Thursday, December 26, 2013

Beautiful Winter Landscape

Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! Its freezing outside. As you snuggle up by the fire, your yard is covered in a soft blanket of snow, and your now protruding belly is covered in a soft blanket of cookie crumbs. While we can't help you with your eating habits, we can give you tips on how to make your yard look great four seasons out of the year. Here are 4 simple techniques to get the most out of your yard in these frigid temps:

1. Evergreens- Probably the most obvious tip. Nothing makes your yard look more festive than a lush green spruce. But think outside the box! Evergreens come in different varieties and shades (some are yellow). Nellie Stevens and Leyland Cypresses are good choices that don't get too large. The American Holly and Magnolia are two native flat leaved evergreens that can add texture to your landscape.

2. Add color with winter flowers and berries- Your winter landscape doesn't have to be all brown and green. Some trees and shrubs produce bright colored flowers and berries in the winter. The aforementioned holly, produces festive red berries. Camellia, wintersweet and flowering quince are all winter flowering species that can brighten up your yard.

3. Mix in deciduous textures- Even though they may not be green, the texture and shape of unique deciduous trees can add interest to your yard. Trees like beech wood and birch have papery peeling bark that can create visual contrast to the lush evergreens and smooth white snow. 

4. Accessorize- Hardscapes, planters and unique non-plant features can give your yard a unique character. A striking pergola or trellis can create an interesting focal point. A firepit or outdoor fireplace can be a great place to roast marshmallows for an outdoor gathering while also enhancing the appearance of your winter yard. If you are on a tight budget a few accessories like planters or a wheelbarrow can spruce of the look of your outdoor space.

I hope these tips help you enjoy your yard all year long!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Winter Landscaping Checklist

Wondering how to prepare your yard for the cold?

Here is a simple checklist to make sure you are prepared for winter weather:

  • Clean Gutters
  • Check roof for leaks or missing shingles or flashing
  • Trim shrubs and trees
  • Leaf clean-up
  • Mulch flower beds and trees  
  • Remove dead trees
  • Move unseasonable potted plants indoors.
Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

How to save money on your Construction or Landscape Project

Who doesn't love a good deal? Landscape and construction projects can have a great return on investment when it comes to resale of your home, but they also can cost a lot of money to get the job done right. That's why I came up with a few tips to make sure you get the most bang for your buck. Here are 5 simple tips you can use to save big on your next project:

1. Set a budget:
If you know how much you would like to spend, let the contractor know. Most legitimate contractors will do what they can to work within your budget and may even throw in some extras to sweeten the deal.

2. Ask for contractor selection: Sometimes contractors can get a great deal on a particular plant or already have a certain variety of material in stock. Because of this they are able to discount a certain material by as much as 50%. If the contractor has surplus material from another project, they may be able to offer it to you on a discount as long as you are not picky about the color or type.

3. Seasonal pricing specials: For contractors, winter is the slow season. That is why construction prices drop significantly in the colder months. From November to March ask your contractor if they are willing to offer a discount for the winter season.

4. Look for Coupons: Many contractors offer coupons online or in local papers. You can also get discounts by signing up for a monthly newsletter. Search around so you are sure to get the best price.

5. Bundle Projects: If you have several projects you would like to get done, ask the contractor if they are willing to give you a discount for packaging the projects together. Many will!

I hope these tips help you save money on your next project. Feel free to give us a call 301-603-1080 or visit us online to set up an estimate.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Focus on Concrete

So you are interested in installing a new walkway, driveway, retaining wall or patio and you are looking into concrete. Concrete is one of the most affordable and frequently used building material out there.

First, let's talk about what concrete is. concrete is a mixture of six different components: Cement, Coarse Aggregate, Fine Aggregate, Water, Fly Ash, and Chemical Admixtures. Concrete can be made into different types depending on the mix ratios and properties of the concrete. For example, a lower water to cement ratio is generally better because it gives the concrete less permeability and is better resistant to the elements. The PSI (strength) of the concrete can also be manipulated. In general we recommend at least 4000 PSI for a driveway and at least 3500 for structures like walkways that will not sustain a lot of force. The chemical admixtures can also be changed to extend or limit setting time and to increase freeze/thaw durability.

You don't have to settle with boring old white sidewalk concrete either. Concrete can be stamped, stained and sculpted to resemble more expensive building materials like pavers and natural stone. Concrete can also be made permeable for a greener option.

While concrete is a relatively strong and durable material, one of its downfalls is that is does tend to crack over time and with changes in the weather. Although the mixture and number of joints can be altered to help prevent cracks, even well installed concrete may crack over the years. However, the versatility and relative low cost of concrete may outweigh this con for many looking to install hardscaping.

If you are interested in installing a concrete structure, give us a call to set up an estimate and discuss your options. 301-603-1080.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Mediterranean Landscaping

Unfortunately or Fortunately I can never quite unplug from work when I'm on vacation, and on our last trip to Spain the landscaping really inspired me. Seeing the history of Mediterranean culture incorporated into the picturesque Spanish landscape gave me the idea me to post a blog about some of the features I encountered that you could incorporate into your own yard to make your outdoor space feel like a private Mediterranean get away.

The beauty of the south of Spain is really indescribable: Mountains embracing the sea, crisp blue sky merging into the aquamarine waters, tropical plants, a sense of history and opulence. The food is delicious too! If you have time and money I seriously recommend taking a trip to southern Spain to experience the breathtaking aesthetics for yourself, but if you still want the feel of a Mediterranean paradise while remaining in the comfort of your own home I have some tips for that too! Below are some themes I noticed in the Spanish gardens that you could use in your own yard to create the same Mediterranean feel.

1. Tropical Plants: Cactus, fruit trees, palms -- incorporate some exotic plants into your landscape. Talk with your landscaper to find plants that will work with your climate, but still produce a Mediterranean feel.

Fresh Limes!

2. Hedges: sculpted boxwood-- A great way to add structure and form to your garden. The line of the hedges helps lead the viewer to a focal point in the yard. These were a big theme in the Spanish gardens we visited.

 3. Pergola: Another nice feature. In Spain, they provide shade from the hot Mediterranean sun while still allowing for airflow. Pergolas have the magical ability of transforming an outdoor space into a romantic garden.

4. Mosaics: Mosaics can be incorporated into any type of hardscape and really give it an opulent and exotic feel. These were very common in many of the outdoor spaces we visited and many of them were very old.

 5. Stone work: Natural stone was used in many of the gardens and castles, both new and old. The stonework resonated with history but also echoed the majestic mountains that bordered the sea.

 6. Character Trees: I saw lots of interesting trees that spoke of the history and of the climate. By featuring an exotic or interesting tree in your yard you can capture that Mediterranean feel.

7. Bull ring: Hey, if you really want to be authentic, how about installing a bull ring? --- just watch out for the bulls! Yikes!

Monday, August 19, 2013

All About Pavers

One of the products we most commonly recommend for hardscaping is pavers. While pavers are a little more expensive than concrete or asphalt, they are often a better investment. Here's why: concrete and asphalt are poured in large slabs so they tend to crack more easily. Changes in the weather, ice and water accumulation cause small cracks in these materials that can become larger over time. In addition, changes in the earth also cause movement and cracks to the large slabs. Pavers are considered a moveable pavement and they are smaller so they tend to adapt to changes in the earth.

Pavers also tend to come with a lifetime warranty from the manufacturer. Asphalt and concrete are not warrantied. The labor on pavers can also be warrantied longer because the product tends to last longer.

In addition to their durability, pavers have a more luxurious aesthetic. Since outdoor features have one of the highest re-sale values, you can bet that an investment in pavers will get you a larger return on your investment when/if you decide to resell your home.

If you have sustainability on your mind, permeable pavers also offer a green option that can be used to earn LEED credits. While there is also the option of permeable concrete, asphalt does not have a "green" option available.

For all these reasons, we think pavers are one of the best options out there for hardscaping. Although they are slightly more expensive than concrete or asphalt they are cheaper than natural stone or flagstone and their benefits far outweigh the cost difference.

If you are considering installing a hardscape call us at 301-603-1080 to explore all of your options and to weigh the pros and cons of each.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Twisted Cistern!

Couldn't resist a little 'heavy metal' pun in the title. But all bad jokes aside, cisterns and rain barrels are a great solution for anyone looking to reduce water costs, landscape sustainably and help reduce water overflow and run-off.

Cisterns and rain barrels are essentially the same thing. Cisterns are large rain barrels. They are both large tanks that capture water from a collection area (i.e. downspout). These tanks can be used to capture, store and reuse rain water. The tanks can be installed either below or above ground, but require a proper base since a full tank can weigh a few hundred pounds and may sink if not installed correctly.

Rain water from most roofs can be considered "gray water" and can be used for processes such as watering plants and flushing toilets. In addition, using a cistern or rain barrel reduces the load of storm water and helps prevent run-off. It also helps reduce the use of potable water for irrigation.

For a relatively low cost, you can install a cistern with some accessories to water your plants and help reduce your water costs. Cisterns and Rain barrels are low maintenance but typically require a cleaning once a year and regular inspection to ensure seals are functional and that there are no clogs in the system.

If you are interested in this or other great green landscaping/construction solutions please give us a call 301-603-1080.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Spotlight on Green Roofing.

Ever seen a house that looked like it was sporting a toupee of grass? While there are varying degrees of green roofing, from partially covered to fully covered green roofing is a sustainable trend that has been on the rise in recent years.


Green roofs can be installed in place of or in complement to traditional roofing. The vegetation typically weighs more than traditional roofing so a structural engineer may be needed to verify that the building can support the weight. In addition, the plants may require a drainage or irrigation system and additional care must be taking to waterproof the area below the plants to prevent leaks that may damage the structure of the building.

Although the structure of the green roof is more complex, there are many benefits that come along with it. In addition to absorbing rainfall and helping to prevent runoff, green roofs also provide additional insulation which helps reduce heating and cooling costs. Green roofing also helps to reduce the heat island effect, filters pollutants and provides habitats for wildlife.

If you are interested in installing a green roof but worried about the cost, check out this cool cost estimator, which compares the cost of a green roof, a traditional asphalt roof and a white roof over time.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Maryland Native Plants

Great! You're interested in going native! Native plants, that is. Just in time for spring, you want to re-do your garden to be as sustainable as possible. And hey, the fact that native plants require less maintenance is just a natural bonus, right?

Here are a list of some common native Maryland Plants that are great to use in your garden:

Rudbeckia (Black eyed Susan): Add a pop of color with this hardy state flower.

Vibirnum: Nice looking, sturdy shrubs

Rhododendron: Shrubs with big pom-pom like flowers

Cercis canadensis (Redbud): Pretty small tree

Aquilegia canadensis (eastern or wild columbine): Interesting looking flowers

Dicentra cucullaria (Dutchman’s breeches): One of my favorites! A pretty heart shaped flower.

Those are a few of my favorites, but the list goes on and on. For a more comprehensive list check out this free pdf:  provided by the native plants center.

Happy Planting!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Swales are Swell!

Spotlight on Bioswales

If you have a mud run in your yard a bioswale might be a perfect option. Swales are ditches lined with rip-rap (rough stones), compost or vegetation to help direct and filter water. In general a bioswale is made by creating a wide gently sloped ditch and filling it with a natural filtration device such as those previously mentioned. Swales are a great way to naturally and sustainably prevent erosion and run-off. Swales work by filtering out pollutants and distributing the flow of water. The construction of a swale can be quite specific from the grade of the slope to the amount and type of materials used, or it can be more informal. To find out more about swales, give us a call to arrange an appointment 301-603-1080.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Fire pits 101

The best part of camping is the campfire: roasting marshmallows, telling stories around it, watching the flames burst and wane. Want to bring that feeling of sitting around a campfire home? By installing a firepit you can do that, safely and beautifully.

What is a Firepit?
A firepit is an enclosure made of fire proof materials used for building a containing a fire.

What does a firepit look like?
There are many types of firepits you can install from metal ones that are moveable to ones that are made of concrete blocks and fixed in the landscape. In general a fire pit is a circular enclosure with a lower set center where you can build a fire.

Why install a firepit?
Installing a firepit can add a centerpiece to your yard that can transform it into an outdoor oasis. You bring the campfire feeling to your home and create a focal point to build memories around. Imagine roasting marshmallows and telling ghost stories in your own backyard!

Which type is right for me?
If you have a limited budget, you can get a movable metal firepit for a few hundred dollars. If you are looking for a more upscale feel and would like to have a permanent structure incorporated into your patio or deck, a concrete block or natural stone firepit is a better choice. It is more durable and can be built to match your other outdoor features.

We install firepits and would be happy to help you explore options and make a decision. Call us for a free consultation 301-603-1080.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Earth Month

A lot of people make New Years resolutions but what about making a "green resolution" for Earth Day? In honor of Earth Day, which is this month, I thought it would be nice to try to find ways to incorporate a little more "green" into our lives. I got inspiration from another blog to cut down on using paper towels, which we seem to use like water at our house. For the company, my goal is to encourage our employees to be more energy efficient in their operations.

If you are looking for simple ways to be a little more environmentally friendly in honor of Earth Day here are some ideas:

1. Turn out the lights and turn off/ unplug appliances when not in use
2. Walk, bike or take public transportation instead of driving
3. Recycle!
4. Donate old clothes or electronics instead of throwing them away.
5. Program your thermostat to use less energy when you are asleep or away from home.

Here are some ideas on how to be greener in your yard:

1. Use native plants
2. Solve drainage problems to prevent run-off and erosion
3. Use permeable pavers and concrete for hardscaped surfaces.
4. Mulch to help prevent run-off and erosion
5. Use materials with a high SRI (lighter color) to prevent the heat island effect.

I hope that these ideas can inspire you to change something this month!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Green New Year

Happy New Year!

Have you made any resolutions for 2013? While most people's resolutions involve losing weight or getting organized, being good to the environment is a noble goal that is often over looked.

That's why, this year I have decided to go a little bit greener with green future.

First, I've added a line at the bottom of our signature in e-mails to help remind readers to consider the environment before printing the e-mail out. Did you know that more than 50% of papers printed out are never used? You can get your own paper-saving signature here:

Next, I've been working really hard to get a co-mingled recycling plan going at our office. Studies show that people are more likely to participate in a recycling program if its all inclusive, because it is less complicated. Unfortunately, the waste removal company I have been working with has been really slow about getting us quotes and information on the recycling plan. Although it has been a frustrating process, I intend to persevere. If your office does not have a recycling program, encourage them to do the same, even if it means someone takes the recyclables home with them.

Third, I've been trying to find ways to reduce waste and increase efficiency. This means buying and wasting less materials, which will hopefully help us save money, which we can then pass on as more savings for our clients. It also means using responsibly sourced materials, such as FSC certified wood.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I want to focus on being a ONE STOP SHOP. This is our new tag line and it is surprisingly a great way to be more environmentally friendly. Think about it, by offering all services in house, we save lots of driving time, which helps prevent harmful carbon emissions. By using our company you eliminate the need for several contractors to come to the site thus preventing the excessive use of gas for transportation.

So my questions to you are what are your New Years Resolutions and will you incorporate any new behaviors to "Stay green?"