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Spring Clean-Up: The Most Important Landscape Maintenance Tasks for Spring

photo of spring landscape

As Spring has arrived once more, we here at Outdoor Design Group have been thinking back to a past post we published, that ruminated on the importance of the annual Spring garden clean-up. We wanted to revisit that post and make some minor updates and add some extra information.

“Spring Clean-Up” includes the spring landscape maintenance tasks that are vital for a healthy and attractive landscape, especially for Xeriscape.  This article is intended to give a simple, easy to follow guide covering the most important spring landscape maintenance tasks.

If  you read our Fall landscape maintenance tips, you know that we are not a proponents of keeping the landscape perfectly tidy over the winter.  Keeping a less tidy landscape over the winter is good for the health of the plants, and good for small wildlife like insects and birds. Now that spring is here, among other things you will need to clean your beds of those leftover leaves, and cut back your perennials and grasses.

Important Timing Dates

  • March to April: Cut back perennials and grasses. Clean up leaf litter and other debris.
  • Early May:  Time to start up that irrigation system.  Resist the temptation to start your sprinklers before May 1st.  In Colorado, we generally get plenty of moisture in March and April so lawns do not generally need supplemental water yet, and it will go to waste.  Many shrubs and perennials are only just beginning to emerge.
  • The average last frost date in the Denver area is May 5th.
  • The rule of thumb for planting new plants in the Denver area (and other Front Range communities) is to wait until Mother’s Day (middle of May) to plant new bedding plants. Consult sources such as NOAA to find the last frost date for your area.
  • If you are starting seeds indoors for warm weather vegetables, herbs or flowers, St. Patrick’s Day is a good date to do so.

Ornamental Grasses and Perennials

cut-back-sage-in-spring

Woody perennials like Russian Sage may not completely die back

  • Cut back herbaceous perennials and ornamental grasses so that they will grow back bigger and better than before.  For perennials, cut them back to about 2″ to 3″ above the ground.   For woody perennials, such as some of the sages, some of the old growth will often begin to leaf out and you can leave more of the existing plant to re-grow, or you can choose to cut it all the way back to a few inches above the ground.
  • Most groundcover and other low growing  perennials usually don’t need to be “cut back” but they may need to be cleaned up, with dead areas gently raked out or trimmed off.
  • When cutting back ornamental grasses, a rule of thumb that we like to use is to cut them back to 1/5th (or 20%) of their mature height.  Feather Reed Grass, for example, grows to a height of 4-5′, so you would cut them back to 10-12″ height.

    cut-back-grasses-in-spring

    Cut grasses back to 1/5th of their full height

  • Some ornamental grasses look better if they are not cut back, namely Mexican Feather grass.  It won’t hurt the plant if you do cut it back, but the form of the plant looks better if not cut back.
  •  “Divide and conquer”!  Divide up summer and fall-blooming perennials and grasses and transplant them throughout the landscape.  This gives them time to grow this season, so that in the late summer you will have new plants to enjoy. With ornamental grasses, if the center of the plant is dead, cut this out and compost or discard.
  • Wait to divide spring blooming perennials until early fall.
  • Remove excess mulch and leaf scraps and other debris from around the bases of plants, along with any extra mulch that was placed around plants to protect them over the winter.  Spring is the wettest time of the year along the Front Range, and the mulch is needed the least at this time.  Leaving excess organic material around the bases of plants in spring can cause root rot, mold, and insect damage.
  • Consider saving any seed heads or pods from perennials you’d like to have spread around the yard. You may want to save the seeds and start them indoors in nursery pots, or you can just simply break up the seed pods and sprinkle them in the areas you might want to see new plants.

­ Planting Beds

  • Controlling weeds in bed areas is very important in the spring.  You should to get a leg up on the weeds now, while the soil is soft and easy to work with and the weeds are small.  A great time to pull weeds is when the ground is still moist from snowmelt or a spring rain. If weeds are allowed to “run wild” and set seed  throughout the spring,  you will have a maintenance headache later in the summer.  Weed control can be a quick and easy task when done correctly from the start of the year through the end.
  • For bed areas between plans that may have become uncovered during winter windstorms, add a new layer of mulch.

Vegetable Garden Beds

  • Remove old/dead plant debris from last year. Compost this debris, unless this material was diseased. Tomato plants are very susceptible to diseases so we recommend never composting them, just dispose in the trash.
  • Consider having a soil test done. Many gardeners add more nutrients (in the form of compost) every spring thinking that their soon to be planted veggies will need that extra boost; but if its not needed, it can backfire and cause problems. Ideally, vegetables and some perennials prefer soil that is 4-5% organic matter. Native plants and cacti prefer soil that is only 1-3% organic matter.
  • If you want to add compost to your beds, the best time to do so is in the fall, giving the compost time to break down and ‘mellow’.

Lawns

  • Aerate  your lawn in spring.  Aeration allows for greater movement of water, fertilizer, and air which stimulates healthy turf.  Aerating also increases the speed of decomposition of the grass clippings and enhances deep root growth.  Compacted soil especially benefits from core aerating.  Be sure to mark the locations of sprinkler heads with flags prior to aerating so that they will not get damaged.
  • It’s a good idea to rake the lawn areas once really well in the spring to clean up any leftover sticks, pine needles, etc.  In the summer we use a self-mulching lawnmower that mulches and re-deposits the clippings in place rather than bagging them.  However the first time we mow in the spring we like to attach the bagger to suck up any new clippings and other debris left over from the winter.
  • If there are bare spots in your lawn, consider broadcasting some grass seed after you have aerated, and before a forecasted snow or rain event. The cooler and wetter conditions of Spring are perfect for germinating many popular lawn grass types.
  • You may want to fertilize your lawn in the spring to give it a boost.  Don’t over do it though, because fertilizer can wash off of your lawn and the runoff can be harmful to water supplies and wildlife. Consider timing your application of fertilizer right before a spring snow, so the melting snow can help the fertilizer percolate to the root zone of the grass.
  • Remove or kill any emerging weeds, like dandelions, as soon as possible before they set seed and spread around your yard and into your neighbors’ yards.
  • Early Spring is a good time to apply a pre-emergent herbicide on your lawn to prevent crabgrass. However if you have recently applied grass seed, do not apply a pre-emergent herbicide.
  • Look at the size and shape of your lawn, and how much water you used this year in the battle with our dry climate to keep it green (or, brown?).   Consult with a landscape architect about reducing your lawn area and redesigning  your landscape to make it more attractive, sustainable, and functional.

Trees and Shrubs

  • You can now remove tree wrap from trees. If you also have tree stakes and the tree is mature enough to not need them anymore, Spring is a good time to remove the stakes.
  • For most trees and shrubs, don’t prune them in the spring.  They are budding out and are susceptible to more stress and damage at this time.  I find that it can also be difficult to tell whether a branch is dead or alive without physically checking each one, since the leaves have not yet emerged.  Wait until late summer or fall to remove any dead branches and to do any other pruning.
  • Some shrubs (butterfly bush, barberry, privet, Japanese spiraea) are best pruned in late winter or early spring. Other shrubs (lilac, forsythia, mock orange) and some trees (ornamental pear, redbud, pines and spruces) are best pruned in late spring or early summer. Generally speaking, you should not prune a plant until soon after it has flowered.
  • Trees that are considered “bleeders” (have a lot of sap) such as dogwood, elm and maple should be pruned after the leaves are fully formed.
  • But wait to prune young or newly planted trees and shrubs, until they have had some time to become established.
  • In most Spring times, there is adequate precipitation for landscape trees and shrubs. However, if it’s been a dry winter and continues to be a dry Spring, keep an eye on soil moisture around your plants. Before you start your irrigation system in May, remember to check the soil moisture, and give trees and shrubs extra water if needed.

Irrigation

  • Resist the temptation to start your irrigation system before May 1st.  After May 1st, pressurize your irrigation system and check for and leaks and for proper spray distribution.  Adjust the angle and throw of sprinkler heads.  Check irrigation equipment for clogged nozzles and sprinkler heads for damage.  Realign heads if necessary.   Examine any drip irrigation to make sure there are no leaks or other issues, and plan to make regular check-ups on your irrigation system throughout the season.
  • Stake down and cover with mulch any exposed drip irrigation lines.

Spring Weather Considerations

  • Watch for those late spring snowstorms!  Trees and shrubs that are flowering and/or leafing out can catch the heavy wet spring snow on their branches, often causing serious damage due to limbs breaking off. If you can safely do so, consider gently knocking off any accumulating snow during the wet spring snow events we typically get. This may save branches from breaking during the storm.

Other

  • Check any metal edging to make sure that it is has not heaved over the winter.  If it has popped up out of the ground, you should repair it.  Edging keeps the sod from creeping into landscape beds areas, which can be a maintenance nightmare if it gets out of hand.   Metal edging can also be a safety hazard to pets and children, if not properly seated or capped.  If you have a plastic protective cap on your edging, inspect it and replace it if necessary.
  • If you follow all of the above recommendations you will end up with a lot of organic material and cuttings as a result of your spring cleanup.  If you have the space for it, consider composting ­this material.  Or, rather than throwing the material away to go in the landfill, check to see if there is a local recycling center that will take the material to compost it.
  • If you compost at home, do not include any weed seeds. Home composting does not heat up enough to kill the weed seeds.
  • As you go about your landscape doing these Spring cleaning tasks, you will begin to accumulate quite a bit of organic material and cuttings.  Most of it is very good organic matter that is great for composting. If you have space in your yard for it, consider composting it on site. This will provide you with a free soil amendment. Another option is to take it to your local recycling center where there might be a organic matter drop off location. However you accomplish it, composting is a better option for yard debris as compared to sending it to a landfill.

Spring cleanup is a time honored tradition among gardeners, as an excuse to get outside after the long winter months and to freshen up the landscape as it springs to life.  With Xeriscape, spring maintenance is even more important.   Since Xeriscape requires less regular maintenance through the summer, it is critical to get the summer started off right so that your Xeriscape will require very little maintenance throughout the year.

Regardless of the landscape style that you are maintaining, if you start off on the right foot in the spring you will be well on your way a beautiful landscape to enjoy throughout the coming year.

This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects.  For more information about our business and our services, click here.

 

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Project Highlight: Tuscan village inspired site design provides calming oasis for memory care residents.

As the Baby-boomers continue to age, and with Generation X not far behind, the need for assisted living and memory care facilities has been on the rise. Outdoor Design Group has had the opportunity to work on several Assisted Living and Memory Care residential facility projects over the years. One AL/MC project we participated on recently, Landmark Assisted Living, is located in the town of Lafayette, Colorado.

With wonderful clients and a great design team, Landmark Assisted Living and Memory Care was a positive experience for our staff, and something we look back on with pride. This locally owned and operated facility was thoughtfully designed with a unifying landscaped courtyard at the core of the small complex of three buildings.

Landmark Assisted Living and Memory Care overall landscape plan.

The genesis of the idea for this green heart of the site plan came during several different charrette meetings held at our office with the owners, architects, planners, civil engineers and us, the landscape architects. Becoming involved in the project from an early stage helped us insure that the importance of outdoor spaces would be an integral component of this Italianate site design. Inspired by a Tuscan hill town village, an entrance tower concept became one of the key features of the plan.

Three site concepts that were investigated early on in the design process.

Faced with an odd shaped lot, the design team determined that there would be a long entrance drive into the center of the lot, with a circular drive/parking area reached just before the buildings and courtyard. One advantage of the long entrance drive, is the ability to have the courtyard area conveniently located near the circle drive and parking, yet far enough from the busy and noisy traffic of a main thoroughfare.

One concept rendering that came about in the middle of the process.

The circular drive provides a perfect sequence for a vehicle drop-off, but we realized that the center of this drive could also become a nice landscape focal point for people as they entered the site.

After navigating the circle drive, visitors then encounter the entrance gate and tower. Reinforcing the Tuscan theme, the tower provides a delightful “landmark” for the site, and makes a great entrance into the gated landscape.

One of the last concept sketches the team devised as we approached the final site design.

The layout of the buildings is predominately to the north and east sides of the property. This scenario provides a mostly southern and western exposure of the courtyard, which leads to an outdoor space that is rarely shaded in the cold months, fostering an exterior space that is sunny and easy for the snow to quickly melt. A formal water feature anchors the center of the courtyard design.

Due to the open and bright exposure in the courtyard, we proposed a series of raised garden beds where residents of the facility could indulge their green thumbs and get their hands in the dirt. If the sunny space gets too warm, there is a shade structure and several trees to provide protective seating spots to enjoy the outside air. And if residents or staff are in need of a simple stroll to clear their mind or get their blood flowing, there is a small network of interconnected walkways inside this gated courtyard that allows for that.

Digital 3-D rendering of the Landmark site.

The Landmark Assisted Living and Memory Care facility has turned out to be a great project that brings the pleasures of a gated courtyard and Tuscan style architecture together to create a wonderfully inviting and therapeutic outdoor experience for residents, visitors and staff members of the facility.

This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects.  For more information about our business and our services, click here.

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Project Highlight: Olde Town Arvada Landscape Makeover

Some of our favorite projects here at Outdoor Design Group are the landscape renovations. These kind of projects can be quite challenging to work on, but they often turn out to be the most rewarding once the project is completed, the site takes on a fresh new look and the plants have begun to fill in and show off.

A recent project for a non-profit organization near our office was completed a couple years ago, and the landscape plants have been looking great ever since. The landscape areas around the entrance to this organization’s building face mostly south and west with ample amounts of sunshine. With this in mind, we knew we could design a xeric planting plan that would look great throughout a long hot summer, replacing the old plants on site that were more water needy.

And because of the south facing entrance, we had the opportunity to utilize plants that are typically a little too frost tender for the Denver area. But that southern entrance to this building gave us warmer micro-climates we could play with to plant more unique varieties of plants for our area, such as Desert Willow and a selection of cacti.

Luckily our client on this project was a wonderful partner in the endeavor and was very open to the idea of a new landscape of low water and native plants for their freshly renovated office building. The before and after photos shown below offer a glimpse of the transformation:

Painted Lady Butterflies enjoying the xeriscape plants at this Olde Town Arvada landscape makeover.

This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects.  For more information about our business and our services, click here.

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The Good, the Bad and the Non-existent Bike Rack

As more cities and towns are trying to figure out how to deal with traffic problems and to reduce air pollution, many of these places are looking to increase biking as a possible answer those issues. Typically this entails adding or enhancing bike lanes of various types. However, it seems there is one critical bicycling infrastructure item that often gets overlooked or ignored: bike racks and bike parking. If bike parking is not easy to use and readily available, that is one more item a bike rider might add to their list of reasons not to ride their bike to run errands or commute to work.

The best bike rack is one if the simplest: the inverted U bike rack. This plain design looks just like the name implies, an inverted U shaped metal pipe that can be attached to the ground plane via welding to metal plates that are then screwed to the ground. Another installation option is setting the ends of the pipe in sub-grade concrete footers.

A good, basic inverted U bike rack.

Why is this modern classic the best bike rack design for bike users? It provides two stable points of contact to lean their bike; the bike frame can be placed close to the pipe for easy locking and securing (proximity is crucial when using a U-lock bike lock); and you can easily lock two average size/shaped bikes (one on each side) to one U bike rack. 

The advantages for a property owner or a municipality who might install a rack is the basic inverted U bike rack is relatively inexpensive, and, unlike consolidated racks (multiple slots for several bikes all connected to one frame) you can install just one, or several racks. Additionally, the inverted U rack is a minimal site furnishing element that can be easily tailored to various building architectural styles.

Another good bike rack: a customized rack that is similar (in function) to an inverted U rack.

Variations on the U-rack abound. Usually they work as well as the basic U, but if too many extra pieces are added to it, such as logos or other parts, this can impact the ease of use of the rack, frustrating the users.

Some of the worst bike rack designs are ones where the bike owner can only secure and lock their bike wheel, and the frame of the bike does not get close to the part of the rack where a user can attach a U-lock. This can put torque or force on the wheel which could bend it. It is also not as secure as getting the frame of the bike as close to the rack for locking. Fortunately this design seems to be old and falling out of favor.

A perfect example of a bad back rack. It is difficult to get the bike frame close enough to use a U-lock, unless you lift the bike over the top bar which this bike owner had to do.

Another bad bike rack design is any type for which the bike owner must lift their bike to attach to the rack. Considering some bike users may be a child or an elderly person who may not have the strength to lift the bike up, this kind of rack is not a good option.

And the only thing worse than a frustrating or mediocre bike rack is a non-existent bike rack. Such a situation may lead to the bike owner locking their bike in unwanted areas such as against the trunk of a young street tree, or in a location that might impede pedestrian traffic. Or, it could possibly lead to the bike owner leaving the premises, and going to a different business where there are proper bike racks. If you are a property owner who is considering what site elements and furnishings to include around your property to foster a healthy customer base, I highly recommend that you include bike racks and if possible, make them some form of the inverted U bike rack. Your bike riding customers will be grateful.

This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects.  For more information about our business and our services, click here.

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Project Highlight: Multi-family Community Pool Area Renovations

As the Denver metro area continues to grow in population and our real estate market experiences growing pains, many existing multi-family housing properties have become golden opportunities for renovation and renewal. Here at Outdoor Design Group, we have recently been contracted by several clients to not only bring a fresh look to these common area landscapes, but to incorporate various outdoor amenities and create an extension of usable outdoor living space.

A couple of notable landscape renovations we have been fortunate enough to design were two properties owned by a California real estate company. They appointed us to help redesign the landscape to compliment their building renovations, giving each outdated property a much needed face lift.

The first property, located in Federal Heights, Colorado, is a large complex comprising of several units and a separate leasing and fitness center building. The leasing and fitness center was to be completely remodeled, and the entrance reconfigured. Our landscape design incorporates hardscaping like retaining walls and unique paving surfaces that compliment the updated architecture, and guide users toward the new entrance. Additionally, the numerous low-water plant species were selected and placed throughout the beds to create interest with their distinctive structural forms and colorful habits, which molded with the new modern style the client was striving toward.

 

A 3D rendering of the modern style entrance landscape helped our client to better visualize the space.

 

Attached to the East side of the leasing and fitness center is the community pool area, which was also overdue for a fresh look. In our design, the existing pool was to remain as is, but the surrounding pool deck was modified to be larger with a sleek, colored pool deck coating. A striking modern style gas fireplace was incorporated at the west end and amenities like shade structures, grilling stations, LED landscape lighting and picnic tables provide the finishing touches on the new design.

 

Original concept design.

 

Digital rendering of the final design.

 

The second multi-family property Outdoor Design Group provided landscape design services for is located in Lakewood, Colorado. Its existing pool area was drab and outdated with no extra amenities. Our design integrated a large turf area for games, outdoor kitchen with a pergola, and a gas fire pit, all alongside a brand new decked out pool house designed by a Phoenix based architecture firm. The large bi-fold doors were designed to fully open toward the pool, and create effortless indoor/outdoor living. We welcomed the opportunity to design a space that allowed us to really visualize and get excited about how the space would be used. Additionally, the low-water use plantings surrounding the pool were chosen to provide year-round interest as well as screening from the nearby road.

 

Concept design.

 

Construction on these projects is currently underway, and we can’t wait to see the final results! Multi-family housing projects, both new development and site renovations are a hot commodity here in Denver, and the demand is ever increasing. We love being involved on projects like these, and we look forward to more to come.

This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects. For more information about our business and our services, click here.

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