Landscape Contractor Serving Commercial and Residential

Not So Evergreen

"Let us love winter, for it is the spring of genius." -Pietro Aretino

The winter chill can do a number on your favorite yard friends. It is important to distinguish what is "normal" wintertime attire and what is "damage." Evergreen trees and shrubs tend to take a beating with the cold--more so than deciduous (plants that lose all their leaves in winter) ones. Some hold up relatively well while others always seem to take on a rather questionable appearance.

Normal Evergreen Behavior
  • Coppery coloring
  • Reddish coloring
  • Spotty coloring
  • Some leaf loss
  • Some breakage from winter storms

Abnormal Evergreen Behavior

  • Breaking of branches
  • Leaves or needles falling off, leaving barrenness
  • Brittle branches

Beat the Winter Blues

Flowers . . .  are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty out-values all the utilities of the world. -Ralph Waldo Emerson


Winter can be such a droll time of year. It seems that all color has gone from the landscape and even the sun keeps you feeling like something is missing. I find solace in the monotony of it all. It seems the perfect time to indulge in a warm mug of chocolate, to immerse yourself in a long heartfelt conversation with a new friend, or to get lost in a frivolous novel.

Over the years, I have grown accustomed to and embrace the rhythms of the landscaper's life. The ebbs and flows of rest and stress are as predictable as the seasons. The wintertime is my rest and renewal time--the retreat from the march of progress. It is my time to regroup, re-evaluate, and to contemplate. It is in this grayness that I find hope

Many people find their renewal in the fresh sights and smells of springtime. One cannot fail to rejoice in the bursting buds and the new life that is exploding from every living thing. Unfortunately, spring is the most demanding time for my profession. It is one that allows me little time to (literally) "stop and smell the roses."

Instead of lamenting the unfair trade that I have made with Life, that of colorless rest in lieu of springtime vitality, I have adapted. I have learned to make up for the "grayness" of my restful time by surrounding myself with everything alive and growing. The plants that adorn my deck in the summer, come inside and continue their show. With the fresh air that they bring comes a sense of life and growth that few things (outside of my own children) can evoke.

Off With Her Head!

With Fall upon us, you should not neglect the outdoors. 

Your irrigation heads should be on their way to dormancy and your perennials should be getting cut back. Most irrigation systems by this time are either blown out and winterized or on the schedule to be done. Proper maintenance of your irrigation system ensures that next spring is a smooth transition. Delaying this step can result in cracked lines if water freezes in the lines, and damaged heads.

As for your perennials, unless you like the look of the petrified remains leaves, and stems (which some do!) now is the time to cut your perennials back nearly to the ground. You can leave a few inches above the mulch for identification/location purposes. Most perennials come back from their roots and do not require the prior year's growth to revive. Fall is a great time to divide those perennials that seem to have taken on a presence of their own. In most cases, a sharp shovel and some well-placed shoves will cut your perennial so it can be transplanted or given away.

Some plants that you can hold off on cutting back due to their winter appeal are:

  • Grasses
  • Liriope
  • Heuchera
  • Sedum

So get out your shears and pruners and lop away!

Federal Point Development

Small Yard, Big Impact

We just finished up a project for one of our contractors, Federal Point Development, redoing the front of a Reston townhome. Many of the properties there are surrounded by mature trees that make them feel nestled into the woods. The original landscaping had gotten tired and overgrown and the clients were looking for a way to make the entrance more useful and more inviting.

We removed an old tree stump and most of the original plantings to make way for a charming and functional drainage solution with a variety of plants to add interest and beauty.

This lot was only 20' x 25' or so. It is more important to use space well and thoughtfully than to have a lot of it. A well-designed space can add value to your property and provide you with a beautiful respite from the day to day noise.

Tips for enhancing a small space

  • Start with function. What do you need space to do? Is it your primary entrance? Do you regularly sit outside? Do you have pets who use the space? This client wanted a space to enjoy both as an entrance and as a welcoming area to share a cup of tea with a friend. The extra widening of the walk allows for a bench or set of chairs for visitors to enjoy the flora.
  • Use a variety of heights and textures to create depth. Layering is especially important in a small space to provide a sense of depth. In a small space, layer up and down as well as front to back. Plant ground-hugging plants around slightly taller plants that are at the base of yet larger plants/trees. The variety of heights and textures draws the eye up as well as across.
  • Incorporate different mulches. Break up a solid patch of mulch with stone waterways or paths to give a sense of different areas within the small space.
  • Plan for multi-season color. Use bulbs and annuals to have shots of color that do not compete for space at the same time. Bulbs like daffodils and tulips will come and go in the spring before the summer annuals can be put in.
  • Be in harmony with the neighbors. Eccentricity is frowned upon in most communities. If the space you are working with is the front of your home, as in this case, consider the impact of your design on your neighbors and the community. This home happened to be surrounded by other properties that had been evolving over the years into garden yards. Most of the homes had maximized their small footprints by removing the lawn and replacing it with appropriate plantings and patios. This design was in harmony with its neighbors and added value to the property because of it.

If you have a space that needs a creative renovation, contact us today.

Are you a commercial property manager or owner looking to improve the value of your property with creative solutions? Contact us today to discuss how Rivas Design & Landscaping can add value to your property.


Proper Care


Never let your plants drown or drought. Slightly moist soil is your best bet. If the ground is saturated, the plants will rot at the roots. Not enough water will cause dessication. In the heat of summer, especially, keep an eye on the plants. The curling and drooping of branches and leaves is an urgent indicator: Water!

Watering in the morning or in the evening ensures that the most amount of moisture is reaching the plant and not just evaporating.


Your plants are newly installed and have nothing to keep them from shifting around: no roots to hold them firmly upright. Though installation is always done properly, outside factors such as wind, kids, pets and wildlife can cause damage or displacement of the plant. These culprits can rub up against, step on or urinate upon the traumatized plants and be a major cause of death or disfigurement.

Try to ensure that the plantings receive the least amount of disturbance within the first few weeks following the installation. As they get established they will still need to be checked for damage from insects, critters and acts of God.


As I tell those clients who want a maintenance free landscape, go plastic so I tell you: plan on it. If you want to preserve the integrity of the plants and your investment you need to anticipate an annual/bi-annual mulching and cleanup at a minimum.

Usually through the growing season you will find it necessary to perform (either yourself or your chosen professional) regular weekly or bi-weekly weeding. The weeds deplete the soil, sap water from the plant and sometimes actually crowd out the desirable plant. It is important to stay on top of the invaders before they become a problem.

August Checklist

The hot temperatures of August can turn even the hardiest of gardens into a wasteland.  This is the time to make sure you are continuing watering and other garden maintenance. However, watering can be a Catch 22:  you don't want to drown your garden, yet you don't want it to go through a drought either. So keep these tips as a Rule of (Green) Thumb:

Watering Tips

  • Slightly moist soil is your best bet. If the ground is saturated, the plants will rot at the roots. Not enough water will cause desiccation. In the heat of summer, especially, keep an eye on the plants. The curling and drooping of branches and leaves is an urgent indicator: Water!
  • Watering in the morning or in the evening ensures that the most amount of moisture is reaching the plant and not just evaporating.
  • Check your sprinklers for adequate water supply. Dry or wilting plants indicate water stress.
  • Water more frequently the plants in pots. Potted plants tend to dry out much faster than those in the ground.
  • Clean beds of debris to prevent critters nesting.
  • Deadhead your perennials and annuals.
  • Ensure adequate mulch coverage to retain moisture.
  • Check for water flow and sitting water around the house.
  • Schedule your Fall Project Consultation!

Download our Summer Checklist!

Front Entrance Renovation

Looking to renovate or re-imagine your home outside?

This project took on a space that was needing some attention. The client already had the wall in place, the original plantings had just been lost over time. They wanted to elevate the front entrances to be warm and inviting for all who came to visit or pass by.

We are always trying to create new ways to add value to our clients. Something we have added to our project process is providing better notes, better concepts, and better communication so we can ensure that our clients are happy with the ideas and understand what they are signing up for. It enables us to work out the issues ahead of time as well as to effectively communicate with our crews.

Contact us today for a consultation.



Gardening: The Original Self-Help Movement

"If you have a garden and a library, then you have everything you need." -Cicero

I admit I am an avid reader of all things,  and a consumer of endless self-improvement books, business books, and the like. They come in all shapes and sizes, differing perspectives, some faith-based, others not so much; some are applicable, others not so much. Each one has played its part in my journey and, if worthy of repeat visits, has a place on my bookshelf.

In the past few years, I have taken to become a "gardener", not just a landscaper. During one of my many "rescue attempt" sessions (i.e I didn't weed anything for a week and now I have to spend hours trying to undo my laziness) It dawned on me that if one were to spend more time gardening and less time "planning to succeed", all the lessons contained in a collection of personal improvement courses (including the number one self-help book, the Bible) could be grasped.

For example, think how easy it would be to understand the concept, " You reap what you sow" when you plant a carrot seed and, VOILA! a carrot grows. Not a turnip or a clump of lettuce, a carrot. Try planting a cucumber seed with the hope that it will become a sunflower. What disappointment! It is a mere cucumber. Yet, every day, we go about planting seeds, some good and some bad, and we lament that they have not become what we expected. If we plant the seed of order and contentment, that is what we receive. If we plant the seed of gossip, resentment, the contention that is what we receive in return.

It could also be said that if you fail to sow, you will have nothing to reap. I am a planner. I plan everything out as best I can beforehand to avoid as much pain as possible. It's what makes me a good landscape designer but not the greatest gardener. In order to be a great gardener, some planning is in order, but the most important thing you can do to be a successful gardener is to PLANT SOMETHING SO YOU CAN GROW SOMETHING! Thinking about it, charting it out, buying organic and non-GMO seeds, preparing the soil to perfection are all great and necessary. However, if you never actually plant the seed, it will all be for naught.

So if you really want to make the self-improvement journey, set your highlighted book aside for the spring and get out there and:

Grow something and in the process, grow yourself.

Late Spring Frost

This spring has definitely been different, so it should be no surprise that we would have a late Spring frost. Some hardy plants can handle light frosts, others can handle the dips below freezing. Few, however, can remain intact when the temps drop much below 32 degrees.

I recommend covering young plants as best you can, and if you have potted plants, bring them inside, or even under a covered patio or garage.

Here are some materials you could use to cover:

  • Old sheets, drop cloths, tarps, burlap, or newspapers.
  • Cardboard boxes, open them on one end, turn them upside down and place them over your flowers. Tape any cracks to keep out the cold air.
  • Empty pots, buckets, milk jugs with the top cut off, or other containers made of wood, plastic or clay to cover your plants (just be sure they’re tall enough to fit over plants without crushing them.
  • Pre-made row covers (from a gardening store)


  • Place covers over your plants before the temperatures hit freezing. If you’re using plastic covers, wait until twilight to avoid the sun cooking your plants through the plastic.
  • If your cover is lightweight enough to blow away in the wind, weigh it down with rocks or bricks.
  • Remove cardboard or fabric covers as soon as the weather warms up.
  • Remove plastic covers as soon as the sun rises.