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  • How to Incorporate Slate into Your Landscaping Naturally

    There’s a fine line between over-developed landscaping and natural landscaping that can be a tough line to walk. We all want our outdoor spaces to be comfortable and include as many amenities as possible, but the goal is to have an actual outdoor space – not just a duplicate of the interior of our homes.

    Luckily, there are several products that thread this line to help generate an elegant outdoor space that’s well maintained and landscaped but also feels natural. Flagstones – thin stone chunks that can be shaped or left in a natural shape – are a perfect element to achieve this look. Utilized properly, these stones can maintain the natural splendor of your landscaping project while still providing the utility you desire.

    One of the most common ways flagstone is utilized is as a base for an outdoor patio. The individual stones are traditionally placed in a bed of cement (for a more sturdy patio) or sand or gravel in a desired shape. The space in between each stone is then filled with smaller gravel, plants, and more. The customizable nature of a flagstone patio combined with the relative ease of installation makes it a common choice among pros and DIYers alike. Cut flagstone patios can be an attractive formal addition to any outdoor space, while irregular flagstone patios are completely unique. With a number of varieties and colors to choose from, its clear why flagstone is such a popular choice for patios.

    Of course, no patio is complete without a pathway leading to it, and once again flagstone is an excellent choice. Create a more natural look and feel by filling the gaps between the stones with sand, river rocks, or even mulch. With these natural fillers, it’s still best to lay down a weed barrier first – you don’t want to have to weed in between your pathway!

    Slate is one of the more common types of stone mined for flagstone products and the resulting chunks of stone can be used to construct major new additions to your yard. Is your yard hilly? Slate staircases are a great way to move between your house and outdoor space. Built by a strategic combination of the placement of the slate pieces, digging and then mortaring, the end result is a natural looking staircase that’s built directly into the ground. (This is one of the more difficult projects involving slate, and since safety is paramount for constructing staircases, you may want to hire a professional for this one.)

    Additionally, flagstones aren’t just valuable for projects that lie flat on the ground, they are also commonly used to create attractive retaining walls. Adding verticality to your garden is a great way to stand out and allows the greenery in each level to visually stand out. Retaining walls made from flagstone have an old-world feel to it, evoking a rustic, European vibe that enhances any landscaping project. Properly installing retaining walls can be a challenge but the effort radically transforms any outdoor space.

    If you’re looking for a way to add outdoor seating to your garden without buying an ugly plastic chair that’s vulnerable to the weather, flagstone can even help you out here. Combining three properly shaped stones can create a natural looking outdoor bench. Mortaring together the slabs ensures stability, and these outdoor seats are an excellent addition for gardens or placed around a fire pit.

    Speaking of fire pits, flagstone is an attractive material to use for the exterior of the finished product. For the interior, you’ll want a material that’s fireproof, like firebrick. However, constructing this fire pit in the center of your flagstone patio, along with flagstone seating, you’ll have a natural looking outdoors space that’s both chic and cohesive.

    Flagstone’s popularity as a hardscaping building material comes from a combination of elements, chief among them is its weather resilience, color options, and variety of shapes.

    The variety of colors available means that you can use flagstone for all of your outdoor projects but still have contrasting colors. Utilize a lighter gray for your retaining wall and an earthy brown for a path. Combine the different colors with the variety of shapes and options available and there are nearly unlimited ways to differentiate your flagstone elements.

    There’s also very little maintenance required to maintain a flagstone path or patio. Most of the time you’ll be sweeping the exterior or weeding the surrounding areas. If an accident does occur and one of your flagstones is chipped, it’s easy to remove just that one element – no need to tear out the entire patio to fix one cracked piece.

    Slate and other types of flagstone are just the elements you need to achieve a landscape that is both useful and beautiful – naturally.

  • River Rocks: What You Need to Know About This Hardscaping Mainstay

    When you’re planning out your new landscaping project, where do rocks fit in? Obviously, no one wants rocks in the grass (mowing would be a pain!) but incorporating rocks into your landscaping can elevate its overall look and feel. River rocks don’t just belong in the river and are a fantastic element to add to any landscaping project. In fact, the name is misleading as these versatile stones can set your new project up for success, emphasizing new designs or serving as a great grass alternative for filling space.

    River rocks are a type of hardscaping (using non-living components in your landscaping) that can do so much for a new yard or garden project. Depending on what your goals are, river rocks can be a great alternative to other more maintenance-heavy options. Is your goal to draw your eye to a specific area? Choose river rocks in a color that’s not common to your area. Dark browns or bright whites can act as an accent and provide a splash of color against flora and fauna. Or if you’re looking for a filler or backdrop for other exciting elements like your collection of garden gnomes, pigeon river rocks or Delaware Jax rocks provide a more earthy tone.

    These rocks are also commonly featured in and around water fixtures, hence the name. They are used for riverbeds as an accent color and to help direct the water away from vulnerable property and prevent erosion, serving both a practical and aesthetic purpose. You’ll also find river rocks around fountains or waterfalls, creating a more natural look for the water fixtures.

    Looking to maintain a garden but don’t want to go to the trouble of applying mulch every year? River rocks can serve as a replacement material as long as the proper steps are taken ahead of time. Weeds are already the enemy of gardeners everywhere, but trying to dig out a weed that’s found its way through your rock bed is a pain no one should have to suffer through. Laying down a weed barrier before putting your river rocks in place makes your life easier and goes a long way towards maintaining a weed-free garden.

    Additionally, combining a layer of stones with potted plants creates an elegant container garden. Brightly colored flowers will seem all the brighter surrounded by stones, and your maintenance levels drop significantly. Plus, you can rearrange your plants on a whim, allowing you to play with your layout and preventing any planter’s remorse.

    Of course, if you don’t want to add containers, there are several plants that thrive with a rock base. Stones help the soil drain quicker, creating a perfect environment for cacti and succulents. Desert-style gardens are growing in popularity and require less maintenance than other styles.

    On the more creative side, designing a personalized outdoor space can be challenging, but river rocks provide the perfect avenue to let your inner artist out. Combining different colors together can create a stunning visual pattern. These mosaic gardens are works of art, and require more rigorous planning ahead of time. Transform a basic stone pathway with geometric shapes and contrasting colors for a beautiful backyard accent piece. Or if you aren’t keen on walking on a series of stones to get around, combine your river rock pathway with larger pieces of flagstone for path that won’t hurt your bare feet.

    River rocks are also historically a key element of Japanese rock gardens, or zen gardens. These traditionally smaller accent gardens are carefully laid out using a combination of rocks and gravel that’s been raked so it appears like water. The act of raking out the stones into a smooth pattern is actually somewhat difficult, requiring time and concentration, but also provides a relaxing, meditative activity.

    Adding hardscaping elements to your new landscaping project may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Many people focus on the new greenery that they’ll add and think about ways to remove any rocks in the area. But river rocks can be an incredibly versatile element that all landscapers should consider. Not only are there a variety of color options available to fit any home design, but they require less maintenance than alternatives like mulch or grass. Even just using these stones for something as simple as a barrier between a new in-ground plant bed can add a natural element that would be lost with other pavers or walls. These stones can help differentiate a good project from a great one, and shouldn’t be written off so quickly.

  • Considering Flagging for Your Patio? Read This First.

    Designing the ultimate outdoor space for your enjoyment should be a fun experience. There are so many different ways to update an outdoor space to make it more attractive or comfortable. There’s a reason why so many homeowners choose to augment their yards with a flagstone patio. Flagging is a highly customizable process, adding a natural hardscape element to your backyard and creating a contrast between your plants and other landscape features.

    Flagstones are natural stones that have been split into thin layers and are primarily used for patios and walkways. The stones are commonly used in both irregular, natural shapes and in cut, geometric squares. They’re also a great choice for the added texture that comes from having a roughened surface, providing more traction even in the rain.

    One of the many reasons why people choose flagstone is for its natural look and feel. Earthy colors like greys, browns, and reds create a very authentic feel no matter what shape you decided on. The amount of natural stone varieties available makes for unlimited design choices for all types patios. Create a natural looking path from the home to an outdoor grill using irregular shapes, or “crazy paving.” Or create a more formal patio experience and use a variety of rectangular flagstones in a pattern. The plethora of shapes available mean you can have fun with placement and maximize space.

    When designing your flagstone patio, think about how you’ll be using the space. Are you grilling out with friends and family during the summer? What about focusing your new patio around an in-ground fire pit? If there’s one specific area you want to emphasize, design a circular pattern with the object or area as the focal point. If you’re interested in a rectangular shape, utilize the irregular flagstones for a unique pattern.

    To create a more unified presentation, flagstones are often placed just slightly apart and then the gaps between are filled. One of the most common ways to fill the space between each stone is concrete, creating a solid surface to stand on. This is an elegant solution to even out the surface and create a space perfect for outdoor furniture, grills, or other freestanding backyard appliances, but there are so many ways to make each flagstone pop. Gravel is another common material used to fill the space between each flagstone, creating a more rustic feel to the space while still providing a base layer that helps keep the flagstones even. For a more natural design, some choose to fill that in-between space with moss or grass, making each individual stone pop in contrast with the green surrounding it.

    If you are going to set your flagstones in sand or gravel, it’s important to note the risks that come with connecting the stones via mortar. Sand and gravel shift, and despite the patio looking incredibly smooth immediately after the project finishes, time, weather, and use will cause the stones to shift and your smooth patio will become bumpy. If you want mortar to connect your stones, it makes more sense to install them in a cement base to ensure stability.

    Flagstones are often used for patio construction not just because of the variety available, but due to the durability of the product. The slate, sandstone, and limestone commonly used for producing flagstones are weather resistant and require very little in the way of continual maintenance. If your patio is laid in gravel or sand, you may need to readjust specific stones to keep everything level. Another maintenance plus for a flagstone patio is repair, if one flagstone breaks or cracks, it’s easy to repair just that one stone. No need to completely tear up the whole project for one faulty element.

    The flexible nature of flagstone lends itself to both DIY and professionally installed patios. A quick Google search online reveals numerous how-to videos and articles showing amateurs assembling their own flagstone installations. Regardless of what path you take, it’s important to plan everything out first. Make sure that you’re happy with your design on paper before ordering, and once you’ve received your product, lay it out to see if you really like what you’ve designed first. That’s one of the major benefits of constructing a patio with flagstone – the ability to visualize the final product before you install everything and create your outdoor oasis.

  • 3 Effective Ways to Create Garden Beds in Your Lawn

    When you think of a home garden, what do you picture? Rows of home grown produce in a neat little square in the backyard? Or perhaps you imagine a series of square containers, elevated off the ground for serious growing.

    Choosing the right type of garden bed is essential and affects what you can grow, how much maintenance is required, and what your new garden will look like. Three of the most common types of home gardens are:

    – In-Ground Beds

    – Raised Beds

    – Containers

    Each one comes with various pros and cons, so choosing the right garden bed is essential.

     

    In-Ground Beds

    This is one of the most common types of home gardens, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. Dug directly into the ground, this garden is usually at the same surface as the surrounding grass and soil. It’s edging could be an elaborate, yet low cobblestone or it could be as simple as a minimalist, pre-assembled plastic barrier.

    This type of garden bed is going to be the most impacted by the surrounding landscaping and environment. You’ll be replacing the grass with whatever you want to grow, and will be at the mercy of the soil that exists in your yard. Excavating the dirt, lining the garden bed, and ordering new soil is an option, but can be costly and take time. On the plus side, if your soil is already decent, there’s not as much prep work as required of the other styles. Till and weed the soil, plant your seeds, and add a layer of Brown Designer Mulch and you’re ready to go.

    In-ground beds can be incredibly easy to start, but they also come with a number of drawbacks. This type of bed is one of the hardest to maintain, you’ll be bending over and getting on your knees to pull weeds and tend your plants. It’s also possible that the surrounding soil isn’t as healthy as you’d like, with an unbalanced pH level or containing contaminants. The soil in this type of bed will also take the longest to warm up and could delay your planting schedule.

     

    Raised Beds

    This is also exactly what it sounds like. These garden beds are elevated off the ground, usually with a wood or stone border. These can be flush up against your house or a fence, built into a hill, or, if you’re truly ambitious, act as a standalone piece in your yard. Due to the nature of raised beds, you’re going to be adding something to your yard, whether it’s edgers and gravel or large amounts of wood. There’s a significant up-front investment to add a raised bed to your yard, including bringing in new soil to fill the bed.

    The plus side to this is you get to choose exactly how you want your new bed to look. Line the bottom with a fabric barrier to prevent intrusive weeds and add custom soil and mulch to encourage growth. For the truly ambitious, invest in piping for additional watering options.

    Raised beds can have a significant up front cost, but you get to decide exactly how you want everything to be. This type of bed is also easier to tend; the higher level means no kneeling and bending to work on your garden at all. The elevation also means that the soil will warm up before in-ground beds, meaning you can plant and reap the benefits of your handiwork sooner.

     

    Containers

    The most flexible type of garden bed is the container. These are stand-alone products like a pot or a plastic bin that are designed to be mobile. You can buy products specifically to use as a container bed or recycle things like wheelbarrows or old sinks. The upside to a container bed is you can place it anywhere. Live in an apartment and want a garden? Make one from a container for your porch or outdoor space. Containers are mobile, and can be placed strategically to update the appearance of your yard or home.

    You have complete control of everything in the container, from the type of soil to the amount of light. You can even bring your containers inside during the winter months and protect your plant from cold weather. From houseplants to herbs to fruits, containers are incredibly versatile.

    The downside to growing plants in a container is that they generally require more watering and fertilization than either raised or in-ground beds. The size of the container can also be limiting, and larger containers

  • Spring Cleaning for Your Yard

    Spring cleaning shouldn’t just be for your office or junk drawer, it’s a time to take stock, make repairs, and just generally freshen up. It’s also the perfect time to re-evaluate your lawn and landscaping needs after winter and prepare for new growth. Don’t leave those yard tasks for when you have an “open weekend”! Planning everything out ahead of time and making a checklist can reduce your yard work burden and give you a framework for moving forward.

    Here are a few suggested steps to help you get started on your spring cleaning journey:

    – Clean up winter debris

    – Prep your flower beds

    – Improve existing flower beds

    – Order your mulch in bulk (brown mulch is a popular choice)

    – Choose your flowers

     

    Winter Debris

    Whether your winter was full of snowfall or just dead leaves, the first thing you need to do once the weather warms up is get rid of any and all debris that’s built up over the season. No one wants to see litter or pet waste in their yard, but those cold winter days can bring out the worst in us, so it’s important to take stock of your yard and see what tools you’ll need. Break out the rake once more and gather up everything from any dead leaves you might’ve missed to the Coke can that got buried by the snow. This makes everything that comes next easier.

     

    Prepping Flower Beds

    Once you’ve cleared the waste up, it’s time to prepare your dirt and soil so whatever you choose to plant thrives. Prune any dead branches or old wood from surrounding trees and bushes. This not only frees up space, but it encourages healthy growth on whatever plants you choose to prune. Now is also a good time to start the search for weeds. It’s never too early to begin the weeding process, so remove whatever you find.

    During winter, soil can become compacted in the ground. To prepare it for fresh planting, you should till or loosen the soil. You can use a tiller or spade to just work the soil and loosen it up – the warmer the day, the easier it will be.

     

    Improving Flower Beds

    This is an optional step that not everyone is going to take, but now is your chance to make improvements to the flowerbed. One improvement that can change the entire look of your garden or flowerbed is the addition of edging beds for a new garden border. You’ll need to dig a new trench around the border and fill it with a fabric or liner. Covering the liner with sand or gravel is a great strategy to improve the positioning of the pavers. Once that’s done, you can add new brick or concrete pavers.

    Depending on how ambitious you’re feeling with your new project, you can take this a step further and elevate or adjust the shape of the flowerbed. These adjustments will take more time, effort, and material, but can add more dimensions to your yard.

     

    Mulch Time!

    Before you plant any new flowers or plants in the soil, you’re going to want to think ahead and prepare your mulch order ahead of time. Once you reach this stage of the process, you don’t want to be dealing with making trips back and forth to pick up more supplies. It’s a good idea to order your mulch ahead of time and in bulk so you aren’t left with any uncovered areas.

    Mulch has so many benefits to your garden beyond adding another attractive element. Mulch suppresses weed growth, meaning less time spent ridding your garden of those pests during your free time. A layer of mulch also helps retain moisture in the soil, which is essential for any dry spells throughout the summer and reducing your need to water.

    Make sure to do your research before buying any mulch. There are a variety of different types that offer different textures and different appearances. Choosing between black colored designer mulch and shredded hardwood will create a completely different aesthetic for your landscaping. Brown mulch is a popular and preferred option amongst many homeowners.

     

    Flower Power

    Finally, it’s time to choose what you’ll be planting. There are so many different plants to choose from for all different landscaping styles. Will you go for colorful pastel flowers to make your landscaping pop? Or is it time to enhance your already existing shrubbery? Different plants bloom at different times, so think about what time of year you want to admire your new garden. Lilacs, daffodils, and tulips all bloom in spring and will give you more instant gratification. Lavender and hibiscus bloom in the summer, so you’ll have to wait to see your handiwork bear fruit.

    Whatever you choose, breathe life into your yard with some spring cleaning and enjoy your refreshed garden!