Pink flamingos and plastic deer

So, you've designed the perfect landscape-you've created a harmonious design with natural features that reflect the local environment, created spaces and barriers compatible with the client's needs and selected locally adapted plants that require minimal maintenance yet meet the aesthetic and functional needs of the design. But have you incorporated a focal point to round out the design? I'm not talking about pink flamingos, glass gazing balls or plastic deer. Specimen plants such as weeping trees can serve as the focal points you are looking for without being tacky. Plants with special features, such as interesting texture, color or form, can serve as specimen trees. But, like anything, you shouldn't overuse them. Doing so will add chaos and detract from the overall harmony you are trying to instill with the design. The focus of this issue is design, and "Weeping trees," by Patrice Peltier and Tim Boland of the Morton Arboretum, kicks off the list of related features.

Mulch is an integral part of any landscape you design. Not only is it attractive as an element in planting beds, it also is functional in its ability to moderate soil temperatures, prevent weed encroachment and conserve soil moisture. Just like specimen plants, you can overuse mulch too. How many times have you spotted mulch piled up in 1- to 2-foot tall cone shapes at the base of trees? This malpractice is so prevalent, people often think it is the proper way to mulch. Dr. Chris Carlson, associate professor and director of Horticulture Technology at Kent State University, guides you through the proper way of mulching in "Mulching basics: Are you covered?" beginning on page 26.

One of the first steps in designing a new landscape is to survey the site so that you know the exact size and shape of the lot and so that you accurately indicate the location of depict structures, obstacles and undulations in the terrain. Without an accurate plan of the site, you are shooting in the dark as you develop your design. A transit is essential to any surveying tasks you have to face. Dean Connett, surveying consultant and retired visiting professor of civil engineering at the University of Nebraska, leads you through the steps for setting up a transit and using it to survey a property.

Once you've surveyed your site, you may find it necessary to rearrange the terrain to address drainage problems or otherwise make the site more usable. Skid-steer loaders are particularly suited to such tasks and many other soil-moving chores, especially in confined areas. Also, because of their compact size, you can easily transport them to a site. Understandably, skid-steer loaders have become a ubiquitous item in the stables of most landscape contractors, institutional grounds managers and golf course superintendents. Learn about your skid-steer options in "Equipment options: Skid steers," on page 28.

If you are searching for the latest in turfgrass insecticides, look no further. This issue includes the continuing "Chemical update" series and focuses on turfgrass insecticides. Beginning on page 34, the insecticide update is the most comprehensive list of turfgrass insecticides you'll find anywhere.

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