10 New Year’s Resolutions for Atlanta Landscapes


I can still remember the first year they dropped the peach at Underground Atlanta to ring in 1990 like it was yesterday. At only 16, I was witnessing everyone’s excitement and anticipation of welcoming a new decade with equal excitement and enthusiasm. Later that same evening, we somehow wound up (sneaked) in the atrium of the Marriott Marquis downtown. Everyone was dressed to the nines and everything seemed perfect. A few moments later things began to fall from the atrium railings above: toilet paper, fire extinguishers, bottles and other glassware, and then furniture. The trashing of the hotel made national news and we were there to witness it! It was amazing and disturbing at the same time to see something like this party that seemed to be going so perfectly take an epic turn for the worse right before our eyes.

Now as 2015 draws to a close and 2016 ramps up, it’s a great time to consider all those new year's resolutions. Some of us may want to drop some of that pesky weight we put on during the holidays, or perhaps you want to give up an old habit or even make a new start. At any rate, It's a great time to hit that reset button to make positive changes.

When it comes to landscaping, we all make mistakes or develop bad habits that we may not even be aware of, or maybe even want to kick. As I drive from property to property trying to make Atlanta more beautiful one garden at I time, I have listed a few resolutions I’d like to see attempted that would make it even more beautiful.

1. Learning NOT to Top Crape Myrtles

Every year it’s the same old horror story. The holidays are over, the relatives are gone, it's the new year, and you, your neighbor, or their landscapers take their frustrations out on innocent Crape Myrtles. This is called topping and it is an improper pruning technique for trees, including crape myrtles. This bad habit has earned the nickname "Crape Murder" amongst more educated gardeners. Very simple solution: Just Say No!

2. Install My Annuals at the Appropriate Time

Imagine this; It’s late March and predictably warm, you are browsing through your favorite garden center and notice the pretty impatiens, petunias, and begonias in all those amazing colors as you pensively enjoy Vivaldi through the overhead speakers. It's not too early to plant my summer annuals otherwise they wouldn’t be selling them, right? So you buy several trays and enthusiastically load them into the car, take them home, and install them by your mailbox. A couple weeks later it drops to 29 degrees and all of your efforts are lost or setback. I am amused every year seeing those jumping the gun and playing horticultural roulette. As a general rule in the Atlanta area, the “safe” time to install your summer annuals is April 15th and for winter annuals October 15th.

3. Installing Sod or Grass Seed at the Right Time

A colleague of mine and I have shared a few laughs about a mutual client who is always trying to game the system. He always seems to think there is a cheaper or better way to get something done rather than leaving it to the professionals, or at least taking their advice. In one such occasion he decided he was going to install his zoysia in winter. His lawn now looks great! But it took it THREE years to get there. Why was that? Because it took it that long to recover from the the shock of the cold damage it suffered soon after installation.

Sure you can throw bermudagrass out in frozen bricklets on the coldest day of the year, but Zoysia on the other hand, is best installed in May or June. For your fescue installations, the optimal time is Fall, winter second, early spring third. After that, you are asking for trouble.

4. Learn to Hand Prune

Gas or electric shearing is OK every once in awhile (if you know what you are doing and why you are doing it) but the repeated use and misuse of all the *non selective* cuts at God only knows how many RPM produced from the power shears will eventually disfigure, maim, or at best, create what we in the business call "meatballing". Taking the time to learn to prune by hand using hand cutters, saws, loppers, and pole pruners is well worth the time. I like to think of it as zen yoga for your trees and shrubs, and using power shears like sitting on the couch eating potato chips and ice cream while watching the Kardashians.

5. Quit Blowing Leaves into the Street

It’s a beautiful fall day and you just rolled out of the car wash. You're patting yourself on the back because you closed that big deal on Friday so you treated yourself to The Triple Platinum Wash that included the deluxe tire shine and the super protective wax shell. You got Don Henley rocking Boys of Summer on the radio, your hair is blowing in the wind, and you even got your Wayfarers on; serendipity on wheels. Your stomach drops with that exhilarating feeling of topping that last hill and you zoom over the next as you head straight into a hurricane of deciduous foliage courtesy of one wheel blower, three backpack blowers, and four “socalled” landscapers.

I've seen both landscapers and homeowners alike participate in this shortcut. These concentrated firestorms of leaves that enter the roadway are often times illegal, dangerous, a little selfish, and these leaves most often wind up in neighboring properties or in the storm sewer system, where they cause many problems, including flooding.

6. Stop Irrigating in the Rain

I’ve heard Atlanta surpassed Seattle in the amount of rainfall we received in 2015 yet I can’t tell you how many times I have driven by properties this year and seen the irrigation system operating at full capacity in the middle of a rain storm. Learning to correctly operate your irrigation system can not only be beneficial for your landscape but for your wallet too.

If you don’t have a rain sensor that will automatically shut off your system in a rain event, you could look into installing one. There are also a few smart applications available that allow you to program and control your system through your smart phone.

7. Expand my Pallet Beyond Knockout Roses

Ahhh, the crack cocaine of roses. I know they are bulletproof and look great by your mailbox and around the sign at the Citgo gas station down the street, but it's time to move on. There is a whole world of choices out there that you can use that will make it look like you didn’t push the easy button.

8. Kick the 4” Black Pipe Habit

We've all seen it and used it, but to the best I can figure, it is a temporary solution to a permanent problem. Sure it's lightweight, easy to handle, and relatively inexpensive. But in my 21 years in the business I can say I have never dug one up that wasn't either crushed, full of mud, otherwise inoperable or well on its way to being so, and when they become blocked, they are almost impossible to clear. What's the solution? I prefer using sewer grade PVC pipe with strategically placed cleanouts so they can be snaked should they become clogged. I also like the N-12 version of the ADS black plastic because the interior of the pipe is smooth making it less likely to clog and possible to snake in the event of a blockage.

9. Pay More Attention to Our Trees

A hazardous tree can not only cause harm to your property or landscape, but could potentially kill you or someone else. On the flipside, well cared for trees can be a true asset to your property and improve your quality of life.

One of the first things I do when I get to a new property is scan for any obvious tree issues. I do this because If there is any major tree work that needs to be done, it is usually better to have it done on the front end and not disrupting any landscaping improvements I might make for my clients. Many times, arborists are called in when it is too late to do anything for the tree that seemly died overnight, when in reality it had been in distress for years. I recommend having an ISA Certified Arborist perform an annual inspection of your trees to stay ahead of any tree issues you might have and keep you aware of any potential risks.

10. Stop Making Impulse Plant Selections

You are hungry, you skipped breakfast and didn't have time to eat lunch and you wonder why you bought all that extra food at the grocery store. Now that you are home, what are you going to do with that bag of Doritos and that pint of mint chocolate chip?

Going to the grocery store on an empty stomach is the same as going to the garden center without a plan. Sure it's OK to browse for a specific area in need of plantings but going and randomly buying plants you like is a recipe for failure. I recommend measuring and defining your area to be planted including your goals, site conditions and how you would like it to function, and then go look.

Just like the New Year’s party at the Marriott Marquis back in 1990 where everything and everyone seemed to have good intentions but it somehow quickly got off track, the same is true for landscapes. I've seen clogged drainage pipes flood basements, ill-timed installations go south, and trees that had obvious warning signs topple. If this blog post prevents just one person from topping their crape myrtles or makes one person get a rain sensor, then it will have served its purpose. Remember, just because everyone else is throwing their nightstands over the rails into the atrium, it doesn't mean you have to.

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