As we (thankfully) say goodbye to 2020, the time comes to look back to learn what we can from the year gone by.  The most logical first step in planning for future success should be a look back to access past performance. 

For many of us, our homes are our greatest investment with our landscapes making a significant impact on our home’s value.  With that in mind, I figure this is an ideal time to share the most common landscape issues I have come across this past year.  As a landscape designer, I visit hundreds of clients every year who are looking to improve their outdoor living spaces.  Some concerns remain very consistent year after year but there are always some new issues that emerge.

The most significant influence of the 2020 gardening year had to be the COVID restrictions that had people spending more time at home.  According to the recently published Axiom gardening survey, 41% of gardeners did so simply for something to do and 86% intend to do so again this year.  Our outdoor entertaining areas have become more essential as safe gathering spaces.  Patios, decks and terraces have always been extensions of our indoor décor but have significantly increased in importance this year.  There was a great deal of improvement and expansion of these spaces last year and that will only increase in the years to come. 

It seems you aren’t just sitting on your patios but are also planting in your yard and gardens more than ever before.  Flowers, trees, shrubs, vegetables and herbs were all planted in record numbers in 2020 and while some just wanted to fill time, most did so to beautify their surroundings.  I spent a great deal of my time helping clients to gather the information they needed to be successful in these efforts.    

Most homeowners I visit don’t really know what they want they just know they don’t like what they have.  Over and over, I find myself utilizing the same analogy to explain the condition of their landscapes... “When your tires no longer have tread, they need to be replaced.”  Landscape plants, like tires, have a limited lifespan that will vary depending on factors like plant selection, location and care.  As a point of reference, the average landscape planting lasts 15 years and the vast majority of those I see are much older than that.   More now than ever, the cost of new landscape plantings are seen as being well worth the investment.  

I find some sort of pest issues in nearly every landscape I visit.  Most do not require attention but there are a few that are more troubling.  We are at the tail end of dealing with the disastrous wave of Emerald Ash Borer infestation.  This invasive insect has all but eliminated our entire population of native Ash trees that now (having died) have become hazardous trees in many landscapes.  A less dangerous disorder of nearly equal proportion is Rhizosphaera (needlecast) disease on Blue Spruce trees.  Needlecast is a fungal disease that causes mature Colorado Spruce trees to thin out, loosing needles from the inside of lower branches.  While the disease rarely kills the plant entirely, the resulting thinning of branches makes these trees unsightly.  Chemical treatment can be effective but is generally considered impractical.  Replacing trees with disease resistant cultivars is the most sustainable solution.  Another of the most common pest issues we face is that of Boxwood leafminer.  Leafminer damage appears as brownish blisters on leaves during mid-summer.  The insect is really a small fly that can be seen swarming over Boxwood plants in spring.  Resulting larvae penetrate leaf tissue causing the blistering affect that can disfigure shrubs over time.  While usually just an occasional pest, we have seen several years in a row of consistent damage making this a pest of note.  Spring applications to control adult flies are difficult to time properly as most homeowners fail to notice their presence and the more effective use of systemic insecticides may be harmful to beneficial insect populations. 

I have never fielded more requests for drainage as I have this year.  None of us want a soggy yard and we have all experienced extended periods of excessive rainfall during the past several years.  While I remain opposed to prescribing disproportionate solutions for what may be temporary issues, it seems that this rainfall pattern is here to stay.

There are some landscape issues that seem to remain consistent over time like privacy screening, lawn improvement and streamlining maintenance needs.  No matter why I may be called to a home, I am always looking out for dangerous limbs up in the tree canopy as well as failing pavement and exterior home surfaces. 

As Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”  Winter may not be the ideal time to perform landscape improvements but it is the perfect time to plan for what may need doing moving forward. 

Now go outside and have fun in the dirt!