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Home Our Story BLOG: The Story S3_Ep3_Outdoor Living Series: Landscape & Watering 101 (Eric Savins with Garden Design Landscaping)

S3_Ep3_Outdoor Living Series: Landscape & Watering 101 (Eric Savins with Garden Design Landscaping)

Tuesday March 8, 2022

SPRING SEASON is here and we know all of you Texans can't wait for some outdoor living! Homeowners everywhere are prepping their gardens and patios for the beautiful weather to come and we're introducing our Outdoor Living series to help with that process. To kick us off, we bring in Eric Savins from Garden Design Landscaping, partner of John Houston Homes for over 10 years.  Eric breaks down best practices for home landscaping and watering, what landscaping packages are offered to our homeowners, design tips and tricks for smaller backyards, and so much more!

S3_Ep3_Outdoor Living Series - Landscape & Watering 101 (Eric Savins with Garden Design Landscaping)

S3_Ep3 Landscaping & Watering 101 (Eric Savins).mp3

Intro: [00:00:04] Welcome Home, a podcast brought to you by John Houston Homes. Join hosts, Chelsi Frazier and Whitney Pryor, as they walk you through the exciting adventure of your home buying and building journey.

Whitney Pryor: [00:00:19] Thank you listeners, for joining us on today's episode of the Welcome Home podcast. I'm Whitney and I have Chelsi here with me on this kind of cold, rainy day. How are you, Chelsi?

Chelsi Frazier: [00:00:29] I'm great! Now, when this comes out, hopefully it's not cold and rainy because this will be this will be a March episode. We're still around January cold and not thinking that it's going to still be like this in a couple of months, hopefully.

Whitney Pryor: [00:00:44] Yes, let's pray that there's not a freeze between now and then.

Chelsi Frazier: [00:00:48] Yes, we are not even going to think the word!

Whitney Pryor: [00:00:50] Speaking of which, we've got an awesome guest on today that can actually touch on a little bit of that. He's not a weatherman, sorry guys. Chelsi, why don't you introduce us to our next guest?

Chelsi Frazier: [00:01:03] Before I introduce our guest, just kind of a prequel for the next three, maybe four episodes, we're going to do kind of an outdoor living series. This will be our first episode for the outdoor living series. I'm excited to talk to this guest because I've called him and emailed him over the years asking questions, kind of getting some best practices sheets together for our closing packets. He's been so helpful, a wealth of information, knowledge and just a great partner with John Houston Homes. Today we're talking to Eric Savins. He's the Regional Manager for residential install with Garden Design. We're going to talk to him about landscape and some watering 101. We are kicking off our outdoor living series with some best practices, basic information and some answers to those commonly asked questions. Welcome to the show, Eric.

Eric Savins: [00:01:58] Thank you so much for having me! I really appreciate being here.

Chelsi Frazier: [00:02:00] Absolutely! We are your first podcast, hopefully the first of many.

Eric Savins: [00:02:04] That would be great, love to do it

Whitney Pryor: [00:02:07] Garden d=Design is our landscaper. They install all of our landscaping in our homes, correct?

Eric Savins: [00:02:13] Yes, ma'am.

Whitney Pryor: [00:02:14] Okay, awesome! Can you tell us a little bit more about what your role is and what you do with Garden Design?

Eric Savins: [00:02:20] Absolutely! Garden Design has been around about 25 years. Oh wow. I have been with the company for that amount of time, so I've done a lot of different things with the company. Currently, my role is to oversee the operations for the builder install side of our work. We do work on commercial and on residential. I oversee the operations for that side. That's everything from meeting with our homebuilding clients to set up budgets, landscape packages, overseeing the installs in different areas and then any follow up work that may need to be done afterwards. Things such as warranty work, repairs after homeowners move in, anything to help the builder get to that final closing date, and beyond. It's challenging, but it's exciting and it's a lot of fun.

Chelsi Frazier: [00:03:08] I didn't realize that Garden Design had been around that long. You've worked with John Houston Homes, I'm sure, for many, many years as well.

Eric Savins: [00:03:14] I was thinking about it the other day, and I believe it's close to 10 to 12 years we've been a partner with yall.

Chelsi Frazier: [00:03:20] That's great, so since the beginning, since 2005.

Eric Savins: [00:03:27] I actually misspoke. I meant to clarify, we've actually been around about 28 years. I've been with Garden Design about 25 years, so sorry I misspoke there just a minute ago.

Chelsi Frazier: [00:03:35] Yeah, definitely clear that up, because that's very impressive.

Whitney Pryor: [00:03:37] Yes, that is very impressive.

Chelsi Frazier: [00:03:39] To kick off our episode, let's just start with what's included with my home when it comes to landscape? A lot of people ask that. We know just from talking to you before that every city is a little bit different on what it requires, but do you think there are some basics that we could go over?

Eric Savins: [00:03:55] I do, the basics for any landscape package we would install for a John Houston homeowner are going to include some type of a shade tree, right? That number could vary, obviously from city to city, whether they're 1-acre lots or things like that. It'll include typically some type of an ornamental tree, which will be a smaller tree typically framing the house on one side or the other. Then a collection of shrubs, which will include a larger background shrub and then maybe a slightly smaller shrub that would go in the front. Then mulch to kind of protect everything. Then sod of different quantities, depending upon if it's a city or a county type lot, 1-acre lot.

Whitney Pryor: [00:04:34] With the trees, do homeowners get the option to choose a tree if they're building from the ground up or is that something that is just decided by you guys?

Eric Savins: [00:04:44] Normally in the past, been decided by us. However, I will get occasionally either an email or a call from one of the sales reps for for John Houston or perhaps from the superintendent because a homeowner had specifically requested something. We will always try to accommodate that when we can, dependent upon what's available at the time.

Whitney Pryor: [00:05:04] Sure. If someone's maybe not building a home, but purchasing a home that is under construction or almost move-in ready, they can definitely give you guys a call after the fact if they wanted maybe a different tree installed?

Eric Savins: [00:05:17] We can do that. We love those types of calls because we can be a little more creative with people after the fact. That gives us an opportunity to sell them something additional they want or trade it out and make it more customized to what they might want.

Whitney Pryor: [00:05:31] Sure, that's awesome!

Chelsi Frazier: [00:05:32] Yeah, I think that's great for people to know, that they can make it a little bit more themselves. If there's a specific type of tree or look they are wanting. I always remember the tree that was in my aunt's front yard that we grew up playing in and climbing. I've always wished I had a tree like that. You know, making it your own.

Eric Savins: [00:05:50] The other thing that comes up too, is some people have a allergy to certain types of trees. If they just let somebody know, they can contact us and we'll try to accommodate that to the best of our ability.

Chelsi Frazier: [00:06:02] It's not a comprehensive list, so definitely be sure you check with the sales manager or the superintendent. Like you said, what's in that area or that city, but that kind of gives our listeners a good idea.

Whitney Pryor: [00:06:15] Speaking of shrubbery, trees and things like that, I know right now on a lot of people's minds is the freeze. Even into March, we get some colder temperatures. The freeze from last year destroyed or really hurt the landscaping. It's something that we don't see very often, but every so many years, it'll happen. What are some hardy shrubs or examples that you can give that can withstand some of those colder temperatures?

Eric Savins: [00:06:49] I would say, that freeze that we had back in 2021, that that was extraordinarily bad. Most of the things that we install, will survive just the freezes that we even had last week. That freeze was epic. It would kill things that normally would never have an issue of surviving. It's kind of an exception to the rule. I would say that most of what we do provide are going to be things that will handle your normal, everyday type freeze that we have in North Texas.

Whitney Pryor: [00:07:19] That's great to know.

Eric Savins: [00:07:20] We use a lot of Hollies, different kinds of Hollies, Dwarf Indian Hawthorne's, Nan Dinas and other plants that are similar to those that normally, you would not see that type of damage from. The trees, for the most part, we'll never really have an issue with that, unless it was a really, really late freeze. Right before Spring or when the tree was already beginning to bud out, that could cause a problem. Typically, if they're dormant, they're not going to have an issue with that.

Whitney Pryor: [00:07:48] Is there any advice you can give homeowners on how they might be able to protect their landscaping better?

Eric Savins: [00:07:54] I would say that if they have some of the more tender type plants. We don't actually install palm trees or agaves for the most part, as part of the package, but if they purchase those from Home Depot or some other nursery, you can cover those with a frost blanket or protect the trunk, like on a palm tree, if it's a smaller one. That typically will help them survive some of those freezes. Again, if it's that bad, like what we had last year, nothing's going to really help.

Whitney Pryor: [00:08:25] Right, definitely.

Chelsi Frazier: [00:08:27] Can trees be utilized to block a view that you may not like?

Eric Savins: [00:08:30] Most definitely. We are often asked to do that. If perhaps a spec home, which there aren't really many spec homes available right now, which is a great problem to have. If it had a two-story house behind it, we'll often be asked to put a tree there to help maybe block an upper window, a storage shed or something like that. We can help with that kind of stuff if it comes up, even if it's after closing, especially if a homeowner contacts us with that.

Whitney Pryor: [00:08:56] That's great! I think a lot of times, people first think of a fence. You just can't do that whenever you're a little one-story with a big two-story behind you. I think it's so great to have landscaping that can really help you with that, looks beautiful, organic and isn't really a giant monstrosity to block.

Chelsi Frazier: [00:09:17] Right, yeah, there's no fence that's going to cover that, that would be allowed.

Eric Savins: [00:09:21] Definitely not.

Chelsi Frazier: [00:09:23] Do you have any ideas for backyard landscaping when you don't have much space?

Eric Savins: [00:09:27] I would say the most commonly done landscaping, with small spaces like that, is to maybe not use a huge oak tree, an elm tree or something that's going to get 40' or 50' tall. There are plenty of options in the smaller ornamental tree category, like red buds or desert willows or crape myrtles even, because cape myrtles can get 15' to 18'tall. You can use those sort of as an anchor, maybe in one of the corners and then maybe have just a very small little bed just in front of that. As long as you're not blocking your drainage, which is something to always keep in mind, you can, you can soften a corner or provide a little shade spot without overpowering even a small backyard. It's all in choosing the shade tree as an anchor or the ornamental tree as an anchor and then something smaller in front of that.

Whitney Pryor: [00:10:15] Okay that's great.

Chelsi Frazier: [00:10:16] That's nice.

Whitney Pryor: [00:10:17] I know you work with builders, but does Garden Design also work with homeowners after they move in, as well, to kind of maybe upgrade their packages or add an additional features?

Eric Savins: [00:10:29] We do. We like the opportunity to do that, and that's something we've been doing for a very long time. We're a full blown design and install company, so we have a full team of designers and salespeople that can actually meet with homeowners to give them a master plan to be implemented in stages or to just do small beds or seasonal color, little things like that, too. We can bring a lot to the table. We do work with outdoor kitchens, pergolas, all that type of work, we can implement all that into someone's yard.

Whitney Pryor: [00:11:02] That's great! I'm sure even if someone decides to put in a pool, you probably can come in and give some great ideas for landscaping as well.

Eric Savins: [00:11:10] We can. Usually, there's some sod that would need to be fixed or repaired after the pool goes in. That's a great time to put landscaping in.

Chelsi Frazier: [00:11:18] Speaking of sod, I know Whitney, you had a really great question about that.

Whitney Pryor: [00:11:22] Yes! I don't think it's commonly known, but whenever a homeowner moves into their home, the sod a lot of time is overwatered, right, so that way it can take root. I don't know the official terms, but you can probably explain this.

Eric Savins: [00:11:40] Yeah, depending upon the time of year. If it's in the Summer, sod is a very highly perishable product. It's got a little small root system on it. In the summer, we really crank up the sprinklers when we first install the sod. It's not uncommon for them to be running two times a day every day of the week. We try to back that down if the house still is not closed yet, but we can't get to all the houses. A lot of times, people are moving in when it's still watering that much. It's really important for them to go ahead and begin to bring those times down because if the yard stays real soft, anybody that walks on it - kids, dogs, or trade coming to do repair, they're going to leave footprints wherever they go. It's important to to bring those times down, to make it where the sod begins to firm up and you can actually mow it without leaving ruts all over the yard too.

Whitney Pryor: [00:12:28] When you guys actually install the sod, there's something that you guys do, and it's called "rolling the rod". It basically just flattens it, makes sure that it's as even as possible and that everything's kind of sticking together. You guys are not the last trade or crew that goes to that house, so sometimes whenever we're watering a lot and they're still crews coming in after that sod is rolled out and flattened, there will be ruts in the yard or things that that can happen, right?

Eric Savins: [00:13:03] That's correct.

Whitney Pryor: [00:13:05] You guys can actually come back after the fact. If a homeowner is moved in and they feel like they're still watering a lot and they want to have their yard flattened out some more, they can call you guys to come out and do that for you as a service, right?

Eric Savins: [00:13:19] We can do that. It's generally more effective if it hasn't gotten too far past the time that the sod was first installed, because eventually that yard will settle. Once it starts to settle, there's not a whole lot of give to it anymore, even if you crank the water really, really high. You still need a little bit of give to the soil. Eventually, sometimes you'll develop low spots where some of the sprinkler trenches may have been and things like that. Initially, sod can be rolled and that can be helped. If it gets too far, you may get to a point where you may have to have some soil brought in to fill in some of those low spots that have maybe sunk a little bit more. If it's done pretty timely, it can make a difference.

Whitney Pryor: [00:13:59] Okay, alright. I wasn't sure if a lot of people knew that was something that they actually do whenever the sod is laid, so that's really great tip.

Eric Savins: [00:14:08] We wish that we were the very, very last ones there, but oftentimes, that is just not the case. The other thing that will impact that, will be the type of soil. As you know, in Waxahachie and Midlothian, some areas are extremely rocky. It's almost impossible to get it back to the way that it was before. Rolling will help and we do it again at the time of install. If they contact us after they've closed and they're still having a problems, for a small fee, we can we can arrange to have it re-rolled for them.

Whitney Pryor: [00:14:36] That's great information to to have, for sure.

Chelsi Frazier: [00:14:39] Yeah, very helpful. Can we talk about some best practices for your landscape and sod? I think for some homeowners, it's maybe their first home with the sprinkler system, the yard's a different size than they were used to - either moving up or down from a one acre lot, or they're totally new to this crazy Texas weather. We are having a lot of people move in from out of state. Can we kind of cover some of those things?

Whitney Pryor: [00:15:07] Yeah, I'm so excited about this part because I have a John Houston home and that sprinkler system box, I'm like, "this looks like Star Trek control panel. I don't know how to use this." I don't know what to do and how to how to work it, so I'm sure I'm not the only one.

Eric Savins: [00:15:24] They can be a bit intimidating at first, but once you start playing around with it, they're really not that bad. There is a ton of information on the internet about how to work them or how to program them. The sprinkler system can be your best friend or your worst enemy. It really all depends on how you use it. They're not meant to be a set at once and never look at it again, kind of an implement. They're really meant to be a tool, right, to assist you in taking care of your of your yard. I tell people and I kind of coach them. Initially, you'll fiddle with it more, right after you move into the house, as you kind of learn the best times to water or kind of how much water you're using. Eventually, honestly, the best way they can be used is to keep them off and only really water when you need to. If you know you're going to be on a vacation or something like that, then you know that you're giving up the right amount of water. You want to just make sure the most important thing is to dial those times way back, so you're not overwatering, because too much water actually kills more plants and trees than underwatering. As hard as that is to believe, because the soil stay saturated, literally those things can't breathe just like we can't breathe if we're underwater.

Chelsi Frazier: [00:16:39] Do you feel like you've heard a million times, "well, I don't know why it died. I was watering it every day."

Eric Savins: [00:16:44] That's exactly what I hear. Oftentimes at the beginning, if a plant or a tree begins to decline, it can look really similar, if it's not enough water or too much. The natural response, I understand, is just to give more water if something turns brown. Typically, if it's turning brown and the leaves are clinging to the tree or to the shrub, it's usually too much water and it needs to be backed off as soon as possible. It's a lot easier to add more water to something that's dry, than it is to get something that's already wet to dry out. That's kind of the way to think about it.

Whitney Pryor: [00:17:15] That's good advice. That's why all my houseplants are dead.

Chelsi Frazier: [00:17:19] Too much love.

Eric Savins: [00:17:20] That is actually very true, for houseplants, especially. If you if you keep a program on your controller for about the first year, after that, you can probably move it more to a system where you just keep it off and you just run it manually whenever you think that you need it. Usually, on an established yard, once or twice a week for grass is plenty for Bermuda grass. It's fairly drought tolerant. As long as you're thoroughly watering it when you do water it, it can survive through some serious heat and still be fine. It's especially true of the people with the 1-acre lots because that's a lot of grass for them to be watering and water is very expensive.

Chelsi Frazier: [00:18:00] Yes. What about newly sodded areas?

Eric Savins: [00:18:04] Depending upon the time of year, right, in the summertime, we're going to set that controller initially for probably every day, twice a day or at least every day, once a day, for sure. I would say that needs to be maintained for at least a few weeks, and then it can be brought down to about 3-4 times a week in the summertime for a new yard. If it's in the Winter, you probably don't need to do it more. We'll only set it for maybe three or four days a week because it just takes that much longer for it to dry out. Once they move in and they've been in for a few weeks to a month, again, they can probably turn it down to a once or twice a week at the most.

Whitney Pryor: [00:18:37] We do have a lot of people moving from out of state that aren't used to Bermuda grass. Can you kind of touch on that? I know in the Winter, it just dies completely, right? Then, it just pops back up or it's dormant, I should say that.

Eric Savins: [00:18:50] It turns dormant. It will go completely brown, usually after the first or second freeze of the beginning part of Winter. It will begin to slowly green up, probably in April. If it hasn't greened up by say May, there may be some other issues going on. Maybe we had a late freeze or something like that, like we had last year or if it was extremely harsh. But typically by April, you'll start to see flecks of green coming up in it. It can look like it's completely dead, but if you if you try to tug on it or kind of kind of rub your hand through it, you can see little green runners down there. That's a good sign to know that your grass is still alive and doing okay.

Chelsi Frazier: [00:19:26] Oh, that's good to know.

Whitney Pryor: [00:19:27] What if someone doesn't like their yard looking brown in the Winter? What are some options for them that you might suggest, spray paint?!

Eric Savins: [00:19:38] Well, that actually is an option. A lot of home builders have actually done that for their model homes. They'll either usually over-seed the yard with a Rye grass, right, and that's usually done in September or October, kind of depend upon the temperature range. Spray painting has actually become a pretty popular option. It doesn't look as cool or as good, in my opinion, as an actual over-seeded yard that's been taken care of. It can be a great option because you do have to mow it, in the Winter, if you over-seed it. Some people don't want to mow when it's 40 degrees outside or still watering.

Whitney Pryor: [00:20:10] We do get that question a lot. People call in and they're like, "what grass is in your model home? It's so beautiful." I'm like, well, "they over-seed it with Rye." I do know there are some people that enjoy getting that break of not having to mow their yard in the winter or save on not hiring someone to mow their yard. There are definitely advantages to not doing that, but it is a beautiful yard. I mean, it looks like just a plush carpet in the backyard with the Rye.

Eric Savins: [00:20:40] If it's done right and maintained properly, it can look quite beautiful actually.

Whitney Pryor: [00:20:44] Yeah, so that's also an option if you don't like the brown Bermuda.

Chelsi Frazier: [00:20:48] Okay, yall both obviously know what over-seeding the yard means, but I'm a little bit lost. Are you literally putting grass on top of grass?

Eric Savins: [00:20:55] Rye grass is only grown by seed, so typically that process, the way it works is the existing remedial yard is scalped and bagged up. All the clippings are put in bags and then you'll literally spread Rye seed all over it. Eventually that Rye seed, after about 14 days you watered a lot, will start to germinate. It is grass growing in grass. Rye grass can't take the heat. Once Spring rolls around and early Summer, you start scalping it again, that Rye grass all dies and then the Bermuda comes back through.

Chelsi Frazier: [00:21:27] Oh wow, that's so cool!

Eric Savins: [00:21:28] It can only survive in the cooler seasons of the year.

Chelsi Frazier: [00:21:31] Okay, so it's almost like a hair extensions for your yard. I like it.

Eric Savins: [00:21:34] That's an interesting Way to look at it, but yes, that's true.

Whitney Pryor: [00:21:39] It's like a Chia pet.

Chelsi Frazier: [00:21:40] Yes, yes! Okay, I don't think we touched on tree bubblers. Is that something we should give some recommendations on?

Eric Savins: [00:21:47] This would be true actually for the sprinkler system to have your trees, your sod and your plants eventually all on their own programs. We don't initially set it up that way because we don't want to overcomplicate things for new homeowners. The tree bubblers, especially, can be put on their own program because they only need water about once a week, after they kind of get established. It's very easy to set multiple times, stations and programs up, but it's not a bad idea to have your sod plants on another and your trees all on their own.

Whitney Pryor: [00:22:20] Because they all need different types of water or different amounts?

Eric Savins: [00:22:23] That's correct, as they begin to mature and eventually trees don't need any additional water. The tree bubblers are only meant to help them get established. Eventually, rain takes care of whatever needs they have after a couple of years.

Whitney Pryor: [00:22:36] I know some people, they add in additional landscaping after the fact, maybe around their trees. Maybe they add like brick pavers or whatever and build that up and do some plants around the trees. Do the tree bubblers, will they water those plants that are around there or do they only water the tree root system?

Eric Savins: [00:22:55] The tree bubblers were intended only to water the tree and the tree roots. Typically, the way the irrigator will set up the irrigation system, is it'll get overspray into that area. If they do decide to put a bed or something around a tree, it will get covered by the sprinklers that are were initially watering the grass.

Whitney Pryor: [00:23:13] Gotcha.

Eric Savins: [00:23:14] That is true, a lot of people will do a bed. Just as a quick kind of note and sort of a caution, it's really, really important to make sure that when people do build up around a tree or put a bed around it, that they're not raising the level of the soil on the actual trunk itself because eventually that will kill a tree over time.

Whitney Pryor: [00:23:33] Okay, so the tree needs to breathe at the root system?

Eric Savins: [00:23:35] Yea, we put a little mulch ring around the trees as part of the initial install to help retain moisture and water while it's establishing, but you don't want to build soil up on the actual trunk of the tree itself. If you put a brick planter or stone planter, you don't want to raise the soil all the way across where you're raising the trunk 2", 3" or 4".

Whitney Pryor: [00:23:56] Gotcha.

Chelsi Frazier: [00:23:57] That's good to know.

Whitney Pryor: [00:23:58] That is good to know. Speaking on that, the different pavers or rocks around trees or around the flower beds, that is something that a homeowner can consult with you on if they were wanting to add those additional features? I've seen them in my neighborhood, which is a John Houston neighborhood. A lot of homeowners come in after the fact and add the rock, landscaping rock and things like that to just give it that extra appeal.

Eric Savins: [00:24:24] We can do all that type of work, whether it's just a dry stack or the stones are just on top of one another and also a mortared option, where they're actually mortared in place with the footer to kind of keep them from shifting too much or steel edging. There's multiple options that are budget friendly, either way you go.

Chelsi Frazier: [00:24:40] Eric, you've been a wealth of information and knowledge. We can't thank you enough, not just for today, but all the times that we call you, ask you questions and get your consultation. We just want to thank you again for coming.

Eric Savins: [00:24:52] Thank you all so much for having me. I really appreciate

Whitney Pryor: [00:24:54] Thank you, listeners for joining us on today's episode of the Welcome Home podcast. If you have questions about your landscaping needs, we will definitely put Eric's information and Garden Designs information where they can be reached in the podcast show notes. You can also reach John Houston Homes at 866.298.1416 or visit our website at for more ideas, tips and tricks. Thank you again for listening in today on the Welcome Home podcast.

Chelsi Frazier and Whitney Pryor: [00:25:28] Welcome Home!