Proudly Serving London, Tillsonburg, Woodstock & Area Since 2001

Tips Of The Trade

Welcome to the Courtland Landscape & Grounds blog! Being in the landscaping business as long as we have, we have been asked every landscaping question in the book. Because of this we are going to take some time to give you some tips of the trade.

#1 How to figure out how much mulch I need?

Figuring out the factors of how much mulch you will need can be a little tricky. A Cubic yards is the measurement generally used when buying bulk amounts of mulch. Follow these steps to help figure out how much you will need.

We will use example dimensions (length 20ft x width 10ft x depth 3 inches)

  1. Determine area: 20ftx10ft=200 sq/ft
  2. How many times does your depth fit into a foot? 12in(1 foot) divided by 3in depth= 4
  3. Area (step 1) divided by the answer in step 2: 200sq/ft divided by 4= 50 cu/ft
  4. Divide by a cubic yard (27 cubic feet): 50cu/ft divided by 27= 1.85cu/yd of mulch

#2 Pruning Flowering Shrubs

Did you know that flowering deciduous shrubs fall into two pruning categories? Spring and Summer

Shrubs that bloom before the end of June form their flower buds the previous season on last year’s growth. Shrubs such as Forsythia, Lila, Deutiza and Purple Sand Cherry should only be pruned right after they flower in the spring, unless the client does not mind sacrificing the blooms for a year. Summer flowering shrubs such as Butterfly Bush, Hydrangea, Potentilla and Spirea can all be pruned in the spring. In this case the new growth put on after pruning contains the flower buds for this season’s flower show. If flowers are a desired feature of the landscape you’re working in then it’s important to know what you are pruning.

#3 Planting Depth

A common question we receive is “How deep should I plant my new plant”? This is a very important question.

To ensure proper growth of your new plant you need to be very careful not to plant to deep. Many people think that a plants root system is deep in the soil and that planting it deep will help it establish quicker, this is not true. Ninety percent of plant roots can be found in the top six inches of soil. Think about all the trees that are up rooted in various storms. These are the feeder roots, which collect, water, minerals and oxygen. If a plant is planted too deep it can be starved of these important elements. The other ten percent of a plants root system does penetrate deep into the soil and these are primarily storage and anchor roots.            

The goal when planting is to plant at the same level as the soil is in the pot. Even if the plant is planted slightly higher then the soil level it is better then planting too deep. In this case make sure you mulch around the plant (not too close to the base), to prevent wicking. In short; “plant it high it will never die, plant it low it will never grow”.   

#4 All mulch is the same… Right?

A customer came in with a very common problem. Last spring they planted a new garden and applied a healthy amount of fresh mulch. “Our new plants didn’t put out very much growth throughout the season, what could the problem be?”

As it turns out they had received mulch that had been chipped that day from living wood. Fresh mulch smells good and looks good but can cause sever damage to your new plants.

The bacteria that break down fresh compost uses nitrogen as its fuel. When you apply fresh mulch to a new planting the easiest source of nitrogen is the soil. Therefor the bacteria are robbing the immediate soil of all the nitrogen. That means your new plants will have very little nitrogen available to them for feeding. Even when you apply fertilizer most of it will be stolen very quickly from your plants. It could take years for your garden to straighten itself out if the mulch is left.

It is best to use a composted mulch product. Those bacterial thieves will still be present but with little enough numbers that they are not causing damage to your plants. If used properly mulch has many benefits, such as weed and water control.

#5 Creating privacy in your yard

Your property should you bring happiness and comfort. For some people that comfort comes in the form of privacy. Courtland’s own landscape designer Nikki Syvret has some tips for how to create privacy in your yard.

Privacy screen structure: Provides instant privacy and available in a variety of materials such as wood, metal, bamboo or any combination of these.

Hedges: Quite common but may require patience to fully grow in for a full barrier as well as ongoing maintenance of routine trimming. The most common hedge is a cedar hedge for year-round evergreen privacy. However, deciduous hedges such as privet, beech and lilac can also be used for seasonal privacy.

Exterior shades: Sometimes where space is a concern between properties these can be effectively installed on outdoor structures available in a variety of styles, colours, materials and mechanisms.

Evergreen trees: If space allows without affecting the drainage patterns of the property. Evergreen trees in a staggered grouping to block neighbouring sightlines offers a more naturalistic approach and requires less maintenance than a pruned hedge.

#6 Is it too late to plant?

With the onset of hot weather the most popular question is “Is it too late to plant”? The answer is quite simply No!

At Courtland Landscape and grounds we plant straight through summer into late November, with very little trouble. True, it is definitely easier to plant in the spring and fall with natural rain and melting snow providing water, but if you are dedicated and willing to put forth a little effort, summer weather should not be a problem.

The key is to start with good plant material that is healthy and growing well at the garden centre. The plants should be free of pests and diseases. This will help the plant adjust to new light levels and soil moisture as well as providing enough energy to push roots into the native soil.  

When you plant, dig an extra wide hole. This will make the soil more accepting to root growth and water penetration. A good layer of mulch should be added to hold in moisture and keep weeds down.

Watering plants that are planted in summer heat is extremely important. You should water well when planting and if it’s dry following planting, water well only once or twice a week, unless the plant shows signs of lack of water. This will encourage roots to grow and seek out water. If you follow these few steps, planting through the summer should not be a problem. 

#7 Leaves of Three Let It Be!

Poison Ivy can take three different forms.  Most people think of it as a ground cover plant carpeting the ground, but it can also be shrub forming growing up to four feet tall, or a vine with stems larger than two inches thick with millions of hair like tendrils that help the plant cling to its support.

The leaves themselves are always just a little different, but the basic shape is the same.  Poison Ivy has a trifoliate leaf, that is, each leaf is made up of three leaflets.  One leaflet can be found at the very tip of the petiole.  The two opposite leaflets almost resemble mittens.  The leaflets are usually pointed and in most cases the leaf margin will have rounded lobes. 

Poison Ivy has a toxic reaction on the skin of people who are sensitive to it, causing severe itching or even blistering of affected parts.  The offending substance is an oil called urushiol and it is present throughout the whole plant.  This oil will stick to clothing and shoes and can easily be transferred to the hands and face by touch.  Pets can also be contaminated by running through an affected area.  They do not react to the poison, but can easily spread the poison by being petted.

People vary greatly in sensitivity to ivy poisoning and many have never suffered any ill effects, although it should not be taken for granted that the immunity will last for all time.

If contact has occurred, wash the contaminated parts of the body immediately with soap and water repeatedly.  The sooner the oil is removed from the skin the less likely a reaction will develop or the severity of contamination will be greatly reduced.

#8 Is My Lawn Dead

If you have not been able to provide your lawn with any water then it is probably the colour of straw right now. Don’t worry, your lawn is protecting itself by going dormant.

In Ontario Kentucky bluegrass is the most common grass species in most lawns.  Kentucky bluegrass can go dormant for up to six weeks in most soils before it dies. Be careful though, if you have sandy soil it may only survive for four weeks without water.  When your turf is dormant avoid driving or walking on it, doing so will crush the crown of the plant increasing the chance of death.

If you need to water, do so in the morning. This will help avoid water loss due to evaporation. To bring your turf out of dormancy will take a couple of weeks, but providing an inch of water per week (irrigation or natural) should do the trick.

Consider fertilizing your lawn after it comes out of dormancy. Rejuvenation of foliage will take a lot of energy out of the plant, leaving it weak and susceptible to disease, insects and weeds. A regular well-balanced slow release fertilizer content is recommended. 

#9 Leaf Scorch

This has been a tough year for plants due to a lack of water. Because of this the leaves get coppery blotches on them that have consumed part or all of it. This is a phenomenon called leaf scorch.

Leaf scorch becomes a problem with lack of rain and drying winds. When we have windy hot days more moisture is pulled from the foliage of the tree. Without lots of available ground water the tree is not able to replenish lost water quick enough. The result is partial to full leaf death.

The best way to prevent the problem is watering weekly. Once a week is all that’s needed and in times of water conservation is all that’s allowed. The key is to water well. I suggest placing your hose at the base of the tree and turning the water on so that it is trickling out of the hose. This will slowly saturate the entire area around the tree and give time for the water to soak into the soil. A bucket with a small hole in the base will also work. If you apply water too quickly to dry soil is will repel the water and most will run off away from the tree.     

#10 Hydrangeas

With so many beautiful Hydrangeas’s on the market selecting the one to fit your needs can be daunting.

The Annabelle Hydrangea has dark green foliage and huge pure white blooms that last from July through to October. The flowers are ideal for drying.  It stands 4 feet tall and will spread about 4 feet. This plant will take full sun to full shade.

The big leaf or macrophylla species of Hydrangea includes: ‘Endless Summer’, ‘Nikko Blue’ and ‘Forever Pink’. These Hydrangeas come in variations of pink and blue and grow from 2.5 feet to 4 feet tall depending on the cultivar. They will take full sun and most will stand part to full shade.

The Oak Leaf Hydrangeas have beautiful cone shaped pinky-white flowers and oak leaf like foliage. The flowers last along time and it has brilliant red fall colour. It’s a large hydrangea growing 5 feet by 6 feet.

The biggest hydrangeas are the Pee Gee species, they can reach up to 9 feet tall. White cone shaped flowers and many different foliage colours makes one of these beauties a must for your garden.


#11 Crabgrass control

Crabgrass is a nasty annual weed that can consume a lawn if the conditions are right. “What are those conditions”? 

Compaction, extreme heat, infertile soil and poorly maintained turf all contribute to the problem. Basically, crabgrass loves to grow where regular turf can’t.

The best way to fight this incessant invader is with a thick healthy lawn. Crabgrass grows back each year from the seeds of the previous years plants, those seeds need sunlight to germinate. Having a thick lawn will prevent sunlight from getting to the soil surface and will smother the crabgrass that does germinate. Proper lawn care includes regular fertilization and correct mowing height as well as overseeding, aeration, dethatching and watering. 

Another way to rid your lawn of crabgrass is to use a chemical control. The most popular and easiest to use is a fertilizer containing a pre-germination herbicide. It is best to apply this product before the crabgrass germinates, which is around the end of April through mid May.

#12 Landscape Design

Landscape designs are very important for several reasons. The most important aspect of a design is the knowledge of the designer creating it. Landscape designers have years of experience and will take all site conditions into consideration when planning your garden. Factors such as: direction of sun and wind, soil type, plant sizing, drainage issues, existing plants and more need to be taken into account. Landscape designs are great if you are building in stages, they make sure that the landscape blends together.

Landscape designers also have extensive knowledge of plants, natural and interlocking stone, retaining walls, ponds and other features common in today’s gardens. With this knowledge the job will get done right the first time and many problems can be avoided. A landscape design provides the proper spacing for plant material; this improves the overall health of the garden and allows the plants too reach their full potential. It’s also easier on your pocket book.

In today’s real estate market landscaping is a huge selling feature. A professionally designed and installed garden allow potential home buyer ease of mind knowing that they don’t have to start from scratch. Buy a beautiful frame and put the design in it, that will get any potential homebuyer excited and improve your resale value.   

#13 What is up with the palm trees?  

Will your palm tree survive the winter outside?

No, unfortunately the palm trees do not survive outside in our winter climate. However, some palm enthusiasts have had success over wintering some hardier palms outside by surrounding them with a plastic tent and a small heater, but keep in mind this can be a very time and energy-consuming project. It is our recommendation that the palm trees be stored over the winter months. I have found over the past few years that some palms are hardier then other’s and can be stored in our greenhouse at temperatures of 0’c with little or no problem. 

Our palm trees are great in the summer around pools, at the cottage or on a patio. Texture is one of the many reasons to place a palm in the garden. Palms have gorgeous leaves that come in different shapes, sizes and shades of green. When the wind blows the leaves dance around and produce a rustling sound that relaxes the soul.

#14 Water Plants

“What type of plants should I fill my pond with and how much area should I cover?”

There are three type of aquatic plants everyone should include in their ponds. Floating, oxygenating and accent plants. Floating plants such as water hyacinth and water lettuce are both great choices. These plants fill in quickly, provide food for fish and help fight algae. I suggest water hyacinth because it also produces a beautiful purple flower. Oxygenating plants such as hornwort, elodea parrot feather are all great oxygenator’s. These plants filter nitrates and more importantly provide oxygen for your fish. Then fill the rest of your pond with accent plants such Lobelia, Arrowhead, Umbrella Palm and Water Lilies to name a few. All these plants will add different heights, colours and textures to your pond.

As a rule of thumb you should aim to cover at least 65 to 70% of your pond surface with plant material. This server many purposes. It helps fight algae by blocking the sun and removing excess nutrients, it provides shelter for fish from the sun and predators and the plant material will help keep the sun’s harmful UV rays from breaking down your liner.

#15 Cutting Back Perennials in Fall

“When should I cut back my perennials?”

The answer to this question depends on the perennials in your garden. Perennials such as; Echinacea, Rudbeckia, Astilbe, Ornamental Grasses and Heuchera can all be left for winter. Why? Some perennials spread by seed and leaving them up will allow the plant to disperse its seeds when they are ripe. Also many native birds that choose to stay for winter rely on perennials for a food source. Some perennials benefit from the snow caught in the foliage throughout winter for a water source in the spring. As the snow melts it is available right where the plants need it.  Also many of these perennials provide winter interest. When beautiful plums and seed heads poke out of the snow it can be quite attractive and break up the blandness of snow.

That being said there are some perennials that need to be cut back. Peonies, Phlox, Hosta, Iris and Daylilies should all have their foliage cleaned up for disease purposes. These perennials are prone to disease that can over winter on the old foliage, therefore a clean garden help control disease.

#16 Protecting your garden

“What do I need to do to protect my garden from disease and insects this fall?”

Fall is a great time of year to protect your garden from insects and diseases. Just because they aren’t causing damage doesn’t mean they are not around. A disease over winters as spores and fruiting bodies on plants, on the ground and on dead plant material. So remove all debris. For example, if you do not cut and remove peony foliage you run the risk of spreading Botrytis to next years growth. You must be observant of the plants in your garden. If they have diseases or insects, find out what is and how to treat it. For a tree with leaf spot, remove the fallen leaves and discard them, because they will contain spores for next year’s infestation. Look for dead branches on trees and shrubs that may be diseased (Coral Spot) and remove and discard them as well.

Watch for insect damage throughout the year. Identify them and learn about their lifecycle. If they over winter as eggs, such as Aphids, you’ll want to do a visual inspection of that plant and remove any eggs you see. Or, make note of it and in early spring spray that plant with dormant oil to smother the eggs.

#17 Fall Annuals & Garden Accessories

What should I add to a landscape to provide lots of colour? The answer is quite simple, fall annuals and garden accessories.

Fall annuals are an inexpensive way to spruce up the garden for the remainder of the season. These tough plants are able to withstand several frosts and are very happy to take the place of your summer annuals.

Pansies are my favorite way to add colour. With every colour in the rainbow available it isn’t hard to find the perfect colour to compliment your design scheme. Pansies have an added bonus – they will perk up again in early spring and continue to provide an even better show than in the fall. What better way to add excitement to your spring bulb show?

Other annuals that perform well in the fall are heather, millet, ornamental peppers, asters and let’s not forget the popular and long lasting garden mums.

Garden accessories such as Indian corn, corn stalks, pumpkins, gourds and straw bails can all add interest to your Thanksgiving or Halloween decor. If stored properly all of the above garden accessories can be saved and used for years to come.

#18 Algae Control

The most important thing to remember is that a little algae is not bad, in fact string algae, about 2” long is considered healthy. It is also a source of food for your fish.

Excess algae is a direct result of sun and excess nutrients in your pond. Nutrients come from several sources. These may be fertilizer run off into your pond, excess fish waste from over-feeding and plant and leaf debris. The best way to control algae is to cut down on the above factors by cleaning your pond, feeding your fish less, covering 70% of your pond with plant material and making sure that fertilizer is not leaching into your pond.

If the above does not solve the problem you have several options. Seed your pond with beneficial bacteria which compete with floating algae for nutrients. When the bacteria are well established they will suppress the algae to healthy levels. Eco Barley is another product available to control string algae. You simply place the barley pellets in the bottom of your pond and as it decomposes the barley releases a product that is safe for your pond but controls algae.

#19 Planting Evergreens

Fall is here and it’s time to plant the evergreens on your wish list. “But why is it time to plant evergreens now?”

Evergreens hold their needles throughout the whole season and even when it is bitter cold they still transpire water. On a beautiful sunny winter day or when the wind brushes past the needles water is lost from the plant due to transpiration. Therefore, evergreens need to have a well-established root system to replenish lost water. That’s right, evergreens still take in moisture from the ground all winter. When the plant cannot replenish lost water during winter, burning of the needles will result. Winter burn is usually worse on plants that are more exposed to high wind and direct sun.   

The moral of the story is to get your evergreens planted before the end of the month. We are now entering the perfect time frame for planting evergreens because the soil is warm and the air temperature is cool. This makes for good low stress root development. Fall rain also aids the establishment of evergreens. As you plant your evergreen use a transplanting fertilizer, this product has special hormones add that promote root branching. 

The most important thing you can do to help your new evergreen is to give it a good soaking just before the ground freezes and protect with burlap. This will make water readily available to the roots and deter wind.


Courtland is a Landscape & Grounds and Trucking & Logistics firm with offices across Southern Ontario.

Terracopia, our bulk supply store, supplies professional-grade landscape products and aggregates delivered right to your site.

We offer reliable service and quality work with strong emphasis to detail. Our goal is to ensure the complete satisfaction of every client we work with.

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