Helen Watts Engineering PLLC

Hints for Homeowners #5 - Landscaping
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Hints for Homeowners #5 - Landscaping

Landscaping and Your House

Landscaping makes your house look finished. Properly done, it enhances the appearance. Here are some things to remember about landscaping and how your building works.

 

I have gone to older homes where the long-time owner has suddenly developed basement leaks. In one home, the owner had some extensive landscaping done, including installing an in-ground sprinkler system, and “new” foundation planting beds with beautiful shrubs. The sprinklers were shooting water on the brick and stone foundation, and the water was coming right into the basement. Further, the planting beds were thickly mulched, with the mulch holding the water coming off the roof against the foundation instead of directing it away from the foundation.

 

The cure for this is to adjust the sprinkler heads to point away from the building, and to keep them at least one foot from the foundation walls. An even better method is to use a soaker hose, with all the water used going right to the plant roots: this uses much less water. The second cure is to make sure that the soil surface slopes away from the foundation. The building code requires that the soil slope 6 inches in 10 feet. The top of the soil should be 8 inches below the bottom of the wood framing, both for water splashing up, and for discouraging carpenter ants. There are some tight lots where this can’t happen and other techniques like French drains, or drains with a pump to a sewer are needed.

 

Another problem is Grammy’s shrub by the front steps. People forget that plants grow bigger, and seem to have this picture in their heads of what appearance their shrubs have. Twenty five years later, the shrub may be grown right against (or even into) the siding, or well above the bottom of the windows. I have seen lilacs that were twenty feet in diameter. Take a cutting (or four) from the heirloom plant, get the cutting growing, remove the shrub that is engulfing your home, and plant in the cutting – or something new.

 

New perennial shrubs should be planted at least two feet from the foundation wall. This allows for one foot worth of growth towards the house, and one foot for ventilation of the walls of the house. You should keep the shrubs cut back so that you can walk between the shrubs and the house. I have heard that there should be room for 'one gleeful toddler to run around shrieking'. OK. Or me.

 

Keep plants from growing to block your windows. One good plan is to have leafy trees blocking the hot summer sun, which let the winter sun into your house. Pine trees can be used for wind breaks, especially on the north side of the house.

 

Note that the Maine State Tree, the white pine, is not a great tree to keep around the house. This is a fast-growing tree, so it makes a good, inexpensive tree for a newly built house, but it’s a good idea to plant it with the intention of removing it in 10 years when the more permanent landscaping is ready to take over. White pines, when mature, tend to drop pitch on cars, branches on roofs, and pine needles, which acidify the soils around the tree and reduce the life of the roofing they land on. So, removing white pines before they require expensive equipment to take down safely is a good idea.

 

Having done a lot of work with repairing brick masonry buildings, ivy is not good for bricks or mortar, and will eventually cause some expensive repairs. Ouch – I used to like the look of ivy.

 

So, how does your garden grow? Take another look, and sharpen your pruning shears!

 

See the Builder Tools page for a link to Harpswell's page about landscaping practices. They point out that any chemical runoff goes right to the water that their lobstermen ply for a living - but even if you don't live in Harpswell, those chemicals don't necessarily stay where you put them. Good site, good links.

 

Updated 7/10/13

Helen Watts Engineering PLLC * 455 Litchfield Road * Bowdoin, ME * 04287 * hcwatts@gwi.net * (207) 522-9366