February 24, 2020

Waltham Voices: A monthly guide to maintaining your landscape

This is the first in a series of articles with tips for maintaining your landscape, using 90 percent less time and effort compared with traditional methods. Each month’s column will lay out what you need to do, based on the weather patterns here in Waltham. In other words, we will follow the local plant phenology (the study of how seasonal light changes and weather influence plant life cycles) for a do-it-right-the-first-time approach that provides safety, value, convenience and beauty through horticultural expertise and sustainable design.

-Safety: Removing hazardous sticks and branches, blocked sight lines, slippery areas and poison ivy, while maintaining effective lighting, drainage and security.

-Value: Adding to your property value through aesthetics, better air quality, rainwater management, reduced noise and an improved balance of shade vs. sun.

-Convenience: Using the proper tools and correct timing for results that last longer, keep you and your neighbors more satisfied, and provide faster completion of seasonal chores at lower cost.

-Beauty: While effecting safety, value and convenience, also gaining proper proportion, balance, form and density as well as color. Making everything from drainage management to the development of utility space meet your aesthetic standards that consider key views, seen from both inside and outside you home.

No matter the size of your property, these principles are the same, and become only more important within the small spaces typical of many Waltham yards.


January: Systems Documentation

You may perceive our cold Waltham Januaries as a rest time for landscape management, but in fact this is when we do critical work that sets the course for the year.

Most property owners are at the mercy of their memories to keep track of what has been done in their landscapes and the locations of the underlying systems. This causes waste when the person with the institutional memory leaves, and someone new must start fresh, or when contractors do harm or need to take more time and charge more money because of unknown factors such as the depth of pipe, location of wire, or species of tree.

The antidote to this is simple, and essentially comes down to the old adage “be prepared.” Use this cold month to identify and catalog all underground landscape systems, such as sprinklers, electrical service, invisible fencing, gas lines, water lines and septic, in a standardized site plan so everyone and anyone can follow and organize around it.

Then overlay this basic site plan with the plans for individual systems, such as irrigation, sick trees to prune, perennial weeds or known pest locations. Note future projects, such as integrated pest management (I.P.M.) programs and the drain intakes you plan to clean. Use these overlays to plan changes and budget time, money and any other limited resources. This documentation, along with photographs, will help you stay on track and convey your plan to others, such as contractors and the Waltham Building Department, to help reduce misunderstanding and error.

Here’s how:

-Always use a survey plan from the city of Waltham, removing elevation lines and numbers but with the correct outlines of impervious surfaces, such as the house, walkways, driveway, patios, shed, pool and so forth.

-Next, call 811 (Call811.com), the federally mandated call-before-you-dig number that provides information on all your underground utility lines. ;

-Use color coding to indicate each underground system – yellow for gas, blue for water, red for electric, orange for cable, and so forth.

-Finally, communicate with any contractors you may use. Explain that they may work on the property only if they add their work to a copy of this systems documentation, using the designated colors. Also, they must note and correct any inaccuracies they find, date and initial the document, and then return it to you.


One example: Shade tree care

We have a lot of mature, beautiful trees in Waltham, and one of the systems to document is shade tree care. It can be costly and often waits until unsafe conditions force action. We are safer and we save money by taking a proactive approach. Take pictures of bare-limbed trees on overcast days, from at least four compass positions, and mark the compass points on the photos for future reference. Highlight the limbs to be pruned in order to obtain competitive and clearly targeted estimates. With the site plan and photos in hand, the chosen contractor will possess first-hand knowledge and visuals that make it more difficult to take advantage of you or claim misunderstanding.


Brad Baker, of White Oak Consulting, is a Waltham resident with a degree in horticulture from Cornell University and more than 30 years of experience. ; He provides consultation and education in landscape design and maintenance. ; You can reach him through www.White-Oak-Consulting.com.

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Waltham Voices: A monthly guide to maintaining your landscape

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