Ecoyards provides complete lawn and landscape services with an emphasis on quality customer service and environmental responsibility.

Posts in the category "Seattle Landscape Design"

Building custom cedar fences in the Seattle area

November 28, 2012 @ 12:52 pm

Trellis fence by Ecoyards.

Horizonal fence by Ecoyards.

Cedar fence with secret “Hobbit” gate for the kids, Laurelhurst. Custom-built by Ecoyards.

Galvanized steel mesh fence with cedar frame by Ecoyards.

Cedar fence with transparent stain by Ecoyards. Photo by Meryl Schenker.

When we first bought our house in West Seattle, you could walk directly from our front yard into the open space of our backyard. We didn’t have a fence that separated the front and back yard spaces, and for a while that worked just fine for us. But then we got a dog and later a kid, and it seemed appropriate to build a fence to prevent both from running into the street.

We wanted privacy, but we didn’t want to be completely screened from the street, so we settled on a three-foot lattice fence with landscaping to provided added privacy, and an arbor where a hydrangea vine and tea roses could grow.

There are many reasons for building a fence, including to: mark your property line, create privacy in your backyard, add charm and structure to your house, or even add property value by creating more useable space. There are also many types of fence designs (formal, picket, classic), and materials (wood, metal, vinyl, bamboo, wrought iron, etc.). Some clients want full privacy and fences as tall as possible, while others want simply to create a focal point in the yard.

What ever your style or needs, Ecoyards can work with you to design the right fence for your home. We’ve custom built a wide range of wooden fences and arbors to suit clients’ individual needs, tastes and budgets. We specialize in custom wooden fences, and other woodwork, such as arbors, trellises, and raised vegetable beds. We’ll work with you to come up with a style. Contact us to setup a consultation.

We just finished a more formal-style cedar fence in the Laurelhurst neighborhood. It’s exactly the kind of fence you would have wanted as a kid. Built into the fence is a small Hobbit door (look closely and you’ll see the black door handle) that allows the clients’ children and the kids next door to go between their houses. Not everyone would want this, but the client and his neighbor are friendly and used to having the kids tromp through each other’s yards. The fence provides privacy for the homeowner, but is still inviting to the next door neighbors.

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Gardening in planting strips

October 27, 2012 @ 8:00 am


Ecoyards makeover of West Seattle parking strip.

All across Seattle, homeowners have been reclaiming the parking strip — the city-owned no-man’s land between the sidewalk and the street in front of their homes — and remaking it into a more beautiful or useful part of their home landscape. One of our neighbors has been working on a DIY project to transform her grass-covered parking strip into a low-maintenance but edible garden space. Because the city-owned property is public, she wants to install edible plants that would provide bounty to anyone in the neighborhood who wants to help themselves.

Other residents are making use of these parking strips to plant vegetables, install raised beds, add extra beautify to their landscapes or creating a landscape that doesn’t require mowing. After much uproar from citizens, the city of Seattle relaxed rules on gardening in planting strips back in 2009. Residents no longer have to pay the old $225 permit fee to plant in the space, but you still have to follow certain setback rules and height requirements.

The city keeps a master tree list of trees that can be planted in the parking strip. It offers useful information such as mature height, whether it can be planted under wires and what fall color it offers.

Here are some other questions and answers, taken from the city’s memo on the subject:

Do I need a permit? No permit is required if you are gardening in the planting strip in front of your house. A FREE street use permit is required if you plant a tree or install hardscape elements, such as a raised bed or pavers.

Can I grow food? Yes. The city allows you to grow food in planting strips as long as you follow certain height and setback guidelines. The city doesn’t allow “certain trees, including fruiting cherry, apple, and pear species that can pose a safety risk to pedestrians when fruit falls on the walkway.”

Where do I get a permit? Apply for a Street Use permit online, or in person on the 23rd floor of the Seattle Municipal Building at 700 5th Ave.



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Showy fall colors in the Seattle area

October 24, 2012 @ 9:59 am

vine maple

Gardens in the Northwest can put on spectacular displays of colors during the autumn. From native vine maples and Japanese maples to burning bushes and asters, gardeners have plenty of options for incorporating bursts of color into their landscapes as summer winds down into fall. This can be done through fall-blooming perennials, showy annuals or employing the colorful foliage of shrubs and trees.

1. Vine maple. This is a classic Northwest native with show-stopping orange, yellow and red color that last well into winter. Coax the best fall color by planting these trees in a spot with at least a half day of sun.

2. Asters come in a variety of colors, ranging from pink to blue to white. They have daisy-like flowers that bloom from late August into early winter. Aster ‘monch’ is a particularly long-lasting bloom with clear lavender-blue flower.

3. Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ offers year-round interest, not just the pinkish-red blooms that pop in the fall. They’re drought-tolerant and require little maintenance, and are a must in any Northwest garden.

Japanese maple. Photo by Ecoyards.

4. Japanese maples. There’s no shortage of Japanese maple varieties to choose from, depending on the color you’re going after. Japanese maples are show-stoppers this time of year. Yellow, orange, green and varying shades of red, burgundy and purple.

5. Burning bush, or ‘euonymous alatus,’ is a large-foliage shrub with brilliant flaming red color during the fall.

6. Goldenrod, Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks,’ are easy-to-grow, hardy perennials.  ‘Fireworks’ have tiny flowers that are clustered into spires of yellow. Butterflies and bees love these flowers.

Contact Ecoyards to setup a consultation if you’d like help adding new colorful plants to your landscape.

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Fall gardening tasks – put your garden to bed for the winter

October 12, 2012 @ 8:50 am

Crimson clover. Consider planting a cover crop to suppress weeds and add nutrients to your garden over the winter. Photo courtesy of shannonm75 via Creative Commons License.

After a terrific stretch of sunny, dry days over the past several weeks, the overcast skies are a reminder that it’s time to get cracking on fall tasks in the garden. On my to-do list this week: harvest the remaining ripe tomatoes, pick ripe huckleberries and start putting the vegetable garden to bed. Here are some other chores to consider this fall:

1. Plant trees, shrubs, perennials, ground covers and more. Read our previous post for tips on how to plant trees properly.

2. Weed, weed and weed.

3. Putting the vegetable garden to bed, unless of course you’ve planted winter crops. If not, consider planting a cover crop such as crimson clover to suppress weeds over the winter and improve your soil.

3. Time to plant spring-flowering bulbs, such as tulips, daffodils and hyacinths. Get the earliest bloomers into the ground first: crocus, daffodils, tulips and hyacinths. The bulbs will need need several months of winter chill to produce good springtime blooms.

4. Remove dead and diseased leaves, plants and other messes from around your landscape to reduce diseases next year. Deadhead flowers.

5. Continue to plant or transplant perennials, shrubs and trees. Winter months provide ideal conditions for planting new shrubs and trees.

6. Plant garlic for harvest in the spring.

7. Turn off irrigation system once the rains come.  Contact us if you need help winterizing your irrigation system.


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To peat or not to peat

October 10, 2012 @ 1:15 pm

Peat bog. Photo courtesy of peupleloup via Creative Commons License.

The New York Times recently covered the controversy brewing in Great Britian over the use of peat in gardening. As the newspaper reports, the British government drew some fierce criticism from both sides after it announced plans to gradually eliminate peat from all gardening products. Gardeners love the stuff (it’s spongy, airy, improves soil structure, holds water without being soggy; and it is widely used in potting soils, planting mixes and as a soil amendment). But environmental critics say the practice of harvesting peat isn’t sustainable. Peat “is scraped off the tops of centuries-old bogs, which are vital ecosystems that also serve as natural stores of carbon, just like rain forests,” the Times reports.

Most of the peat used in the U.S. comes from Canada. Its use is no less controversial here, though there doesn’t seem to be any effort afoot to ban the product.

At Western Washington University, professor Linda Chalker-Scott makes the argument for why peat moss isn’t a sustainable resource. She writes that peatlands play an important role in the environment. Like wetlands, she says, peatland systems store and help purify water; and they’re the single largest terrestrial store of carbon. While natural, peat can often take centuries to replace.

Cornell University’s Department of Horticulture, however, suggests that it’s OK, if you use it conservatively. The department recommends using peat for starting seeds and cuttings because it minimizes disease problems. But it says it’s a better idea to turn to compost and manure for larger quantities of organic matter in your garden.

Chalker-Scott writes that there are a number of suitable substitutes for peat. Compost is the best known substitute. Coir, or coconut dust, is also another suitable alternative, according to Oregon State University. Coconut “peat” is usually the short fibers of the coconut husk; the longer fibers are removed and used for doormats, brushes and ropes; the short fibers often end up in horticulture products. According to OSU, researchers at Auburn University and University of Arkansas compared peat and coir as soil amendments for gardening and found that coir performed as good as peat. Coir can hold moisture and wet, similar to peat.






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Fall tree planting – steps to ensure that tree is planted properly and gets off to a great start

September 26, 2012 @ 12:47 pm

The cooler weather in Seattle means it’s time to plant trees! Fall is a great time to do this, because the weather is much cooler and this allows trees and plants to establish new roots rather than withering in dry, summer conditions.

Planting a tree seems easy enough. Dig a hole, plop the tree in, cover with dirt, water, and voila!  That’s mostly right, but there are some steps that you can take to ensure that tree is planted properly and gets off to a great start.

1. Call before you dig! Check to make sure you’re not digging into underground lines. Call 1-800-424-5555 for utility location services. Do it at least 2 days prior to digging.

2. Dig the planting hole only as deep as the root system and at least twice as wide. It is important to make the hole wide, as new roots will expand more quickly into loose soil. If the tree is planted too deep, new roots may not develop due to lack of oxygen.

3. With balled or burlap-wrapped tree, remove all wire baskets, twine, and burlap from the root ball. Linda Chalker-Scott, Ph.D., a horticulturalist and associate professor with Washington State University argues that it’s much better for tree growth if you actually disturb the root ball. Read more of her explanation in this paper, which lists step-by-step instructions for planting a ball or burlapped tree. “The most important reason to disturb the root ball of a balled and burlapped tree is to inspect the root system,” she writes, adding: “The circling, girdling, kinked, and hooked root systems often found in containerized plants occur frequently with B&B materials, too.”

4. Make sure the tree is at the proper depth. Better to plant the tree slightly high, about 1-2 inches above the base of the trunk flare, than it plant it at or below the growing level. This allows for some settling.

5. Backfill with native soil (the soil you dug out of the hole). Don’t use any type of soil amendment, advises WSU professor Linda Chalker-Scott in this paper. She says adding soil amendments to the planting hole may help it grow vigorously in the first few years, but notes the organic matter eventually decomposes and you may be left with a sunken hole. She writes:

Amended backfill has markedly different characteristics than surrounding native soil; it is more porous and water will wick away to the finer-textured native soil. In the summer, moisture within the planting hole will be depleted by the plant but not replaced by water held more tightly in the native soil. This results in water stress to the plant unless the planting hole is kept irrigated, a costly and often unrealistic practice. During wet seasons water will move quickly through the
amended soil only to be held back by the more slowly draining native soil.

6. Mulch the planting area with organic mulch. Lay about 2-4 inches. This will help keep a buffer between the trunk and the mulch to prevent disease. Mulch also helps hold moisture and moderate soil temperatures.

7. Water. Keep it moist and well-watered for the first growing season, but don’t overdo it. Most likely, Seattle’s fall and winter rains will do your work for you.

Contact Ecoyards to setup a consolation if you want help choosing and installing new trees on your property.  


The Myth of Soil Amendments: “When transplanting trees or shrubs into landscapes, amend the backfill soil with organic matter.”

New tree planting, city of Seattle website.

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Fire-resistant landscapes – creating a defensible space around your home

August 20, 2012 @ 8:07 pm

Wildfires raging throughout the West have gotten us thinking a lot about fire-resistant landscapes and how homeowners can help protect their homes from wildfires. Lightning often start fires but so, too, do people. Wildfires can start from campfires that aren’t properly put out, home sites that aren’t well maintained, and vehicles or equipment that create sparks.

Native kinnikinnick is one of dozens of plants considered “fire-resistant.”

There’s a lot of good information out there about how to protect your home from wildfires. Among the top recommendations is to create a “defensible space” around your home, or a safety zone of about 30-feet around your home and all structures. This is especially important for rural homeowners who live in areas where forests meet the edges of communities. The 30-foot safety zone should be clean, free of dead plant material and lean. Fire officials say to rake up dry leaves around the house and under decks and porches; prune trees away from homes; keep roof and gutters clear of flammable debris; and use fire-resistant plants where possible. Check out this brochure from King County for a good illustration of the different zones you should keep around your house.

The Washington’s Department of Natural Resources also offers these techniques for creating a defensible space around your home:

Use plants with high moisture content (deciduous) nearest the home.

Trim tree branches away from the home.

Prune trees at least six feet above the ground to reduce the changes that a fire on the ground will spread into tree tops. This is important if you have a lot of trees on your property.

King County has a great native plant database where you can search for different types of native plants that considered fire-resistant. Fire-resistant plants are described as ones where you get little seasonal accumulation of dead vegetation; have loose branching habits and are non-resinous if they’re woody plants. (Resinous trees include cedar, spruce, fir and pine). Many fire-resistant plants are also native to Washington, which make them easier to care for and less susceptible to diseases.

Some examples of fire-resistant trees for the Puget Sound area: cottonwood, maple, birch, cherry, flowering dogwood, vine maple, and crab apple. Fire-resistant shrubs include: Oregon grape, serviceberry, salal, mock orange, rhododendron, azalea, nootka rose. Good perennial choices include yarrow, hosta, iris, geranium, trillium, lamb’s ear, beard tongue and coreopsis. Groundcovers in this category include hens and chicks, stonecrop, verbenia, winter creeper and kinnikinnick.

In this video, local gardener Cisco Morris talks about how to create fire-resistant homes.

Contact Ecoyards to setup a consultation if you are looking for help with landscape plans for your property.

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Snails, snails and more snails

August 9, 2012 @ 8:15 am

Brown snail introduced from France in 1850s as food.  Photos by Ecoyards.

I had the unpleasant task this morning of hand-picking about a dozen snails from my garden in Seattle. It seems like these little hungry creatures multiplied overnight, but in reality I’ve ignored my garden during these busy summer weeks and allowed the perfect conditions for the mollusks to grow. I left plenty of damp, hiding spots for them, and plenty of overhanging weeds; for example, I left a tarp in one corner of the garden, which provided perfect cover for the snails to grow and I’m growing plants they particularly love.

Common brown garden snails, otherwise known as Cornu aspersum or Helix aspersa) are a menace because they feast on both living and decaying plants, and they grow rapidly. Plus they’re kind of slimy and gross. Brown snails were brought to California in the 1850s by the French as food (yum, escargots). They love young tender shoots and seedlings, and herbaceous plants that grow close to the ground (strawberries, artichokes, tomatoes). They also like to eat lettuce, marigolds, dahlia, beans, basil, and other veggies. They don’t like woody ornamental plants, such as lavender, rosemary, sage, geraniums, begonias and nasturtiums.

Snail’s mucus.

OK, so what can you do when you’re overrun by snails? Hand-pick them off your plants, fences and walls, and crush them. (This morning I threw them into a garbage bag, and tossed a few into the street for the birds). Hand-picking isn’t the most appealing method for those pest-adverse gardeners, but it really is the easiest and weirdly satisfying. In the past I’ve also tried trapping snails and slugs by putting out a little container of beer at ground level; I’ve never found beer-trapping to be that effective, but others report otherwise. You could also use a little sugar water and yeast to get the same effect. Your container should be deep enough so that snails don’t just crawl out of the sides. (There are plenty of YouTube videos describing how to make one of these beer traps). The experts at the University of California say such traps aren’t very effective for the amount of time it requires; you have to constantly replenish the beer (or other trapping liquid) and they only draw the pests within a few feet of the container.

If hand-picking and beer-trapping aren’t for you, studies have shown that copper barriers can work in repelling snails from containers and raised beds. Supposedly the copper works because the copper reacts with a snail’s slime and effectively “shocks” it and messes up its nervous system. You can wrap copper foil around a tree trunk or planting boxes to keep the mollusks away. If you use these barriers on planting boxes or raised beds, make sure you don’t have any snails or snail eggs inside the container before installing the barrier; one friend discovered that her copper barrier had trapped snails inside her raised bed.

Plenty of garden stores also sell snail baits that are toxic to snails, but the ones containing metaldehyde are also poisonous to cats and dogs. There are some baits containing iron phosphate (i.e. Sluggo) that are safe around children and wildlife. Read the directions carefully and time the use properly (they’re usually not as effective during very hot, very cold or very dry times of the year).

My take-away from this morning’s snail hand-picking session is to do a better job of keeping my garden clean. I’ll try to remove  boards, weedy areas, stones, branches close to the ground where snails thrive. Unfortunately, my vegetable garden is located close to our fence and garbage cans, when boxes and such tend to pile up. Inevitably, snails will come even if you keep a clean garden, so hand-picking will be just another routine.

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Cherry blossoms in Seattle – great varieties for you to consider for your landscape

April 13, 2012 @ 6:54 am

Photo by Ecoyards

It’s a sure sign of spring when you can spot the explosion of white and pale pink blossoms on cherry trees throughout the Northwest. There are no shortage of places to view cherry blossoms, which are in their prime from about late March into early April. The University of Washington’s Quad is one of the many places where you can walk under a canopy of pink and white blossoms. The 31 Yoshino cherry trees that line the campus quad start blooming in late March and go for about three weeks. According to the UW, the Washington Park Arboretum bought and planted these Yoshino cherry trees around 1939. In the early 1960s, they were brought to the UW campus when State Route 520 was built.

If you’re looking to plant ornamental cherry trees at your home,  Yoshino cherry is one of the best bets for the Seattle area. Yoshino cherry, or prunus yedeoensis, is a Great Plant Pick, which means it is well-suited for growing in the Seattle area. Once established, the plant is drought tolerant. It’s also disease resistant and loves our cool, wet weather. The tree develops golden yellow and orange colors in the fall. It is originally from Japan and has been widely planted in the U.S., including in Washington, D.C. Great Plant Picks also recommends three other ornamental cherry tree varieties that do well in the Seattle area, including Akebono, Japanese Flowering Cherry and Cornelian Cherry.

The exchange of cherry trees between Japan and Washington, D.C., has a long and interesting history _ with a Seattle connection. In 1909, First Lady Helen Taft backed the idea of planting cherry trees in the nation’s capital, according to this National Park Service timeline. That year, Japan donated 2,000 trees to Washington to be planted along the Potomac River. The trees were shipped from Japan through Seattle on Dec. 10, 1909. When they arrived in D.C., agricultural inspectors discovered that they were infested with insects and nematodes, and President Taft agreed to have them burned to protect American growers. The NPS timeline shows that in 1912, Japan donated another 3,020 trees to D.C.; again they were shipped through Seattle and included about 1,800 Yoshino cherry trees, as well as other varieties. Those 1912 Yoshino cherry and trees propagated from that stock still draw thousands of visitors to D.C. each spring. Over the years, cuttings were taken from those 1912 trees to help preserve the tree’s genetic lineage; some were even sent back to Japan to help maintain the tree’s lineage in that country. Yoshino cherry trees are the predominant cherry blossom tree found in D.C., mainly along the tidal basin.

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Exploring the Early Learning Garden at Mercer Island Library

March 28, 2012 @ 12:58 pm
ladybug rocks, ecoyards, mercer island

Painted ladybug rocks, set on basalt column; all photos taken by Ecoyards

As parents of a rambunctious toddler, we’re always interested in getting our son outdoors to explore and learn. So we were excited to learn about the Mercer Island Public Library Early Learning Garden from our clients on Mercer Island. (Ecoyards frequently works with Mercer Island customers on design-and-build landscape projects; we also help many Mercer Island customers maintain their lawn and landscapes). The public library garden opened last fall, thanks to sweat and labor from hundreds of community volunteers.

The Mercer Island Library worked with the Pomegranate Center to build a unique outdoor space that connects kids with nature and literacy. The landscape design does a lot with a relatively small space that surrounds the library. A short trail starts at the parking lot and wraps around the west and north sides of the public library. It connects three gathering circles: basalt columns in the smallest, granite boulders next and cedar benches and stumps to sit on in the last and largest gathering circle.

cedar circle, mercer island, ecoyards

Cedar circle

The garden recognizes that literacy and life-long learning can go beyond books and reading. Young kids have a sense of wonder and imagination that can be cultivated early on, both indoors and outdoors. Alphabet tiles handmade by children and other volunteers are placed throughout the trail to help the library’s youngest patrons develop early literacy skills. The tiles illustrate animals and plants that can be found on Mercer Island, such as B for butterfly and J for jay.

Maple pavers, mercer island, ecoyards

M for Maple

The paths are filled with empty hazelnut shells (yes, they come from Washington), and make for a fun crunching sound under feet.

Child walks on path full of hazelnut shells.

There’s a lot for gardeners to love as well. Northwest native plants such as rhododendrons, ferns and Oregon grape.

Rhododendron, Mercer Island


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