Spring Clean Your Pond or Water Feature

Spring Clean Your Pond or Water Feature

If you’re lucky enough to have a pond and/or water feature in your yard, you’ll be positively itching to start enjoying it again this year. But before you fire up the pump(s), a bit of maintenance is needed to ensure the health and longevity of the water feature and its contents.

The maintenance required on an annual basis, while important, is not terribly difficult. A basic cleaning and simple test of moving parts and related components is typically sufficient. A more thorough cleaning (outlined further below) is only required every three to four years, or when your water feature has accumulated a significant layer of sludge on the bottom and water is quite dark and murky.

The standard preparation can usually be done toward the end of April, but you want to be sure that any risk of heavy frost has passed. Significant frost could damage water feature components and place undue stress on pond fish, if you have them.

When ready, begin by removing protective covers and netting, cleaning as necessary and storing until fall. Then remove any aeration and heating devices used in the winter, as well as accumulated debris from the pond and water feature reservoirs.

Check all hoses and lights for function, replacing as necessary. Clean out the skimmer net and biofall filters. Then connect and test the pump to ensure proper water flow, filtering, and circulation.

CARING FOR YOUR KOI

If you have Koi or Goldfish in your pond, this spring cleaning will affect them too. While Koi are very hearty fish, there are some precautionary steps you should take to minimize stress and ensure a healthy, safe transition into the warmer months.

While cleaning your pond, you’ll have to temporarily displace the fish. Essentially, you want to avoid the shock caused by moving fish into water that is radically different – in terms of temperature or composition – than the water they’re coming from. We usually suggest to store the fish in a small tank and use the water from the pond to fill the tank to avoid shock or stress to the fish. We’ve included a link at the bottom of this post to an Aquascape video for more information about proper handling of your pond fish.

TIME FOR A DEEP CLEAN?

Every three to four years, you’ll need to deep clean your pond or water feature. In addition to the annual cleanup steps outlined above, this may also involve partial or complete water change, some scrubbing or power washing of components, and maybe even some specialized maintenance products.

For information about pond fish health and general spring pond cleanup, watch this video from Aquascape.

Of course lawn, garden, and pond cleanup is never easier than when you hire professionals to do it for you. Call us to schedule your lawn, garden, and pond maintenance.

 

Spring Maintenance: Lawn & Garden Cleanup

Spring Maintenance: Lawn & Garden Cleanup

Once again, it’s the time of year we wait for all winter… Spring! While the planting and growing season is more than a month off, you can prepare now by cleaning up and preparing your lawn and gardens.

If appropriate for our hardiness zone here in Stratford and Perth County (zone 5-6), plants, trees, and grass stand up fairly well to a blanket of snow and cold temperatures. However, conditions can fluctuate throughout the season which can stress exposed vegetation. This winter was a particularly icy one, so you may find more damage than normal, now that a lot of the snow has melted.

We’ve been receiving a lot of calls already for those interested in our lawn and garden maintenance services, and we hope to start visiting customers in the very near future. However, if you’re a DIYer, here are some tips for preparing your landscaping for the upcoming season.

LAWN CARE

Doing a bit of lawn cleanup and maintenance in the spring can help ensure a healthier lawn through the summer while minimizing weeds, so it’s definitely worth investing the time and effort.

It’s important to rake your grass. You definitely want to clean up any leaves and debris that has accumulated over the winter. More importantly though, you want to rake deeply to remove thatch. If left intact, thatch blocks air, water, and nutrients from getting down into the soil. Before you rake however, ensure that your ground is relatively dry to prevent damage to the grass’ root system and avoid compacting the soil, which will happen if you walk on it while it’s wet.

Compaction can be an issue as well. If soils are too compacted, air, water and nutrients are not permitted to get where they need to go efficiently. Aeration is the best way to remedy compaction. Be aware though that the soil cores that are pulled out of the ground during aeration can make a mess, so it’s best to keep lawn traffic to a minimum for a few days after it’s done.

If you notice some bare spots in your lawn, you might consider overseeding. However, overseeding is best done in the fall, as crabgrass is much less of a threat after the first frost. So, consider either waiting until fall, or reapplying in the fall.

Finally, you may opt to fertilize your lawn. If you fertilized in the fall, your lawn may still be digesting residual fertilizer. However, if you do proceed with a spring application of fertilizer, we recommend using a balanced fertilizer (20-20-20) which will help green up the lawn. In addition, the rhyzomes fill in the weaker areas and strengthen the root system. Of course, you can go the organic route as well, by simply top dressing your lawn with an even layer of compost.

GARDEN

As with your lawn, the first thing you want to take care of in your garden is the removal of weeds, dead leaves and debris that’s landed there over the course of the winter. Not only does this make gardens and flower beds look better, but it drastically reduces opportunities for mold growth. You can either remove by hand or lightly rake your gardens to eliminate surface debris. More stubborn foreign objects can be removed with a hoe or small trowel.

After a good general cleanup, remove any wrap or covers that you placed on or over your trees and plants for the winter season. If you’re storing the covers, ensure they’re clean and dry before putting them away to avoid mold and rot from setting in while in storage.

Check plants and trees for damage. Treat or prune away damaged parts if possible, or remove the entire plant if it didn’t overwinter well. Some pruning might be necessary in the spring, but ensure you know the appropriate time of year to prune the plants and trees in your yard. Pruning at the wrong time can negatively affect new growth, flowers, and fruit.

Edging around flower beds is an easy way to increase visual appeal. It also helps keep weeds from creeping in. You can also edge your lawn where it meets the driveway and walkways.

Once the risk of frost has passed, turn your soil with a shovel or small tiller to work in any remaining organic matter and to aerate the soil, which tends to get compacted over the winter. Then you can apply additional soil, compost, and/or amendments to adjust the soil’s pH or increase nutrition.

Spring is a good time to divide your perennials, but be sure that you wait until the risk of frost is no longer an issue. Be sure to add soil and nutrients to backfill newly vacant garden areas as well as the areas you’re transplanting to.

Finally, consider adding a layer of mulch to all of your gardens. Not only does it improve the look of your flower beds, it also insulates your soil against extreme heat, helps retain moisture, and keeps weeds at bay.

All of these things can help you ensure a beautiful, healthy lawn and garden for what we hope will be a long, sunny season ahead. As always, if you’re not a DIY gardener or would like to leave yard maintenance to someone else, we invite you to contact us about our services.

Planning and Design Tips for Your Garden

Planning and Design Tips for Your Garden

When it comes to garden design, many people know what they like when they see it, but just don’t know how to transform their garden from its current state to what they envision. There’s a lot to consider – your preferred style, available space, soil type, irrigation, sun exposure, and maintenance expectations.

Gardens take time, energy, and money to establish and maintain, but starting with a plan can help minimize ongoing cost and effort. When customers call A Touch of Dutch Landscaping & Garden Services we create a plan that incorporates all of the aforementioned considerations. But if you’d like to create a plan of your own, here are some tips for creating something that will work for you and your outdoor space.

Understand Your Space

While we recommend you have at least a general idea of the space you’re working with, many find it helpful to draw or map out the space to get an idea of square footage, nearby elements, sun exposure, and more.

If you are making over an existing garden, consider what has and hasn’t worked in the past. Regardless of whether you’re updating or starting from scratch, think about the location of the garden. Is it against a fence or wall, around a porch, deck, or patio, or will it be exposed on all sides? You’ll want to select plants in a range of sizes to add dimension, and whose height and width will be appropriate for the size of the garden without contributing to a too-sparse or overcrowded appearance.

Understand Your Style

One of the worst times to decide on your style is probably when you’re at a garden centre or nursery. Everything on display is typically in season at that time and so their showy foliage and/or blooms are competing for your attention. Instead, make note of designs that you’re drawn to.

Whether you’re using magazines, Pinterest, or Houzz, or even out and about in your own neighbourhood. Take pictures or jot down notes about general styles and specific elements that you like. This practice really helps inform your plan, so that when you go shopping for plants, you don’t get swayed by some pretty shrub that’s not remotely close to what you’re after.

Understand Your Maintenance Threshold

Maybe you’re a green thumb. But, maybe you’re not. While some amount of maintenance is required for every garden, regardless of style or size, there are ways to minimize the amount of upkeep required to ensure a landscaping project continues to thrive, long term.

If you’re updating an existing flowerbed, consider which individual plants require the most maintenance and get rid of them. When planning for new garden elements, be aware of drought tolerance, sun exposure requirements, standard height and width projections, preferred soil types, and what else is or will be planted in the space. If you make poor plant choices, keeping them alive is going to require more effort than you might be willing to expend. Things like extra watering, fertilization, amending the soil, and trimming might be added to your to-do list on a regular basis.

When you’re putting your plants in the ground, consider adding a layer of mulch or stones. Not only do these extra layers help keep weeds at bay, but they also add a layer of insulation to the soil, keeping warmth in while slowing down evaporation. This means both less weeding and less watering!

Understand Your Limits

If you’re short on time, energy, inspiration, or knowledge, consider leaving the design and installation to a professional landscaper. This will this ensure your project gets done in a timely manner. What’s more, your wishes will be factored into the landscape design to ensure that the end result is beautiful and done right, and meets your design standards.

If you do want to enlist the services of a landscaping company, the sooner you contact the landscaper the better. While we don’t generally start installing softscaping, hardscaping, and water features until May, planning, design, and scheduling gets underway much earlier in the year. So, by the time planting season actually rolls around, we already have much of our season planned. And weather is a big factor, too. Cold weather that persists longer than usual into the spring or that starts earlier than usual in the fall affects our schedule, as does each day of inclement weather during the season.

There’s a saying that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. That’s probably as true in landscaping as it is in anything else. Having a garden plan can save you time, effort, and money, before during and after you plant. So, investing some time and effort into formulating a plan will pay off. And if you aren’t up for doing it yourself, contact us to discuss how A Touch of Dutch Landscaping & Garden Services can help you design and install the garden you’ve been dreaming of.

Add Winter Interest to Your Gardens

Add Winter Interest to Your Gardens

Most of us here in Southwestern Ontario prefer the warmer months. But when the snow falls it’s nice to still be able to enjoy your outdoor landscape, even from indoors. Visual interest in winter doesn’t have to come just from urns, wreaths, and garland that gets taken down shortly after Christmas. Hardscaping and plants provide cold-weather beauty that lasts the all season long. Below, we explore various landscaping options whose function and good looks extend well past our patio-dwelling days.


EVERGREENS

Conifers are typically top of mind when a landscaper wants to add year-round life to a garden because most keep their foliage throughout the cold months. They come in a wide range of sizes, shapes and shades of green that will compliment any home’s exterior. Some of the more popular conifers in our region are from the pine, spruce, and fir groups. And while they come from a different conifer family, cedars, cypress, and junipers, with their splayed branches, aromatic wood, and interesting bark, are also very popular.

But there’s more to evergreens than just needles and cones. Other conifer families are broad-leafed and/or fruit-bearing. These shrubs tend to have an appearance that more closely resembles a deciduous plant, but they don’t shed their leaves. Beautiful examples of broadleaf evergreens that thrive in the hardiness zones of Southwestern Ontario are Euonymous, Boxwood, and the festive favourite, Holly.

Beyond conifers, there are many trees and plants that brown or lose their leaves every year that can add structure and interest to the outdoors.

Ornamental grasses are a great example of plants that turn brow but maintain their structure through the winter and make a lovely, wispy addition to a winter landscape.

Purple Coneflower, Black-Eyed Susan, Hydrangea, and Autumn Joy Sedum shed their foliage but maintain flower stalks and/or seed heads that look beautiful under a blanket of snow.

Mountain Ash, Canadian Serviceberry, and Winterberry (a popular Holly variety) are great choices for adding pops of colour to your winter landscape. Tip: Holly berries will only form if male and female plants are established together, so be sure to purchase one of each to avoid disappointment.

Many trees offer visual interest with noteworthy texture or colour. Birch trees have a white, papery bark whose beauty is revealed after it sheds its canopy of leaves in the fall.

Stems and twigs can provide bursts of colour ranging from bright green to orange and red. In our region Dogwoods are a common shrub that add vivid colour against the white snow. And a funny-looking tree with a funnier name – Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick – adds twisty, highly textural support for freshly fallen snow.


HARDSCAPING

Don’t discount stone structures and fixed furniture as difference makers where visual interest is concerned. These hardscaping elements can add colour and texture to otherwise flat terrain.


ADDITIONAL BENEFITS

Besides enhancing the beauty of your outdoor space, landscaping and hardscaping can also play more functional roles.

Attracting birds
Trees and shrubs bearing berries or situated close to suet and seed will provide nourishment for birds including Juncos, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Nuthatches, Chickadees, Finches, Woodpeckers, Doves, and Sparrows. Dense, mature evergreens can also offer ideal shelter.

Privacy and windbreak
A properly situated row of evergreens ensures year-round privacy and can also act as a windbreak and natural snow fence, sheltering your yard from cold winds and drifting snow.

Beautiful, day and night
Outdoor lights aren’t just for the holidays. White mini lights can define the shape of a small tree or shrub. Consider lighting natural and hard elements with floodlights or projection lamps for a different but equally beautiful aesthetic at night.

Adding visual interest to outdoor spaces increases the appeal, value, and enjoyment of your home. As long as you’re selecting plants and varieties that are appropriate for your hardiness zone, your landscaping can help beautify your home not just in the warmer months, but throughout the year.

Protect Your Lawn, Garden, Trees, and Shrubs from Winter

Protect Your Lawn, Garden, Trees, and Shrubs from Winter

In Southwestern Ontario, we’re generally finishing up putting our lawns and gardens to bed for the winter. While some do very little but cut back spent seed heads and dead foliage, others employ measures to cover and protect every tree, shrub, and plant on their property. An approach that falls somewhere in between is generally best to avoid plant and tree loss and ensure a healthy start the following spring. Here are some guidelines to help you ensure you’re adequately protecting your lawn and garden in the winter.


LAWN

Getting your lawn winter-ready takes very little effort. In fact, you may already be doing most of the items on this short checklist already.

Keep it short
Grass generally stops growing after day time highs remain below 10°C. Your final cut of the season should be between two and two and a half inches. Grass that’s too long may fall over through the winter, encouraging fungal growth. Grass that’s too short leaves it susceptible to stress due to the cold.

Keep it clean
Remove all furniture, toys, and debris (including any notable accumulation of leaves) from your lawn to avoid damage that results in bare patches come springtime.

Minimize traffic during transition
Dormant grass that doesn’t yet have a good layer of snow on it yet can be damaged quite easily when walked on. Try to stay off of grass during this transition.

Keep it insulated
A blanket of snow serves to insulate your lawn during the winter. Once the snow flies and starts to accumulate, keep your lawn blanketed all winter long.


PLANTS, TREES, AND SHRUBS

There are a few factors that determine your need to protect plants, trees, and shrubs during the winter:

Exposure to the elements
If a location is exposed to excess wind, snow melt, and/or ice, the vegetation in that area may break or even die before or by the time spring arrives. In addition, if relatively horizontal limbs are suddenly laden with heavy snow or ice, they might bend or even break as a result.

Exposure to road salt
Trees and shrubs that are close to roadways or are in the line of fire when snow is being displaced from roads, driveways, and walkways,

Your plant hardiness zone
Our region (Stratford and surrounding area) is generally classed as hardiness zone 5, so your garden should consist of plants and trees that thrive in this zone. If you’ve tried to push the limit with some of your selections (vegetation that’s appropriate for warmer hardiness zones), you’ll need to take special care to prepare them for winter in Southwestern Ontario.

How well-established the plants in question are
Well-established plants and trees have strong root systems that help sustain them through the cold winter months. On the other hand, those that have been newly planted or moved, particularly after the beginning of September, have not had sufficient opportunity to get established and so will require protection this winter.


HOW TO PROTECT YOUR PLANTS, SHRUBS, AND TREES

If your plants do need to be protected, there are three primary methods used, depending on the plants in questions and what you’re needing protection from.

Wrapping
Wrapping with burlap and twine can protect shrubs from salt spray, drying winds, and/or heavy snow and ice. You might opt to protect younger evergreens and shrubs from frost and heavy snow with a teepee instead, which can be made out of burlap and wood stakes or plywood.

Mulching
A 4 to 6-inch layer of mulch on vulnerable or newly established plants will protect them from the effects of repeated freezing and thawing which can plague our region this time of year.

Mounding
This is simply the act of piling soil up around the base of a plant, and is a great way to protect plants and bushes that are cut back at the end of every season. Mounding is commonly done with rose bushes and hydrangeas, as it protects them from exposure to prolonged cold, ensuring a healthy plant, come spring time.

If you haven’t taken measures to protect your garden yet, an early layer of snow may have you feeling like you’ve missed the boat. However, most vulnerable plants will still benefit greatly from protection, so it’s not too late. Regardless of how long winter is, you can still use the tips above to avoid plant loss and help guarantee a beautiful start to next year’s growing season.