Steve Zippin, ABR, CRS, M.Ed.
Keller Williams Realty Boston Northwest | 978-580-9140 | team@stevezippin.com


Posted by Steve Zippin, ABR, CRS, M.Ed. on 8/2/2016

If you were to look at a photo of a suburban neighborhood from the 1950s and one from today, you would notice many similarities. The houses have gotten much larger, but they still have perfectly manicured lawns and milky white fences. American culture has come a long way since the days of nuclear families. An emphasis on conservation and environmentalism has added recycling bins to many of our homes. But by and large our backyards remain mostly unchanged. Some people are electing to deviate from those norms to make their homes and yard more eco-friendly. Part of that change has been to adapt natural landscaping techniques that make your backyard seem less chiseled-out and more a part of its natural environment. With proper planning and care, natural landscaping can give your yard both a modern and natural look, and it won't look messy or overgrown. Here are some tips to get you started on natural landscaping in your backyard.

Native planting

A big part of natural landscaping is understanding your local plant life. Planting flora that is native to your area is not only helping your yard look more natural but also helping your local plant and wildlife. Often we bring in "exotic" plants and flowers without understanding the ecological issues that can arise from invasive species, both on other plants as well as on the local animals. So what are some ways you could alter your yard to house more local plant life? That depends entirely on your taste and on your local flora. If you live in a coastal, warm area, you might choose a sand or shell path in your yard that leads through tall grasses. If you live inland it might make more sense to choose stones or pebbles for your walkway and a variety of shrubs, flowers, and grasses for around the yard.

Lawn dividers

You won't find any white picket fences naturally occurring in the woods. But nature has its own barriers that can be adapted for use around your property. Vines, trees, bushes, and even rocks can all be used as natural barriers. People have used rock walls to mark of their property for centuries, and for good reason: they last forever (with some occasional maintenance) and they compliment the natural environment of your yard.

Make your lawn livable

Your lawn should be hospitable for your plants, your local wildlife, and for you. Using natural wooden benches, tree swings, and maintained paths will make your backyard look like the walkthrough gardens that we see in old English manor houses. But you should also keep in mind the birds, bugs, and other animals that will frequent your yard. By not using chemical insecticides or weed killers you're already helping your local wildlife thrive. But you can attract even more birds by setting inconspicuous feeders in the trees around your yard.

What's to gain from natural landscaping?

Aside from looking nice, natural landscaping has countless other benefits. When you're growing plants native to your area you know the plants are predisposed to grow well in your yard. That means less maintenance, watering, and less money spent buying replacements for dead plants. You'll be helping the local wildlife fit in, and you'll be helping yourself by giving your yard a refreshing, natural look.





Posted by Steve Zippin, ABR, CRS, M.Ed. on 6/21/2016

 



    If you've read the news in the last few years you've likely heard about the alarming decline of the bee population. In our daily lives, most of us think of bees only when they're buzzing uncomfortably close to our picnic table. What we don't often realize is the vital role that bees play in pollenating our food supply.

    Large farms throughout the country (and throughout the world) hire beekeepers to bring in their colonies for pollination. Without those bees there would be a drastic drop in food production. While drops in bee populations are naturally occurring and fluctuate from year to year, recent years have seen some of the worst declines to date.

Starting to feel bad about swatting at the bees in your backyard?

    First you should understand that these declines aren't your fault because you've killed a few bees in your life. Among the stresses that the bee population faces are viruses, mites, climate change, and habitat reduction. It would take a massive culture shift to address all of those issues. But, there are a few things you can do right in your backyard that will lend a small hand in helping out your local bee population.

Know your bees (and what's not a bee)

    Many people treat bees, wasps and hornets as interchangeable:

  • Bees are fuzzy pollinators that can sting only once. Common bees include honey bees, bumble bees, and carpenter bees.
  • Wasps are not fuzzy, and therefore not as effective as pollinators. They prey on insects and can be more aggressive than bees. The only wasps that sting are females, but they can sting multiple times.
  • Hornets are a sub-species of wasp native to North America. They too can sting multiple times and are known for being the most aggressive of the three. Again, they are not the most effective pollinators.

Bees, wasps, and your backyard

   If you've noticed an uptick in the number of bees or wasps on you property it's not necessarily a bad thing. If their numbers are low and you're not concerned about anyone's safety you may decide to leave them be. The bees and wasps will help you by pollinating your flowers, eating surplus insects, and leaving you well alone.

   Some ways you can keep your backyard bees healthy include not using pesticides on your lawn or garden. You could also plant more flowers and let your wildflowers grow freely to provide an extra nectar source for the local bees.

Too much of a good thing

   If the bees in your yard have grown high in number, are becoming aggressive, or you are worried for the safety of your family (bee sting allergies can be life-threatening) then it might be time to take action.

   To avoid becoming part of the problem of declining populations, call in a professional. Some pest control companies still use killing the bees as a solution. But there are companies that are more proactive and attempt to coax away bees and relocate them. Seek out no-kill pest control companies for help.

   Your local beekeeper is also an unexpendable resource when it comes to learning what to do about bees. Many beekeepers will even relocate the bees to commercial honey-making hives.

   With a bit of research and careful behavior, cohabiting with bees can be beneficial for us and for the little bugs that make our honey.





Posted by Steve Zippin, ABR, CRS, M.Ed. on 5/31/2016

 





    
Consider planting a living fence as an alternative to manufactured fences. There are benefits and disadvantages for both. Often vines, shrubs, small trees, and perennials are placed around manufactured fences anyway. So, why not go nature all the way! 
   A living fence can give you privacy and security, as well as seasonal change. For example, a living fence made of shrubbery can bloom in the spring, be leafy lush in the summer, produce berries and hips in late summer, brilliant colors in the fall, and reveal pleasant branch structure in the winter. 
   A living fence can be grown short (under 4-feet) or tall (30 feet or more) or any height in between. You can determine the width using your imagination or taste in plant material. You can tailor this living structure to your yard.Usually, a living fence needs no building permit as some manufactured fences do. You need not worry about height or width or color limits. Of course, a call to Dig Safe 811 is necessary. Digging into neighborhood power cables is a big no-no. You can plant shrubbery, small trees, ornamental grasses, perennials, and even vegetables and fruits or a combination of all to accomplish your desired effect. And you can do this with your neighbor, benefiting both sides of the fence! Robert Frost said it best with his Mending Wall. Living fences tend to outlive manufactured fences by decades. Of course, living fences need water until established, a bit of annual feeding, and the odd pruning depending on plant material selected. Europeans have been enjoying living fences for hundreds of years, calling them hedgerows. They have served as property line demarcations, windbreaks, shelter for birds and small animals for centuries. Establishing a living fence can be labor intensive, but need not be planted all at once. A slower pace would let the fence mature while the planter considers further options. Nursery plants can be used as well as seeds and root cuttings. The desired privacy would, of course, dictate the closeness of the plantings. 

There are multitude of plant choices to make a New England living fence, but the following are easy options:

  1. Pyramidal arborvitae are most often used in neighborhoods. They are hardy, can be pruned and sheared, and need very little maintenance. They can be grown as screens and windbreaks, but as evergreens they do not provide multi-season interest. They relatively inexpensive and can be planted in any configuration.
  2. Rugosa and Hansen roses have been used in beach plantings but will adapt very well to living fences. They are both extremely low maintenance and can be trimmed from a maximum height of 6 feet. They flower most of the summer, product red hips in the fall as well as yellow and red foliage. In the winter they are a thorney tangle of cover for birds. Depending on the species or cultivar, they bloom red, pink, yellow or white.
  3. Fragrant shrub honeysuckle is also easily maintained to a maximum of 10 feet and provides yellow and white spring flowers, then summer red berries cherished by birds, and yellow and red fall foliage. Winter shows interesting branch structure.
  4. Privet hedges are old standby's but easily maintained and sheered to your liking. Small white flowers and occasional purple berries.
  5. Russia olive trees with their strong late spring aroma and slender gray foliage are also easily sheered to any height or just allowed to grow to 25 feet.
  6. Rose of Sharon bloom in late summer in shades of purple and blue and are easily maintained to any height or width desired.
There are many more species of plants that can be used in your fence. You can certainly mix and match, but have fun with the process. You'll create something beautiful as well as practical.





Posted by Steve Zippin, ABR, CRS, M.Ed. on 3/6/2015

If you are a dog owner, and you are making the transition from an apartment or condo into a home, complete with a backyard, then your life is about to get a lot easier.  You'll no longer have to take your dog on long walks for bathroom breaks, and your dog will be a lot happier being able to freely roam an outdoor area without a leash.  Win-win for everyone, right?  Not so fast.  There's a few things you'll need to do in order to avoid some potentially stressful headaches in the very near future.  I'll attempt to highlight some of the more important ones here. 1.  Fencing - If you are moving to a new home that doesn't have a fenced backyard, then consider fencing at your convenience.  Ideally, the home you're moving to would already have this beneficial add-on, but many don't.  Having some form of fencing installed will ensure that you can let your dog run freely without having to keep a watchful eye on them at all times. 2.  Designate a bathroom spot - Giving your dog complete control of your backyard can create a bit of a problem when it comes to bathroom time.  I really don't need to go into specifics here....Suffice it to say that your dog can and should be trained to use a particular corner of the back yard for his activities.  Your shoes and yard will thank you. 3.  Keep your garden pet-friendly - If you are planning to make a garden in your new back yard, then be sure that you don't pick any plants that are toxic to pets.  Many are.  Also, try to incorporate some kind of additional fencing so that your dog doesn't treat your garden like a playground. 4.  Consider a doggy door - If you want to completely eliminate the need for you to take time out of your day to walk your dog, then a dog door can help you with that.  If you're moving to a place with long winter seasons, then you'll need to pick a dog door option that can be sealed easily if inclement weather arises. 5.  Shading - If you're moving to an area that has hot summers, consider planting some fast-growing trees that will offer shade for your dog to cool off.  Without proper shading, some dogs, especially older ones, can experience distress if left in direct sun for too long. For additional ideas, visit http://www.ehow.com/how_4779806_landscape-backyard-dogs.html




Categories: Pets and Your Home  


Posted by Steve Zippin, ABR, CRS, M.Ed. on 8/15/2014

A great home is complimented by a good looking yard. No matter how well built your home may look, if your yard is not well maintained, it gives a bad impression to a first time visitor.  Interestingly, it is note worthy that you do not need a huge budget to spruce up your yard.  Through ingenuity and creativity, a great looking yard can be developed at a minimal expense. There are several options to be considered when sprucing up your yard. If you have a larger budget with a lot of cash to spend, adding a patio, deck, arbor or gazebo would enhance the look of your yard while also providing additional areas to enjoy it. However, for those on a tighter budget, the following tips may help them achieve the yard they have always desired. Add some color to your yard by planting a flower garden or expanding an existing one. Look around for plants that are easy to propagate. Ask friends and neighbors if they have any hardy perennials that they are willing to share.  You will find that most gardeners have an abundance of easy to grow plants they are happy to give you when doing their spring and fall transplanting.  This will keep your need to purchase plants to a minimum. When starting a new garden, plant flowers in groups. This will allow your garden to look fuller and more lush quicker and be easier to maintain.  Have a gardener help you identify a few plants that grow really well together.  Take a small clump of each plant, ensuring you have an adequate amount of roots, and plant them a few inches apart.  Spacing of the plants should be based on the size and height of the mature plant.  If well maintained and nourished, you will have a well established garden in no time. Try not to be tempted with beautiful annual plants as they need to be replaced every year. However, a small investment in a few flowers will help add color throughout the season while your perennials become established the first year.  Be cautious not to let a trip to the garden center eat up your budget buying annuals that you will only enjoy for one season. However, purchasing a small garden statue, bird bath, or sundial at a yard sale or consignment shop will add beauty to your garden for years to come. Investing in big pots, and patio containers is a great idea.  Planters are a great way to spread color throughout the yard and are a lot easier to maintain.  However, the start-up expense of container gardening can be relatively high.  You will need to purchase good soil and compost or manure to help feed the plants throughout the season.  Placing large rocks in the bottom of the planter will help reduce the amount of soil needed and help with the drainage aspect of the container.  Typically annuals are best suited for this purpose, when spaced correctly, only a few well selected plants are need.  Consistent watering and fertilizer is key to keeping your planters in full bloom. Strategically placing rocks and boulders in your yard and gardens would increase the aesthetics. There is typically no need to purchase these, there are plenty of places that you can get them for free.  Visit a local construction site,  the contractor may be more than willing to let you take what ever you want.  Rocks that are native to your area always look best and blend well with the landscape of your yard.  A bit of exploring around the wooded area in your neighborhood may produce just what you are looking for.  There is no need to over do it, less is more when it comes to adding rocks that are not naturally occurring in your yard. The addition of trees and shrubbery will also make a great difference to the yard. Trees are often planted first, with the remainder of the landscape designed around them.  Younger trees are much more affordable, be certain to choose a variety hardy to your area.  Adding trees to your yard can be an ongoing project, planting one or two a year can help keep you within your budget.  The shade and beauty the trees provide will make your yard even more inviting. A little creativity, some yard work, and a few dollars is all it takes to spruce up your yard. Keeping your yard clean and well maintained will produce the landscaped look you desire.  







Steve Zippin, ABR, CRS, M.Ed.