Archive for December, 2012

Driveway Plantings for the NJ Winter

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

Driveway Plantings for the NJ Winter
The Dangers of Salt for NJ Driveway, Walkway, and Roadway Landscape Design Plantings

As winter rolls around and snow begins to fall, we are all familiar with the risks posed by freezing roads and walkways. The winter hustle begins, the shovels are out, the plows are on, and the salt begins to fill neighborhood trucks. These efforts on the part of local landscaping companies and municipalities help to keep your roads, driveways, and walkways safe for travel on foot and in the car. One issue that can easily be overlooked is the fact that salt, used to melt the winter ice, carries its own set of risks. For your NJ landscape design, the salt can potentially damage your plantings along the road, the driveway, and your walkways. Before I make some recommendations regarding plantings for the driveway and walkways, let’s take a look at the root of the problem and where we might find its solution.

First of all, salt, particularly the salt most commonly used for roads and walkways, is harmful to plants in a couple of different ways. The salt can damage soil around the plant, or it can damage the plant itself. The sodium in salt can damage soil. The sodium raises the pH, dries up or reduces the amount of water absorbed by the soil, and causes an increase in runoff and erosion. It creates a drought for the plant during winter, when many plants need all the moisture they can get. For plants, the salt can cause damage through a spray onto the surface of the plant or by being absorbed by the plant roots. Without getting into specifics, dangerously high salt levels can severely damage a plant; surface salt can also create problems by interfering with essential functions.

How can you tell if your landscaping has been damaged by salt? This is probably the most relevant question you can ask yourself. Reduction in growth, foliage discoloration, thin crowns, nutrient deficiencies, and smaller flowers can all represent some salt damage. The key to determining salt damage as the diagnosis for these symptoms requires some detective work. If the damage comes from the spray of salt, you will mostly see symptoms on the driveway or road side. If the salt damage is a result of soil damage, you may want to look into a soil test. In general, salt damage may look like drought or root problems, but plantings along the driveway, road, or walkways should raise a red flag concerning salt. You will probably notice these symptoms in early spring, or in some cases, late winter.

Now, what is the overall best solution for a salt-tolerant landscape? Do not plant in the areas exposed to salt! If you have the space, the best option is to install grass for the first 15-20’ off a street curb and 10-15’ off your driveway curb. For walkways that will be salted, set your plantings back 3-5’. During the warmer months, this space will actually be perfect for annual pockets. Unfortunately, sometimes the salt exposure is practically unavoidable. If you have a more elaborate design or a small space that is exposed to salt, then you’ll want to pick from a list of salt-tolerant plants, which I will provide in the following paragraphs.

Let’s consider some good planting ideas and options along the driveway or walkway, assuming you live in New Jersey or some area where you get freezing temperatures. (If you live in Hawaii and you are reading this blog, I admire your curiosity.) Interestingly enough, plants are most tolerant or resistant to salt in early winter, but that doesn’t mean you can afford to forget about them. In addition, new, young plants are much more prone to salt damage. There are many different plants with varying salt resistance, so I cannot name them all. I can provide a brief list for some driveway landscaping ideas though.

For the salt-tolerant driveway and walkway landscape design, consider: white spruce, birch, white ash, sweet gum, swamp white oak, northern red oak, Japanese tree lilac, fragrant sumac, rugosa rose, common juniper, mugo pine, creeping juniper, spirea, moonshine yarrow, miscanthus, other ornamental grasses, day lily, bearded iris, becky Shasta daisy, creeping phlox, stonecrop, nepeta, thyme, and vinca. That should provide enough planting options to accommodate your salt concerns, whatever your situation may be. Most of these are really the most tolerant of any salt-tolerant plants.

If, instead of avoiding the salt or utilizing salt-resistant plantings, you would like to protect your existing landscape design materials, there are a few ideas and methods for doing so. If you are concerned about the salt spray, put up something to block it from your precious plantings. On a warm day in winter, rinse off the plants to try to get rid of any residual salt. For salt that seeps into the soil, utilize raised beds to avoid salty runoff into the soil. Also, do not shovel paths and driveways onto your plants. Whenever you can, opt to use sand instead of salt, and try not to use salt late in winter when the plantings will be most vulnerable. Lastly, to protect your winter landscaping efforts, use a lot of water in early spring to help the plants come back strong out of winter. Once again, I must stress that the best way to avoid salt problems is to avoid planting in areas susceptible to salt. Keeping a safe distance from walkways, driveways, and roadways is the most full-proof option.

Turn Your Backyard Landscaping NJ into an Outdoor Living Oasis

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

The most popular outdoor living feature for luxury back yards is probably the outdoor kitchen. Everyone loves to fire up the grill and cook a nice meal for friends and family during a summer BBQ. It’s a given that the outdoor kitchen is a must-have option, but is that all you need to spice up your outdoor gatherings? Here are five outdoor living tips to liven up your backyard entertaining for spring 2013!

1. Food and Shelter

covered outdoor patio
outdoor kitchen designs nj

Protecting yourself from the elements is absolutely essential for outdoor cooking, dining, and entertaining. The trick is to provide shelter from sun, rain, and other elements. How can you create a sheltered area like this? There are numerous design options when it comes to this valuable amenity. You can build a cabana with a pavilion. You can have a deck with a dry below system that keeps rain from seeping through the cracks. (As a matter of fact, this system can be applied to an old deck if you choose to build a nice patio space beneath the structure.) Similarly, though incorporating different architecture, covered patios can be included beneath open extensions of the house.  On top of a patio or deck, you can also build a covered porch area off the back of your house. All of these outdoor structures protect you from the elements but still offer the feeling of open-air relaxation and entertainment.

2. The Fire Signal

modern outdoor fireplaces

When stranded in the wilderness, one survival technique includes lighting a fire to attract others to your location. In an exciting, decorative, and practical way, this same technique can be used to liven up your backyard landscape design. Fire features are naturally a destination, gathering place, and source of light and warmth. What types of fire features are out there? There are many different variations, but the basics include the outdoor fireplace, fire bowl, fire table, and fire pit. All of these features can fit any type of style for the back yard, from natural boulder fire pits to sleek, modern outdoor fireplaces.

3. Patios, Patterns, and Possibilities

outdoor kitchen with stamped concrete patio

How can you define separate outdoor rooms across the patio area? The patio stones and patterns play a crucial role in defining different portions of the backyard patio area. The outdoor kitchen, for example, may feature a running bond patio pattern, while the swimming pool area could be set in a 45-degree pattern. Other cases may see a bluestone outdoor kitchen patio transition to a sandstone or crab orchard pool patio. Whether it is a sharp change in stone or a slight inlay or pattern change, the hardscape can better define crucial areas for outdoor living. As far as style and designs go, the possibilities are endless.

4. Elevating Entertainment

outdoor kitchen with stamped concrete patio

If you want to add depth and interest to your outdoor living area, don’t just design a bunch of things on the same patio; this type of design can lose a lot of its potential in the bland, horizontal plane. Incorporating different elevations will better define various pieces of the landscape design. Entertaining friends and family typically involves guests splitting up into smaller groups. Well-defined outdoor rooms accommodate this natural tendency. Also, the different elevations allow for added interest and greater appreciation of the diverse landscape. To transition between elevations, beautiful hardscapes include options like waterfalls, stone veneer walls, boulder retaining walls, and water walls.

5. Lighting, Lighting, Lighting

Lighting simply makes outdoor living spaces more functional. Who wants to entertain in the back yard only during the daytime? Landscape lighting, pool lights, and outdoor kitchen lighting extend entertainment hours from dusk to dawn. The lighting will expand the space for a more welcoming and accommodating feel. It will also create greater area in a visual sense. In addition, landscape lights illuminate areas of the yard that may typically go unnoticed and unused. If the lights are on and guests are over, these parts of the landscape design will be the last piece of a beautiful puzzle.

In summary, to liven up the landscape, incorporate landscaping ideas that foster entertainment, comfort, functionality, and definition. Well-defined, comfortable, and practical outdoor living spaces will be exceptional areas for outdoor entertainment. Whether you’re hosting a big party with friends and family or entertaining a few friendly acquaintances, a complete outdoor living space will reach its exciting full potential…way more than just a lonesome outdoor kitchen.


Backyard landscaping NJ

Saltwater Swimming Pools NJ and the Benefits of Chlorinators

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012


salt water swimming pools nj

Saltwater Swimming Pools NJ and the Benefits of Chlorinators

Saltwater chlorinators offer benefits for the sanitization of swimming pools. Saltwater swimming pool systems in NJ eliminate problems of old chlorine pools.

Remember when you would walk into a hotel’s indoor swimming pool and the pungent smell of chlorine would practically knock you over as you entered the room? Remember swimming at the municipal pool when you were young until your eyes burned so much and your hair turned so green that you looked like a zombie? These issues reflect downsides of certain swimming pool chlorination methods. Other disadvantages of chlorine may include the storage of chlorine and the potential safety risks it poses. Fortunately, a popular trend in the swimming pool industry addresses these issues. Saltwater chlorinators become more and more common every year, and they address many of the concerns and problems we have with traditional chlorination of inground pools.

First, let me explain how these systems work. Salt can also be referred to, chemically speaking, as sodium chloride. When sodium chloride goes through electrolysis in a saltwater chlorinator, the chlorine is removed from sodium chloride and used to sanitize the pool water. In general terms, the chlorinator uses salt to make its own supply of chlorine. This means that you do not have to add granular chlorine, chlorine tablets, or liquid chlorine, ever. The water comes through the system and is injected with the newly-formed chlorine that is “extracted” from the salt.

What are the advantages of such a system? First of all, not adding chlorine means no storing chlorine. Chlorine can be dangerous especially if you have pets or children around. The addition of these types of chlorine can also be slightly more tedious than adding salt to the swimming pool system. Because saltwater chlorinators regulate their own production of chlorine, there is a certain amount of convenience to the process. There is also some greater assurance that you won’t end up hurting your eyes or turning your blonde hair green. If you have certain priorities with regards to the sanitization of your pool and the convenience of your pool, a saltwater chlorinator may be a great option for your swimming pool equipment.

At Cipriano, we have not installed a chlorine swimming pool since 2004! We have gone eight full years installing saltwater chlorinators for homeowners who really want to make the most out of their pool investment. Saltwater systems cost more upfront than chlorine systems, but you can make-up the cost with savings over time. Salt is cheaper than chlorine because salt does not require the production of chlorine until it’s in your actual swimming pool. In fact, the production of chlorine within the pool water itself is actually said to have increased sanitization benefits! The only thing to look out for is the maintenance of equipment that may suffer wear and tear from the salt system. You may also have to keep your pump running a bit longer, but highly efficient, variable speed pumps take the strain off of your utility bills.

If you have any further questions about the advantages and disadvantages of saltwater chlorinators, feel free to call or email us. Like I said, these systems have become the norm in our pool industry. They are also a good option to consider for any pool renovations or upgrades. If you want to jump on board with the latest pool equipment technology, we can always provide the latest information on what’s new in the world of pool designs, pool construction, and pool maintenance.

NJ Landscaping and Pool Designs for Small Backyards

Sunday, December 16th, 2012

Have you ever wondered whether you can transform your small backyard landscape into a fully functional outdoor living space? Have you spent any amount of time trying to figure out if a swimming pool could fit in your small backyard? This year, our team completed two NJ pool and landscape design projects in small backyards. The Ridgewood landscape design and Upper Saddle River pool and spa design reveal the great potential of landscape and pool designs in small yards. Let’s take a brief look at the challenges presented by these two yards and the solutions we found to overcome them.

Before we began, the small Ridgewood backyard featured a design that lacked functionality. The upper pool area was surrounded by an awkwardly shaped, outdated brick patio with a grill stuck in the corner. To get to the lower patio, there was an enormous staircase that used up a lot of usable space in the small backyard. The lower patio area was also outdated, and it was too small to really provide any comfortable outdoor living amenities.

How did we solve these various issues with the existing landscape? We replaced the large staircase with smaller steps and a natural stone veneer wall; the wall uses much less area than the staircase and created much more room for a comfortable outdoor living space. Instead of leaving the two small patios, the new design produced one larger, more functional space with a dining patio, bar, outdoor kitchen, and hot tub. These various features provide small, comfortable gathering places in the now larger outdoor living area. All of the amenities were visually integrated into the new landscape design using the upgraded natural stone materials. The natural stone veneer wall even wraps around the portable hot tub for a seamless look.

The Upper Saddle River yard faced similar problems as well as some other challenges due to the magnitude of the project. First of all, the old yard had a small, ancient patio that really didn’t meet the luxurious wishes of the homeowner. On top of that, most of the yard was cutoff by some unnecessary tree and shrub plantings. When you’re short on space, cutting the yard in half with large plantings is not usually the way to go. With a clean slate, the challenge of the small backyard was to include all the amenities the homeowner wanted while maintaining an uncluttered, comfortable setting. The new design also faced strict property setbacks.

The new landscape and pool design includes a perimeter overflow pool, spa, outdoor kitchen, fireplace, and multiple patio areas. How did we fit these features into the small backyard? We took advantage of every inch of usable space. In fact, the luxury pool design avoided side and rear yard setbacks with only half-an-inch to spare. The unique modern design used multiple patio areas, walls, and water features to give the small yard such strong appeal. The yard features four distinct areas: the kitchen, pool, living room, and spa. The clean organization matches the sleek modern style of the design. Also included in the design was glass fencing; the glass fence accommodated the homeowner’s safety concerns for his children and maintained the clean, open look of the small, modern backyard. Where the project lacks in size and grandeur, it excels with details and finishes. Natural stone, artistic stamped concrete, glass tile, water features, fire features, and fiber optic lighting add excitement and elegance to the scene.

With brilliant designs from our NJ landscape architecture team and quality workmanship from all of our staff, these two small backyards rose to the top of their class at the NJLCA awards this year. The Ridgewood, NJ landscape renovation earned an award of merit in the residential category, while the Upper Saddle River, NJ swimming pool and landscape design earned the highest award of excellence in the residential project. The award of excellence for the Upper Saddle River pool was dubbed “the big kahuna” by the emcee of the award show. This year’s two awards bring our NJLCA award total to a whopping 25 awards since 2007! Congratulations, again, to the entire Cipriano team. Keep up the good work!

Gunite Swimming Pools NJ -The Advantages of Gunite Pools NJ

Thursday, December 13th, 2012


Gunite Swimming Pools NJ -The Advantages of Gunite Pools NJ

Gunite Swimming Pools NJ – Custom pool builder shares advantages of gunite swimming pools, expert construction techniques, and the benefits of concrete pools.


What is gunite? Gunite is a specialty concrete that is pneumatically installed; in general, the term gets its name from the fact that it is “shot” from a hose like a “gun.” The product was originally used by taxidermists to fill plaster models of animals. Today, gunite is commonly known for its use in the swimming pool industry, where it is used to create custom structures on a much larger scale. From taxidermy to building repairs, gunite has a long history of structural uses and artistic applications. In the swimming pool industry, gunite is both structural AND artistic.

There are, as you know, different types of inground pools from which to choose. You can get a liner pool, a fiberglass pool, or a concrete gunite swimming pool. The different structures offer different challenges and benefits. Fiberglass pools, for example, are extremely easy to install because they come in prefabricated shapes that are put in the ground. Concrete pools do not have the luxury of prefabricated shapes, but they do have the luxury of achieving any type of structure you can imagine. With the highly customizable structure comes the challenge of building that structure.

The best way to provide insight into concrete swimming pools is to explain how gunite fits into the pool construction process. As I said earlier, gunite is a special concrete that is pneumatically applied to create inground pools. For concrete pools, the gunite is applied or “shot” at a minimum compressive strength of 4000 psi at 28 days. In the process of pool construction, gunite comes after the pool is excavated, formed, and plumbed. First, the pool is dug and formed. Then plumbing and rebar are completed. Next the pool is shot with gunite to complete the basic structure.

A couple challenges presented by concrete pool designs revolve around the gunite itself. When applied, the builder must be mindful of the gunite that bounces back off the rebar called (rebound). This rebound cannot be used in the structure and must be cleared away so as not to trap the waste material inside the pool shell. The builder must also be very mindful of the curing rate of the pool; in some cases the pool must be watered in areas in order to create a consistent cure throughout the structure. The gunite applier must keep in mind that the gunite needs to wrap tightly all around the rebar to avoid little pockets, known as shadowing. Lastly, pool designs must also address the protection of the concrete. Plasters and tile finishes provide one solution for protecting the structure from the water it holds.

Concrete pools are very appealing because they feature highly customizable pool designs. They offer a great amount of freedom in terms of style and structure. While the advantages are many, challenges present themselves and hands-on experience is required to build the luxurious structures. The gunite plays largely into the safety and durability of a well-built swimming pool. Inground pools, regardless of their beauty and luxurious features, are only as valuable as the structures themselves. The most luxurious pool designs will be a costly waste of time and money if they run into structural problems down the road. The key to avoiding such problems is to deal with a pool company that has experience building complex gunite pools.