General Landscaping Archives

Fire pit and pool designed by JSL Landscape and built by Waterline International
Fire and water is always a good combination

Several years ago after I moved my business from Scottsdale, AZ to Sedona, AZ, I had to find a pool builder with whom I could work. I had been used to working with several of the top pool builders down in the Phoenix area including Shasta Pools, Thunderbird Pools and Mossman Brothers Pools. But they don’t work this far up north in Arizona so I had to start over.

Not that I design a lot of pools, but what I do as a landscape designer often allows me to design a master plan of someone’s yard that often may incorporate a pool – that is if they haven’t already hooked up with a pool builder. You don’t have to be a pool contractor to be able to design a pool.

As a landscape contractor with a Masters in Landscape Architecture, I have the knowledge, skills and abilities to be able to provide not only a master plan of an exquisite outdoor living environment, but also to put together a team of highly skilled craftsmen who can build the design.

My company name JSL Landscape Design Build reflects exactly what I do. I design it then build it and that’s exactly what people want – someone who has the designer’s perspective and creative expression yet who knows construction and how to get through the permit process.

My intention is to help Norm Olsen, owner of Waterline International get more pools built here in Sedona as well as Northern Arizona and perhaps some of those projects will need a little bit of landscaping don’t you think? Like firepits, waterfeatures, bbq islands and all the rest that will make the pool well integrated into a real creative outdoor living space.

Check out his new website:

We are not legal partners per se as in a legal partnership nor is he a member of my LLC nor I a member of his LLC. We just enjoy working together and I enjoying creating websites in my spare time.

Most subdivisions that create individual lots, also have streets, drainage systems and utility easements that are either dedicated to the local jurisdiction or an easement over your private property. Streets are often designed to certain standards and their overall width as shown on the subdivision plat map often encroaches onto what you may think  is your property. The right of way goes beyond the edge of pavement.So don’t assume your property line is at the edge of the pavement.

A Right of Way or Rights of Way (ROW), is typically the section of land between the edge of the street and your actual front property line. This Right of Way allows the city or county to do a number of things including access utility connections, maintain drainage ditches, curb and gutter, sidewalks or even to widen the road if that is in the master plan. So what can the homeowner do to install landscaping in the front yard right of way you may ask.

In the City of Sedona, a Right of Way permit is required for any kind of development within the ROW including mailboxes, drainage ditch rennovation, driveways and even the placement of dumpsters. The County of Yavapai also requires Right of Way permits for the same kind of improvements.

Most homeowners are not aware that this section of land has restrictions on its use. In fact, many Sedona homeowners assume they can do what they want with it since all the surrounding homes appear to have landscaped all the way up to the edge of the pavement. Whether it is an easement across your property or the Right of Way is city or county owned, you may not build or construct anything you want without risking it being removed if access to land is required. A Right of Way permit is required to do any kind of improvements, yet most homeowners are unaware of the rules.

Landscaping in the front yard right of way is not entirely up to you. First, you must determine exactly what you own and what the city or county owns. In a Right of Way, typically you may install a driveway across the ROW to access the street. But building any kind of wall is typically not allowed within a Right of Way or Easement. If the city or county was to grant you a permit to build it, who then would maintain it and if the city had to dig up utility lines and remove the structure, who would pay to replace it? These are the reasons, only minimal improvements are allowed such as driveways and landscape plant material.

You will also find out about your front yard building setback which is different than an easement or a ROW. It is a part of the Zoning District setup by the city to regulate how close buildings can be to their lot lots on all four sides. Front yard setbacks restrict how close to the front yard property line you can build your house or any extension of it including low walls such as for a courtyard.

In planning the design of residential landscape, I check with the city as the first step to determine where the Right of Way, Easements and Setbacks are located. These are all building restrictions that must be followed, especially if what the homeowner wants to do requires a building permit.

Jurisdictions have different regulations and use restrictions as to what can be done and who will maintain it. The city may turn maintenance responsibility over to the homeowners even though they own the underlying property. If a homeowner improves the Right of Way with landscaping for their benefit, then it is in their best interest to continue to maintain it so it looks good. The one thing the city is most concerned about is liability. If the Right of Way is subject to flooding or has excessive weed growth, it may go ahead and perform maintenance because, legally it is the owner of the property.

Restrictions on the use of one’s property is part of the due diligence everyone should perform when buying new real estate. Locating the property corners will often reveal that a good portion of the front yard is really not your property, or may have restrictions that may not be acceptable to you. This is often the case with raw land where the actual property lines are not obvious.

I have seen where a person property is actually the center line of the street and also where the property line is about 25 feet away from the edge of pavement.  These Right of Ways and Easements can vary widely among jurisdictions. If you have an issue with your Right of Way landscaping, I may be able to help.


Top 10 Drip Irrigation System Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Here is my top 10 drip irrigation system mistakes based on people not adhering to common practices that good landscape professionals follow. Mistakes are made when a system does not adhere to these practices. Does your drip irrigation system lack any of these guidelines?

drip irrigation system mistakes

A properly installed set of drip valves

Nobody wants to knowingly waste water, but since over half of a typical household water use is outdoors, a poorly designed drip irrigation system is usually the cause.  Wasting water is only one of the top 10 drip irrigation mistakes, but it also stems from planting plants in the wrong locations. Most people don’t really monitor the operation of their drip irrigation system. Most of the time, they base its operation on whether their plants are doing well or not.

Reading through these may reveal some deficiencies with your own existing system. Not following these points can result in more costly repairs, inefficient irrigation, over watering and higher maintenance. Thus, the top 10 drip irrigation system mistakes.

  1. All irrigation systems must be equipped with a vacuum breaker as required by the Uniform Plumbing Code. These could be above ground atmospheric vacuum breakers that are built into the above ground valves, or it could be a pressure vacuum breaker which is installed before the valves which would then be underground located in a valve box. Above ground valves should not be used in climates where freezing is a concern and exposed PVC pipe is not a good idea either.
  2. A shut off valve should be located along your mainline before the vacuum breaker so you can turn off the irrigation line for repairs while maintaining water for the main house.
  3. Drip systems operate under low pressure, usually 20-30 psi. A pressure reducer is installed after the valve so the pressure going through the drip line and out the emitters is low enough so the fittings don’t blow off. Since there is no glue used as in PVC piping, drip fittings are designed for low pressure water delivery.
  4. Lateral driplines should be placed in pipe sleeves when running under driveways, patios or other surfaces to access planting areas separated by hard surfaces or other hardscape like walls, planters, etc. This allows the piping to be installed in the first place without possibility of getting damaged or kinked and allows the piping to be pulled out and replaced later if necessary.
  5. Emitters for each plant should have a separate ¼” tubing connected to the lateral. Do not split off the ¼” tubing to feed more than one shrub since you will be diluting the amount of water than can reach the plant.
  6. Keep the ¼” lines no more than 10 feet long measured from the lateral line. This may require the laterals to be looped or tees inserted to provide relatively close distance to all the shrubs in any particular zone.
  7. Adequately bury the lateral and ¼” tubing. The lateral line should be buried about 6-8”. If it is accidently cut with a pick or shovel later on, it is easy to repair. Further, since the lateral is after the valve, they are not under pressure except for when the valve is running. ¼” tubing is often not buried deep enough often placed just underneath the gravel cover. ¼” tubing should be buried several inches in the soil so the lines will remain in place and not easily get pulled up from a rake and be exposed.
  8. Avoid relying on hose bibs to locate your irrigation valves. Hose bib connections to a drip line may be manually controlled or you can install a battery operated single station valve. This is not a professional installation especially if the planting design requires multiple zones. For isolated areas cut off from connection to the main system, they can be used provided there is a nearby faucet.
  9. Separate tree zones from shrub zones. This is a very common mistake. Trees ideally need water for a deeper watering (longer duration of watering time) and less frequently compared to shrubs which have more shallow roots.
  10.  Make a sketch of the irrigation layout. It is very common to forget where the lateral lines are buried since they are often curved and looped and not always straight. One trick to locate the lateral if say you want to install a new shrub later on is to pull up the ¼” tubing closest to where you want to plant and keeping pulling until it takes you back to the point of connection to the lateral.

You may need to go beyond reading through these common mistakes. You can find out how to set up a garden drip irrigation system on another one of my posts on this topic.


Garden drip irrigation systems must be installed properly

typical garden drip irrigation system layoutIrrigation systems for landscaping are often installed improperly or don’t even exist. This observation is from my many years remodeling the landscapes of homeowner’s properties. Fixing an improperly installed drip irrigation system is a very common need for most landscape remodeling projects. Here is how to set up a proper garden drip irrigation system.

Proper Planting Design

An irrigation system is designed based on the layout of the plants. Proper irrigation design is best when the planting design is done with the irrigation system in mind. Plantings are not only selected for their form, shape and structure, but for their sun/shade requirements. The concept of planting zones will dictate the way the irrigation system is set up.

Create Irrigation Zones Based on the Plantings

Zones allow for the garden drip irrigation system to deliver water at different durations and frequency. Thus an irrigation station or individual valve is dedicated to a particular zone.  Examples of zones would be front lawn, rear lawn, trees, front shrubs, north shrubs, Xeriscape area, food garden, containers, etc. Note that each of these zones requires different amounts of water. Some require daily watering, others only once per week.

Determine Valve Control Box Location

Once you have a layout of which zones are to be irrigated, you then figure out where the valves should be located. The control valves will need a source of water, so where that point of connection is will affect the location of the control box.

On newer homes, the mainline feeding the house may have a pressure reducer and a line going into the house exposed on the outside of the house. Sometimes, they will install a stub out tee fitting for connection to the garden drip irrigation system, if not, you will have to tie into that mainline and run a line to your valves.

Locate the Irrigation Controller

The valves should be automated and controlled by an irrigation controller. The controller should have as many available stations as you have valves. The controller may be located indoors or outdoors and in either case, connected to a source of electricity. Control wire will run from the controller location to each of the valves so it’s not critical to locate the valves close to the controller.

Install the Lateral Lines and Emitters

Once you set up the mainline connection, your valves and controller, you can run your “lateral” lines that feed each of the zones. For a typical drip system, the lateral will be a ½” tube with separate ¼” tubing for each individual plant. The emitters can be anywhere from ½ GPH (gallons per hour) to 5 GPH.

Keep in mind that if you have one plant with a 1 GPH emitter and another with a 5 GPH on the same zone, one plant will be getting five times more water. Perhaps these plants were not properly chosen nor the irrigation system designed in conjunction with the planting design or installation.

The emitter output should be consistent among all emitters on each zone. This is determined at the time the plants are selected and designed. Since you can’t be perfect with this, some plants that are otherwise considered to have the same watering needs may require different amounts due to variations in soil moisture and sun exposure.

Does Your Planting Design Match the Irrigation System Design?

A proper garden drip irrigation system starts with the design of the planting plan. Unfortunately, too many landscapes are installed in a hodgepodge manner with no plan and consequently, the irrigation system is installed inefficiently resulting in higher maintenance and over watering. Unless you follow these guidelines, consult a professional for your next project to fix your existing system. Your plants will thrive being given the right amount of water.

For another post on drip irrigation systems, see my post called the top 10 drip irrigation mistakes and how to avoid them.


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.


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