Proper Mulch Application

Too Much Mulch?

Do you have too much mulch in beds or around trees? When properly applied, mulch can be beneficial to your landscape to retain moisture and reduce weed growth. However, a build-up of excessive mulch or an over-application can cause problems for plants. The experts at Shorb can help ensure that the mulch in your landscape is properly applied, and in some cases, reduced or removed.

Why might I need to remove mulch in my garden?

While mulch is very beneficial for the plants to thrive in our gardens, too much will have a detrimental effect on the plants.

Excessive mulch can suffocate the plant roots which inhibits their ability to “breath”.

Mulch holds in moisture which is good for tree roots, but not for the trunk. Never let mulch build up against the trunk of a tree.

Do I have too much mulch?

Some types of mulch, like shredded hardwood, does not break down.

Unless old mulch us removed, repeated applications may have accumulated over the years.

Sometimes mulch is simply over applied.

What happens if I do nothing?

Too much mulch will stress the tree which may cause secondary issues, such as insect and disease infestations. Just like people, if we don’t have a balanced diet, enough sleep, etc., which makes us more susceptible to getting sick. These are correlations, not causation. Be aware, but not alarmed.

How is excess mulch removed?

Hand shovels to gently scrape the excess away, while being careful not to damage the roots.

A high pressure air spade can blow away the excess mulch without damaging the roots.This is the preferred method for beds planted with shrubs and bushes.

How do I prevent this from happening in the future?

Apply at the proper thickness: If using shredded hardwood mulch, first application should be 2”. After that, a very light re-mulching ( ½ to 1”) is all that is needed to make it look fresh.

Remove old mulch: If using shredded hardwood mulch exclusively, remove some of the old mulch before applying new mulch.

Use Shredded Leaf Mulch: It breaks down within 6 months. It also acts like the natural forest litter that plants have evolved to thrive in. You may notice an increase in bird activity, as they are going for the earthworms.

Contact Shorb for more Information

Still have questions, or need an expert to inspect your landscape? Contact Shorb today to schedule a consultation!

Installing an outdoor kitchen in winter

4 Reasons to Start Your Hardscaping Project in the Winter

It may be chilly outside but that doesn’t mean you can’t start the process of upgrading your outdoor living spaces. Winter is an ideal time to plan and install hardscape projects. Hardscaping projects such as stone patios, fire pits, sidewalks, driveways, walls, and stairs can be designed to create amazing outdoor spaces for family fun and entertaining, and these projects can all be worked on throughout the winter. Completing projects like these during the winter gives you the benefit of maximizing the amount of time you can spend enjoying your beautiful yard when the weather gets warmer. Ideally, hardscape projects are wrapped up towards the end of the winter, just in time for spring planting.

There are several advantages of tackling these types of projects during the winter months.

1. Cost Savings & Availability

Winter is typically a slower time of year for landscapers. Less demand means supplies and labor are more available and less expensive. That can translate to greater savings on your end—or the ability to afford higher-quality materials or undertake a larger scale project.

2. Less Damage to Your Yard

With the ground typically being more firm during the winter, hardscaping is less impactful to your property. Your lawn and soil are likely to sustain less damage from equipment, foot traffic, and excavations associated with a hardscaping project.

3. Less Disruption

Typical yard activity is less in the winter and greater in the spring and summer, so it makes sense to do the projects when the yard is not being used as much.

4. Often Ideal Weather

Winters in the DC area have gotten more mild, with several sunny stretches prime for doing outdoor work—without the oppressive summer heat and humidity. Crisper temperatures can also directly benefit certain hardscaping applications—making for a slower, more even drying and curing process for mortar and cement.

Contact Shorb Landscaping

Shorb’s design and installation team can transform your outdoor space with a hardscape that maximizes your property’s aesthetic appeal, practical utility, and overall value while adding a whole new expression of your style and personality to your home.

Contact Shorb today to schedule a consultation!

Outdoor hanging fire pit

Fireplaces and Fire Pits: Extend the Season Outdoors

Moisture or Water in your Basement?

Having problems with moisture or water in your basement? Here are some useful tips:

1. Check the gutters:

 Overflowing gutters are the most common source of wet basements. 

2. Extend the downspouts further away from the foundation. 

We prefer to use 4” PVC pipe. It is smooth walled so it rarely clogs. PVC pipe can be painted.  We suggest a clean-out port on all downspout extensions.






3. Avoid corrugated black pipe – it easily clogs because the interior wall is not smooth like PVC.

There are many reports of mosquitoes laying their eggs in the pools of water trapped in the ridges. If you are using a Mosquito Control company, consider eliminating the pooling water first, and start with corrugated drain pipes.






4. Do not use window well covers

It is almost impossible for enough rain to enter a window well to cause damage. Window well covers actually hold in moisture inside the window well area, which is never a good thing. Flat and thin window well covers can also lead to a false sense of security. A thin layer of dust or leaves easily conceals these punji-like hazards especially when they are tucked behind bushes and plants. We have had a number of employees who have accidentally stepped on them and fallen through.




5. Check the grading (slope) of the soil around your foundation

It is important to remember that “soil” is the operative word here. We see many cases where the mulch or gravel around the building was sloped away from the foundation, only to discover that the soil beneath was sloped towards the foundation. Since mulch and gravel are much more porous than soil, water simply passes through them and will follow the slope of the soil beneath.

Most water intrusions are caused by improper surface grading as evidenced by cloudy, or sediment laden water. If the water is crystal clear, then the house may be sitting on a spring. An important point: always use a vapor barrier before adding soil to a brick or stone foundation. Mortar is porous, and the moisture in the soil can “wick” through mortar especially if the inside of the house is dry (think de-humidifiers.) While these machines remove humid air from the room, they are also creating a dryer room, which in turn “pulls” moisture from the surrounding soil. Grading the soil away from the foundation and extending downspouts a few feet away are the simplest ways to deal with water intrusions.

In summary, if you keep on top of these simple tips, you should be able to keep your basement dry for years to come. If , however, you are still having issues, you have two options:

  • Worst Option: There are “dry basement” companies who are selling a “de-watering” system. The theory here is to allow water to enter the foundation into a gravel and pipe-filled trench cut into the basement floor, and then eject the water with a sump pump. This is an expensive, and usually unnecessary process that relies on electricity, and hopefully a back-up battery that can outlast a power outage. A better solution is to keep the water out of the house in the first place rather than relying on pumps and batteries.
  • Best Option: Attack the problem from the outside by waterproofing. This is the most foolproof option and requires excavating the foundation, installing waterproofing compound, and a sump pump for good measure. While this too can be an expensive proposition, it is an investment which can save a lot of money and stress in the long run.

Contact Shorb Landscaping today for a consultation and to find out more about our waterproofing services.

Is Irrigation Necessary?

Do I need an irrigation system for my existing landscape?

Trees and shrubs have different watering needs than lawns and flowers:

– Established Trees, Shrubs and Perennial Flowers: Probably NOT Necessary

Established Flowers         

– Newly installed Trees, Shrubs & Perennial flowers: YES, Irrigation is Important

Most trees and shrubs that have been established for over 2 years will probably be just fine without an irrigation system. Trenching for the irrigation lines may damage the roots and should be avoided. Over the decades, we see lots of problems with overwatering the landscapes. This is “operator error” and blame should not lie with the irrigation system, but with the programing of the controller.  Every site is different, but in general, if you have an established landscape, we suggest that the trees and shrubs be irrigated 1 or 2 times a week.

Some plants, like hydrangeas, will “flag” when they are too hot, usually if they are exposed to afternoon sun. Adding water may help the plants look better, but we also run the risk of over-watering them. One option is to move them to a location that avoids afternoon sun.

Newly installed trees and shrubs need consistent supplemental watering for 2 years, and there is nothing more reliable than an automated irrigation system, which is why almost all of our newly installed landscapes incorporate some type of irrigation system. We typically program these systems to run “every other day” for 2 years, then we dial them back.

– Lawns : YES Irrigation is Important (regardless if they are established or new)


Established lawns (usually tall fescue) will go into a dormancy during the heat of the summer. This is normal, and the grass will green up when the weather cools down. An irrigation system, however, will keep the lawn green all summer. It will also help the lawn to crowd out weeds, be less susceptible to insect infestation, and more resilient should an outbreak occur. Over-seeding a non-irrigated lawn can be frustratingly ineffective. If you want the lawn to be thick and full, with fewer weeds and fewer pesticides used on it, an automatic irrigation system is the single most effective tool. 

New lawns require a lot of water that is frequently applied. We program our irrigation on new lawns to run every day for 2 weeks, then every other day for another 2 weeks. Once established, lawns should be fine with watering every third day.

What’s the best system?

We have found little difference between the major manufacturers of the heads and valves (Hunter & Rain Bird). They are both great brands that also make very good controllers, both of which can link to your wi-fi system and be controlled and re-programed with an app. All systems have a rain-sensor function which prevents it from running if the sensor detects rain, or is still wet from a recent rain. If wi-fi connectivity is an issue, try Weathermatic as it communicates directly with the internet and does NOT piggyback on your wi-fi

While this system costs a bit more to install, and has a subscription for the cell service, we have found it to be well worth the investment.

Contact Shorb today, to find out more about the best irrigation system for your property!

Workers using electric lawn care equipment

Transitioning to Electric Lawn Care Equipment

Gentle on the Environment. Easy on the Ears!

Has the sound of a noisy leaf blower, chain saw, or lawn mower woken you up in the morning? Have you gotten caught in the gas fumes behind gas powered lawn and other maintenance equipment? Gasoline-powered lawn maintenance and outdoor power equipment such as mowers, leaf blowers, edgers, trimmers, and chain saws are clearly pesty, unhealthy, and cause negative environmental and climate impacts. Fortunately, there are viable new battery-powered options that are improving quickly.

Thanks to advances in battery technology in recent years, Shorb is now making the transition to electric lawn and maintenance products! This new equipment provides a quieter, healthier, and cleaner alternative to gas-powered equipment. There are also now electric rototillers, power washers, and snow blowers. This equipment is cost competitive, the technology is comparable or better than gas powered equipment in terms of performance, and electric equipment offers added features like the ability to program and connect to the machines, and to charge them with renewable energy. Some electric maintenance equipment is even autonomous.

Interestingly, there’s a fairly wide coalition of people, organizations, and officials interested in electric lawn care and related maintenance products. Why? Because electric equipment is quieter, cleaner, safer and easier to use and maintain. Electric equipment also saves money at the town, institutional, and even individual homeowner level. These products return the additional cost of investment, and then provide a return, compared to gas equipment by eliminating the need to purchase fuel and to pay for the increased maintenance and parts associated with small combustion engines.

We’re investing in the future

All this new equipment is a major investment for us, but it’s well worth it in many ways. Top benefits of electric lawn and other maintenance products include:

Environmental/Climate Benefits

  • No greenhouse gas emissions on site, and lower energy consumption due to greater efficiency
  • No chemical spillage to pollute water or soil
  • No chemical cleaners, solvents and degreasers required for combustion engine maintenance
  • Reduced solid waste due to filters, spark plugs and other combustion engine parts that require repair and replacement

Immediate Community, Environmental and Health Benefits

  • Less noise
  • Lower air pollution
  • No chemical spillage

Cost Savings

  • Lower energy use/costs
  • Less maintenance

Safer and easier for the operator to use

  • Easier to use and maintain
  • Lighter weight
  • Less vibration
  • Lower noise levels
  • More efficient
  • Avoid fumes
  • Avoid working with gasoline and other toxic solvents

Clearly, lower emissions and greater energy efficiency provide environmental and climate benefits. What may not be as clear in the above list are the more direct pollution and health impacts to communities where these products are used, and especially to the people who operate the equipment.

A switch to electric equipment is clearly a step in a more sustainable direction, and it makes financial sense over time as well. However, it’s worth noting that the topic of more sustainable lawn care and maintenance is a much wider discussion, one in which we also hope to engage and help educate more widely. Options to reduce noise, energy, and chemical use aside from “going electric” also include converting to “people power” by using manual tools such as rakes, brooms, ground sweepers, hand pruners, hedge shears and reel mowers. Best maintenance practices also include mulching, composting, and organize fertilizing weed and pest control.

It’s clear that there are many reasons to stop using gas powered equipment, as choosing electric lawn and garden equipment is a better choice for the crew, the neighborhood, and the planet. It seems that what might currently seem like a more cutting edge, alternate choice will one day be mainstream.

Tired of noisy and pollutive lawn care services around your home? Contact Shorb today, and request an “All Electric” maintenance crew!

Plants to Help Deter Deer from your Spring Garden

Whether you are a gardener or not, spring is a season to love and appreciate. Temperatures warm up, days grow longer, and many of the local flowers and trees are in full bloom. However, we aren’t the only ones who appreciate the spring flora. Hungry deer can venture into our yards to feast on newly planted flowers. So, how do we keep them out?

There are several ways you can deter them. One way is to incorporate deer-resistant plants into your landscape design. There are plenty of options that work well in your garden and that will not attract deer.

Keep in mind, however, that these plants are not entirely deer-proof. If a deer is hungry enough, it will eat whatever is available. But, these plants can help reduce the chances of deer destroying your flower beds.

Deer-Resistant Plants and Flowers

Flowers that grow well in the DC area and detract deer include Black-eyed Susan, Bleeding Heart, Foam Flower, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, and Purple Coneflower.

Some of the best shrubs to plant that deer will generally stay away from are American elder, Arrowwood, Button Bush, Fetter Bush, Inkberry, and Mountain Laurel.

Local trees that the deer will avoid include American Holley, Bald Cypress, Black Gum, Flowering Dogwood, Honey Locust, Sassafras, and Sycamore.

And grasses that deer do not like are Bluestems, Indian grass, Sea Oats, and Switchgrass.

Other Ways to Deter Deer

There are also natural repellents that you can use to detract deer. Some of these include scented soaps, human hair, baby powder, and even hot sauce. Spray or sprinkle these around the yard and on plants to help keep the deer away.

Or, you can use motion-activated sprinklers. When the deer trigger the sprinklers, it will startle them and they will run off. If you use this option, just remember to turn them off during the colder, winter months.

At Shorb Landscaping, our team of landscapers and designers can help you design a deer-resistant landscape for your yard.  Give us a call at 301-897-3503.






Landscaping Spring Checklist

With spring around the corner, you may be looking forward to planting new greenery and flowers. However, it is important that your yard is in good shape before you begin. Why? Because it will improve the conditions for planting. Plus, you will enjoy it much more.  As we approach spring, here’s your checklist of things to consider over the coming month to get your yard in shape:

  1. Prune flowers, shrubs, and trees.

If your trees or shrubs experienced cold damage, they will need to be trimmed back to the live part of the stems.  Shrubs that bloom in the spring should not be pruned until after they flower. However, summer-blooming shrubs can be pruned in the spring.  And flowering perennials should be cut back to four or five inches in height.

  1. Clear and edge garden and flower beds.

If flower beds still contain leaves and debris from winter, they need to be cleaned out. Also, pull up any dead plants and remaining mulch from the previous year. Fertilize the garden and flower beds and edge them before planting new plants or laying fresh mulch.

  1. Grass and lawn maintenance.

Sometime in early spring, the sod’s pH level should be tested. Also, any damaged turf should be removed. The yard may need to be reseeded in some areas. Spring is also a good time to fertilize the yard and treat it for crabgrass. And while you may not have had to cut the grass much over the winter, it will soon grow rapidly (if it hasn’t already done so). So, it will need to be cut more frequently again.

  1. Clean and refresh hardscapes and outdoor living spaces.

This is also the time of year that people begin utilizing outdoor spaces more. Are yours in good shape? If they still look tired from winter, spruce them up. Clean dirt and debris from hardscapes. Wipe off tables, chairs, and outdoor kitchen surfaces. And set out fresh, bright seat cushions and pillows for a new spring look.

At Shorb Landscaping, we can help you get your yard back in shape for spring. Give us a call at 301-897-3503.

Man Watering Plants

When Should I Water My Plants?

Man Watering Plants

How do I know when it’s time to water my new plants?

A better question is “How do I know when the soil that my plants are growing in needs to be replenished with water”?

There are 2 important terms to understand in order to answer this question:

  1. Evaporation: Water loss* from the soil and surface
  2. Transpiration: Water loss* that passes through the plant tissues.

*we are referring to water loss that occurs from the conversion from liquid to vapor.

Together, they create a phenomena known as “Evapotranspiration” or “ET” for short. The optimum time to water the plants ( add water to the soil) is BEFORE the “ET” is high. The second best time to water is when the ET is high.

3 top factors that affect the Transpiration Rate:

  1. Temperature: Higher temperatures from sunlight causes the plants cells ( stomata) to open more, which allows water vapor to be released from the plant at a faster rate. The inverse is also true: colder temps cause stomata to close, restricting water loss.
  2. Humidity: If the air is dry, water loss through the plant is faster. If the air is humid, water loss is restricted.
  3. Wind / air movement: Wind displaces the water vapor from around the plant as the dryer air moves in.

If the moisture in the soil is saturated, “Field Capacity”, then no additional watering is needed, regardless of how hot and dry it is. When the soil moisture level drops below the “wilting point”, the plants will react by closing their stomata. This helps them to conserve moisture and reduce transpiration.

The trick of knowing when to water your plants is to check the existing moisture level of the soil. Clay soils tend to hold more water than sandy soils. Somewhere between Field Capacity and Wilting Point is the time to water.

The trick to know how much water to apply again depends on the water holding capacity of the soil. In other words, when the soil cannot absorb anymore water (Field Capacity), then it’s time to stop watering.

If the weather forecast calls for a low ET, then the plants can tolerate a lower soil moisture level. Conversely, a forecast of a high ET, it would be wise to bring the soil to Field Capacity, and check it again frequently.

To summarize, it’s all about the soil. Plants use the most water when it is:

  • Hot & Sunny
  • Dry / Low Humidity
  • Windy / Good Air Circulation

If one criteria is changed, then the plants will use less water. Make sure that the soils are saturated before and during these weather patterns.

If you have any questions about watering, or any other landscaping  need, feel free to contact Shorb Landscaping any time!

Watering newly installed plants

Watering Tips for Newly Installed Plants


Lauren here with Shorb Landscaping. Your newly installed plants will need to be properly watered. Please don’t let them dry out, and don’t drown them by overwatering. When your plants were harvested from the nursery, many of their roots were removed, and that’s why new trees are more susceptible to drying out than those that are well established.

Now, let’s review a few watering guidelines for your new plants. Remember, every situation is different, and some sites may require adjustments. Please call your Account Manager at Shorb Landscaping to discuss site-specific details. The goal is to add enough water to soak through the top 8” of the soil. This is where all the roots are. Remember, It is better to give your plants water BEFORE they show symptoms of drought stress.

  • Soak soil and roots, so that the top 8” of soil is moist. No need to spray foliage
  • For most trees, 5 gallons of water should be enough, and 5 gallons should be good for 2 or 3 shrubs.
  • For larger areas, it is ok to use a sprinkler. If you apply one inch of water, that should be enough to soak into the soil 6 to 8 inches deep
  • In the spring and fall, water your new plants twice a week
  • In the Summer, water them 3 times a week, allow a day or 2 to between waterings. This allows the roots to breath.
  • If you’re not sure if it is time to water again, simply check to see if the soil is too wet or too dry
  • Do not water the plants every day. Allow some time for the water to percolate through the soil, so that the roots can breathe.
  • Most plants will become established in 1 year. Trees may take 2 or 3 years. Afterwards, supplemental water is needed only during drought conditions.

We hope that you will enjoy your new plants and that they will grow and thrive in your landscape. As always, if you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us. We are here to help!