maintenance basic question

gwbr54July 11, 2011

This must be the gardening equivalent of 'how to boil an egg' because I can't seem to find a descriptive answer. We have rounded 'river rock' type stone all around the perimeter of the house. Nearby are lots of pine trees, and so lots of pine needles have mixed in with the stone. It doesn't look very tidy, but damned if I know how to get them out -- short of picking them out practically one at a time. Pic below is about 5 years old, but looks much messier now.

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If it's five years worth of pine needles, your best bet is to pull all the rock out, clean the bed and then put the clean rock back. You can use a leaf blower a few times a year to keep the needles to a minimum.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2011 at 7:13PM
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Seems like when I pull out the rocks, the pine needles will still be mixed in? I did try a leaf blower, but it didn't do much (may be that it's not a very powerful leaf blower).

    Bookmark   July 11, 2011 at 9:54PM
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maybe only rake is enough.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2011 at 12:44AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Never done it, but seems to me it has to be an ongoing process. Catchup after years of accumulation is tough.

One requirement for a leaf blower to work is that the stuff has to be dry. Here in my climate we rarely have dry debris; if there is debris, nine times out of ten it's wet.

Another solution is a shop vac. Again that will deal best with drier material, and the rocks have to be heavy enough to withstand the suction.

And failing all else, maybe manual methods do have value - raking or sweeping. The older stuff will slowly decompose and work its way down, though it will bury the rock eventually. The type of rock is the key, and if it's too small, then yes, removal and replacement. Some tossing, sifting, letting dry and blowing off... depends what tools and space you have and what you can do.

Look into Lee Valley's rock rake, in case that will help.


Here is a link that might be useful: Rock rake

    Bookmark   July 12, 2011 at 11:54AM
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Oy... Stone goes around 3 sides of house, plus under a deck, so it's about 1000 SF to rake, and deck is only 4-ft above ground. Raking is certainly an option for the front of the house -- I'll start there.

The pine needles are a problem on grass and moss too, but there, my lawn mower with bag attached does a pretty good job. I'm finding that maintenance on a heavily treed (and steep) lot is a lot of work. But my gut feeling is that there's a better way to do virtually everything that I try to do.

It probably goes back to when I added new stone to the area mentioned. I bought the stones in big plastic bags, and they were coated with dried mud. I was transferring stones to bucket of water to clean, and then laying them down. My husband about died laughing and dumped all the bags of rocks around and then watered with down the hose. That's the kind of solution I was hoping for with the rocks!

    Bookmark   July 12, 2011 at 1:10PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

Rock mulch like this is fairly rare in this area for this very reason. It's just not very maintainable. My neighbors had stone like that as part of an oriental theme for a while, but it seems to have morphed into the much easier bark mulch.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2011 at 1:26PM
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If you decide to pull the rocks out, clean the space and put the rocks back in, you will have to hose the rocks off so that when the rocks go back in the pine needles don't travel along.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2011 at 2:25PM
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Remove the "river rock" and replace with mulch unless you can train that chicken to eat pine needles. Whatever method you use to clean up now will only be temporary and you will be faced with this problem again SOON.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2011 at 8:56PM
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Alas, I could only train the chicken to eat the ants crawling around the foundation! I took the easy way out, and hired a neighbor's lawn service. The guy was great, as was his heavy duty leaf blower. He suggested I use my 'mini-leaf blower' frequently to keep pine needles under control, but also noted that it's a bit of a losing battle.

Our yard is shaded by pines and lots of other trees, and as far as the eye can see, the view is green or brown. (Actually, from June-Sept, it's lovely, with flowering shrubs and flowers.) But I really appreciate our tiny blue stone patio and stairs, and stone retaining walls -- not just for their utility, but for the relief from all that green and brown! That's partly why I'd like to keep the stone, despite the aggravation. I also like the idea of stone, rather than organic material against the exposed foundation wall of our raised ranch home.

I appreciate your suggestions, so I'll solicit your input on another issue: Who would you consult to determine what tree(s)or shrub(s) to remove to admit some more sunlight on a heavily treed and shady lot? I have trouble visualizing what things will look like once a tree or large shrub is removed, and once it is down, it is, well, gone. We use a tree service to spray hemlocks, etc, but naturally, they don't recommend removing trees unless they are diseased, or interfering with another tree. A number of years ago, we hired a landscape architect to design the stairs and patio, and nearby plantings. As mentioned, I love the stairs and patio, but most of his plant choices did not thrive in our conditions, making me think his strength is more in design than planting. Then again, removing trees is not planting trees, so maybe he would be a good choice. Rambling question - but I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2011 at 10:40PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Funny you should mention that - I was going to say "or remove the pines" to solve the problem. And that is one honking big tree trunk showing in your photo, and it looks close to the house.

We moved into our house at a time when there were three trees outgrowing their spots, one just across the lot line on the neighbours' lot, and two on our lot. We had to decide when to take them down and have been replanting to create a replacement canopy.

Trees outcompete structures or people, hands down. They can wreck structures from the top down or the bottom up. And they wreck people by either falling on them, or wrecking their structures, or by creating so much work that the people can't keep up.

The conifer next door dropped so much debris that we could have been cleaning our eaves weekly and still had clogged downpipes. The maple on the other side now produces enough seedlings to keep the owners of three adjacent properties busy weeding non-stop for three months each. The exact effects vary, but the tree always wins.

I divide the downside effects of trees into: debris, canopy, roots, and threat. They can also block views, but that can be good if it is for privacy. The good effects include primarily shade and cooling, but also appearance, bird habitat, and the less observable but known effects on air quality.

I think if I had a number of trees to consider I would try to assess each of them individual for all those traits. Also, I would look at the overall treescape and think 20 or 40 years out. Which trees are blocking the growth of other trees, for instance?Which trees are making it difficult to grow other plants, to maintain the house and stone borders, and which threaten you if they fall?

It's an overall tree plan for your lot that you're making, and because you know the property best, you may be the best qualified people to make it.


    Bookmark   July 13, 2011 at 12:38AM
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That is a good question, it is hard to know what you'll wind up with after taking down a lot of trees (ask me how I know, LOL).

I'd start with looking at any trees that lean toward a house, shed, fence, cars ... and consider removing those. And look for any other signs of ill health like large limbs dying off, broken off limbs with large exposed areas, patches of missing bark.

You can also take photos of your site and digitally alter them to remove the trees. That won't show you how much light you could gain, but it will give you an idea of how much yard-space you'd open up.

I used a pretty arbitrary method of selecting which trees to keep:
- Wide enough diameter that I could stand behind it and completely disappear from view
- Not outwardly sick
- Good form (straight trunk, somewhat balanced canopy).

That left me with 6 trees on a 0.5 acre back yard. I now have partial sun almost everywhere in the yard (4 hours of sun, rest of the day is shade) and full sun in a couple small areas. I also have good shade on the south side of the house.

If your neighbors are close, take their trees into account as well. I almost took down one more tree because I thought it would let me put a veggie garden in my preferred spot. But it was a healthy, attractive tree (and a different variety of oak) so I kept it. I'm glad I did. The neighbor's pine tree shades that area at least half the day, so removing that oak wouldn't have solved the problem.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2011 at 6:33AM
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Track the sun and shade--I would make diagrams. Identify important shade and no good shade, seasonal issues--where you want to sit when, whether you want strong sun coming in a certain window, see if a big tree is providing house-cooling shade that you will miss. Angle of light--different in winter or summer. Tree guys like to do a lot at once but if you aren't sure, just take out the one, or 2, you're sure of and wait to see how that does.

Also, as karinl notes, you can also plan to take out a messy tree and replace it with a better one. Of course the benefit to you depends on how long you're there, but tree issues aren't just tree or no tree, so you can "replenish" your landscape as well as cut things down.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2011 at 1:48PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

If you're having trees removed, consider asking the arborist to leave you the chipped branches for mulch.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2011 at 5:09PM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

When Ink said remove the rocks and then put down an organic mulch, I thought, why remove the rocks? That's a lot of work and where are you going to put them? Just put down the mulch on top of the rocks. Then you said you like the look of the rocks. My solution would be add larger rocks and let the needles fall down in between them instead of having smaller rocks covered by needles.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2011 at 9:57PM
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Hmmm, when I started to write here, I realize that I am confident in removing some trees, but I am very unsure about removing others. There are several huge pines close to the house that despite their messiness and potential danger, are quite majestic, and hawks nest in them. (Several neighbors have similar trees, so hawks will not be homeless!) There's a huge arborvitae near the patio that gives a feeling of enclosure, and several huge arborvitae that screen the street. And there's one large oak that shades a large area of mosses that I helped along. I'll take some photos, and if they come out descriptive enough (I'm a lousy photographer), I'll post them for opinions.

As suggested, I should diagram the lot with all the trees and shrubs, but it is a daunting task: I've never counted, but there must be at least 50 trees and an equal number of shrubs. I also like the idea of digitally altering photos to remove trees -- I'd like to learn how to do that anyway.

Thanks again for all the suggestions!

    Bookmark   July 14, 2011 at 10:45PM
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