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Avoid that disaster project! It pains me to see what goes on in the landscape industry sometimes. This past week was one of those times. I went to a consultation visit to a fellow who was already $8,000 into a backyard project and was looking to alleviate some issues that project had caused. Landscape contractors are not hired to create new issues within the landscape. If a customer wants something that will cause an issue, it’s on us to inform them of it and steer them to something more problem-free. After all, we’re most often hired to come in and solve problems, not create them. In the above case, the homeowner had tried to reach out to some larger landscape companies. But his project was viewed “too small” for their time. And in a lack of knowing anyone else to turn to, he found a neighborhood “guy” who said he knew how to work with concrete. While that proved to be true, he had no understanding of how you create a patio next to a home foundation. And therein is the problem. Some neighborhood “guys” sometimes take on jobs they are not qualified to do. And of course, they don’t know they’re not qualified to do it. Now, the homeowner will pay to demo the whole thing and start over again. Its a heartbreaking situation that makes me wish I had a magic wand. How did this happen? What could have changed the end result, had he known? The tantalizing thing about the neighborhood guy is his dirt-cheap price. The homeowner gets excited, wants to explain what they want, and then “when can you start?” They will often be able to begin a project within a week. By contrast, that inquiry should go more like the following: cheap price, starts in a week – red flag . . prompts intensive questioning . . such as “explain how you intend to do this project.” You should be greeted with a long, information-saturated explanation that makes sense and illustrates a better than working knowledge of the intricacies of the work at hand. You may even question how the project can be done so cheaply when other estimates (if the case) were higher. So beware of contractors who are way cheap and can start in a week. Why? Because there is often an unfortunate reason why one is far cheaper than another – and – any landscape contractor worth their salt will be booked for at least two weeks or more. Therefore when you see the Home Advisor commercial where the elderly lady is seeking a landscape contractor who can begin within the week – you also know Home Advisor is foreign to the concept described above. Which brings us to the third party that has recently injected themselves into the equation in the last several years. They claim to solve the riddle between consumer and contractor. There are two major companies who do this and we have been approached by one of the two in the past. We were never asked for any type of project history, lists of references, etc.,. and thus, we ended the relationship almost as soon as it began. One of our recent jobs was the demo of a driveway that was poured and stained by a contractor located via Angie’s List. Within six months, the driveway stain job was peeling off in sheets and the contractor was nowhere to be found. We demo’d the drive and poured a new one, another expensive mistake. Is there not a good way of locating a quality landscape contractor? Of course there is. Start with word of mouth. Your friends, your family, neighbors, etc. Take a look around your neighborhood. When you see something you really like, stop and ask the homeowners who they used and get their contact information. Here are a few tips to use when you’re looking for a good landscape contractor: 1. As stated above, start by talking to neighbors, friends, etc., or find a landscape in your area that you really like and then talk to the homeowner about who did the job. Make sure you ask questions, i.e. were they happy with the job and the performance of the company? Was it done in a timely fashion? 2. It is customary to obtain three bids for a job. However, the assumption should never be to look for the cheapest bid. Look for details in the bid, distinctions between the bids, etc., and then ask each of them questions about their bids, if necessary. Obtaining three bids should be done when you do NOT have a proven landscape contractor to turn to. 3. Lastly, see how seriously the contractor takes his business. Is the estimate done in professional form? Is there a visual provided that helps you understand the job and end result? Do they provide a detailed list of materials and labor in the estimate? Does the contractor communicate in a timely fashion with you? If you follow those few tips, your chances of ending up with a project you can be proud of go up significantly. Dial up the sprinkler settings! As you know, the 100s have already arrived so respond accordingly by giving your landscape/lawn some extra time on the sprinkler system. You should be watering three days minimum and preferably four days. Most landscape plants just can’t take what Mother Nature is dealing out right now without our help. If you are facing water restrictions, you should take advantage of the multiple programs on your control panel so that you can double up on the days you are allowed to water. For instance, you can have Program A start its normal cycle at midnight while having Program B duplicate the cycle at 7 pm that evening. If you’re not sure how to operate your control panel, consult with a landscape professional. A customer asked me last week – can we grow Hydrangeas here in Texas? Yes, we can. But Hydrangeas are big time water hogs and must have water frequently during the hot summer months. You must enjoy growing Hydrangeas in order to grow them effectively here in most of Texas. TLC is the name of the game, and water, water, water. Its in the name – HYDRAngea. One trick I use in planting Hydrangeas is to include Palm husk in my planting mix. Palm husk has a high water retention qualities that enable it to preserve water, long. Thus, your Hydrangea won’t have to look sad so much during July and August. Another trick is to use a polymer planting supplement, such as “Hydrozone” which is made by a company in Garland, Texas. Hydrozone utilizes the same polymer technology that is used in diapers. The product is able to absorb and keep up to 30 to 40 times its own weight in water. As a landscape supplement, this is something you’d use when planting a tree or shrub and can be used under sod, particularly in direct sunlight. This is not something you can add to a plant that is already in the ground, unless you drilled into the root ball to do so and in that case, I’d advise you have a landscape professional do that for you. It works in the short and long term and will even absorb liquid fertilizer that the tree or shrub can tap into as it wants. I highly recommend it. You can find them at www.thehydrozone.com. Look out for Scale and Aphids on the Crapes! July is the month when we commonly see insects such as aphids and scale attack our Crape Myrtles. Crapes in poor health are the ones most vulnerable to aphid or scale attack, and often you see them both attacking at the same time. These insects slowly suck the moisture from the tree and excrete a substance that is sticky and sweet, which draws in other unwanted insects such as ants. You’ll recognize scale by its white crusty appearance on the limbs and trunk of the tree. Aphids are mostly seen on the trunk and live in groupings or colonies. They can be various colors, including brown, black and clear. Prolonged infestation will cause black soot fungus to appear as well as powder white fungus, which further deteriorates the health of the tree. If left untreated, it can kill the tree. On the retail side, a product called Malathion is effective at treating these insects. Be sure to follow the directions closely and wear protective eyewear, mouth cover and long sleeve shirt. A BIG thank you! A big shout out to this column's sponsor, Stagecoach Trailers and owner Randy Myers. After a head-on collision three weeks ago, everything was insured except the trailer. Stagecoach and Myers stepped up to help us out to get us back in business quickly. We are so grateful for their gracious assistance in our time of need! (Mark’s column each month is sponsored by Stagecoach Trailers, Inc., of Naples, Texas. Find them at www.stagecoachtrailers.com)