You hire a “landscape professional” because they should, and you assume they do, know their business and are knowledgeable about horticulture, right? Bad assumption! This is one service profession that uses more unskilled labor than most, which are often sent to do work not properly trained and/or unsupervised, and can burn you big time by making critical mistakes that are more costly to you in the long run. Since a majority of such these very hard working people are Spanish speaking, communications can be a problem. Whether it be to construct a new landscape or maintain an existing one, certain practices used are just plain incorrect and will lead to undesired results. Some of the biggies include:
Mowing lawn at improper heights
Use of weed and feed chemicals – a real no-no!
Fertilizing at the wrong time of year
Pruning trees and shrubs at wrong time of year
“Crepe Murder” and butchering rather than properly pruning plants other than Crepe myrtle.
Mulching incorrectly (piling mulch around base of trees)
Planting and staking trees incorrectly resulting in girdling and injury
This is not to say that there aren’t true professionals out there who really know their business. It is just a warning to be careful who you hire before spending the big bucks for their services. One way to prevent this is to become more knowledgeable yourself and learn proper gardening and landscaping practices even though you hire out the labor. Let’s briefly go through the list above.
Mowing lawn at improper heights: Different turf grasses require different maintenance practices. St. Augustine should be mowed at no less than 3” high as this warm weather grass requires moisture around the roots and taller cuts shade the roots to reduce ground water evaporation. Zoysia and Bermuda can be cut to 1 to 2 inches high but also benefit from not being scalped. A scalped lawn will suffer greatly during drought and extreme heat. Buffalo grass should rarely be mowed and if trimmed, left to 3-4” height.
Use of Weed and Feed products: This is a scam to say the least. The weed killer is for pre-emerging weed seed only and should be applied during late before germination whereas the feed elements are of no use for warm weather grasses until late spring and early summer when active growth begins. The toxicity of the weed killer can also kill your trees and shrubs. Don’t waste your money on these and help keep our environment healthy.
Fertilizing at the wrong time of year: When plants are entering or in natural dormancy, they should never be fertilized. When plants/lawns begin active growth is the proper time to do this. There is no better fertilizer than natural compost and other organic fertilizers which aid in feeding the micro-organisms in the soil that are beneficial to plant root growth. Knowing the right fertilizer formula and elements and when to apply them is also important. To do otherwise could cause harm to your plants/lawn and just waste money.
Pruning trees and shrubs at the wrong time of year: In the case of Live Oak and Red Oaks, pruning from February thru June is a no-no! This is when the tiny Nitidulid Beetle which spreads this disease is most active. Other pruning, e.g. shrubs, should be done in fall for deciduous plants and spring for evergreens as pruning encourages new growth and the season must be right for this.
“Crepe Murder”: Never prune more than one-third of any shrub at any time. A major crime to your crepe myrtles is to cut them back more than that, or in the case of mature plants, only tip prune old seed pods when dormant and if out of reach, don’t prune at all. Cutting back severely causes weakened supportive growth and stunting. Proper pruning can help you shape your plant or small tree when done at the correct time as mentioned above. A tall shrub can be pruned to grow tree-form or as a shaped shrub over time. You can always prune more, but never replace portions of a plant once cut.
Mulching incorrectly: Placing a mound of mulch around a shrub or tree base (known as volcano mulching) does more harm than good. Somehow, landscapers get the idea that this looks good, so why not do it. Here’s why. There is a distinct separation of plant growth zones between roots and the above ground growth (stem/trunk). If part of the trunk is buried, those plant cells will differentiate and begin producing roots above ground level, plus bark can be more easily infected by disease organisms. The benefits of mulching are tremendous, but not in contact with the base of plants or trees.
Planting and staking trees incorrectly: When a new tree is planted, it is always best to start with as small a plant as is acceptable, knowing it will take so many years for it to grow to maturity. In the case of planting more mature trees, often stakes with padded wires are looped around the trunk are attached to provide stability while roots are getting established. Never should such staking last more than 2 years, or even less if possible. The trees are growing in width as well as height and the expanding trunk will override the attached supports this weakening the trunk or even girdling it which will result in death of the tree. Staking should only be done if absolutely necessary!
This covers some of the biggest, but not all the mistakes I’ve observed on a recurring basis. So, when in doubt about whether a landscaping or maintenance contractor is doing the right thing, try consulting third party knowledgeable, sources for advice, such as trained master gardeners, or persons affiliated with non-profit horticultural help organizations. “Let the buyer beware” especially applies to the professional landscape and maintenance businesses which are not subject to following accepted and proven horticultural practices. The customer pays the price in more ways than one. Below are some examples of plant crimes committed by landscape professionals! I love the picture of the topped Agave! It’s too sad to be funny!