Make no mistake about it, a retaining wall is a significant investment of time and money. The key term here is “investment,” because when it is done correctly, it can provide enjoyment for many years. Like any big project, it is best to know something about it before you start talking to (and paying) landscaping professionals.
Retaining Walls Should Match Your Lifestyle
Often, retaining walls are merely seen as a way to hold back soil. Get past that mindset. Well-planned retaining walls should work with your yard and help create an aesthetically pleasing environment that can be used for more than just holding back soil.
Don’t Be Afraid to Get Creative
Nothing in your yard is perfecting straight. Trees don’t grow straight up. Flowers lean as they wish. The shape of your yard likely has contours.
So, don’t assume that your retaining wall has to be perfecting straight. Adding curves and contours are a creative way to please the eye and have your retaining wall work with your yard instead of next to your yard.
Size Absolutely Matters
If you are looking at a relatively short retaining wall (e.g., less than four feet tall), the planning is pretty straightforward. As you start to get larger than that, though, it can get tricky. First, you will need to know what local codes apply to such structures. A good landscaper will already know, which is one reason to go with a professional. Another reason is that the collective weight of materials on larger walls often means some unique engineering may be involved.
Keep Terracing in Mind
As mentioned, taller retaining walls carry certain concerns.
For instance, at a lower grade, you will need to incrementally step up the retaining wall to attain a greater slope. This will need to be done gradually, with an eye for a slight offset at each course change.
Consider Your Materials
There are a number of different retaining wall options.
Manufactured blocks and stones, when used in retaining walls, tend to offer a more consistent appearance. They can also provide improved structural integrity with less planning. Because they are manufactured, installation is pretty straightforward in terms of ensuring that each course remains level.
This can save a tremendous amount of time installation versus boulders.
Pro Tip: Blocks and stones will often have slight variations in color. Try to match them the best you can and keep the stones that match the least at opposite ends of the wall.
Build a Solid Foundation
A solid foundation starts at the base.
Dig your base a few inches below grade, then tamp it down to make sure it is level. Again: make sure it is level. If you will be adding gravel or any other type of filler, it needs to go down at the foundation before the first stones, blocks, or boulders are set in place. The importance of the base being level cannot be stressed enough. If it is off even a little at the base, the difference can be exacerbated with each additional layer of the retaining wall.
Adding the Drain Pipe
If your retaining wall is going to have a slope dropping, you will need to incorporate drainage at the base of the wall. Place gravel at the base and implement a fabric-covered drainage pipe. The fabric helps to ensure the drainage pipe doesn’t clog. This is pretty important, because the only way to unclog it later is to dig the whole pipe out. Trust us, you don’t want to be in that situation.
Keep it on the Level
Not to sound like a broken record, but you have to keep it level. As we mentioned in the section on the foundation, any course of stones that becomes un-level will only cause more problems farther up the wall. To keep the wall strong, sturdy, and balanced, take the time to ensure that each course is level before starting on the next course.
Adding Support with Backfill
Backfilling should occur as new courses are added, not when the wall is completed. When you backfill as you go, it creates much greater support for the wall layer after layer. To avoid backfill settling over time, you’ll want to be sure the backfill is tamped down with each new course layer.
Top it All Off
Cap blocks along the top of a retaining wall are a really nice finishing touch, similar to the edging on a paver patio They can be easily held in place via masonry adhesive.
At E.P.M., we want our customers to be knowledgeable of what is happening at every step of a project, especially at the beginning. That’s why our landscape design professionals discuss not only design with you, but also the logistics of carrying out that design. You work hard for your money and you deserve to know how it’s being spent, especially on a project with the scope of a retaining wall. If you are considering adding a retaining wall to your landscaping, we encourage you to contact us today or give us a call at (517) 990-0110.
You see them in magazines. Televisions shows are dedicated to people whipping them up in an hour. They are the perfect yards. Nary a blade of grass out of place. The trees are trimmed to geometrical perfection. The retaining wall looks like it will last as long as the Pyramid of Giza. The reality of having your dream yard is really a mixed bag, though. Some of it you may be able to handle yourself. Some you will likely have to get professional landscaping help with. The difference, really, is in being honest with yourself about which is which.
Lush, Green Grass
It all starts with the beautiful lawn, doesn’t it? Since time immemorial, a carpet of lush, green grass is exactly what the yard should look like. It’s the perfect backdrop to the adorable little picket fence. In actuality, it can often be much easier to get that picket fence, than it can be to get the ideal lawn. A lot goes into getting that picturesque lawn. It starts with healthy soil that has the nutrients and correct pH balance for grass growth. After that, you’ll need to know when to apply the correct fertilizer for your grass and what time of year to apply it. Are you really prepared to go to battle with weeds? Really, really prepared?
We haven’t even touched on those spots where the grass refuses to grow. It’s like it doesn’t even care if you have been doing everything right. In reality, there is a whole menu of reasons why the grass isn’t growing: mowing too low, non-native grasses taking over, grubs and other pests, de-icing problems left over from winter, and the list goes on. This is especially important because the wrong solution to the problem is a waste of your time and money. Further, you could wind up doing more harm than good. A lawn care professional can help you get all of this sorted out right at the start and help prevent future problems, as well.
Choosing the Right Plants
There are so many potential pitfalls in plant selection if you don’t really know what you are doing. For instance, are you just choosing a certain plant because it is your favorite color, rather than how well it will grow in the spot you have picked out for it? And speaking of picking out spots, how are you doing that? Are you accounting for how certain shrubs and plants will grow? That smoke bush might look nice next to the house, but when it grows so tall that it blocks the window, you won’t be able to see how it looks… or much of anything else. Oh, and about shrubs, do you know how much trimming certain shrubs require in relation to how much time you have available to trim them? You can see how plant selection can quickly become an expensive game of trial and error, while simultaneously delaying the length of time it takes to have the yard you love. A professional landscaper knows all of these things and can help you get just what you want as quickly as possible.
Caring for Your Trees
When done correctly, trees can be a fairly low-maintenance part of your landscaping. Of course, this means having a solid plan from the start. You’ll need to know how and when to prune, how to spot potential hazards, and how to discern possible tree diseases… oh, and how to treat them. Trees are different than shrubs and plants in that, if they aren’t properly cared for they can cause major damage to your house and/or yard. At the very least, a lack of care could lead to having the tree removed. Help from professional tree care specialists means healthy, happy trees for many, many years. If you are looking to plant new trees, a professional can help you determine the best tree(s) for your yard to ensure optimal enjoyment for generations.
Adventures in Hardscaping
Installing patios, pavers, and stone retaining walls sounds like hard work, doesn’t it? That’s exactly why it’s often referred to as hardscaping. In addition to the physical heavy lifting, a professional landscaper can help you find the right material for your budget and the look you want. Beyond that, they can handle design and installation with a mind toward both the current and future needs of your yard. When you work with a professional, you also get the benefit of experience. They can bring years of creativity and wisdom to the table to help ensure every “i” is dotted and every “t” is crossed.
As the name implies, enhancements are add-ons that help to improve the look and/or health of your landscaping. A good example of a landscape enhancement would be an irrigation system to ensure your lawn, plants, trees, and shrubs are getting all the water they need, while not wasting water at the same time.
Even if you think you can handle all of the landscape tasks on your punch list, it’s still a good idea to contact a professional landscaper for a basic consultation. That’s where you’ll find out what you can handle yourself and where you might be in over your head. For a consultation, feel free to call E.P.M. of Michigan today at (517) 990-0110!
We all want to have lush lawns and healthy gardens. Still, it can seem like the amount of water it takes to do so can lead to really high water bills. In reality, there are actually some very simple things you can do to ensure your lawn and garden get enough water, while making sure you are not being wasteful. To help you be as efficient as possible with watering, we have compiled a list of 10 helpful tips.
Yes, we realize this sounds like a no-brainer. Still, the single biggest waste of water is because of over-watering. In addition to wasting water, too much water is not good for your grass and plants. Problems like root rot, bacterial diseases, and the like are often a result of stressed root systems that come from too much watering. If you are unsure about just how much water is too much (or not enough), contact your local landscaping professional for help setting up a watering schedule.
Don’t Mow Too Low
We know; you cut it low so that you don’t have to cut it as often. Still, cutting it to about two inches helps deliver shade for the soil and prevent water evaporation that happens much faster when you cut lower.
Soil, Not Leaves
There are two great reason to water the soil, rather than the leaves. The first is because it reduces water evaporation. The second is because excess water on the leaves can contribute to fungal diseases. If you have the budget, a professionally-designed and installed irrigation system is a much better option than $10 lawn sprinklers. Consider it an investment that pays you back in lower water bills and a healthier lawn and garden.
Keeping the root zone cool helps to reduce evaporation and retain moisture. A good, thick layer of organic mulch is a great way to achieve that. When using mulches made from wood chips, shredded bark or some other organic material, you also get the benefit of that mulch adding organic matter to the soil as it breaks down over time. That said, different mulches are better for different applications, so do your homework before you buy.
Choose the Right Plants
Some plants simply require less water. These “drought-tolerant” plants, by their very nature, can help keep water usage lower. Some popular drought-tolerant plants include sage, yarrow, yucca, and white fir.
Why pay for what Mother Nature will give you for free? Not only does using rain water save you money, the water itself is often better for plants, because it is free from the treatment chemicals that are used in most city water treatment facilities.
Check for Leaks
Hold on to your hat for a staggering statistic. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that just one leak measuring 1/32-inch in diameter, whether it be on an outdoor faucet, emitter or hose, can lead to a yearly water waste of 6,000 gallons! That’s just one leak. What if you have more?
It’s these very outdoor leaks that are most prone to water waste, because they tend to go unnoticed. If you are working with a reputable landscape company, however, they will check for leaks at each visit so you don’t have to worry about it. If you are caring for your lawn yourself, you’ll want to make sure you check for leaks once a week; it doesn’t take long for an unnoticed leak to run up the water bill.
Consider Water-Efficient Emitters
If you are using a sprinkler system and haven’t checked out the advances in water emitter technology in the last decade, you might be surprised at how good it has gotten. From sprinkler heads, to rotors, to drip irrigation emitters, do yourself a favor and research the specs on new ones. Even if it has only been a couple of years since you last looked. The technology advances quickly.
If you are using an irrigation system, an investment in a smart controller can improve your overall water efficiency by as much as 40%. It does so by working in coordination with the weather. This option really depends upon your water bill, as a smart controller can run anywhere from about $300 all the way up to several grand. So, you’ll certainly want to weigh your potential return on investment before you take the plunge.
Automatic Rain Shutoff Device
Another option for those using an irrigation system is an automatic rain shutoff device. It works as the name implies; it tells the irrigation system controller to shut off after a defined amount of rain has fallen. It saves you money and prevents over-watering. It’s also much more affordable than a smart controller. If you opt for an automatic rain shutoff device, you can usually get one installed (including labor) for about $200. Depending upon the size of the area you need to water and how heavy the rainfall is, you might be able to save that much on your water bill in year one!
Some of these solutions you can implement right away and some may need to wait for future seasons. In the meantime, trust E.P.M. of Michigan for your next landscaping project. For more about our whole list of professional landscaping services, contact us today or give us a call at (517) 990-0110.