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Archive for September, 2008

…they take on a puffed up appearance, almost bloated looking.  Last entry we talked about our Saguaro that, because of our yard remodel, began to not only look ready to burst but began to lean to one side.  If it were to fall it would take out our a/c unit, a beautifully mature Ocotillo, a section of our block fence wall and a corner of my neighbor’s roof.  Hefty damage not the mention the anguish I’d feel for losing such an exquisite piece of desert history that has defied so many odds over its 100+ years of life.

Based on information from the Saguaro National Park in Tucson (a neat place to visit if you haven’t, here’s the link http://www.nps.gov/sagu/index.htm), a specimen the size of ours is roughly 125 years old and weighs a good 6 tons.  I feel responsible for making sure this plant makes it, especially since we’re the ones that recently put it in jeopardy.

Since the last post I’ve consulted with four specialists, three over the phone and one in person.  I didn’t have all of them come out because the going rate just to make the trip was between $69 and $150, just to look at the cactus.  All were very amenable to discussing the situation over the phone and I feel we got some good information to work with.  They all pretty much had the same thing to say: cut the water source, pronto, which I’d already done.  The solution to right the Saguaro was to straighten it with supports for 6 months or longer which would include roping it to something to pull it up and then brace it.  Because of its proximity to the house and where it is in the backyard, that was going to be difficult.  

After talking with each of the four companies on the phone I had one come out, David from Gardener’s World whom I’ve visited with on many occasions when deciding which plants to purchase for specific environmental conditions.  He’s always struck me as not only very knowledgeable but as a practial guy who really loves the plants.  You can tell by the way he talks about them and handles them. 

So prices to do the proposed work on our Saguaro ranged from $600 to $800, depending on the severity of the issue as in how much it is leaning and potential root rot.  David was relieved to see our situation wasn’t as bad as he thought based on our phone conversation and if we simply trim two of the arms it will take the weight off the one side and prevent further lean, which is his opinion was minimal at this juncture.  As far as the water supply goes, the drips that were pumping water to the root base are gone and although we still have the grass within 4 feet, it’s not deep watered so should not pose a continued threat. 

Thankfully the pleated design of the Saguaro allows it to expand and handle increased amounts of water when exposed to it, typically via mother nature.  But, the skin (epidermis) can still split when it reaches capacity and David directed us to be watchful for new splits in the trunk.  He gave us a soil acidifer called 1st Step to seal the new breaks if they occur.  Our instructions are to mix the gravel like substance with water until a thick paste forms and cake it on to the new tear to protect the cortex (or pulp) from the elements. 

He also pointed out another cactus in our yard getting too much water so I’ll be plugging a nearby drip and moving that Lantana to another location.  You can see by the picture where the Lantana was planted there’s a funnel effect created where the water runs down the rock right to the base of the cactus.  It too has become bloated and started splitting so we’ll be applying the paste to it, too.

Water runs down the rock to the cacti

Water runs down the rock to the cacti

Fresh splits from too much water.

Fresh splits from too much water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are a few more things to consider before you embark on any landscape re-design, whether it be big or small: 

  • Evaluate the plants you want to keep.
  • If they are desert plants, specifically succulents, gain an understanding of their water needs.
  • Will those plants be OK in their existing space after you remodel or is it better to relocate them based on what you’ll be planting around them and any changes in water supply.
  • When you interview your contractor, get a history of their work and understanding of desert landscape.

We’ll be watching the Saguaro closely.  David said the pleats will begin to go back to their normal size but it will take quite a while so to be patient and watchful.  He also told me what I thought was a canary island palm in our yard is a date palm and eventually it will get huge.  It’s the palm we moved in the remodel and the good news is, he thinks it’s going to make it, too.

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At the start of the summer we made an investment and purchased two bright blue Sunbrella umbrellas as I was tired of replacing the Target brand ones each year.  I was skeptical they would indeed remain fade resistant in the Phoenix sun.

As we head in to the last days of summer I’m happy to report they are still looking great ~ still bright blue and I have them up every day except when we have high winds.  We paid $400 each which about killed me but now that I see how well they’ve held up I’d say it was worth it.

My friend Libby saw them a few weeks ago and was convinced they’d be worth the investment, too.  She purchased Jockey Red for her backyard; I can’t wait to see them!

We were buying two new umbrellas each season, anywhere from $40-$60 apiece.  That got old after five years in the valley.  Granted, it’ll take more than five years for this investment to pay off but based on this first summer I’m optimistic it will indeed be worth it.  Plus, there’s the hassle factor of getting new ones each year that you have to calculate as well.

You can see from the photo how well the umbrellas are holding up.  Now the teak furniture we bought at the start of the summer is definitely more faded but I’ll put more oil on it once it cools off and we’ll see how many summers IT lasts!

They're still bright blue!

Still true blue

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Saving a Saguaro

Well, looks like there may be an issue with our Saguaro in the backyard now that we’ve added grass.  Hopefully this is a good learning lesson for readers – you don’t want to make this mistake if indeed it turns out to be one.

With grass comes more water and our nearly 100 year-old specimen is not used to having water so available.  Until we remodeled the backyard there were no drips or sprinklers anywhere near it.  Now it’s a few feet away from drips and sprinklers and suddenly I noticed it’s taking on a tilt. 

Granted the arms on this baby are loaded to one side making it naturally heavier but it’s too coincidental that only a couple months after the remodel it’s suddenly started to lean.  We’ve been in this home for five years and it’s always looked the same; until now. 

It subtle, but it's definitely leaning to the left.

A subtle lean

So, I called around to find a succulent specialist, specifically someone who knows Saguaros.  The first guy I talked to sounded knowledgeable but he’s the first person I talked to so I’m still gathering information.  I have someone else who is coming out this Thursday and a call in to another.  I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, based on what the first guy said (don’t have any drips or sprinklers within 10-12 feet of an established Saguaro – Oh Great!) I pulled out the katy ruellias near the base (see them in photo) and capped the drips, limiting the amount of water coming in around the Saguaro.  We’re also going to skip days on watering the lawn until we get more information.

This I do know for sure – there’s a way to tell if your Saguaro is getting too much water.  The ribs will look very swollen, starting from the base and moving upward.  Swollen meaning spread further apart than usual.  What’s ironic is, I noticed about a week ago on my daily walks that many of the barrel cacti I saw in the front yards of homes along our regular route were looking bloated.  In those cases it’s from all the rain we’ve received from the monsoons because no new water source was added other than via mother nature.  What I’m hoping is that’s what has happened to my guy – just too much monsoon water – and now that we’re cutting out the drips he’ll be just fine, grass and all.  We’ll definitely have to prop him from one side but I hope the roots don’t end up rotting due to the sprinklers. 

More to come as I gather more information on this one…..

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It’s been nearly three months since we finished the landscape remodel and we’re still tweaking a few things, but all-in-all we’re done. 

I was going to include detailed before and after shots but we just trimmed the mesquite tree and it’s all piled up in the front yard.  So I’ve included a couple shots of the front and  back but I’ll do more later, after bulk pick-up.  In the meantime, here’s a short list of tips you may want to bookmark if a yard re-do is in your future:

  • When you’re obtaining bids, be sure to ask about their warranty on the work (hardscape like pavers, masonry work, etc. and the plants.  With Outside Living Concepts we have a four month warranty on the plants which we are now approaching.  There are a few plants that haven’t made it and come October they will be replaced per the contract.
  • Think ahead about the details and discuss them once you’ve made the hire.  You may have a picture in your mind of how you expect certain details to turn out but if you don’t show the contractor(s) photos and/or discuss them specifically, you’re bound to run in to issues.  Here’s where I didn’t have a specific conversation and a few aspects of the project turned out other than I had envisioned:            

-Curbing.  I was seeing the s-curve in my mind and it came out block style.  Turned out the be fine. -Pillar caps.  We did discuss the color of stone but not the design of the trim around the cap.  I can live with it but had we discussed it, I’d like it more.  -Boulder placement. Came out nice but I would have staggered their height along the patio and used an odd number, not even.  -Plant placement. Think ahead to the eventual height of the plants and be sure to stagger color and height for how it will look long-term.   -Ask for a watering schedule. For the first two weeks, after two weeks and general for summer and winter going forward.  This goes for plants and grass.  -Manuals. Be sure to obtain any manuals for new equipment like watering timers, lighting, etc. and ask for a quick tutorial if need be.  -Call references and GO SEE THEIR WORK.  Call for sure and if you can see examples of their work, even better. That’s a big one. You’ll really get a feel for the quality & level of detail.  -Show examples of what you are looking for.  We showed examples of the paver steps and it took a few times to get it right, even after showing an actual example.  Magazines and pictures work, too.

  • St. Augustine grass is heartier if you have kids and pets and requires less maintenance.  It’s a little more expensive but worth it if it needs to hold up to more activity.
  • Don’t skimp on one area if it may compromise the entire project.  We ended up taking out our old landscape rock because it clashed with our new colors, which ended up costing us more in the long run.
  • Be very specific about your watering system and make sure if you’re adding grass or significantly more plants that your existing system can handle the new load.
  • Make sure you do a final walk through and have your punch list ready of the things that aren’t 100% up to par.  Be prepared with that list and ask for a time-line of when the final items will be complete. Follow-up if they are not done in a timely fashion.

So those are the major take aways from this most recent project.  Hope they help if you’re in the market.  Feel free to email or call with specific questions and watch for the next project….it may be those concrete floors I keep talking about but can’t bear the thought of the mess!

Front patio space, before

Front patio space, before

Front patio, after

Front patio, afterAnother shot of the patio

Backyard, before

Backyard, before

Before, Ocotillo & palm that were moved are in background

Before, Ocotillo & palm that were moved are in background

 

Backyard after

Backyard after

Yard to patio view

Yard to patio view

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Day 5-7, Landscape Remodel

The final few days of the remodel were the most exciting as you could finally see everything coming together. 

On Monday the boulders arrived which would shore up the steeper edge of the patio (that boulder retention idea that I saw at a home in the neighborhood).  Unfortunately I wasn’t home when that was done and I missed my opportunity to specify exactly how I wanted them arranged.  They look good but it would have been great to stagger them height-wise to achieve more interest to they eye.  They also put in four originally and odd numbers always look better in my opinion but the pavers were already cut around them by the time I got home so it was a done deal.  

Also completed were the sidewalk to the backyard, the patio and front walkway/steps.  The pillar caps were built up, flagstone pieces selected to create the caps and the pony wall repaired where it was still open from when a section of it was cut out.  On day 6 and 7 we tweaked a number of items like the watering system (had to add a new valve), painted the pony wall, sealed the steps and added a couple of other plants for balance.

Notes from the final few days of the remodel include:

  • should have made a point of being on-site for the boulder placement.
  • we added another boulder to the left of the driveway along with a yellow trumpet vine to balance things out.  The yard looked a little lopsided as we came to completion and this added balance.  George of GK Escapes also suggested adding a red lantana to give it that side of the driveway more color so we did that, too.
  • After our first night on the patio (all the neighbors came over to enjoy it which instantly validated our choice to add it!) the kids were riding their bikes and coming up and down off the side through the landscape rocks.  Not good.  So we added one more boulder that has a flatter face to it which created a natural step.  Then we added patio chairs which stopped the bike riding part!
  • We also should have discussed how the apron around the pillar caps would look.  I figured it would be a straight edge of flagstone but instead they did an alternating (upside down & right side up) trapezoid design that I’m not wild about.  It looks good it’s just not my style.  The devil is in the details.
  • We also elected to add a paver border around the front edge of the yard and along the side to tie in the walkway and patio.  It gave it a more finished look but it did drive the price up at the end.
  • We had elected to keep the original landscape rocks and just add a top dressing to spruce them up.  But they were the wrong color and clashed with the paver colors so we ended up stripping out the old and putting in new.  That cost us because they’d already finished the job and top dressed it but it just looked so bad.  I should have trusted my initial instincts to switch it out.

On the final day we did the walkthrough with Curt and identified a short punch list that was taken care of over the next few days.  We’re still working with one of those items and it looks like it will be complete sometime next week.

I’ve included a few pictures of the last few days of work and in a separate post I’ll put up some before and after shots.

Pillar Caps

Pillar Caps

Side walkway, prepped for pavers

Side walkway, prepped for pavers

Front patio

Front patio

Another view of patio

Another view of patio

Boulders & pillars

Boulders & pillars

This rock turned in to our 'step' off the patio

Rock we used for side step

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