Archive for April, 2009

Organic Soil Management

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

A Blueprint for Feeding Your Lawn and Garden:

Healthy gardens and lawns have one major component in common, that is healthy soil. Healthy soil is soil that breathes, and is alive. Healthy soil has twenty to forty percent organic content (composted material, peat moss, etc). Healthy soil is alive with fungi, microbes, and worms that feed on the organic material and convert it into a form that plant life can absorb. Healthy soil both absorbs moisture and drains once saturated. It is made up of inorganic materials of varying densities ranging from fine particles like clay and  silt, to sand, and even some gravel/aggregate (but not too much, and not much denser than 1/8th of an inch.

Though you can engage in extensive and expensive testing to find out exactly what your soil is made up of, including live microbial activity for example, it is simpler to stick with basic soil testing (through the Cornell Co-Operative Extension) to find out how acid/alkaline your soil is and what the ratios of Phosphorous, Nitrogen, and potassium are. The results of this testing will tell you what special amendments you need to add to get the right nutrient balance which is your baseline.

Soil density, organic and microbial content should be amended regularly throughout the year. In a basic program, compost tea (a tea brewed using live compost as the base material) should be applied at least 3 times a year, in April, June, and August. Compost tea is rich in trace minerals, live microbes, and beneficial fungi and will help re-invigorate your soil. The soil should also be fed with corn gluten in March/April to both give it a nitrogen boost and inhibit weeds from germinating. In soil that needs more vigorous attention, compacted soil with low organic content, aeration and addition of composted material is highly recommended. In a lawn this is also an excellent time to over seed, making sure the seed is lightly covered with the composted material.

With the presence of certain weeds, diseases, and insects, it becomes evident that the soil may be low in calcium, or over acidic. Liquid kelp, and/or fish emulsion are very high in calcium and will nurture the soil and the lawn, as well as reduce the occurrence of certain infestations.

Stay away from chemical fertilizers, fungicides and pesticides whenever possible. Though these will yield short term results, in the long run, they kill every living organism in the soil and weaken the root systems of your lawn and plants.


What to Look For From Your Landscape Provider

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

Landscape Services in the “New Economy”

Its spring and all of us are shopping for lower prices and better value in the new economy. The question is, in any service you are shopping out, if the price is lower, are you getting better value? Many of us in know approximately what we are paying for landscape services, but are a little fuzzy on what we are receiving.

The bad news about the new economy is money is much tighter than it was not too long ago. The good news is there is a lot more competition. Companies that emphasized service, knowledge, and reliability at a higher price are willing to be much more competitive. Look at any commoditized industry, like automobiles for proof of this, you can get much better value and financing on any car today than you did a year ago. This is certainly true in landscape services as well. The question  is are you comparing apples to apples? In a commoditized industry, this is often easier to measure than in a service industry. You can drive an Infinity, for example, and feel the difference between it and another car immediately. In services like landscape, it can be more difficult because a good deal of the experience happens over time.

Here are a few things to look at right off the bat. How easy is it to get a hold of the company and how responsive are they to your needs? When you call during business hours, do you get a person or do you get voicemail? How fast is your call returned and do you feel the people you are talking to really care about your landscape and your needs, or are they gruff and defensive with you? Do they have an office you can walk into and meet with them if need be? When folks come to your property to meet with you, do you feel they are really educated about plants, soil, and ecology? Are they willing to adjust their price to be competitive? If not, are they delivering higher service and/or quality, and can they work with you somewhere else? Are they honest with you about the condition of your property or will they say anything to close the deal? What do their current clients say about them? Is there anything  that distinguishes them from the pack in terms of expertise? Do they have training programs and/or certified professionals on staff or do they use day labor of questionable legality? Are they insured and registered with the county? How long have they been in business?

When you are comparing the cost of services, make sure you are comparing the same things. For example, basic services are: soil testing (this is vital) and soil development or fertilization (plants need healthy soil to help nurture them), lawn cutting, edging beds and walkways, aeration of lawns, over seeding, weed and insect management, tree, shrub, and perennial care, mulching and weeding, and water management. Additional services may be important to you like landscape design, landscape planting and construction, irrigation and lighting expertise,  gutter cleaning and snow removal for example. You may also want to consider the environmental impact of the services you are receiving as well.

It is never too late to reconsider your landscape services and the current economy is ideal for either getting the services you have for a lower price or getting environmentally superior services at a similar or lower price than you have been paying. Even though this is a great time to shop around, remember the adage “you get what you pay for”, meaning make sure you know what you will get for your dollar and be willing to negotiate for what you want whether it be better services or lower prices.