Tree Removal

Tree removal in Billings Montana is a very necessary service in our Magic City. Heavy snow and high winds come with large thunderheads common here in May and June. Fire safety, proximity to property, life safety, health of the tree, and general liabilities are all concerns that can warrant tree removals and/or tree trimming. Billings Landscaping offers tree removal services here in Billings Montana. We will help you manage your trees. If it is time to remove the tree, we can do it quickly and safely.

Tree removal: What you need to know.

Tree removal is often the solution to a problematic tree, but it might not be necessary to take down a tree. Arborists get college degrees and certifications because of all the information there is to know and understand about trees. Trees are huge living organisms that react to their environments. Lots of people see what appears to be disease on a stressed tree and think that the only solution is to take it down. We prefer to do an evaluation and if we can save you money and the life of a tree, then we will.

Within our evaluation we look at the stresses on the tree, its location, risks to surroundings, safety, its impact on other trees, and many other factors. Billings Landscaping personnel plant trees and help trees that are under distress. We don’t only remove trees like many local tree services.

When should I remove a tree?

You should remove a tree when it is dead. Dead limbs are weak and easily break during heavy snow storm and high wind. Broken limbs can fall on people, pets, and property. Dead trees and limbs are unsafe and should be removed quickly.

Tree removal is necessary when a tree is nearing the end of its life and major limbs are dying. When the tree’s canopy is sparse, it can’t produce enough energy to support strong healthy roots. Roots return nutrients to the branches which leaf out to cycle back more energy to the roots. Therefore, a reduced canopy is a sign that a tree may be reaching the end of its life. Like all living things trees have an average life span. When a tree is getting toward the end of its life it is probably time to take it down.

Another time when you should remove a tree is if there is a liability involved. When a tree is in close proximity to a home there is a potential liability. Architects design homes and building by using a occupancy rating to help them assess the level of risk. Often times it is best to remove heavy tree limbs when they are located over a home, building, driveway, playground, or other valuable property, people, and pets. Large tree limbs can become projectiles that can collapse a structure and harm the occupants. Heavy tree limbs under force of impact can damage roofs, walls, windows, floors, concrete patios, walkways, driveways, vehicles, and more.

At Billings Landscaping, we have the professional experience to assess the risks and give you expert advice on what action to take.

What about problems with tree roots?

If a tree is close enough for its canopy to fall on a home or building, then its roots are probably close enough to affect the foundation. It is not uncommon for tree roots to buckle basement walls and lift foundation footings. A tree next to a foundation does not necessary pose an imminent threat. For example, a younger tree close to a building corner might not pose too much risk if the foundation is a solid 8″ reinforced concrete wall on a 16″ spread footing. In fact, the tree might add shade and energy efficiency to the home for another 5-10 years before it poses enough risk to justify its removal. However, if the basement walls are concrete block (cmu) and are showing signs of stress then it might be important to remove the tree right away. Tree roots will seek to find water. Paved areas will sometimes deny a tree of that water, so the roots will travel great distances to find it. If a house is in the way, the roots will push up against it.

How do we remove trees?

tree-removalTree removal is a skill. Tree removal experts are highly trained professionals that can work the rigging needed to drop a limb exactly where they want it to go. Boom lifts are a wonderful asset in tree removal. A boom lift is basically a hoist with a bucket on it. The tree removal expert stands in the bucket and the hoist lifts them up to the high limbs. This makes it possible to begin removing the outer limbs until there is just the main trunk and branches remaining. The tree is cut down piece by piece.

Another excellent and necessary skill employed in tree removal is tree climbing. Tree climbers use special spikes on their feet along with ropes and safety gear to climb trees with a lightweight chainsaw. They strategically cut the tree down using rigging to drop the limbs where they want them to go. Typically what you need is a good tree climber and one or two experienced ground crew in order to remove a tree.

How long does it take to remove a tree?

The time it takes to remove a tree depends upon several factors. These factors include: the size of the tree; access to the trees location; and the trees proximity to water, buildings, and other structures. Two things you can expect a contractor to account for are the time it takes to build the rigging needed to safely drop tree limbs that are hanging over tree roofs, power lines, or water.

A medium size tree with a 25 foot diameter canopy can usually be dropped within 3-4 hours by an experienced climber. A good ground crew should be able to keep up fairly well with the climber who is doing the cutting. Then they do final clean up and haul the pieces away. Lastly, if stump grinding is part of the project, then a machine is used to get that task done. Stump grinding can be accomplished within an hour or two by digging around the stump and using a stump grinder. Stump grinders use an aggressive rotary blade to chip and shred the stump until it is mostly gone.

Can we remove tree roots during tree removal?

The answer is yes but not always. Smaller trees can be removed with heavy equipment like a backhoe. If a tree is larger, then sometimes it just takes a bigger backhoe. But there is a point where a tree can get too large to do much more than cut it flush with the ground and grind down the stump. The bigger the equipment, the more expensive.

stump carvingSometimes a creative solution is best. Wood carving stumps into sculptures is a common practice that turns an otherwise problematic stump into a valuable piece of art. Whatever the situation, Billing Landscaping is here to help!


Hydroseeding is a process where a blend of grass seed is pumped through a slurry with a mulch in order to help keep the seed evenly in place. Here in Billings, Montana there are a few native species of grasses that when blended together have proven to make a superior lawn.

Grass seed species for lawns in here in Billings, Montana

A typical residential or commercial lawn in Billings that has an underground sprinkler system installed will have a turf that is a hybrid of two or three different species of grass. These grasses work together to build a turf that stays greener, requires less water, and is more shade tolerant. The types of grass seed used for most lawns here in Billings and surrounding areas typically include:

  • Kentucky Blue Grass
  • Fescue
  • Rye

Hydroseeders will blend these species of grass in different percentages, then apply a seed volume per square footage that is proven to yield good results.

Is Hydroseed cheaper than Sod?

Most people look at the price of sod in comparison to hydroseeding and choose to hydroseed in order to save money. While this can be very true, unfortunately, it isn’t always the case. There are many situations where sod is less expensive and better than hydroseeding. However, if you have a lawn that is a half acre or larger, then hydroseeding is likely an excellent option. What people often aren’t aware of is the extra expense involved in preparation and maintenance for hydroseeded lawns.

What is required to make a hydroseeded lawn successful?

hydroseedHydroseeded lawns require regular maintenance and fertilization. In fact, most landscapers will tend a hydroseeded lawn for the first 6 months in order to improve success. Unlike with sod, a newly seeded lawn does not yet have an established root base. This means that there is literally a battle happening in your hydroseeded lawn!

The battle is weeds versus grass, and the goal is to help the grass win!

In order to do this, your grass will need frequent mowing and fertilization. Topsoil and Grading

Hydroseeded lawns need to be well graded and have a nutrient rich soil loom. This is typically the big expense when it comes to hydroseed. While the seed and application can run as low as 8 cents per square foot, the preparation can be up to $1 per square foot. In Billings, Montana it is typical need topsoil for hydroseeded lawns. Topsoil averages $65/cubic yard delivered on site. Equipment can then be used to evenly spread the topsoil.

Should I Sod or Hydroseed?

As landscapers, we usually prefer to lay sod in Billings unless you site is larger than most. Sod takes quickly and has an already establishing root base which helps keep weeds snuffed out. Still it is important to remove weeds before laying sod. In Montana, the super weeds here are highly invasive! The remaining roots will grow new weeds and seeds are often in the soil or blown in from adjacent field, unmaintained lots, and other places. Also, sod comes with its own nutrients within the root mass. This means less topsoil is needed. We can literally lay the sod directly over clay and it will establish and grow provided it gets water and occasional fertilizer.

If your lawn is large, then hydroseed is probably the best solution. In fact, it is even a viable option with smaller lawns. It really depends upon the site and the time of year. It is best to hydroseed in May or June in Montana. There a many reasons for this, one being weed management and the other being ground moisture and workability. The main reason we say the hydroseed is a better option on larger lots is because grading equipment is designed to handle large areas efficiently. Once you get the equipment there, you can get ahead of the curve quickly by working a larger area efficiently. It is true that you will likely need to pay more for topsoil, but there are some locations that don’t require as much and still others where you can get away with doing less or using a less expensive soil. In fact there are sites in Lockwood that don’t need topsoil which makes hydroseeding a no brainer.

How to prepare a site for hydroseed?

There are several ideal ways to grade large lots. Our favorite is a Harley rake. The Harley rake is designed to turn up the soil and evenly spread it to leave a loose soil loom behind. It is typically a 4-5 step process.

  1. Grade with a bucket as required
  2. Run the Harley rake to loosen soil
  3. Angle the rake to skim rocks and debris
  4. Use rock rake to remove collected debris
  5. Repeat the process with the Harley rake
  6. Change directions and rake again.

Note: This is just the process for grading, however, there are techniques for eliminating weeds that should happen intermittently.

Depending upon the site, other grading equipment can be more effective. There are many factors to consider before deciding upon which equipment to utilize. Cultivators, rockhounds, and rollers are often the best solution to grading a site. Whatever the technique might be, timing is an important factor to consider in Montana when it comes to preparing and hydroseeding your lawn.

Professional Landscape Installation

Billings Landscaping is a strong proponent for professional landscape installation. We are dedicated to standards of excellence and quality to this end. The information herein is intended to help consumers understand what elements to look forward to in a professional landscape installation. This information will help you ask the right questions before either choosing a landscaper or making plans to do it yourself.

Billings Landscaping: Professional Landscape Installation

professional landscape installation

A professional landscape installation will both simplify your life and save you money! You are paying good, hard earned money to landscape your home or office. Whether doing it yourself or hiring a professional, you want to be certain that your landscape is professionally installed. Typically, professionally installed landscapes are easy and inexpensive to maintain; long lasting; and beautiful. The benefits to you the consumer are both short term and long term. The short term benefit is the joy of having a landscape that you appreciate and enjoy! And you have the peace of mind knowing that you made a sound investment. The long term benefit is the value added to your property for as your landscape matures, it grows in value. On the flip side, if your landscape is not installed using professional methods and materials, then you could find yourself not only unexcited about your landscape but even worse, you may end up fighting to keep the landscape maintained. As the maintenance expenses keep adding up, neglect becomes a temptation and eventually a landscape renovation will be required in order to do it right and make it last.

Elements of a Professional Landscape Installation

Professional landscape installations have some very definitive differences that set them apart. Follow some of these points to ensure that you are getting a professionally installed landscape.

  • Professional landscape installations use high quality landscape materials

What are high quality landscape materials and are they expensive? Generally speaking, the difference in cost between cheep landscape materials that don’t last and high quality materials that do is less the 20-30%. If you utilize the services of a professional landscape company, then this margin is often even lower. The reason being that professional landscapers have wholesale accounts with supply companies that specialize in providing quality landscape materials. In addition, many landscapers buy their materials in bulk which results in direct savings to the customer. Landscape fabric comes in varying quality just like the siding on your house. You need a fabric that is strong enough to stop roots and endure the elements for 50+ years to come. Fabrics with a 50 year rating should be standard in professional landscapes. Plastic Edging that breaks down under UV exposure and looks crappy should never exist in a professional landscape. Even the professional grade plastic edging has a shorter than preferred lifespan and if installed incorrectly, that lifespan can be cut in half again. Using a clean landscape rock or mulch is also very important. It only takes a thin layer of sediment to form weeds on top of your landscape fabric. Even professional landscape installs will have occasional weeds show up in beds, however, a good landscape fabric will stop the root quickly so they are easy to remove.

  • A Professionally installed landscape is done right. This means attention to details.

A good plan combined with experience creates a consistent, good result. Every trade has its tricks. Not every company aspires to standards of excellence. Professional landscape installations are the culmination of years of practice at making things better. A few tips to take home with you are outlines in our page titled Low Maintenance Landscaping where we discuss the many details regarding beds, edging, and landscape fabric; and our page called Planting 101 where we describe proper planting techniques and how to professionally plant perennial beds.

  • A professionally installed landscape is efficient and complete.

Professional means up to industry standards and beyond. What you want is to find a professional that is knowledgeable, passionate, and reasonable with you hard earned money. This means modern technology with water savings sprinkler systems and resource conscious designs. It means fast results. And it means consistency. And it means taking the time to do the job right.

Sod installation

Billings Landscaping, LLC has a green thumb when it comes to new lawns.  Sod installation is an important part of creating a successful landscape.  We have the experience to design and install your new sprinkler systems and lawns.  We regularly work with new home owners and builder to create lasting landscapes.  Our goal is to provide you with a lawn that will remain healthy and attractive throughout the year.

Sod after being installed.  New construction job located in Copper Ridge Subdivision in Billings, MT.

Why install Sod?

In Billings Montana, sod is usually the best way to get a nice lawn.  Sod can usually be installed within one day and when done right, it establishes itself as part of the landscape very quickly.  Within a week, sod will root into the native ground and provide you with a lush green lawn.  Unlike with hydro-seeding,  sod requires less watering to become establishes and is less susceptible to damage from heavy rain or foot traffic.

Things to know about installing sod

Nobody likes a lumpy lawn.  The trick to a nice smooth lawn is all in the preparation.  Before laying sod, remove rocks and hard clumps of dirt and clay.  Use a landscapers finish rake to get a nice smooth grade throughout the area receiving the sod.  Apply root starter fertilizer per the sod suppliers recommendations.  Additional topsoil and soil conditioning is always good for your lawn, but isn’t always necessary.  Consult an expert to address your site needs specifically.

sod preparation
Typical job site scene getting ready for sod.

Sod will turn yellow and begin to die if you don’t water it adequately.  A lot of inexperienced sod installers don’t realize at first the dry ground will wick the moisture away from fresh laid sod.  Even if you run water on the sod via the sprinkler system, it is most important so give the sod a very heavy soak after first installing it….especially if the ground is really dusty and dry when you laid it.  Soak the fresh sod well enough for the water to penetrate deep into the soil beneath.  It may take a few heavy watering cycles to achieve this goal, but now is not the time to conserve water.  Water conservation is best achieved over the long run by using a sprinkler system that is efficient and has a low evaporation rate.  You can learn more about sprinkler systems here.

When the ground it moist, it is soft.  The reason you don’t walk on fresh laid sod is not because the sod can’t handle it.  The reason is because if it was done right, then it should be really wet.   The wet soil will gush and displace under your foot because the roots of the sod have not yet penetrated into the soil to help stabilize it.  This will leave a hole or low spot in your lawn, so try to avoid walking on fresh laid sod at all cost.  Accidents do happen and sometime it might be necessary.  If this happens, pull up the sod in those locations, apply new topsoil to level out the low spot, and re-water.  This process can be a lot of work if you let your dog out on your fresh laid sod and he or she treks all over the lawn.  It is best to stay off of the sod for the first week or two, and especially avoid walking on it right after you water.

When installing sod, be sure to keep the joints tight and move quickly. It is best to have some help! It is also well worth having the sod supplier deliver the sod for you. Sod suppliers has special equipment and experienced operators who will drop the pallets of sod in the best locations.

Soggy sod is susceptible to diseases. Fungus and other diseases can attach sod that is weakened by too much moisture. Many landscapes have natural low spots and sometimes these low spots can’t be avoided. This is where having the experience of a professional sprinkler installer pays off big time. It is important to design the sprinkler system to prevent over watering in the low areas. There is more to the design than simply adjusting the coverage in those areas. Sprinkler systems are under pressure when they are on, but that pressure doesn’t stay in the system after the watering cycle is complete. Instead, the pressure is reduced by allowing water to release from the heads after the system is off. Check valves can be used to control where the water is discharged in order to prevent too much water from entering a low spot in the lawn.

sod installation tips
Remove clumps of clay and rock before laying sod.

Low Maintenance Landscaping

Through the years we have learned that many people don’t exactly understand how we create low maintenance landscaping. Billings Landscaping, LLC has been installing low maintenance landscaping whenever possible for many years. The concept is very simple to understand, but there are some details that should be considered in order for you landscape to be truly low maintenance.

In this article, I will attempt to explain how to do low maintenance landscaping. I will address the materials required; the process to follow during installation; and attempt to give some helpful tips. These trade secrets are our gift back to the community. We hope you find them helpful!

Materials required for low maintenance landscaping

  1. Commercial Grade Landscape fabric. Typically woven 4 mil fabric is adequate. Use heavier, more expensive black landscape fabric if you plan on driving a skid steer over it, otherwise, I recommend the light grey 4 mil fabric. You can’t buy this stuff at Home Depot or Lowes. Instead, you will need to go to a place that supplies wholesale landscaping materials.
  2. Fabric Stakes. These wire stakes are about 5 inches long and C-shaped. It is wise to use plenty of them! I’ll explain more later.
  3. Edging. I prefer aluminum edging over almost all other types. If you decide to use plastic, definitely use the heaviest stuff you can get. I hardly ever use plastic anymore, but there are some situations where it is best. Concrete edging is fine, but be prepared to pay $6-$7 per foot as opposed to $3-$4 per foot for aluminum. Both edging materials are nice, but aluminum is much more flexible and can accommodate changes much better than concrete. And the price of aluminum always going up.
  4. Decorative gravel or similar. You can use common river gravel in beds, however, we recommend the more beautiful decorative gravels. Landscaping gravel like crushed limestone, gold-stone, and basalt have many benefits over other alternatives. Rainbow rock is another wonderful choice if you prefer a round, natural looking gravel. Other alternative do exist such as mulches. I’ll talk more on that later in the article.
  5. Drip irrigation. You will need 1/2″ poly drip pipe, drip emitters, 1/4″ spaghetti tubing, stakes to hold the tubing at the plant, and you can use the fabric stakes to stake down the 1/2″ poly tubing. You will also need plugs with removable end caps for each end of the 1/2″ poly drip tubing. You will need a pressure reducer to limit the pressure to 20 psi. You might also need some splices and tees. All of the fitting these days are shark-bite style, press on fittings. You might also want to get some emitter plugs just in case you poke a hole in the wrong place. Lastly, you will need a timer or a way to tied in to the existing sprinker system if you have one. If you don’t, the sell timers that connect to the hose bib.
  6. Recommended tools include a good pair of scissors, a rubber mallet for the fabric stakes, a punch for the drip emitters, a pick axe and a flat bladed shovel for the edging, a mini sledge for the edging stakes, a square ended shovel for the gravel, a tiller for soil preparation, a landscape rake for grading, and a spade shovel for moving dirt and planting shrubs. You may also want some leather gloves, hand shovels, a wheel barrow, and a medium sized tarp to catch any gravel that falls from the trailer while shoveling the the wheelbarrow.

Installation process for low maintenance landscaping

    1. Step 1. Install the Edging. If you are installing a new landscape, begin by putting the edging upright to get the profile you want. Then use the pick axe to score a groove where the edging will run. Then use the mini sledge to hammer it down a good 1/2″ into the soil. Use stakes to secure it in place. If you are using concrete edging, then prepare a good base and use landscaping paint to mark where the edging will go. If you are installing aluminum edging in an existing landscape, use a flat edged shovel to punch straight down, cutting a vertical edge 3″ down, then come from the other side and remove the existing sod or dirt. You want the grass to be about 1″-2″ below the top of the edging, but on the bed side you should be either flush with or 1/2″ into the dirt.
    2. Step 2. Prepare the soil. Remove all weeds and roots. Run the tiller through the bed. We usually add some compost during this process. Plants need three basic things to survive: food, water, and sun light. Adding compost feeds the plant, which makes them grow much faster. It also improves watering. After tilling, rake the bed with a landscape rake. Be sure to removed organic debris including roots. Use a shovel to remove dirt from the edges of the bed. Be sure to maintain positive drainage away from the home. Use rake to smooth the soil.
    3. Step 3. Lay the fabric. Unroll the fabric along side the bed and cut to length. Then stake along one end, pull tight and stake the other end. Be sure the fabric lays nice and relaxed on the soil. Use scissors and cut along edges. Add stakes every few feet being mindful of where plants are going. You want the fabric to reach the edges and roll up on them slightly. Staking is important because it prevents the fabric from pulling away from the edges when gravel it placed.
    4. Step 4. Install Plants. The key is to layout the plants where you want them. Take the scissors and cut around the plant being sure to make the hole large enough for the plant to reach full maturity. Dig the hole, tucking the soil up underneath the fabric and then pulling it back in the secure the plant. There is a lot to know about what to plant where, why, and how. You can learn more about planting perennials and shrubs in this article.
    5. Step 5. Install drip irrigation. Run the 1/2″ drip tubing on top of the fabric, weaving within 24″ to 8″ proximity from the plants and stake it down. Install drip emitters into the side of the 1/2″ pipe and install smaller drip tubing from emitter to plant securing it in place with a plastic stake. Connect the timer, install end caps, and test the system.
    6. Step 6. Place decorative gravel. Install the landscaping gravel being careful not to place gravel directly around the plants. Plant growth is stunted by landscape gravel. You will want to have 2″-3″ of gravel down. If you prepared the edges of the beds properly as explained in step 2, the gravel will easily stay inside the beds.
low maintenance landscaping
Aluminum Edging Installation

Q & A. Tips to consider when installing low maintenance landscaping.

What if I want to use mulch instead of landscape gravel? Mulch is considered a maintenance free landscape material. We don’t recommend using it in windy places, so it doesn’t work well in many subdivision here in Billings. If you do use mulch, I recommend shredded cedar. It seems to last the longest and stay better than other products we have tried. I have used some of the died mulches and other unique products, but my preference is natural materials. Since natural mulches brake down over time and need to be replaced, I generally prefer using decorative gravel. It is also easier to blow leaves out of the gravel.

How long will the cheap landscape fabric last? In our experience, the cheap fabric is a waste of time and won’t last more than a season or two even. On the other hand, we are going by what we have seen, not what we have done. If we installed it professionally, it might last longer. I know that even the lighter 3 mil fabric doesn’t hold up nearly as well. Landscaping is really hard work. The biggest expense is the labor, so it is best to use materials that last. Remember that in landscaping, fixing what was done wrong takes nearly twice as much work as doing it right the first time.

What if I want plants to grow all over the ground? In low maintenance landscaping, you can achieve this effect by using ground covers the vine out over the landscape rock. You can control the size of the ground covers by using the landscaping fabric.

What if I don’t want to use drip irrigation? There are ways to get around using additional water in a low maintenance landscape. The style of landscaping that using native plants without using additional watering is called Xeriscaping. Xeriscape landscaping is techniques require some compromises but can be a very effective way to get an awesome landscape that requires little to no watering. The catch is that you will be limited a highly drought tolerant plants and shrubs. Yucca is an example of a Xeriscape plant. A good designer can capture water downspouts and channel it to strategically placed shrubs that require more water but are necessary to help place the home on and in the landscape.

Can I used regular crushed gravel? You can, but we don’t recommend it. The cheap crushed gravel is not washed enough to use in beds. You can get away with it if you wash it really good before placing it, but expect to have some weeds. It sometimes only takes 1/16″ of dirt/sediment for a weed to grow. We think it is worth the extra money to purchase decorative gravel.

What kind of maintenance do I need to do to my plants? Some plants do require more maintenance than others, but most varieties that do well here in Billings are fairly low maintenance. The real difference is that by pruning and caring for you plants, you get better blooms, nicer stemming, and a better shape. If you love roses, but don’t want the maintenance, try double knockout rose shrubs. With roses and other flowering perennials, it is great to deadhead the old buds, but it isn’t necessary.

What kind of maintenance can I expect with low maintenance landscaping? You will need to blow out leaves and debris periodically. You may want to trim some of the shrubs and perennials, but not really much in the first couple years. You might need to take some precautions to prevent damage from wildlife. Native grasses need to be cut down each fall to allow for new spring growth. And once you landscape has matured, you might need to trim and shape some of the shrubs every year. In the winter, you will need to drain the drip irrigation. Otherwise there really isn’t much to it.

Landscape Restoration

Does your landscape need some restoration?

Landscape restoration is the process of taking an existing component of your landscape and repairing it. Billings Landscaping regularly works with Billings Montana residents to restore their existing landscapes. And as a part of our mission to beautify Billings, we are offering some free landscaping tips to help you to identify if you need landscape maintenance services, and for the do it yourself-er: to help you restore your own landscape. In order to do this, we will start by identifying some common problems in Billings Landscapes.

Common Landscape problems

Here are some common problems that we find during landscape maintenance and restoration here in Billings Montana.

  1. Leaves, twigs, and debris in the gravel beds.
  2. Excessive weeds in beds.
  3. Weeds along edges of beds.
  4. Unhealthy or stunted plants.
  5. Gravel not staying in beds.
  6. Over-sized shrubs.
  7. Irrigation problems.

If you have any of these problems, then you probably need some landscape maintenance and restoration work done.

Landscape Maintenance, Problem #1: Leaves, twigs, and debris in beds

Organic matter in gravel beds quickly contributes to problems with weeds. This is due to the fact that leaves decompose very quickly. As the leaves and twigs break apart into smaller pieces, they get trapped in the gravel. Over time, this forms a layer of organic material in which weeds can grow. In a gravel bed, it only takes 1/8″ of dirt to fully support a weeds roots. This is because the feeder roots can grow on the surface of the landscape fabric, taking nutrients and moisture from the thin layer of dirt, while using the rocks to protect them from the sun.

Landscape Maintenance needed
Example of leaves around shrubs that need to be blown out.

Landscape Maintenance, Problem #2: Excessive Weeds in beds and along edges of beds

Wind blown dirt will enter the bed from adjacent fields and unfinished landscapes. The dirt settles on top of the fabric and will grow weeds if the gravel is not deep enough to make it too difficult for the weed to grow. Therefore, it is best to blow out your beds every year. Be sure to move the gravel around with your feet or a rake as you blow it out. It helps to have on person on the rake and another using the blower. This will help you clear out the air born sands and silts that settled into you beds and will get the leaves and debris out so they don’t decompose into dirt. We often use a combined solution of blowing out the dirt and adding more gravel to better prevent weeds from growing in the gravel beds.

Landscape Maintenance, Problem #3: Weeds growing around edges of beds

landscape repairs
Example of improper staking resulting in fabric pulling away from edge of bed.

If weeds are growing around the edges of the beds, this is usually the result of the landscape fabric being improperly installed. Often times, weed form around edges of beds because the landscape fabric was not properly stakes during installation. When landscape fabric is not properly staked, the weight of the gravel settling over the dirt will actually pull the fabric away from the edges of the beds, thus leaving bare dirt where weeds can grow.

Landscape Problem #4: Unhealthy or stunted plants

There are four main factors that contribute to unhealthy growth in plants.

  1. Improper watering.
  2. Wrong sun exposure for the type of plant.
  3. Planted too deep in the dirt.
  4. Landscape fabric and rock choke the plant.
  1. Different plants have different watering requirements. Some plants can handle full sun, other can’t. It depends on the species of plant. Furthermore, some plants need more acidic soils to do well. It is best to get this information from a nursery. Good Earth Works and Billings Nursery are good places here in Billings Montana to acquire this information, or you can find it many places online.
  2. There are shade plants, part sun plants, and full sun plants. When shade plants get too much sun, they burn. When full sun plants don’t get enough sun, they grow slowly and become leggy.
  3. When planted to deep in the ground, a plant will not do well. When properly planted, your perennials and shrubs should be slightly above grade. On trees, we usually plant 2″ above grade. The reason for this is because the main feeder roots that bring water and nutrients to the plant exist in the top 2″ of soil surrounding the plant. These feeder roots do best when growing with gravity. They also grow more quickly with less resistance and have access to more water when they can grow in the top inch or two of soil. If you plant too deep, then the feeder roots will be too deep. In deeper soil, they will have a harder time penetrating the firmer dirt, and they will be deprived of precious surface water.
  4. Rocks and fabric around the base of your landscape’s plants will stunt their growth. Plants are very aware of their surroundings. In nature, plants compete for space. When another plant is competing with them, they will not do as well. When a plant is restricted by landscape fabric, it also immediately doesn’t do as well. However, the plant will grow to fill the hole in the fabric. The common problem we find in landscape maintenance and restoration work is that the hole originally provided was often too small for the plant. A correct installation predicts the mature size of the plant and provides a hole in the fabric large enough to accommodate. On the other hand, you might want to control the size of a plant with the fabric. We often do this with ground covers.
landscape maintenance and restoration
This native grass was stunted by the landscape fabric and was planted too deep in the soil.

Landscape Problem #5: Gravel not staying in beds

This is a common problem for Billings and is usually the result of improper installation or age. Best practices are to dig down 3-4″ around the edges of the beds and then rake back, leaving a gradual mound towards the center of the bed. That way, when gravel is placed, it stays put.

Landscape Problem #6: Over-sized shrubs

Shrubs are great, but as a designer, I often recommend removing them when the get large enough to throw off the proportions in the house and landscape. It is often difficult for homeowners and business owners to visualize how removing an over-sized shrub can improve the look of the landscape and home, but it is often true that by removing it, you will do just that!

Landscape Problem #7: Irrigation problems

Sprinkler systems need yearly maintenance. This is because the components do not last forever. In particular, sprinkler heads and drip emitters are subject to damage from uv, roots, being stepped on, and a variety of other culprits. Give a plant too much water, and it will starve for oxygen and die from fungus. Starve a plant and it will won’t grow. When plants enter “survival” mode, they typically do not strive. The goal is to give you plants exactly what they need to thrive. This means proper watering for every plant.

landscape maintenance to help plants
Landscape fabric cut correctly around the shrub to allow for future growth.
landscape maintenance problems
Native grass roots constricted by landscape fabric. Fibers are from the fabric that was peeled away from the roots.

Why hire a landscape designer?

Hiring a landscape designer might be one of the most intelligent things you can do as a home owner or business owner. A common trend throughout new developments has been to neglect the landscaping and focus on the house. This is primarily the case because of basic economics. Homeowners often get overextended when buying a new home and builders focus on their part which doesn’t typically include the landscape. I worked for years in a multi-disciplined architecture and engineering firm. One of my good friends lead the landscape architecture department for CTA Architects in Billings MT. Time and time again, I observed how landscaping budgets got cut.
landscape designer
The reason for this has been three fold.

  1. Landscapes are the last to be constructed
  2. Most builders do not install landscapes and homeowner have to stretch to buy the home
  3. Most projects run over budget

The first obvious reason is that the landscape is the last thing to be constructed. Since it is last, it seems to get the least attention. The component of human nature that seeks immediate needs first seems to win. The point to remember is that though landscapes are the last to be constructed, they are the first thing that you see when approaching a home or business.

The second issue is common in Billings MT for homes in new developments. For whatever reasons, it is often difficult for the home owner to afford landscaping. As a result, many developments in Billings tend to get the same set of landscapers who do affordable “cookie cutter” landscapes. The end result is often poorly designed or incomplete landscapes that all look the same.

The third factor is like unto the second. Call it Murphy’s Law, but simply put, not every project goes well. Scheduling, labor, materials and other factors such as closing deadline and economics can make a project late and over budget.

So when should you hire a landscape designer and how can you afford it?

The answer is that you should always hire a talented designer to do your landscape. The trick if to find a talented designer. These days, many professionals posture as designers. The fact is that the factors listed above have created little room for professional landscape designers. This is especially true in Billings MT. Instead of designers, we have landscapers doing slap stick designs. Some have gotten fairly good at it, however, most of these same landscapers push to do maintenance contracts with their customers. If you design and install a landscape with care, then there is little need for maintaining beyond what is dictated by the landscape design itself. And so again, we have a conflict of interest in the industry and in addition, we have a lack of creative talent and experience industry wide. There is no replacement for a good designer. Ask an engineer to design your house and you’ll likely get a box. Ask a landscaper to design your landscape, and you’ll get the “cookie cutter” equivalent of a “box”.

The second part of the question was how do you afford it? The answer is that a good designer can often pay for themselves in the long run by applying good design practices. In addition, since the value of your home will be significantly greater with a professionally designed landscape, the better question is how can you invest so much into a home and not follow suit by hiring a landscape designer? Your home or business is likely the largest investment you will make in your life. It just doesn’t make sense to quit on the project before it is completed. Again, the first thing you and others will see is your landscape.

So if money becomes the primary obstacle, then a good approach is to hire a landscape designer to get you started, and then do the work yourself, have family help, and maybe hire the kids next door. Your designer will give you a good plan and a solid grasp of the costs involved for as little as $500. It is money well spent because it will save you money before the project is completed guaranteed…and the end result will be way better. If you are striving to do the work yourself, then check out these landscape design tips to help you install a maintenance free landscape that will last for years.

How Billings Landscaping is helping homeowners and business owners in Billings:

Our passion is to bring beauty to the world. We offer our design services as part of the landscaping services that you get when you hire us. We help you plan your project in a way that makes it affordable and beautiful. In addition, we offer this website as a free service to Billings residents so they can help themselves. Landscaping isn’t all that difficult. It is the lack of knowledge and experience that makes it hard for people to do it themselves. We hope that by offering this information to the public, we are doing a better job of serving our community and making Billings more beautiful.

Landscape Renovation

Renovating your mature landscape is an excellent way to increase the value of your home, reduce maintenance, and enhance your home life. Billings Landscaping specializes in landscape renovation for homes and businesses in Billings Montana! Below are some useful things to consider before renovating.

Sprinkler Systems

Probably the biggest “no brainer” in landscape renovation is to add a sprinkler system. Nobody want to drag around a hose in order to water their lawn. Installing a new sprinkler system or replacing your old sprinklers is a wonderful way to improve your life and increase the value of your property. Here is an article that identifies some important things to consider regarding Sprinkler system installation for existing landscapes.

Lawn Restoration

Lawn restoration can be a necessary part of your landscape renovation. There are different ways to approach lawn restoration. You can have the old lawn removed, or you can have it restored. In some cases there are methods for scarifying the existing lawn and reseeding. Learn more in this article on Lawn Restoration Techniques.


A big part of renovating your old landscape involves removing the existing landscape including trees, plants, shrubs, bedding, fabric, edging, roots, boulders, and gravel. You can expect to pay around $150 per trip to the dump which consists of 2 hours time, $25 disposal fee, fuel, trailer, wear and tear on the vehicle. In some cases, a landscaper can re-use some of the plants they remove, however, they generally do not credit you because of the effort involved in re-potting, transporting, trimming and storing the plants. The exception is if you have some nice trees, but typically you will want to find someone who specializes in transplanting trees in order to take advantage of the value in your trees. Generally speaking, nice tree should be left alone because they almost always add value to your landscape and a good designer can work with what you have.

Lawn Restoration

There are different ways to approach lawn restoration. You can have the old lawn removed, or you can have it restored. Generally speaking, you have to options from which to choose.

  1. You can have the old lawn removed and install new sod
  2. You can leave the existing sod and prepare it for new seed
    • Removing the old lawn

      In this method, the landscaper will typically use a equipment to remove the old lawn. It is also a good idea when you lawn is lumpy and/or the hardscapes (like sidewalks and pathways) are sunken below the sod. This method works best when you don’t already have a sprinkler system. There are two ways a landscaper will typically go about accomplishing this task. One is to use a sod cutter and the other is to use a skid steer. It is easier to maneuver around sprinkler heads with a sod stripper, but the job can be done with either. Skid steers are nice because the old sod need to be removed either way and having a bucket to scoop up and dump the old sod is convenient. The trade off is that sod cutters require less grading when finished. You can expect to pay at least $2000 to have the old lawn removed and the site regraded and prepared for new sod. Then you can figure $1.50 per square foot for the new sod to be purchased, delivered, and installed.

      Keeping the existing lawn and restoring it

      This method of lawn restoration involves power raking the existing grass in order to remove all of the old dead grass and expose as much dirt as possible. We will usually plug the lawn heavily before power raking. The toughest part is to rake up all of the dead grass. After raking, we take top soil and fill in all of the dips. Then we hire a specialist to hydro seed. This method requires a sprinkler system in order to be successful. It is a more cost effective solution, however, it usually isn’t as nice as replacing the old lawn. The reason is that mature lawn grass goes through some transformation in order to survive. The result is less uniformity because you have a mix of old and new grass.

Sprinkler systems

sprinkler system
Not all sprinkler systems are simple. There is actually quite a bit to consider and good sprinkler system design can mean the difference between a hassle free, healthy lawn and an ugly, high maintenance lawn. There are many factors to consider, but for residential homes located in Billings Montana, we have basically three different scenarios and corresponding solutions.

The first scenario is the typical residential new construction. On these homes, we like to design using poly tubing and state of the art heads that have a low evaporation rate. Not only can we provide better watering using this technology, but we can also save you money on your water bill! Another very positive note is that the systems we use are quite compared to what a lot of other sprinkler contractors out there are providing. Quite is Nice! Nothing is worse then being awakened at 6 am by you sprinkler system.

The second common scenario is a sprinkler system that uses either ditch water or a well. With these systems, it is good to choose the right equipment for the job. We use high quality sprinklers that don’t clog from sediment in the system.

The third scenario is large landscapes that require sprinkler heads that can throw water a long distance. These are less common, but we do have experience installing them.

In all three cases, we use the best materials and most intelligent design. We perform the necessary pressure calculations to properly design a stellar sprinkler system for you that will save you money and effort. We perform quality installations, making sure boxes are installed properly, and heads are properly secured so they don’t sink or move. We provide a design that adequately covers the lawn without over watering or adding more heads and zones than is necessary. And our sprinkler designs carefully consider the location of the valve box to prevent it from flooding, and we control the release of water pressure from the heads to make sure you don’t get soggy spots in your yard. In addition, we take the extra time to properly grade your yard so you don’t get swampy areas in the lawn that lead to dead spots and lawn diseases.

Sprinkler Systems for existing landscapes

Installing a new sprinkler system in an existing landscape comes with its own set of challenges, however in the end the cost isn’t too much greater than it would be for a new landscape. If you are a middle income home owner who has an average place that needs a new sprinkler system then you can expect to spend between $2000-$6000 on sprinklers. Most landscapes in Billings seem to run about $4000 for a brand new sprinkler system. This will include a standard Rainbird timer with up to 6 stations, 1″ poly lines, and pop up heads.
There are some things to consider when choosing a landscaper to install your sprinklers. One thing to consider is hiring someone who specializes in the type of system that you need.  If you have an existing landscape, it is more difficult to install a sprinkler system. This is a fact because existing landscapes have established trees, hardscapes (such as sidewalks), fences, and lawns. Tree roots have to be cut or worked around; lawns need to be repaired; and water lines need to pass under sidewalks and fences. These things add to the cost and effort. In addition to these costs, the sprinkler designer needs to make sure you have adequate pressure at a hose bib location and design a system that works with that constraint. Often times, established homes have outdated plumbing and lower water pressure. At some locations, the pressure is too much. Either way, the pressure must be regulated in the sprinkler design and a back flow preventer must be installed in order to meet the city code in Billings Montana.

Sprinkler system backflow preventer
Another thing to consider is the method being used to install the sprinkler system. Sprinkler line pullers are nice because they don’t tear up the sod so bad, however roots can be a real problem. Trenching works well if you are restoring the sod, but if your lawn is already nice then a trencher can be a less attractive solution. But the most important thing is to have a good sprinkler design. Sprinkler Design is fairly easy to do, but it does take some experience. More importantly, it takes some knowledge to know what kind of system works best.

Why choose Billings Landscaping to design and install your sprinkler system?

Billings Landscaping personnel have learned hands on from the very best sprinkler system installers in Billings Montana. We have the experience and education combined with the creativity and practical design skills needed to get the job done quickly and on budget. In addition, we know how to save you money on the cost of water and design a state of the art sprinkler system that will serve you well for many years to come! Call today for a cost free, no obligation estimate!

sprinkler system manifold
2 zone/station valve box and manifold.