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Outdoor living space anyone? February is the month to start planning that backyard paradise February in Texas is the time when folks begin thinking about their outdoor time. Outdoor living spaces are becoming more and more in demand as people discover the ability to have their private retreat right there in their own back yards. This year in particular, with winter seemingly MIA, people are pursuing their dreams of their own back yard space early in the year. I get called a lot to consult and design back yard living spaces. It always seems to start with a patio of some sort. We will discuss the different types of patios that can be built, but first lets talk about what a patio can represent. If you stand at the back of your home at least a good distance away so that you can see the whole back side of the home, you will notice the shapes on the house. They included 95% or better of hard angles, such as windows (rectangles and squares), doorways (rectangles), even the brick on the home is rectangles. Its a collection of these hard angles. Subconsciously, this creates a very formalized, structured look. A vast majority of the patios we build will not have a hard angle. Building a patio with curves and no corners will go very far in softening up the whole look of the back living space. It reduces that formalized look and becomes more open and free flowing. So unless you have a contemporary styled home where a squared or rectangled shaped patio might be a desirable look, pursue the opposite of what your home has if it is heavy on the hard angles. Concrete – Most homes come with some sort of concrete patio and concrete works well if appearance really isn’t important to you. Lets face it, concrete is gray. Its look factor has limited potential to start off with. However, you can stain an existing concrete patio or for a new concrete patio, you can stain and stamp a design into it. In clay soil areas of Texas where shifting occurs, you will likely see a crack or cracking develop over time. This is normal, but unsightly as it gets worse, but can be remedied. Flagstone – Flagstone makes for a beautiful patio in that its a completely natural material that adds color and contrast to the living space. Stone lasts forever so it will remain for years. There are numerous choices for flagstone to use on patios. Some are very colorful. Some are single color. However, it is wise to stay with a stone that either goes with the home’s brick, or is the same as whatever stone was used on the home itself. With flagstone, the costs will be dependent on the stone you choose. For example, if you select a Arizona flagstone, you will pay much more for it than you would an Oklahoma flagstone. This is because of the longer distance that must be traveled with that stone before it reaches the place you purchased it from. Man-Made Stone – Numerous companies manufacture and sell man-made stone, such as Pavestone, that can be used in a patio application. There are types that are specifically made for this application and offer an abundance of choices. These stones sit on a sand base that is level. Sand is then forced into the joints to complete the installation. There are no adhesion-type properties at work so some resettling of the stones can occur over time. Nevertheless, the man made stone is a very attractive look and can be complimented with other products of the same make, such as retaining walls and steps. Decomposed Granite – Decomposed granite is a material that is used for ground cover purposes, xeriscaping, and in landscape pathways as well as – patios. The pros are that its very affordable and easy to install. It can be done by most homeowners. The cons are that it tends to scatter during foot traffic or taken back into the home via shoe tread. There are products on the market that suggest that you can “harden” the decomposed granite by spraying the clear liquid product over the granite, but I have found those to be inconsistent, at best. Nevertheless, a decomposed granite base will pack in over time and with consistent foot traffic. Patios can be complimented with or have adjoining outdoor kitchen, fireplaces, pergolas, fire pits and other features that make the outdoor life so much more enjoyable. Crape Myrtles, Not Crape Murder This is the month when you want to trim back your Crape Myrtles. One thing the state of Texas has plenty of is Crape Myrtles. A majority of folks choose to trim theirs while others do not. Consistent annual trimming can produce a more structured and more beautiful Crape Myrtle tree. I will again this year preach against the practice of Crape Myrtle hacking. It is pointless to do this as it creates an unhealthy situation for the tree as well as a very bizarre look overall. There’s no rhyme or reason with hacking so I won’t try to explain how its done and when it started. Frankly, I’m not real sure about either. It looks almost alien. Instead, a Crape Myrtle should be trimmed in a way we describe as “knubbing.” That entails trimming the limbs at a 45 degree angle cut at approximately six inches above what we call a “knuckle” or where the sub-limbs flair from (see diagram) the limbs. This type of trimming is not warranted for all Crapes, however. The larger Crapes, such as the Natchez (white blooms), will grow upwards to 40 ft high. In trimming these large Crapes, they should be approached much like you would trim a regular tree, with cuts at the collars. If you contract with a landscaper to perform Crape trimming this month, make sure you gain an understanding of exactly how they will trim your Crapes. The Season’s First Cut For folks in the southern half of our state, your first mowing may well take place in the latter part of this month. For those of you who have Bermuda tuff, you will want your first mow to be very short. DO NOT SCALP your lawn, but mow it shorter than you would normally mow it. This is for the first mow only. The same holds true for St Augustine and Zoysia turf, except we don’t mow it as short as we do Bermuda. Why do we do this? Mowing very short the first time allows more sunlight to hit the surface of the soil, which heats up the first few inches of soil and causes the turf to come out of dormancy faster than it otherwise would. You will want to get rid of as much of the thatch as you can as it will hang around and help defeat the purpose since it would cover the soil surface. Sprinkler changes Make sure you add a day to your settings this month. The days are a little longer in February than they were in January, plus, it is a strange month to begin with where we often see summer-type weather followed by winter-type weather in a matter of hours. So most of us should be watering twice a week during February at about 10 minutes per zone (sprays). Pre Emergent There’s still time to get down your pre emergent application for spring. Get it done before the third week of the month begins. Timing is everything with pre emergent and since we’re having some rain and warmer weather, our window of opportunity has grown narrow. Get it done asap. Fertlization Do not be tempted to put down an application of fertilizer during February or March. April 1 is your safe date in Texas. After that, we’ll likely not see a freeze again until next fall. Feel free to ask any questions you might have. There’s no question too simple or too difficult!