Category Archives: Drainage and Swales

Everything You Need to Know About Swales

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Everything You Need to Know About Swales

If you live in an area that receives a lot of rain or heavy storms, it is a good idea to add a swale to your yard. Read further to learn about what swales are and how they can help make your yard self-sufficient — and even prevent flooding.

What Are Swales?

A swale can be naturally occurring or man-made. It is a low, trench-like stretch of land in your yard that helps excess water to be absorbed by the soil, as opposed to pooling on or flooding out of your yard. Your soil’s ability to hold a lot of water at once makes this an effective method for water management. A swale will allow the soil to slowly absorb and redistribute the excess water to where it is needed most.

Typically, swales are constructed to manage water runoff from heavy rain. During a storm, a swale can help control excessive amounts of water in order to prevent flooding. Swales are an easier, cheaper, and more efficient way to catch excess rainwater in your yard, in comparison to other man-made alternatives.

In addition to flooding prevention, swales are often designed to irrigate specific areas of your yard, such as a garden. The excess water in the soil will also attract microorganisms that will help fertilize your yard. Both of these benefits will help to make your yard self-sufficient and maintain its ideal state. But in order to get the most out of your swale, you will need to keep the area as cool and wet as possible. This can be achieved by ensuring that there are shady plants nearby and covering the area with mulch.

Where to Build a Swale

Before building a swale, you’ll need to decide the best location for it. Keep in mind that swales should not be constructed too close to a building. In addition, swales can be different sizes depending on your needs and the amount of rainfall. You’ll want to take note of the terrain, how much rainwater you typically get, where excess water tends to enter and leave your yard, and whether or not you want to use the excess water to irrigate certain areas of your yard, among other factors.

The Next Step

Contact Blue Tree Landscaping to further discuss swale location, construction, and management, in addition to all of your other lawn care needs. From landscaping to hardscaping to installing in ground pools, Blue Tree takes care of it all. They’ll design, construct, and maintain your ideal outdoor space — all year round.

How to Avoid Yard Drainage Issues and Home Flooding

how to avoid yard drainageUnfortunately, a large number of yards and their landscape designs are victims of poor drainage and flooding. Standing water and house flooding isn’t inevitable though, with proper landscape and other planning.

How to Avoid Yard Drainage Issues and Home Flooding

There are a number of steps to pre-emptively attacking standing-water and flooding issues…

 Step 1: Find the Source

Before you put your entire landscape design on a grade (that floods the yard of that neighbor you don’t like), it’s very likely that there are only a few sources, or a single one, that is causing the water congregation. Finding it/them is usually pretty easy—just look for a depression or downward grade near the house, or a depression elsewhere in your landscape design.

Step 2: Extend your Gutters

If you find pooling around the edge of your house, you’ll want to extend your gutters and gutter drainage further away from the house. This solution will vastly improve the amount of water pooling and help save the foundation. However it won’t necessarily fix the problem, so it should be used in combination with other solutions.

Step 3: Build a Moat

We’re only half kidding when we say build a moat (to protect your castle). By angling the dirt/land around the house downwards (away from the foundations) you’ll help move water in the right direction. And by installing a small catch basin area, kind of like a moat, you’ll help keep it from reaching your foundation.

Step 4: Landscaping

If you’ve found depressed areas in your yard, you’ll need to change your landscape design strategy.

If the water pooling is around a driveway, then landscaping swales may help. These wider-than-they-are-deep depressions allow the water to seep into the ground…and away from your driveway and home.

For water-pooling areas away from the house, simple water-thirsty plants may solve the problem. These include purple coneflowers, black-eyed susans, and willow and cypress trees.

Should your yard have moderate pooling issues, curtain drains or elevation might be helpful, but yards with major drainage issues (that can’t be solved with plants and trees) may require dry wells to be installed. Dry wells will collect the water and then slowly release it into the surrounding dirt—at a rate that won’t cause pooling. Depending on how much water pools you may need tubing and piping to direct it.

Homes with a massive amount of pooled water in their landscape designs may require sump pumps. But this is generally a last resort (due to cost).

 Need Help?

Minor drainage and pooling issues may be (relatively) easily addressed yourself, but once you need landscaping to redirect the water it becomes more difficult. Digging while avoiding piping, well, and tubing installation should be done by a professional. If you require drainage-related landscaping—call the pros here at Blue Tree.

The 6 Benefits of Retaining Walls—and Fun Uses for Them!

6 benefits of retinaing wallsRetaining walls don’t often get the credit due to them. Not only do they provide for an aesthetically pleasing hardscape design, but they’re also highly functional! Here are 6 benefits of installing retaining walls in your yard.

1. They Control Erosion

Retaining walls control both weakened grass (often due to foot traffic) and water runoff. When these two elements get out of control—especially in yards with a lack of trees—they cause erosion that can disrupt your landscaping design… and be a royal pain to fix. The terracing effect of retaining walls prevents this erosion.

2. They Control Flooding Direction

If your home is near a body of water or experiences the heavy, wet snowfalls that often occur in the Philadelphia region, a retaining wall can help. By controlling where the water pools, rises, and drains to, retaining walls help prevent your home from flooding.

3. They Direct Traffic

Simply by being there, retaining walls will direct foot traffic around them. This means they’re the perfect protectors for gardens and weakened grassy areas. If you’re looking to spruce up your backyard, consider creating a multi-level garden with retaining walls. Each level can house different types of plants, creating an aesthetically pleasing design that also protects vulnerable plants from being stepped on.

4. They’re Easy to Install

Okay—this one might be a little deceiving. They’re relatively easy to install…but they’re still heavy. After all, they’re made of stone. But this highly beneficial hardscape design element can be installed quickly and relatively easily.

5. They Don’t Require Much Maintenance

A high-quality stone will last for decades…or longer. So they don’t require the maintenance that other landscape design elements do. Over the years a stone may crack and need replacing, but comparatively this is quite low maintenance for a yard feature.

 

Ready for a retaining wall? Great. To get your creative juices flowing, here are a few places you can install them:

  • Around stairs and steps
  • Around a patio area (or two separate patio areas)
  • Around a pool to provide a natural hardscaped fence
  • Around walkways to direct traffic
  • Around a garden
  • Around the base of a house to prevent flooding

For more ideas on how to incorporate a retaining wall into your landscape design, contact us here at Blue Tree—we’ll help you pick the perfect design for your yard.

Summer Maintenance for Commercial Spaces

Summer MaintenanceLandscaping is heavily affected by all seasons—especially with Philadelphia’s seasonal fluctuations. Our cold winters are contrasted by hot summers, and your commercial landscaping plan needs to keep up with the change.

By recognizing the special needs of summer landscaping, you can prevent plant death and grass burns, and maintain a beautiful landscape and hardscape.

 Summer Maintenance Tips for Commercial Spaces

To help you put your best ‘green’ foot forward this summer, here are some of our expert tips to beat the summer heat through irrigation sprinklers, landscape design, hardscape design, and more.

 1. Heat Management

Heat is your biggest issue during summer, with temperatures reaching well over 90 degrees. While you can’t air condition the outdoors, you can protect some of the more vulnerable plants by moving planters out of direct sunlight during the hottest days.

2.Insects & Pests

Any camper knows that insects—unfortunately—thrive in the summer heat. If you don’t want to spray strong pesticides across all your growing spaces, you’ll need to visually monitor for insects. Knowing which insects are eating your plants will help give you a plan of attack—especially with natural remedies. For example, fungal diseases hate baking soda and aphids hate Ivory soap.

3. Watering

Water…or lack thereof, when it comes to landscaping, is directly related to the heat, as extremely high temperatures evaporate much-needed water from plants. Watering can be difficult during summer months—even with irrigation sprinklers—as wind carries the water, and heat evaporates it before the plants’ roots can consume it. Watering at the wrong time of day can burn your grass and plants. So, use your irrigation sprinklers to water before and after sunrise to keep your water bill lower and to give your plants time to absorb the water.

4. Mowing

Many commercial grounds managers are tempted into mowing the grass to a shorter level so it will ‘last longer.’ Don’t be seduced by this, though, as mowing the grass too short will cause it to dehydrate, burn, and otherwise fail to thrive.

5. Hardscaping
If your year-round maintenance—especially in summer—is becoming too difficult to maintain, then give some thought to using a hardscape technique. A hardscape design, through elements like retaining walls and walkways, can help you manage water flow while reducing your need for summer (and year round!) maintenance.

 

For help with your commercial landscape design and maintenance—or to discuss a hardscape concept—give us a call here at Blue Tree. Our professionals can help guide you in the right direction, while providing you with the manpower you need to get the job done.

8 Summer Garden Watering Tips to Help Your Plants Thrive

Summer Garden WateringAny seasoned gardener knows that gardening is hard: there’s a serious science behind all of it, from planting the right plants in the right places to giving them the correct amount of water. The science behind proper watering is why professional irrigation sprinkler systems have become so popular.

When it comes to watering, more isn’t necessarily better. A professional irrigation sprinkler system that targets the right areas might be a great solution to look into. But in the meantime, to help you water in the most efficient way (for your plants, your budget, and the environment) we’ve put together our 8 top watering tips:

1. Don’t Water Too Often

Healthy plants require healthy roots—and watering too often is inefficient for the root system. Allowing the roots to dry out a little before watering encourages their growth, which makes for healthier plants. So, don’t water everyday (unless it’s one of our scorching hot Philly summer days, and the earth is bone dry). Generally, watering 2-3 times a week is plenty.

2. Water Well

The above point recommends not watering everyday (especially for flower beds), but when you’re watering a few days a week, be sure to water thoroughly—although don’t create an impromptu swimming pool.

3. Time your Watering

Whether you’re standing there with a hose or have an automatic irrigation sprinkler system, time your watering correctly. Ideally, you want to water early in the morning or late in the evening. Avoiding watering midday will keep the majority of the water from evaporating, and you’ll keep your leaves from burning.

4. Avoid Watering the Leaves

Watering the leaves instead of the base/roots of the plant can keep them from burning, but it will also encourage mold and plant diseases. Plant diseases thrive in hot, moist environments—especially on the leaves themselves.

5. Don’t Water All at Once

If you have plants that require a large quantity of water, it’s better to water them in parts. So water the flowerbed, then move on to another section. Once the water has seeped into the soil you can return to water the flowerbed again.

6. Water Distribution

Be mindful of where you’re watering plants, as continually watering one side over the other will encourage lop-sided root growth. Lop-sided roots disrupt healthy nutrient absorption.

7. Use Moisture Sensors

If you want to be a high-tech, environmentally-conscious gardener, you can install water sensors that will alert you to the right density of water. Installing these on existing irrigation systems can make a big difference on your water bill (although it will take some time for them to ‘pay for themselves’).

8. Never Ever Over Water

More truly isn’t better with garden watering. Overwatering, aka ‘waterlogging,’ can deprive the roots of much-needed oxygen. Roots can drown in water.

Proper watering can enhance an already beautiful garden. If your garden and overall landscaping is lackluster, then call the pros here at Blue Tree Landscaping. Our professional landscapers in the Philadelphia area can help you plan your garden with the right plants for specific locations based on sun patterns, drainage, and a number of other critical factors.

Gardening with Retainer Walls

retaining-wall-ideas-for-gardensA retaining wall is a beautiful way to architecturally sculpt your yard and garden design. Plus, it’s a wall—easy right? While garden retaining walls look like a somewhat simple concept, their construction can be surprisingly difficult and is often best left to professionals.

Professional Tips for Gardening with Retainer Walls

Retaining walls for your garden design are more than just a pile of stacked, stately rocks—there are a lot of considerations. A quick check around your neighborhood at the quality of the landscape design’s retaining walls over time will illustrate just that.

To plan a retaining wall that will stand the test of time, here are our top professional tips:

1. Drainage

A retaining wall retains more than dirt; it also can retain water. Consider water drainage as part of your retaining-wall architecture. Poor drainage can cause cracks, leans, and/or bulging within the wall, and can prevent certain plants from receiving the right amount of water.

2. Cost

Sculpting a garden isn’t a cheap hobby—but neither is using retaining walls. While the cost will vary greatly depending on materials used and cost of labor, a rule of thumb is to plan at least $15/square foot for timber, $20 for interlocking and poured concrete, and $25 for natural stone.

3. Frost

If you live here in Philadelphia, frost is a reality. Frost heaving on retaining walls is also a reality, so plan for this accordingly.

4. Fill

Retaining walls that need to deal with water and weather (which is pretty much ALL of them) need to leverage proper filling techniques. Depending on the type of retainer garden you’re building, you’ll need to consider drainpipes, backfill, landscaping fabric, and compacted soil.

5. Digging

Digging might seem like the easiest part of building a retaining wall, but even that can be complex. For example, you need to consider things like frost depth, soil type, mortar, footings, etc.

6. Masonry

Using blocks for building might seem juvenile, but there are elements to look out for—especially damaged blocks. Never be shy to send back damaged blocks, because they will compromise the overall integrity of the life of the wall for your landscape design.

 

Creating a garden design strategy around a retaining wall design can be difficult. Will it retain the right amount of water? Is it built for our Philly climate? Are you using the right materials?

When it comes to retaining walls—hiring a professional can improve the lifespan and beauty, and can decrease your overall frustration. Call us today to for a quote for a garden retainer wall and landscape design.

Easy Steps to Prevent Soil Erosion and Keep Your Yard Beautiful

Ways to Stop Soil Erosion

Plant vegetation to create a natural barrier against soil erosion, especially in hilly or sloped landscapes

One of the most persistent problems homeowners will encounter in keeping their yards pristine and well-manicured is topsoil erosion. Though soil erosion is a natural process by which wind, rain, and melted ice gradually remove a layer of topsoil, housing developments often clear cut land to build homes, which creates a vast open landscape that is more susceptible to erosion. Without trees and shrubs to set a firm network of roots that will hold the soil in place and to prevent winds from blowing directly across the ground, the nutrient rich topsoil that many plants require for proper growth will forever wash away. If left unattended, erosion could leave your yard barren, requiring topsoil deliveries to help replenish the soil that is missing.

Here are several preventative measures you can take to keep your topsoil from washing away.

Plant trees and shrubs

The most effective approach to offsetting soil erosion is to plant trees and shrubs in areas that are showing signs of erosion. Typically, this means sloped and hilly landscapes that water can easily run down. Planting trees and shrubs in this area will allow soil to remain in place as it clings to the underground network of roots. Also, planting a line of trees or shrubs near the edge of an exposed or open property will help break up strong winds that can cause soil erosion.

Mulch

Though planting trees and shrubs is a vital step to preventing soil erosion, it is equally important to mulch the surrounding area to further prevent rain runoff and wind from sweeping away topsoil. Mulch of every kind acts as an insulating layer to help keep plants safe from frost and freezing temperatures, and it also helps trap rainwater for nearby plants to absorb. This is especially important as soil erosion not only removes nutrient-rich soil, but it also prevents much needed water from saturating the soil that remains. This only compounds the effects of erosion, and putting down a thick layer of mulch will ensure that water is properly absorbed. You can also add stone edging around the mulched area to further prevent water runoff.

Route drainage away from problem areas

It is also very important to remember that drainage runoff from gutters and driveways can also cause erosion. Heavy rainstorms create strong flows of water that can not only cause soil erosion in the area around the drainpipe mouth, but can also damage your home if excess runoff seeps into its foundation. Make sure drainage pipes are routed away from your home to an area where the water can safely run off, like a bed of river rock or stone that can easily handle the discharge.

 

 

 

The Benefits of Building a Retaining Wall

July Article 3 photoWith the heart of summer upon us, it’s the right time to get out of the city and spend some more time caring for your backyard here in the heart of the Philadelphia suburbs. Many back yards in our area could benefit from the addition of a retaining wall: a stone or concrete wall with a flower garden that gives backyards a beautiful and polished look.  Any back yard that is a little hilly, or that has a terraced look, is a likely prospect for this type of addition.

Here are four advantages of building a retaining wall.

1) Level Out and Reclaim Space

When you bought your home on top of a hill for a magnificent view of the valley, the struggles that go along with slopey landscaping didn’t come to mind. A slanted backyard makes maintaining an exposed garden difficult. Now that it’s the summertime, though, you probably want to make good use of your yard. A great way to do this is to build a retaining wall that will level out the land and easily contain your plant or flower beds.

On a practical level, a retaining wall is beneficial in that it prevents further downward slope movement. An even bigger plus of installing a retaining wall, however, is that your unused, hilly yard will be transformed into a landscaped oasis.

2) Keep Soil in Place

A retaining wall contains soil into a set spot, which prevents erosion. Without a protective stone wall, garden soil could shift around during storms, or worse yet, during flooding. In order for your retaining wall to functionally keep soil in place, it’s important that it’s constructed properly. You’ll need to make sure to check your local building codes before beginning construction, as digging under the lawn is required.

3) Reduce Maintenance  

When your garden beds are enclosed with walls, the time spent on maintenance of your backyard will automatically decrease. Additionally, retaining walls reduce weather-related upkeep by protecting soil and plants from water damage. So, think of a retaining wall as an aesthetically pleasing investment that is also the key to less landscaping maintenance in the future.

4) Lookin’ Good

When you install a retaining wall, your backyard will look so much better! The soil beds with purple irises and ferns surrounded by a natural stone wall will really enhance your backyard. The stone wall in particular creates a perfect outdoor ambience, as it appears less man-made than other materials do. Depending on personal preference and design vision, however, there are many options for the material of a retaining wall, including natural stone, wood timber, or concrete blocks.

From summer to winter, the organized patches of wall and garden beds will make your backyard look sleeker. Overall, the landscaped atmosphere of a retaining wall will really add value to your home.