Requesting a book that explains everything...

beaverbrewerApril 27, 2008

Hi all. First off, let me say that I don't actually expect to find a single book to answer my many many questions, but I would be glad to have your advice on good guides that are out there to answer some of them. If anyone wanted to just answer my questions outright I'd be more than appreciative.

I'm expecting to move into a new house in a Quebec 5b microclimate in July. The lot is just leveled dirt (looked like clay) at the moment and I have big plans, but realize that I need to choose wisely. I could certainly use some guidance, as this will be my first landscaping endeavour.

Background: Two young kids and a dog demands that we put at least some grass in, but I'm trying to keep that to a minimum.

It's an approx 5500 sq ft lot, minus 900 sq ft of house, and a driveway. I'd say that leaves me about 3500 sq ft +/- to play with. It's a corner lot, with the corner of the house facing almost due south.


- We move in July, if all goes according to plan. Is it worth planting or should I just prepare the terrain?

- What depth of topsoil should I aim for? 2 inches? Should I have less in grassy areas and more in flower beds? I'm planning on using thyme as groundcover in a lot of the lower traffic areas.

- Can I sow grass by hand in July? Is it better to wait until spring?

- I'd like to plant a large shade tree in the south corner of the lot. I've seen some of the maples (silver) to avoid for foundation reasons, but was wondering if horse chestnut (or better yet, an american chestnut or hybrid - yes, I know completely different species) would be a viable option, in terms of foundation safety. How about weeping birch?

- I'd like to do an espalier fence of apples/pears along the back of the lot. Was wondering how to go about getting whips, since I think the garden places tend to offer larger fruit trees.

I guess that's about it. Pretty easy eh?

Thanks a bunch for anything you'd like to contribute!

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donna_jj(5b Montreal QC)

I went through the same moving into a new home experience in 2006, also in Zone 5B (Vaudreuil), and had nothing but levelled clay and very big plans. From what I have learned since then, hopefully some of your questions re grass and terrain will be answered. Please forgive the long post,but I hope that what we learned (sometimes the hard way) will help someone else not have the same problems.
You should plan your terrain, layout of borders and beds, etc.... as your first step. Check where the sun rises and sets, how much sun certain areas of your yard get, etc.. to get an overall idea of what you would like to put and where. If you have or are considering a deck,put that into your plans as well.
For the grass you will first need to check with your municipality re watering permits and schedules for newly seeded and sodded lawns. The municipalities are getting very strict and water conscious, and most won't let you water haphazardly on a new lawn. Spring and early fall are the best times to seed or put sod down. Certain towns will not issue permits during the midsummer so check first. They also send surveillance vehicles to new developments to verify that the watering schedule for the street is being respected, and warnings and fines issued.Yes, the cars are unmarked for the most part, be warned. Your best bet is to check with the city first and go from there.They are usually very helpful. At the same time you might want to enquire if the city has a composting service or offers composters at a discount price for new residents.
We went with sod, a little pricier than grass seed, but worth the price in the end. Contracting lawn sodding companies will usually make great discount offers if many neighbors get together to have all their lots done at once ( ditto for fences, driveways, etc...)There is also a " spray on seeding" that sticks the seed to the grass that seems to do a good job from what we saw with one of the neighboring lots, but it is essentially sprayed stick seed and takes a while to germinate.
The important thing that we found was to keep our lot weed free until the grass was down, I can't stress this enough. Not all of our neighbors did this and they have lovely patches of weeds that came right up thru sod and seed and spread like mad to the surrounding properties.Weed removal does not take long if done every day or so, and is easier after a rainfall than in midsummer when the clay soil is like concerte and you have a carpet of farm weeds. At the same time please please check for buried construction material and pull it out. We found everything from metal, wood, concrete chunks, nails, plastic, packing material, you name it, all buried or sticking out of the lot. You might want to have a look around first before letting the children and pets roam for the first time to avoid accidents.Raking your lot will help uncover these lovely items.
For your floors of the house, a good investment until the grass is down would be the purchase of many cheap washable throw carpets You would not belive how much mess clay soil can make, and it is very hard to get out from carpets, linolium and hardwood flooring.We had a dozen carpets in rotation and it was the best idea we had, especially as it poured rain on moving day and evrything was covered in mud .
If you do have a company place the sod, their prices have the topsoil, fertilizer and sod price usually worked in. This is also a good time to let them know you plan to put borders and beds, so that sod is not put there and wasted in the future. Most companies will have you mark out your planned beds and deduct the square footage price from their bill. Once the sod is done, you can lay geotextile/weed mat over your planned beds until ready to tackle so that they remain weed free. Good quality weed mat is worth this investment as a lot of rural weeds will shoot through the cheap weed mat. We used the textile from Leevalley and it has survived the winter intact and without damage.
Finding soil for your beds can be accomplished by visiting local garden centers, they will usually deliver it by the trukload. If you own a pickup truck or trailer, sometimes you can find centers which will sell the soil by the cubic yard to you and they load it into your truck. This is really economical if you are willing to do the work of unloading it and moving to your beds by yourself. If your lot's soil is clay, you might want to consider raised beds, as clay is a nightmare when it is dry and hard. 2 inches would be a minimum for the lawn. For my beds I have them at 6+ inches and everything has been doing well in that depth. 2 composters regularly turn out more additions for the beds and a wooden raised bed helped tide over the gardening bug last year while the sod was being done, this allowed veggies, some flowers to be grown and a place for the composter debris to temporarily go.
For the kids and dog, one of our neighbors put in a designated play area, like a giant sand box, for the kids while the lot was being finished. This way they had somewhere to play that was safe and free of debris. As for the dogs in the neighborhood, most are tied or on leash until the fencing and sod is put in, as loose dogs are not always happily looked upon.
That's it for my input, again sorry for the long post but I hope it helps you in some way, feel free to ask if any other questions you might have.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2008 at 9:32AM
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sharont(z5 can)

There are books to be found at Goodwill Stores but you’d have to go frequently to check their stock.
Some suggestions to your questions I’ll attempt from experience of a daughter buying a house recently. Will your purchased house have the proper elevation of soil around the perimeter that slopes away to allow drainage away from the foundation? If tall tree(s), cedars etc. are presently against the foundation, remove them. This prevents critters easy access into you attic.
Topsoil, I think, should be 4 inches deep at least for grass and perennials. Sow grass seed in April and October but July is really taking a chance (too hot). A weeping birch sounds great. Other stately birches are great too. How about a wild cherry tree? A red maple tree or similar, as it ages, would eventually cause too much shade and the grass would get thin under it. But if on a south facing corner it adds character by all means!
Sound like fencing in is included in your planning at some stage. Whips such as you are looking for can be obtained at Hortico in Ontario. I’m sure there is a grower nursery closer to you if you do an internet search. Truck delivery of whips and small shrubs is expensive
Perimeter trees and shrubs that grow to a height of 20 feet only would be ideal.
Perennials could be added amongst them according to their sun disposition.
Thyme will spread from its original location so you’d have to keep going back to replant it. But it is OK for least walked on areas and between walkway pavers.
And I think you will want a sufficient grass area for your kids playground toys and equipment that will accumulate.
You’ll have fun experimenting and enjoy being a home and property owner!

    Bookmark   April 28, 2008 at 9:58AM
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Hello Beaver and welcome to the forum. My inputs are below.

First, map out a designated area for your dog. I suggest some form of fencing must be inplace. Dogs do damage grass with their pee and with the scratching. Not to mention they may ingest some flowers, plants that could make them ill. Or perhaps fencing off the flower bed area?

The south facing area will receive lots of sun and therefore it's perfect for flowerbeds.

North facing areas are in the shade and so think of shade loving plants.

I strongly suggest attending to the landscaping work before doing any planting. However if you really need to do some planting, just do something temporary like a raised bed. This includes, aerating your grass area (plugs need to be taken), adding 1 to a couple of inches of top soil. Note that topsoil are really just mixes of soil, compost, sand, manure, etc.. What you need is something that will lay in place and not get scattered with the wind. Chat with the local supplier to get the right mix you need. I only seed grass in spring or in the fall. In summer (July) it's best to lay sod. The reason for this is that grass seeds will not germinate in hot weather And in every season I would top dress with another thin layer of topsoil, reseed and then sprinkle some horticultural sand on top (provides seed protection as well as improves soil drainage)

Thyme is an excellent ground cover. There are several varieties to choose from and you can use a combination of many. I have them all over the place.

Any large tree will suck up a lot of ground water (especially maples and birch) from the area. A chestnut is can grow several stories high. Think of what falling branches can do to your house roof before making a decision. It must be far enough from the house. Foundation problems comes from teh roots. I believe maple & birch has mostly surface type roots/ I'm not sure about chestnuts. In anycase, the roots must be addressed as it can grow deep and even penetrating basement floors, not to mention pipes. -- so my point is, choose the tree very carefully. Consult with your local garden centre and online for how such trees behave. In fact, I would postpone getting a tree until the following season, after I had a feel for the place. For example, once inside the house, you will begin to see your sight lines and also how to frame a certain area in your neighborhood and in your yard.

"I'd like to do an espalier fence of apples/pears along the back of the lot. Was wondering how to go about getting whips, since I think the garden places tend to offer larger fruit trees" -

Even Home Depot sells young apple, cherries, pear trees that can be used for such purpose. (I know, I bought one such tree for espalliering) You'd probably have to lop off some to the top branchings and to train side branches but their plants are good enough. Garden centres can offer younger trees if you prefer - so phone ahead to find out how to arrange it. or find tree farms in your area = especially apply or pear orchards.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2008 at 10:13AM
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bonniepunch(USDAz4 AgCanz5a)

If you are near Montreal, the Botanical Gardens offers courses on landscaping. A friend who recently bought a house took one and found it was very helpful.

Grass should have 3-5 inches of topsoil at a minimum (it will survive with two, but you will be more likely to have problems with grubs and drought harming your lawn before it has had time to really establish itself), but be careful you don't add so much you affect the drainage from the property. For a new perennial bed, you should have more soil than that if you can add it without affecting the drainage. If you can't add more than that, then I'd till or dig down into that clay and amend it to a depth of at least a foot. This is a lot of work, but it will bay off big time in the future as your perennials will have plenty of room for healthy root development.

I found that the big Chapters store in downtown Montreal has lots of remaindered gardening books - there may be some cheap ones worth buying.


    Bookmark   April 28, 2008 at 2:06PM
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Welcome! How exciting things are going to be in the next while for you.

Other areas where you might like to look for info and read, read, read, and read some more - library, local garden club, new friends you will meet in your neighbourhood that have gardens, and other forums here at GW.

In regards to the dog, well I have two - a bulldog and a black labrador. They have been trained not to go into the gardens by listening to the word OUT harshly coming from me. :O) At times they still meader into the gardens, but not very often.

Their urine (especially females) will cause some burn in the lawn and the marks will be highly noticeable in the spring when thing start to grow, but after a few spring rains everything disappears. The smaller the area, the more the problem. We have a little over 1/2 acre (100ft x 300ft) and slightly less than 1/3 is lawn and the spots are starting to disappear at this time. Walking your dog everyday also helps a LOT in this regard.

Wishing you all the best in this new adventure!

    Bookmark   April 28, 2008 at 2:53PM
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Well, after an afternoon of no comments on Sunday I was worried I wouldn't get any input. How wrong I was! Thanks all for your helpful tips.
Our dog is an urban mutt (i.e. we've pretty much been in apartments for all of his 10 years) to we're used to walking him 3 times every day. Hopefully we'll continue to do so at least until the neighbours complain!

I know that horse chestnuts can get very tall. Actually, I'm hoping to cast as much shade on the house as possible to keep it cooler in the summer. But I don't want to take risks with the roots, so I'm thinking very tall tree but as far away as possible. (I figure I can get it about 25 feet away, but maybe a bit less).

While your tips are great and I will certainly be looking at the Bot Garden's offerings (we are "friends" of the garden), I was also wondering if anyone had read anything particularly useful. I suppose there are fads in landscaping, so maybe books are dated....

    Bookmark   April 28, 2008 at 7:57PM
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Just updated my profile to allow e-mails. Sorry. Newbie!

    Bookmark   April 29, 2008 at 9:19PM
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There are fads in landscaping, which is why I usually prefer very old gardening books to what is proffered now.
Classic gardening books usually offer good solid advice and know-how. There is little information about chemicals or herbicides, but lots of information about how to grow, where to plant, how to maintain and all the etceteras of gardening.
Good luck, and whatever else you do, enjoy.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 1:47PM
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