and enjoy the view.

JSL Landscape designs and builds a landscape makeover at Amara Resort and Spa in Sedona

Even the new synthetic turf was “power broomed” so as to mimic lawnmower tracks seen on ball fields.

The turf in the courtyard was the subject of much debate among the corporate decision makers. When it was suggested that synthetic turf may be an option to the existing natural grass, a heated debate ensued as to whether “fake grass” was in keeping with the stylish nature of the new renovations. There was also concern that synthetic grass would not be perceived as being “natural” or that the resort was not “sustainable”. But in the end, the practicality of synthetic grass was decided to be preferred. The reasoning is simple: synthetic grass looks great all year long, has no maintenance needs other than blowing off leaves, needs no watering or mowing and stands up to having gatherings such as weddings and other events without having to worry whether the grass looks good enough or placing signs that tell the guests “no pets allowed” – in the pet friendly Amara Resort.


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