Landscape Tips Archives

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

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.

Maintenance

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.

Durability

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.

Safety

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.

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Top 5 Reasons to Use Concrete Pavers in Your Landscape

Whether its for a driveway, a patio sitting area, a walkway or pool decking, concrete pavers should be considered as an alternative material choice in every landscape design. There are numerous reasons why they have captured such a huge part of the landscape flooring market and here we discuss what those benefits are that make them so popular.

Concrete pavers have evolved over the years from being used in many commercial applications to simulate the look of bricks to now simulating the look of real stone. They color blends and textures have now allowed designers to use concrete pavers in applications that call for an economical alternative to using real stone materials.

Concrete pavers cannot compete with real stone such as travertine flooring or random flagstone, but it is considered because of several factors. Lets see why concrete pavers are indeed so popular and why the manufacturers are coming out with more and more variations on the basic design.

1) Flexibility in Design

Pavers come in a variety of patterns, textures and colors from contemporary patterns to combinations of units that mimic European cobblestone. Because they are molded, texture can be created to not only resemble a brick but a rounded stone or even a piece of cut flagstone.

Pavers are generally smaller units and can be laid to follow the terrain. They can be installed directly on the contours of the land. If you have a driveway that dips down and then slopes back up, pavers will look natural over the topography. There is no need to have level sections such as when using wood.

2) Very Low Maintenance

Unlike wood or real stone, concrete pavers do not crack or react to absorption of water. Wood will rot if not sealed to resist the penetration of water. Real stone will also become vulnerable to constant moisture. Pavers do absorb water, but do not change their inherent structure. They do not flake or become weakened by the presence of water or moisture.

Debris that accumulates naturally simply needs to be swept or hosed off. Application of a sealer is optional and not required. Sealers are often used where someone wants the pavers to take on an enhanced tone. Sealers will also help to resist the absorption of stains as concrete pavers are porous just like natural stone.

3) Pavers Will Not Crack

Compared to regular concrete, pavers are crack free. Their inherent design allows them to flex and move because of their many dry joints between the individual pavers. No poured concrete is used in the installation, only a compacted aggregate base and sand. Edge restraints can be packed concrete along the outer perimeter or special plastic edge restraints designed specifically for pavers.

Tile, stone, flagstone or any other material that must be installed over a concrete slab is subject to cracking of the underlying slab. Poured concrete without stone on top will also crack because it’s the nature of concrete to crack. Expansion joints are intentionally placed in poured concrete applications to allow for this natural cracking. Unfortunately, concrete does not always crack along the expansion joints. And when it doesn’t the whole appearance can be ruined.

4) Paver Cost is Reasonable

A cost comparison of alternative flooring surfaces will show that  pavers are in the mid range of available options. Materials such as higher end travertine or flagstone are at the top along with premium wood or composite wood. At the low end of landscape flooring options, we have basic gravel, then loose flagstone pieces set in sand and then basic natural gray poured concrete which is why so many of our driveways and sidewalks use basic natural gray concrete.

But if you want to stretch your budget a bit and get something that has a completely more exciting look and feel compared to basic concrete, using pavers is a great option.

When you embellish basic concrete by adding color or perhaps adding aggregate for texture, you are adding to the overall cost, but remember, you still have the risk of cracking.

5) Innovation is Improving with Paver Technology

The styles and shapes now available in the market give the designer a lot of flexibility to emulate the appearance of natural stone. Travertine quarries have even created cut travertine stones that are typically 6” x 12” and thick enough to be used in lieu of concrete type pavers. Other natural stone is not conducive to being cut in this fashion. But travertine pavers are also popular for the application where a natural stone is preferred and the budget is a bit higher than for concrete pavers.

 

If you are selling your home, from a real estate marketing perspective, a home’s first impression is based on its curb appeal as seen in the eyes of a prospective buyer.  Adding curb appeal boosts a home’s first impression and gives a prospective buyer a positive feeling.

In a buyer’s market, curb appeal is even more crucial since there are many other homes on the market competing for attention. It makes sense to invest in making certain improvements so these prospective buyers don’t decide to pass on getting out of the car when they pull up in front and are disappointed.

Just as the inside of the home is “staged”, the outside areas can also be staged. The underlying premise is to not only appeal to buyer’s emotions, but deal with practical aspects as well. The most fundamental thing to do is to clean up the place and clear away all unnecessary clutter. Put all personal items such as kids’ toys, rusty bbqs and tools behind closed doors. Remove all yard art that the buyer may not find as amusing as you do.

Stand out on the curb and imagine you are looking at the home for the first time just as a prospective buyer would. This is the home’s first impression. What do you feel? Would you enter the landscape into a “best on the block” contest? Does the landscape enhance the appearance of the home? Does the landscape have an overall ‘neglected’ feel as if the owners don’t value having nice landscaping?

From a psychological standpoint, the visibility of the front door is perhaps the most important aspect of curb appeal. The front door and entry area is where the eye and brain focuses. When we arrive in front of a home, we navigate the property and seek out the entrance. We need to know how to get inside and where the owner will be to greet us.

A front door that is hidden or obscured will subconsciously convey that the owners and the house itself is not welcoming, secretive and nonconforming. Therefore, it is my opinion that the front door is the number one criteria around which all curb appeal enhancements should be focused. All the other elements support the focal point of the front door and are in harmony with each other.

Curb appeal is an emotional response that is difficult to measure. One thing is for sure though; properties that we have boosted curb appeal or otherwise enhanced, have sold more quickly than others according to feedback I have received from the listing agents.

Below is a list of things and ideas to consider that will enhance curb appeal, not just to improve the marketability of a property for sale, but for anyone’s home.

Landscape Features

  1. Remove overgrown vegetation that blocks a clear view of the home, the front door or otherwise takes away from an open, welcoming feel as seen from the street
  2. Clean up, prune trees and shrubs and remove any dead growth and remove any shrubs or trees that do nothing to enhance the property or were planted in inappropriate locations
  3. Add or refresh planting beds that create balance and enhance the front door
  4. Fix or repair any obvious flaws that take away from the appearance of being well maintained such as crumbling driveway.
  5. If there is a lawn, make sure it’s as nice as you can get it by dealing with brown spots and fertilizing it to make it lush and green weeks before you put the home on the market
  6. Add color in the form of annual flowers, colorful pots and flowering perennials

Architectural Features

  1. Replace old hardware
  2. Paint the door a contrasting color
  3. Replace and/or enhance the mailbox and relocate if necessary
  4. Add window boxes
  5. Enhance the front door with sidelights and moulding
  6. Add shutters or trim to windows and paint a contrasting color
  7. Add an arbor or pergola

General Design and Appearance

  1. Create symmetry at the front door using pots, lights or moulding
  2. Add a walkway leading from the street to the front door and not just from the driveway
  3. Add a fountain
  4. Add a low wall enclosure to create a courtyard with a gate
  5. Add lighting along walkways and light trees

A landscape professional who sees the problem areas from a designer’s perspective and who has knowledge of plant materials, curb appeal principles and real estate awareness is the key to providing the best solutions to making your home a property with great curb appeal.

Lack of curb appeal or simply a problem of not being able to find the front door was the subject of a landscape project I featured on one of my blog posts.

 

Over the many years I have been a professional designer and landscape contractor, I have seen patterns of behaviors, misunderstandings and a general  lack of how the landscape industry works from a homeowner’s perspective. Here are the top 7 landscaping mistakes homeowners can avoid.

“Isn’t a gardener the same as a landscaper?”

 

1)  Being your own general contractor and architect

You should have a good handle on big picture thinking and a good sense of design if you intend to be your own general contractor/supervisor of the workers that you hire. Where most homeowners make mistakes is when they have a larger project that may involve several components such as grading, irrigation, lighting, masonry and  plantings — even for a very small area and rely on their gardener to give them design advice and a quote.

  1. 2)  Peacemealing the installation over time often results in a hodgepodge appearance.

Hiring multiple tradesmen to do work one “project” at a time usually results in a hodgepodge appearance and which may lack cohesiveness after its all completed.  Do these individual “projects” fit into an overall plan or are you shooting from the hip as you go?  Piecemeal installations often result in inefficiencies and additional expense.

3)  Asking your regular gardener to perform work and/or design advice beyond their expertise

Arizona law does not require a contractor’s license to maintain landscapes, i.e. tree trimming, mowing, weeding, etc. but do require a license for any work that exceeds $1000 which is then considered to be contracting.  Thus most ‘gardener-landscapers’ are not licensed but often advertise that they install pavers, walls, etc. which all could easily fall into the category of contracting.

4)  Getting “Free Estimates” to compare different designs

Homeowners may feel they do not want to pay for a separate design even though the project may warrant one. Here’s the scenario: Homeowner calls several contractors to give them a free estimate which requires some kind of design to be put on paper, perhaps an entire backyard. Some contractors will not charge a design fee, others will credit the fee towards construction costs, but many will do a design and proposal in the hopes of getting the work and perhaps present the design but not let the homeowner keep it.

What happens is that these contractors are preparing a design and a cost proposal based on what they think they heard you tell them what you wanted. You end up comparing essentially, the “best design for the best price”. With different design variations in terms of material, area and scope of work, you are comparing apples to oranges.

5)  Sacrificing quality of work, expertise, credentials and legal issues for the lowest price

We all are driven to get the best deal on our purchases, but in the field of construction, we think we are like the government who sends out a call for bids and who then selects the lowest bid. Governments have lists of qualified contractors who are previously approved so that the only decision made at the bidding stage is to select the lowest price. As homeowners, we need to go through the process of qualifying those from whom we obtain bids, not only licensing requirements, but other credentials such as education, experience and references.

6)  Hiring unlicensed contractors

Not only is it illegal for a homeowner to hire unlicensed landscape professionals depending on the licensing laws of their state,  a person who engages in the work of contracting which in Arizona is defined as any scope of work of at least $1000, requires that person to be duly licensed. Hiring someone without a license allows you know recourse to file a complaint with the state for shoddy work or non performance. It is tempting to get the work done for a cheap price especially if your neighbor thought they did a good job, yet you are taking a risk nonetheless.

A small classified ad in your local newspaper offering landscape services with the disclaimer at the end “not a licensed contractor” does not exempt them from the licensing rules. In Arizona, all advertising by licensed contractors must include their license number. It is most likely the policy of the newspaper to require ads to include the disclaimer.

7)  Not having a written contract

A verbal agreement alone is a recipe for disaster. Even if you get a written quote, is it in the form of a contract with clearly identified scope of work, progress payments, specification of materials in terms of type, size and quantities? or does it simply say “install paver patio in backyard”?

In summary, the vast majority of homeowners simply do not regard “landscapers” as professionals. Because of the overlapping services between an architect and a contractor, or blue collar vs. white collar if you will, the average homeowner lumps most all services provided in this industry to that of the “landscape guy”.

If your needs are to simply do some clean up around the yard, you don’t call an architect. But if you need an entire backyard remodeled, you do not ask your gardener to prepare a design.

Part of the problem is caused by the services offered by these “landscapers”. Many who are not licensed, qualified, skilled nor educated will claim they can do virtually everything a landscape would need from tree trimming to building a retaining wall.

So now you know the top 7 landscaping mistakes homeowners can avoid.

As I said in my previous post, one of the reasons some people are disconnected from nature and that sense of paradise is because we think too much.  Here I will now tell you the five tips to making your yard into a lush paradise and which capture the essence of what we think of as paradise in our own yard.

1) Water

Whether it’s a natural oceanfront setting or a small pond with waterfall, water is symbolic of the essence of all life on earth and so it forms the fundamental basis of creating paradise.

2) Enclosure

We need to have the feeling of sanctuary, both physical and psychological. A structure such as a ramada, an overhead patio cover, or a grass hut provides shelter, enclosure and a sense of security. We also need walls so as to screen objectionable views and to create a sense of privacy. Walls can be structures or plant materials, but natural materials will more closely emulate the concept of the Garden of Eden.

3) Sensory stimulus

We need to be reminded that we are alive by being aware of our surrounding through our sensory perception. A distant view of the horizon reassures us that we are not locked up in a cage with nowhere to go. A warm breeze across our skin reminds us of the power of the sun to give warmth and light to all life. Scents and smells add pleasure and delight to our surroundings and uplifts our spirit.

4) Nature

The raw state of nature in the form of lush vegetation and wildlife reminds us that we are not too different than animals but with a more evolved consciousness. We know on a deep level that there is truth and meaning in nature and all of its miraculous manifestations.

If we don’t often get to see resident wildlife, we can attract it to our garden or provide our own in the form of fish, pets or birds. Create a paradise for wildlife to visit and they will come.

5) Sound

The sounds of birds singing and calling reassure us that everything is well. We are secretly fascinated that they have their own language and that they can communicate with each other even though we have no idea what they are saying.

The sound of moving water as from a rippling stream, waterfall or fountain is a reminder of our connection to the essence of life in the form of water. Water is such a symbolic element and represents not only life, but prosperity, purity and energy.

Once we have these five elements, a paradise begins to take form, but not without our own state of mind. Paradise is not just a location, but a feeling of being in a special place, of knowing you are a part of the greater whole.

I have just released a new ebook that actually goes through a step by step process for someone to go about creating a backyard paradise, called aptly, The Paradise Garden.

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