I Don't Have a Garden, but I Watch One on TV

How Green are the Landscaping Practices on HGTV’s 2010 Green Home?

Guest Rant by Ginny Stibolt, the Transplanted Gardener

I don't have cable and don't watch HGTV, except rarely on
other people's TVs.  So maybe I've missed
some of the details, but it appears that the landscaping for their 2010 green
home in Plymouth, Mass. sets a bad example for their audience and the
homebuilders that they are trying to coach to be greener.  http://www.hgtv.com/green-home

The house itself has some good green features and the neighborhood
is leaving much of the land undeveloped. 
I love the Cape Cod and the Islands house designs and actually owned a
house on the Vineyard in a previous life. 
But that landscaping is another story.

Here's their most recent snowy photo.  Those long shadows of neighboring trees
indicate to me that this house site was carved out of a wooded area. Hgtvphoto1
These earlier photos show that sod was laid around the pine
trees.

Hgtvphoto2
Hgtvphoto3
And we finally get back to their earliest photo showing the
massive footprint gouged into the landscape.

Here are some of the problems that I have with
this:

Transplanting such
large trees takes huge machines,
which can't be green.  Plus it looks like they've been dug from
mature forests, not tree farms.  (It is
possible that these trees were dug from this site and then replanted, which
would lessen their footprint.)

I don't know what the success rate is for these monsters,
but recommended irrigation schedule for smaller transplanted trees depends on
size.  Suggested
irrigation schedules for planting trees:

  • Each time you irrigate, it's best to water
    with three gallons per inch trunk caliper (the diameter of the trunk at six
    inches above the root ball of saplings). For example, use six gallons for a
    two-inch caliper tree. Apply slowly, so all water soaks into the root ball.
  • If a tree is two to four caliper
    inches, the best practice is to water daily for one month; every other day for
    the next three months; and after that water weekly until established.
  • If a tree is more than four caliper
    inches or if it's a palm, the best practice is to water daily for six weeks;
    every other day for the next five months; weekly after that until established.
  • After the initial period, continue to
    supplement irrigation for your tree during drought conditions for at least a
    year. Two or three is better, especially for larger trees.

Maybe the HGTV crew will irrigate the trees with enough
water for the months between now and when they give it away.  But will the new owner carry on the
irrigation and will people watching this process on TV actually irrigate with
the large amount of water necessary for years to come?  Wouldn't it be greener to plant more
reasonably sized trees?  This would show
regular homeowners that patience and planning are part of creating a new
landscape.  The old saw of planting the
largest trees you can afford has been shown to be false, because larger trees
have a much lower survival rate.

Wouldn't it have
been greener to leave a few groups of trees from the original landscape?
  Yes, the construction crew would have had to
avoid those areas and that might have caused some extra effort.  Besides the time, energy and water required
for transplanting large trees: a) islands of the original soil and its
ecosystem would have been conserved; and b) groups of trees are more resistant
to wind and are more drought tolerant than single trees.

Pine trees love
acidic soil and lay down nice acidic pine needles.
  Turf grass hates all that acidity and the
shade.  Forever raking pine needles from
turf is a maintenance nightmare.  Showing
a turf area under pines as the ideal landscape perpetuates the lawn myth.  I will give the landscapers some credit for
planting shrubs under the trees on the right side of the house along the
walkway (and that the walkway is made of permeable paving), but why put a line
of sod along the walkway.  It'll be a
pain to care for and it won't do well there.

This type of instant landscaping sets false hopes and
expectations for regular homeowners and run-of-the-mill builders who try to
emulate these practices.  It's much more
sustainable to leave more of the original landscape augmented by planting
smaller trees with greater chances of survival. 
I think HGTV is setting a poor example in this case.

Resources:
University of Florida horticulture professor Ed Gilman
maintains the landscape plants website, with detailed and scientifically-proven
information on tree establishment with irrigation details, pruning and other
care of woody plants: http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/woody.
See especially all of the sections on tree establishment http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/woody/establishment.shtml
, including on amount and frequency of irrigation after planting http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/woody/irrigation2.shtml.

Posted by on February 10, 2010 at 9:37 am, in the category I Don't Have a Garden, but I Watch One on TV.
Comments are off for this post

18 Responses to “How Green are the Landscaping Practices on HGTV’s 2010 Green Home?”

  1. Three cheers, Ginny! I’ve railed about the fantasy-world approach taken by landscaping TV shows for years (you can read my August 2001 online column on my website). It doesn’t seem to make any difference. As long as the shows are long on style and short on science, we can look forward to continued landscape atrocities.

  2. Tibs says:

    They need to go back to the way they used to built houses. You didn’t haul in all the big earth movers and scrape everything off of your plot. You dug the basement hole with smaller equipment. Granted, you still had earth conpaction but you weren’t doing as much ground disturbance.

    I hate HGTV. All projects take one weekend. The first and only place you shop always has just what you need, Your tools all can be found instantly and all fire up immediately. You and your spouse are a smooth working machine, unlike in my house where we work in seperate shifts or at opposet ends of the property. That house looks pretty big, too. Do they have a vegetable garden? And the tower makes me think of Bluebeard. “Sister Ann, Sister Ann, do you see my brothers?”

  3. Bryn says:

    Lovely. Largish trees transplanted sparsely so there’s no other trees or understory to provide support and their root systems have been compromised. Do it on what appears to be a hillside in an area that gets a fair amount of snow and, I would imagine, the more than occasional high-wind-speed storm. It looks like a recipe for disaster to me. I’d like to see photos taken, say, 5 years from now. How many of the trees would have survived and/or remained upright? This is what happens when interior decorators change their milieu and decide to work with “plant materials” instead of fabric swatches.

  4. Deirdre says:

    The problem with leaving trees is: the radius of the root zone is equal to the height of the tree. That’s a huge zone to try to avoid. That said, they should have planted smaller trees. I don’t like the odds for these trees.

  5. alexson says:

    I’m new to landscaping (just bought my house a year ago) and would have never considered the points you made. Really good post!

  6. I agree with Bryn. If you leave trees you also have to leave a large radius around them to prevent root compaction. If HGTV did leave trees they would probably just try not to hit the trunk and then the new homeowner would have to deal with a dying tree. Not that transplating mature trees is such a great idea either. Even if they did come from the same property, they would have suffered cropped roots, being stored for several months during the build and drought.

    I doubt they used trees from the same location. If they had they would be boasting about it as one of their green measures.

    I’m with Ginny – the best solution would have been to plant smaller younger trees.

  7. Judybusy says:

    Taking a bigger step back, why the heck did a new development need to be built _at all_? Especially in this economic climate, there are many already-built houses just waiting for their forever families. Leaving that bit of land intact would have been the greenest move of all. It’s kinda like the reduce-reuse-recycle idea on a bigger scale.

  8. I agree… using ridiculously heavy equipment is horrid for the environment and soil structure. Just one of the annoying practices they use.

  9. Like Ginny Stibolt, I don’t have a TV so do not know the details about this project but as someone who works in residential construction I might be able to provide some basic construction information.

    Often times when there is a lax or non existent environmental design and planning department a general contractor will take the most cost efficient way to grade and drop in utilities.
    Usually this means clear cutting a site.
    If there was a good environmental design and planning dept. on hand they may have allowed the site to be clear cut for the grading and utility drop in but may have demanded that the contractor replace a certain % of trees with the same size trees.
    The contractor has very little control over this. It is a planning department call.

    Before coming down on the contractor and the television people you might want to make a call to see what role the local planning and building dept. played.
    More times than not, it is the planning dept. that makes up these silly rules and yet the contractor get blamed.

  10. Judybusy is right, we probably don’t need any new housing when there is a glut. How much greener would it be to convert abandoned strip shoppping centers into vibrant multi-use areas? Gee, they could pull up most of the pavement and actually have trees and gardens instead of an urban wasteland. I challenge HGTV, if they are reading this, to convert a blighted urban/suburban area for their next green home project. Now that would set a good example.

  11. Kate says:

    GRrr- How many people have to plant a lawn under pine trees before it’s household knowledge that it just won’t work? And how many people want to spend time in a landscape that doesn’t work, such as one with beautiful old trees that are fighting to stay alive? It’s not a nice feeling.

  12. Tibs says:

    My turn for a Grrrr. “planning dept. that makes up these silly rules and yet the contractor get blamed.” We have to make silly rules because any common sense rules the contractor out to make a buck at no matter what the cost to the environment and community finds a way to weasel around them.

  13. Micah says:

    Tibs’s comment is hilarious. I never considered that gardening and landscaping on TV is just as phony as an episode of ER.

  14. PeonInChief says:

    And we need more suburban McMansions constructed on ground that’s been compacted so badly that nothing will ever grow there unless tons of topsoil is trucked in?

  15. Wow, thanks for this much-needed Rant! How often we get called in 2-3 years after a new home is bought, to completely renovate the compacted, dead soil and inappropriate plantings! We have been contacted for two of these “green” demonstration homes (not HGTV). Chose not to work on either one. In both cases they planned to address cost overruns by cutting their landscaping budget, and started looking for landscape designs & contractors after construction was well under-way. Topsoil stripped, trees hacked, heavy machinery brought in without regard for soil or root protection, and drainage installed without consideration for how water could be harnessed for reuse. Until Sustainable Sites guidelines are taken as seriously as LEED points (even if only as the new guilt-salving status symbol), this sort of project history will be the rule rather than the exception.

  16. After further reading on their construction site, I see that these trees were transplanted from another lot within the neighborhood. This is somewhat greener than digging them out of a forested land, because one machine probably dug them out and moved them over to this lot. They also chipped up the trees removed from the lot to use as mulch.

    Even so, I’m not seeing any indication in their daily photos that there has been irrigation since the snow fell. I’d bet that the trees don’t make it.

    This is a small two-bedroom cottage, so I wouldn’t call it a McMansion. Maybe some people will notice the smaller size and see that they don’t need 5 bedrooms and a study to survive.

  17. Georgia says:

    Very interesting observations. I wonder what you will make of the new HGTV show – The Outdoor Room.

  18. Utterly astonishing that they would transplant trees that size, regardless of where they came from. They appear to be red pines, probably from an area with much denser growth of pines–note how much bare trunk is evident before the branches start, about half or more. That’s what red pines do in a pine forest, only the upper branches stay alive due to lack of sun on lower half of the tree. Each tree develops a massive root system to compensate for the lack of sunlight that leads to the dying off of middle and base branches.

    I don’t care how much they water, these trees are now in decline. Poster or postee above is correct, the best tree to plant is the smallest and youngest tree you can abide by. Which dog would rather take home from the pound, a puppy or a five-year-old mutt named Sid?

    They TV designer planted these behemoths because of scale–tall house, they wanted big, mature trees. Too bad. Some nice, fresh 8′ B&B pines would grow a foot a year, in that full sun (a white pine will give you 14″-16″ per year) and six years from now would be absolutely glorious. Not to mention looking cute as hell from the moment they were planted.

    Six years from now, with the root loss incurred from the transplanting, the trees planted will be even more straggly, in ten years, dead. Very bizarre story, thanks for the post.

    RENEGADE GARDENER

  • Follow Garden Rant

    Follow Me on Pinterest RSS