Best Management Practices’ for Landscaping Part 2

In the past article I brought up the subject of Best Management Practices for Landscaping and touching upon why a manual of this sort might be important. There are many good publications already out there that already focus the practices one should follow to create and maintain healthy landscapes and most of us as landscapers we already know what these practices are and we use them everyday. Having said that, why is so much of what we see everyday really doesn’t take best practices into account, plants installed in conditions that can never support them or if they do they aren’t appropriate for the site where they are used? Then the question becomes what allows for this and how might we correct it? How do we give some weight to these best practices, so that they are understood and they become the standards by which all those that are involved in the creating, approving, installing and maintaining of landscapes in municipal, commercial or residential situations? I will offer an example of this in the municipal situation with a couple of photos to illustrate.

Hanson St.

In Rochester, as is occurring in many towns and cities they are making improvements to streets and sidewalks either for stormwater/ sewer improvements or as in Rochester downtown revitalization projects. This street (Hanson St.) that the photos show; it is side street that comes into the central square of town. What had occurred was that the street pavement and sidewalks were taken up, all of the utilities were place underground and with improvements to sewer and water lines. After all this work was done it was back filled with gravel and the crushed pavement that had been removed, new sidewalks were installed with new streetlights. As with many of these types of projects opening were left in sidewalks for trees to be installed. There are 26 trees that have been planted along this street, 4 varieties of trees were used: 10 Syringa reticulata, 4 Acer rubrum, 9 Zelkova serrata and 3 that might be Crataegus inermis, all about 2” cal.. As you will notice in picture 1 the trees were planted 6-8” below sidewalk grade. As a side note Hanson St. was the first street to be paved in Rochester in 1901 with 56,000 granite blocks from a quarry in Suncook, some of which were saved and cleaned to be reused as you notice in second picture around the trees. In order for granite blocks to installed stone dust was used as a base and in between joints. Then mulch was used to fill the gap between the trees and blocks. To look at the pictures, what do you consider to be problems? What might these trees look like in 5 to 10 years? What might have been the cost? This one example of so many, I sure you see this every day.
We do have a better understanding of the importance of soils and the nature and habits of plants and what their requirements are; so what I would like to offer now is outline for what I think would be in a Best Management Practices for Landscaping manual. I hope you might look it over, add your ideas, add comments, suggestions, or tell me I’m way off base.


Reasons for Manual-
A guide of best management practices for landscaping to be used by Planning Boards, Landscapers, contractors and homeowners who might use this resource to do the work themselves or to oversee the work done by someone else.
To help create realistic expectations to a design, installation and maintenance issues for the long-term success of the landscape site, one that enhances the site and the surrounding area and helps minimize the impact of other features of the site. General plant requirements – to site and soil types

Site considerations
Sun light and environmental exposures
Soil conditions
Type of soil- an explanation of different type of soils
Native soil or back fill
Compaction of soil at site
Amount of areas for landscaping – what plant material might it support, where they might be created to realistically valuable
Amount of imperative surface around planting areas and how these areas might impact the landscaped areas
Building site Footprint
Proper protection of existing vegetation
Minimize impact in alternation to site
Runoff water- where does it come from and where does it go?
Plant material and their characteristics
This would give general information about plants and their growth habits and requirements for a successful planting.
Different trees and their type of root structures and sizes.
How to select good quality plant material, esp. trees; also container vs. B & B material advantages and disadvantages
A discussion of the planting area and what it can support
A description of plant materials and those conditions that they require
The natural characteristics of shrubs and their cultural practices for growth control

Proper Design
The design should factor in maintenance issues
Plant materials suitable for the area that are sustainable
Snow removal and considerations chemical usage related planted areas
The effects of imperative surfaces
How the design should relate the site to the surrounding area

Proper installation
Site preparation
Soil amendments
Mulching and staking

Maintenance factors that help create a successful Landscape
The establishment period (short term maintenance)
Long- term maintenance considerations and cost factors
Structural pruning

Best Management Practices for Landscaping

Hanson St. Tree photo 1Hanson St tree photo 2

As we all go about our business, landscaping in one form or another we see everyday what is being done by quote “others who by common sense or basic understanding of plants, trees and their true requirements”, should never be doing the things we tend to see happening everyday. How many places have each of you seen in the course of traveling around, whether from job to job, or just going to the mall or a shopping plaza with the family where all you can to do is wonder “ what was “someone or they’ thinking when they designed, created the site, and then installed a bunch of trees and shrubs that we all know that in all likelihood will have no chance of survival or if they do, they will never be what was envisioned when designed and installed. It comes down to the basics of what are the plants requirements and are they being met? Is it realistic to think that a tree that in its’ natural habitat might mature to a size of 50 feet plus be able to grow in an area of 6’x10’ surrounded by an impervative surface of asphalt, with a base of gravel and crush stone and then compacted, which may be the Best Management Practices and materials for laying asphalt, but not for planting a tree as the landscape plan and/or zoning calls for. Does that tree have any hope of reaching maturity?


How many times have you gone to a potential job site, whether an individuals’ home in the woods or a sub- division in a new development to find the site has been so altered with the removal of native soils and replaced with a layer of sand against the foundation and backfill with gravel or clay and then topped by an inch to 3 to 4 inches of quote “loam”. Maybe the whole building lot has been cleared of vegetation and native soils well beyond the buildings’ and its’ necessary features such as a driveway and a septic systems’ footprint. That house in the woods is now a cleared lot with an altered grade, substandard soils and we are being asked to return it to that natural landscape or now it is to becomes a large lawned area with some landscape beds to make the home look pretty. Is any thought given of how this impacts that larger surrounding natural landscape when this is being done over and over again? And if we are to consider doing the job, we must factor in the materials needed just to create an environment healthy enough for a landscape to grow and succeed Where grade changes have occurred retaining walls may have been installed with BMP for walls so that they may remain true over the years, but may not have taken in account that plants might be install on top of it to soften the look of that wall. Much of this has to do with communication or lack of; for someone (building contractor, planning board member, site worker and another trade) who isn’t landscaper or a plants’ person and isn’t considering what is required for plants and trees to survive after their job is done, that becomes the problem of the homeowner or someone else including us because we have to work with it, either to correct those problems or just work with those conditions and hope for the best that maybe plants might survive (at least a year).


I may have only begun to scratch the surface or ‘soil’ as too the much larger subject of Best Management Practices for landscaping; for we all know of the importance of soils to all living things that are dependent on it for their survival, including ourselves. Yet many times soil is never considered, whether to protect it, nurture it for many who don’t understand it just figure stick a plant or tree in the ground it will grow. We work with everyday; so how do we communicate it and educate others, who might if they had the knowledge, might attempt to change some of their practices for the better? It is one thing to talk to someone on a one to one basis, a building contractor who wants to the best job he or she can beyond the bottom line, but they need to have the knowledge to know how best to work a site for their client and for the larger surrounding natural environment. This information would be important to local planning boards that are charge with the responsible of overseeing the development that adds rather than reduces a quality of life for their community and part of that is a healthy, growing landscape in a residential or commercial setting.


There are many tools already out there we can use such as UNHCE’s publications ‘Landscaping at The Water’s Edge’ and ‘Integrated Landscaping: Following Natures Lead’. There is ‘Selecting trees For The Urban Landscape Ecosystems’ published by NH Division of Forest and Lands and New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services’ new ‘Innovative Land Use Planning Techniques Handbook for Sustainable Development’ which you can be view at this site can also be linked from NHLA’s web-site. At our joint Spring Educational Conference for Landscapers this coming March 18 2009 we hopefully will be having a panel discussion on the subject of land use and BMPs’ for landscaping which I am sure you all want to be involved in and offer comments to the discussion.
Having looked over the draft form of this handbook and other publications, I might even suggest that NHLA partnering with other organizations consider creating our own manual on the Best Management Practices for Landscaping manual to address issues not covered in other published documents or where they are, to combine that useful information into a one source manual that addresses the many issues involved in good landscaping. This could be given or sold to planning boards, building developers, contractors, and landscapers and offered to the general public as an educational book. We have friends and colleagues from other organizations who’s’ educational background can provide direction; offer suggestions and arm us with scientific research can support our findings for proper landscaping practices.
I know it might be a big task, but at least it might help address so many of the problems we see everyday. It doesn’t nor should it be a textbook, rather a manual that can be understood by the layperson, but can provides valuable information to help so that they can make informed decisions when it comes to landscaping from the very beginning of a project.. When it comes to landscaping. It isn’t only about just making money; it is about creating something and being to look back on it and feeling pride in what you did. It is also about not having all landscapers being place on the same level, unless it is to a higher level where knowledge, education and experience are the deciding factors.
So I’ll ask if any of you are tired of seeing bad work being performed and want to try and do something to improve what seems to be becoming the norm. I do hope you might consider becoming involved for it is about the standards we all want to work with and it will take many view points and ideas that are taken together that would make a BMP for Landscaping manual of any value
Snow Arbor

Bonsais, a Circus of Trees and Every Thirty-Five Feet Part 1

Trees are the wonder of nature, they are the largest, tallest living things. there are trees that can reach to heights of 370′ and there are trees who’s  trunks can have diameters of more than 30 to 40′. They can live for hundreds years and some live for thousands,  which in human terms are hundreds  of generations. Some trees have a root mass that is equal in weight to all that growth above the ground and their roots can spread more than one and half times their height in all directions looking for moisture and nutrients. They are the basis for all of life on the planet, without them many other species couldn’t survive.

 In their natural environment you might be able to identify the soils condition by what species are growing there. For the trees that are growing in a flood plain would most likely would not be growing in upland, shallow soils. Or trees that grow high on the slopes of mountains might never be found growing in areas such as  wetlands. To see pitch pines growing you can assume that  it’s habitat is a gravelly, excessively dry with infertile soils. The reverse is true in that by looking at the different types of soils one could predict what type of plant species would be likely to grow under natural conditions.  Trees have found their place locally, regionally in their northern migration over the course of these last 8 to 10 thousand years, in the conditions that have best suited them. In a booklet published by the U.S. Department of Agricultural Forest Service titled ” Why trees Grow Where They Do In New Hampshire Forests” prepared by William B Leak and Jane R Riddle with some beautiful illustrations by Marilyn Collins, it discusses the makeup of NH soils and the habitat these soils create for trees and other plant species. It is in relationship of time from when much of the New England was under a blanket of ice and as this ice advanced it scoured the bedrock, carried small particles to huge boulders along with it. Until a time that ice began to melt and this release of water that created huge lakes and rivers, where some of the material settled where it had been frozen or where other materials was carried along with the waters’ flow until that slowed and some of the larger size particles of sand and gravel settled and finally the fine particles of silt and clay settled where the water’s flow was greatly reduced. Leak and Riddle in their work defined 9 types of soil habitat, realizing that there are many more than a washed till habitat to a poorly drain one or lake sediment to a rock habitat. This booklet which is out of print will be posted on our web-site.

 It isn’t always the case that only certain trees or plants will only grow in one habitat , many are suitable to different soil conditions and most will do well in a nutrient rich, moist soil. Other factors also have to be considered such as the climate of a site, moisture, availability of seed from a particular species and previous disturbances both natural and man-made. In the microclimate of a site such as  the difference from the south to north side of a hill or mountain, the slope incline, does it have flatten bench areas that might slow the flow of rain water, collect organic debris that offers a uniqueness to a site and what may survive there? Moisture is always important to plants, what type of soils, where sand and gravel tend to be excessively well drain depending the depth of the imperative bedrock below. Or clays and slits that will be excessively wet usually in the spring and fall, but tend to be hard to remoisten when dried out during the hot summer months. The other factor in habitat is disturbance; what plant species might have been growing, when a fire, wind or ice storms,  or a hurricane has occurred and after an occurrence what species had the opportunity to migrate in where other species didn’t survive. Man has also been a huge influence having disturbed much of region and  having caused changes in the habitat and what species might have remain and where others that established themselves anew.

Yet trees are also survivors, their seeds can spout on top of stone outcrops or in cracks of broken boulders and can grow to an age when they might set their own seed. They are also survivors for they manage to live in places where we stick them, even in the middle of parking lots or small island planting beds. They certainly have to try to adjust to conditions, that if they were to naturally migrate it wouldn’t necessarily be in the place we stick them. When we do stick them into places where their root can’t spread or where there aren’t any nutrients in surrounding soils, we have in some ways taken young trees and have applied a form of bonsai to them, thou maybe not under the same conditions as if we were truly trying to create a bonsai,  by placing them in soils that would not be suitable, nor allowing enough area for root growth, but then expecting them to grow happy and healthy.

We all understand the practice of bonsai, to restrict and manipulate root growth to stunt the top growth and to keep them small by allowing  them to grow only fractions of an inch where in normal conditions they would grow inches if not feet per season. The medium that a bonsai grows is a mix of usually a loose, fast-draining components, often a base mixture of coarse sand or gravel, fired clay pellets, or expanded shale combined with an organic component such as peat or bark. The inorganic components provide mechanical support for bonsai roots, and in the case of fired clay materials—also serve to retain moisture. The organic components also retain moisture and may release small amounts of nutrients as they decay which is usually supplemented by small, regular doses of fertilizers. Well-cared for bonsais can live for many years, some even for hundreds of years.  I once had a chance with a group of people to visit the home of Dr. Dave Allen who had been New Hampshire’s State Biologist many years ago. One of his many passions was to grow outdoor bonsais, his choice of plant materials was usually the trees that grew on his property. There was one example, I clearly remember, it a white pine, for as he told it, there had been two white pine seedlings, one he used to bonsai and the other remained in the ground. Then thirty years later, one tree was about 50′ tall, yet the other sitting in a pot and less than three feet. To see both those trees looking healthy, both the same, yet so different, you had to acknowledge that it was a wonder of survivability of a tree that had been so manipulated, yet able to grow, if only at a faction of how they might do under different, more favorable conditions. It was the care he gave to his trees that allowed them to survive,  whereas many trees in our manmade landscapes  do not get that that kind attention from soil habitat and the relationship of soil to plant species. Nor of the requirements of  trees and plants to their roots  and many times we wind up practicing a form of bonsai where trees are stunted in growth, prone to environmental stresses, diseases and many are short lived.

Of course, there are differences between a natural landscape and a man-made one; in the natural landscape it is one change, opportunity, succession and maturity that spans decades, centuries and millenniums. In a man-made landscape the time line is much shorter, a matter of a few years to that of a few decades, it is also one isn’t subject to change, opportunity nor succession rather just to maturity and then maybe to just start over again after the plants outlive their usefulness, to the space that was provided to them or the fashion of the time and the landscape looks dated.

For now, I will leave it and hope to write again when the circus comes to town.

Note: Picture above is a pin oak (Quercus palustris) planted in 1989, the fact that it is still alive is a wonder of nature