Holiday Lighting Safety Tips

Now that thanksgiving is over, the holiday season is finally in full swing! Driving around this past weekend, I noticed a lot of houses already had their seasonal lighting up. Every year, I find myself surprised by how much work homeowners will put into decking their houses out for the holidays. I’m not one for tall ladders or climbing out of windows to put the perfect finishing touch on a lighting design, but there are plenty of DIYers who do much more than that to accomplish stunning effects. If you’re one of those courageous homeowners (or just a novice looking for helpful starting points) be sure to check out these essential lighting tips. Following these pointers will help you stay safe as your risk life and limb to spread some Christmas cheer, and your holiday lighting designs will be better off for it too.

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Prepare Smart

You should have a plan of action before you even begin hanging up your lights. First of all, test all your lights out and make sure they’re working properly. Inspect the bulbs as well as the wires; frayed or torn wires can be a hazard. Then, identify the kind of power outlet you’ll be using to plug in your lights. The best kind of outlet to use is a ground fault circuit interrupter outlet. If you don’t have one of these outlet, you can buy a portable one from a home supply store for about $20.00. Not bad, especially considering these outlets prevent overcurrents that could cause your lights to spark and create potentially dangerous conditions for you and your home.

Choose the Right Lights

Holiday lighting will typically be marked as either indoor or outdoor lighting. Pay attention to these labels and decorate accordingly. Outdoor lighting is built to withstand outdoor conditions. It’s water-proof and can handle icy conditions, unlike indoor lighting. Keep in mind the options you have when it comes to lighting design. Depending on your plan of action, you can use large (C7 or C9) bulbs; miniature, power saving bulbs, or LED net lighting for shrubs and plants.

Secure Your Lights and Yourself

Nothing dampens the holiday spirit like a broken collarbone. Before you embark on a light install, make sure you’re using a reliable, sturdy ladder and that you have a “spotter” on the ground who can help you out when you’re in a tight spot. When you’re hanging your lights, secure them with insulated hanging clips rather than tacks or nails. Tacks and nails aren’t very durable or weather-proof, and, if you’re going to spend six hours hanging lights up, you might as well make sure they stay there. Further, always be aware of your surroundings. Don’t install lights by any power lines or on trees that come into contact with power lines. Keep a safe distance between yourself and any chance of you getting electrocuted.

Sound daunting? No worries! You can always hire a landscape lighting professional to help you out on more complicated installations. Roanoke Landscapes provides this service every holiday season. Learn more at our website: http://www.roanokelandscapes.com/

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Understanding Frost

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This morning I woke up, got ready, went outside to start my car, and then sat there for ten minutes waiting for the frost to melt off my windshield. In the last couple weeks, this has become a common occurrence, putting a sizeable wrench in my morning routine. Now I wake up earlier, get ready quicker, and anticipate the time I’ll spend watching ice crystals melt off my car windows before I can safely make my way to work.  I guess summer really is over….

Frost is a pretty big deal for gardeners and landscape professionals. More than a small inconvenience, it can quickly kill or cause irreparable damage to plants and flowers. Even novice planters are aware of this, but many don’t know exactly how frost works and why it’s so deadly.

Frost occurs when nighttime temperatures begin to dip below freezing. It is often exacerbated by high moisture levels in the air (dry winter mornings = less frost) and, in this region, frosty morning conditions begin to appear around November.

When frost settles in your garden, it hurts your plants by freezing and rupturing their cells. This can cause brittleness and breakage. Frost can also freeze surrounding soil, causing roots to freeze and limiting the water supply available to plants. Deep ground freezes can also hurt irrigation piping. When water left in irrigation lines freezes, it expands, potentially leading to very expensive pipe damage. Needless to say, it’s important to be prepared for the onset of frost.

Predicted frost patterns for the year can usually be found at local nurseries or on weather forecast websites. This information has been invaluable to farmers and landscape professionals for decades, because much of what we do depends on when the first frost is expected to hit. With an idea of when you can expert frost, you can begin planning your garden for the oncoming cold temps.

As you ready for winter, you’ll want to check the hardiness levels of your plants. Some plants do relatively well in cold—and even freezing—temps. Other plants have a very low tolerance for frost, and may die almost immediately. When choosing plants for your garden, keep in mind frost predictions, typical weather patterns, and the cold hardiness of the breeds you’re choosing.

You can also take steps to prepare your soil for the onset of frost. Typically, this means keeping soil well compacted, free of weeds, and moist. The more moisture in the ground, the longer it will take to freeze. Dry soil gives in to frost very quickly, which is why it’s important to keep watering, even as temps get lower and lower. Mulch can be used as an insulator against cold temps, giving your soil a kind of blanket. The mulch may freeze, but the soil underneath will be kept warm.

With these tips in mind, you can keep your garden safe in the transitory period between fall and winter. Check back soon for a more detailed post about protecting plants from freezing temperatures!

Winter Landscaping Projects

In the words of House Stark: winter is coming!

That means that your yard chores are basically over, right? No more mowing, watering, and weeding. It’s finally time to sit back, kick up your feet, and watch your children shovel snow from the safety of your living room.

On the other hand, winter is the perfect time to begin a new landscaping project. It may be cold, icy, and generally unpleasant outside, but things are also quieter in the winter. Landscapers are less busy, and projects can normally be done on the cheap. So, if you’re a fan of bargains and short lines, or you’re just bored of lounging around, put on your best cold weather jacket and consider taking on some of these winter projects:

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Plant Winter Greens

Gardening in the winter? You betcha! Adding a little green to your icy, barren garden can really help chase away those winter blues. Cold-hardy plants like Christmas holly, winterberry, and birch trees do well in cold climates, and look gorgeous draped in holiday lighting!

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Renovate Your Landscape Lighting

Winter nights are long and cold. After a long day at the office, it’s no fun stumbling through the dark to find your front door. Installing some lights in your garden or along your walkways can do wonders for your outdoor living space. In fact, some well-placed landscape lighting may make your yard feel livable again, even in the dead of winter. Many homeowners put off landscape lightning renovations because they normally require professional assistance, but, in the winter months, landscapers are less busy, and many may even be able to provide special discounts and offers. If you’ve been putting off a big project, now just might be the perfect time to place that phone call.

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Install a Fire Pit

Speaking of making your outdoor living space more livable, what brightens up a deck or patio more than a fire pit? A fire pit brings beauty, warmth, and fun to otherwise cold and barren outdoor living spaces.  The install seems daunting to many, but this project is easily worth the time and money it takes to build. Who doesn’t love a roaring fire on a chilly night?

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Plan for Spring

When it comes to landscaping, it never hurts to be one step ahead. Spring is an exhausting time for homeowners and landscaping professionals alike. Why not get some of the grunt work out of the way over hot coco and warm cookies? Sit down with a landscaping professional and draft out your spring plan. What kind of plantings do you want to do? What do you want to keep? What do you want to change? If you know what you want, it’s not a bad idea to go out and buy plants from local nurseries while they still have them in stock. Nurseries get cleaned out in the early spring months! If you get your game plan nailed down now, you want have to spend nearly as much time stressing when March rolls around.

Holiday Decorating: How Soon is Too Soon?

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Here at Roanoke Landscapes, we have already begun putting up holiday decorations for our clients. With Thanksgiving still a couple weeks away and Halloween barely out the door, this seems unorthodox. At least, that’s what I thought when we began getting shipments of wreaths and lights. That smell of fresh pine needles pervaded the shop while, outside, people jogged by in shorts and T-shirts. It was weird; a kind of unseasonable contradiction.

In my family, holiday decorating NEVER took place before Thanksgiving, and even after Thanksgiving came to pass, we would typically wait a couple weeks to bring out the lights and tinsel. We followed a strict decorating tradition: the holiday season began with us driving out to the country and cutting down a pine tree. We would then lug the thing back home, prop it up (usually with much difficulty) and, as a family, hang our highly nostalgic collection of Christmas ornaments. A couple would inevitably break after falling off a tenuous branch, someone would have way too much wine, and, at the end of it all, when we’d stand back in the living room and gaze upon our handiwork, the tree would always look a bit crooked.

Then, there were lights. Lights usually went up about a week before Christmas day. I would love to tell you more about my family’s light-hanging rituals, but I almost always missed out on this particular chore. My taller, bigger brothers were the ones who ended up on my dad’s rusty ladder, haphazardly hanging glowing strings of icicles from the gutters. I have heard it was often bitterly cold. Perhaps this is why we always started with an outrageous design plan (fluorescent Santa and his reindeer flying off the roof, our entire house outlined in gold tinsel, etc.) only to settle for the absolute minimum amount of decorations. As my dad always said, we only really need enough so that our neighbors don’t think we’re too miserly to celebrate Christmas.

Once the lights were hung, we figured the Holidays were close enough that we could finally start celebrating. My mom would blast her favorite Christmas albums on our stereo, my dad would pick up a variety pack of Lindt truffles from the fancy department store by his work, and my brothers and I would eagerly look forward to whatever gifts awaited us.

Still, the smell of fresh pine and the sight of string lights hanging from rooftops makes me excited for the season of giving (and chocolate). However, when the telltale signs of Holiday cheer start popping up in early November, this excitement feels a little bit premature, especially as I sit here at work, with no fancy chocolate in sight. It’s also about 70 degrees outside, and I kind of want to get my fall hiking in before I start thinking about eating my weight in treats and hibernating for the winter. So, as we prepare to decorate for our clients, I’m feeling a bit conflicted. Is it too early? Should I stave away the holiday excitement, or give in? As a friend (and enthusiastic decorator) said to me a couple weeks back: “Halloween starts on September 1st and Christmas starts on November 1st, that way, you’re always celebrating something!”

What do you think?

Preparing Your Landscape for Winter

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Winter? But it’s 80 degrees outside! Though it may not seem like it now, rest assured, cold weather is on the horizon. And the perfect time to prepare for winter’s onslaught is during the fall, when temperatures are still mild and pleasant. There’s a lot of work to be done in order to get your garden in prime shape for snow, ice, and whatever else this year’s winter throws your way. We’ve compiled a November checklist to help you prepare accordingly:

Tend to Your Grass

This time of year, your lawn is probably still mostly green. Before it turns yellow, there are several chores you should take care of. For one, fall is a great time to put down fertilizer. Fertilizing your lawn will give it the strength it needs to make it through the cold season. Use a fertilizer with high nitrogen content, if you can (nitrogen content should be higher than phosphate or potassium content, so, for example, a 25-5-5 fertilizer would work well). Remember, as long as your lawn is green, you should continue to keep it trimmed, but don’t scalp it any lower than 2 inches. Additionally, your lawn needs to be watered regularly until it yellows, and then about once a month after that. And don’t forget to rake up those leaves! Dead leaves are the perfect habitat for pests and disease.

Upkeep Your Garden

Though pulling up weeds and dead plants is a royal pain, it’s well worth the effort. Pests lay eggs to overwinter on dead or dying plants. Get em’ out of there! You may want to add some of this dead growth to a compost pile so you’ll have fresh compost come spring. Dead leaves are a great source of organic nutrients! If you’re growing squash or root vegetables, you can likely leave those in the ground a bit longer. Squash shouldn’t be picked until the first heavy frost, and some root vegetables (parsnips, for example) are sweeter after the ground cools.

Got weeds? Now is the best time to get rid of them. Weeds are often more vulnerable to sprays in the fall than they are in the summer. Whether you’re pulling them up or spraying them, it’s best to get weeding over with now.

Deciduous trees should continue to be watered regularly throughout the fall. For extra protection from winter weather conditions, deciduous trees (especially young trees) can be wrapped with a crepe-paper tree wrap, from their base up to where branches begin to form. The wrap can be removed come March or April.

Perrenial flowers should be mulched in mid or late November, and annuals can be cut down once they start to brown. Mulching perennial flowers will keep root temperatures consistent throughout the winter. Too much fluctuation can cause major root damage , and, in Virginia, winter temperature fluctuation is the norm! A capricious weather forecast can put your garden through a lot of stress.

Once these chores are finished, you can rest easy for the remainder of the season. That means you’ll have more time to enjoy the holidays and the gorgeous fall scenery! So, as daunting as fall garden chores may seem, it’s worth your while to get them done while you still have a pinch of summer’s warmth on your side. You’ll thank yourself later!