We commonly get asked the question, “Which product is better for planting beds, Mulch or Stone?” Each product has their pros and cons, but ultimately it comes down to personal preference.
Mulch is great around plants because it preserves moisture and prevents extreme temperature fluctuations. During the summer, mulch protects the soil from the hot sun rays therefore reducing water evaporation. In winter, the mulch insulates the soil reducing frost heaving and the possibility of root damage. Over time, mulch will break down and slowly add nutrients and organic matter to the soil. As mulch decomposes, the activity of beneficial microorganisms in the soil will increase and soil porosity and moisture retention will improve. This will provide a very healthy environment essential for root growth. However, there are some drawbacks with mulch. As mulch decomposes, a thin 1” layer of new mulch should be added annually to keep your planting beds neat and healthy.
Stone is a very decorative and low maintenance alternative to mulch. When using stone, it is best to place landscape fabric underneath to prevent weeds from encroaching and the stones from sinking deep into the soil. Stone does not provide any nutritional benefits to the soil like organic bark mulch, but it deters insects and disease causing pathogens from inhabiting planting beds. Stone can become extremely hot during the summer months and some plants may not be tolerant of these hot conditions. However, stone is very low maintenance and does not need to be replaced annually.
With the weather warming up, we all want to be outside as much as possible, so why only enjoy your landscape during the daylight? By adding low voltage lighting, you can greatly increase the use of your exterior surroundings throughout all hours of the day.
Landscape Lighting can be placed around decks, patios, pools, and recreational areas to increase their usability after sundown. It can be used to beautifully accentuate trees and planting beds, highlight distinct architectural features of homes and buildings, and capture the swaying water of pools and water features. Light fixtures can be positioned in different ways to create unique effects, specific to your property and landscape.
Landscape Lighting is not just for aesthetic purposes, it is very functional for safety and security reasons. Strategically placed light fixtures allow residents and visitors to safely find their way along pathways and steps after dark. Low voltage lighting is also very important for illuminating dark niches around the property where unwanted visitors could hide.
Low voltage landscape lighting is an ideal alternative to expensive high voltage outdoor lighting. Low voltage systems operate at 30 volts or less, consuming 1/3 of the electricity of high voltage systems while producing the same light intensity. These systems are also far less expensive to install, and much easier to maintain. They can be programmed to operate on a timer, or photocell, so that the lights will automatically come on when the sun goes down.
The next time you plan a summer cookout, consider how nice it would be to have your yard illuminated by an energy efficient, aesthetically beautiful lighting system. Impress your guests by showing off your house and entertaining areas at all hours of the day, and maximize the use of your exterior surroundings!
Summer is finally here which means it’s time for cookouts, swimming, and vacation time! Many of us choose vacation destinations near beaches and lakes, or stay at hotels that have beautiful pools and water features. However, we don’t necessarily have to travel to the lake region of upstate New York or the beaches of the Cape to enjoy the water. Why not bring the water right into your own backyard by installing a beautiful water garden!
July is National Water Gardening Month! A water garden can greatly enhance your landscape and transform your backyard into a private resort. Small ponds are very calming, especially when combined with a manmade stream or waterfall that creates a relaxing background noise. They could be located in a quiet corner of the yard, or right off one of our Rinox paver patios. Water features are outfitted with boulders of all different shapes and size that create a natural, rustic setting around the water. The base of the pond is lined with gravel and beautiful aquatic plants, such as Irises, Waterlilies, Papyrus, Cattails, & Lotus. These plants add color and texture to the pond, and soften the rock edges with help from terrestrial plants. Plants and Koi Fish are essential additions to water features, not only for the beauty and visual interest, but also for their profound effect on maintaining a healthy pond. Water gardens can be designed and customized in any way to best suit your yard! They are a beautiful, low maintenance addition to the landscape that can create a small piece of paradise right in your own backyard!
Native plants…for the past few years in plant circles there’s been a lot of buzz about the plants that are native to a region. Many have been under-promoted, unappreciated and under-used, and there’s been a strong movement to bring them into the cultivated landscape. But are natives in fact better suited to our soils and climates, and more resistant to pests, than are the more popular and commonly offered exotics (plants that have their origins in other parts of the world)? To some extent this can be true. For example, many broadleaf evergreen rhododendrons that suffer in sunny, exposed sites here are better suited to the rainy, more temperate Pacific Northwest, and our native Swamp Azalea is more acclimated to the Northeast. But the Swamp Azalea doesn’t care for hot, dry sites any more than do its Asian cousins. Siting plants correctly really takes precedence in determining if they will thrive.
But there are other good reasons to consider adding native plants to your landscape. Plants provide food and shelter for butterflies and birds. Some might argue that thus, for plantings attracting winged creatures, natives have a built-in advantage over the imported garden species because our wildlife has co-evolved with the flora here. For example, our native milkweed leaves are not only the preferred food for the Monarch Butterfly caterpillar, without it they cannot survive. Also, because many farms and fields have been turned into residential areas, food and shelter resources for wildlife have been shrinking; why not establish plantings that help preserve what once was here?
Here at Birch Mountain, we like to combine natives with exotic ornamentals in our landscape design. Many exotic (read: not native) plants that are well suited to home landscapes here hail from Korea, Japan, and temperate parts of China that enjoy a similar set of seasonal weather, temperature highs and lows, and soil conditions, so they are hardy and fit in well if sited correctly. Some non-natives can also be considered good sources of food (nectar, fruit or berries, leaves) or shelter for wildlife. From a design viewpoint, using both natives and non-natives also gives us a much larger palette of plants, each having unique colors, textures, forms, and features.
The first priority for design here at Birch Mountain is to create a beautiful and enjoyable landscape for you. In planting design, we make a pretty picture but we also take into account a plant’s preferences for light, moisture, and soil type, and are mindful of its eventual height and width. We want your landscape to remain healthy and beautiful as time passes. And we like to invite winged guests! A garden is a collection of living things. Unlike the hardscape, it is in a state of constant change, and part of the fun of being outdoors can be two-fold: watching the changes time brings as your landscape plantings mature, and enjoying observing your garden’s wild co-inhabitants as they partake of the edible landscape, whether native or exotic.
It has certainly been a harsh winter and an unusually cold spring. The latest forecast calls for possibly significant amounts on Friday of…more snow! Here at Birch Mountain, we’ve had to postpone our spring start date because of frigid weather and soaked soil, but we are hoping to begin next week, when maybe the snow will really be gone!
I began to wonder why we are stuck in this weather cycle. I still don’t fully understand why spring is so cold this year, possibly with the chill continuing well into the middle of April, according to forecasts. However, my digging resulted in my discovery of the “year without summer”, which occurred in 1816. Due to the massive volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora in present-day Indonesia, roughly 38 cubic miles of rock and earth were ejected into the atmosphere. (Our on-line materials calculator can’t handle those numbers!)
In New England, a dry fog hung over the land, turning red in the sun. In May, frost killed most of the crops that had been planted already. More frosts were reported in June! In July and August, lake and river ice were reported as far south as Pennsylvania, and that summer in Connecticut, there were huge temperature fluctuations with summer days of 95 degrees rapidly plummeting to near freezing in hours. You get the picture. 1816 was the coldest year on record for centuries in Europe, and caused the worst famine of the 19th C. Europe.
I am now reconsidering my complaints about the weather so far this year. We in our lifetime have never had to contend with a year without summer, so let’s hope that we can adjust to frosts and wintry mixes coming our way in March and April. It is still early spring, according to the calendar.
When deciding to do a patio there are a variety of options available to consider. One of the most popular choices today is what is known as an interlocking concrete paver. At Birch Mountain Earthworks, LLC you can have the entire project designed and created for you. If you would like to consider trying it on your own we can supply you with everything you will need including some helpful advice. Don’t make the mistake of getting advice from someone who has had no experience with actually installing patios.
The delivery truck shown above is what is used to bring the pavers to your house. On the back of the truck the Moffet forklift detaches from the truck and is able to bring the pavers into your yard. This allows the pallets to be placed in the area that the patio is being constructed.
One of the most popular items today that is added to a new patio is a fire pit. In this example we have used small boulder stones to create this fire pit. The patio does go around the entire pit to allow for seating for several people. One of the most interesting parts to this entertainment area is the large boulder stone that is used as a bench seat. Within the construction of the landscape project this large boulder stone was found! It was carefully placed off to the side to be used for this purpose.
Often times when locating a fire pit within any landscape there are a few key elements to consider. First and most important is safety. When placing the fire pit it is critical to be sure that it is far enough away from anything that could catch fire. The next part to consider is to make sure you have plenty of room around it for seating. It is likely the fire pit will become more popular that one may anticipate. Having extra room always comes in handy.