Why is covering landscape with plastic more damaging than not covering?

I was thinking the other day I forgot a very important topic, it has actually been lingering in my head for the past 5 or 6 years to write this. Well, tonight I will give you a clear and thorough explaination why covering landscape with plastic causes more damage than you may think.

If you know me, you know I clean A LOT of roofs, around 600 residential roofs a year on average myself with my full time helper. Every single day I pull my rig out, there are at least 2 or 3 or more roofs scheduled. Big, small, pitchy, flat, covered in piles of leaves, some are mild, some are not even moldy at all and some…. well some are so black that we try and guess the original color before I spray it. Roof cleaning is second nature to me, there is not a roof I cannot clean, I actually have roof cleaning contractors contact me from all over the globe for advise. They see me on forums, and hear about my simplistic system and technique. 10k sqft barrel tile roof, 2 hours max. Others 2 days!! I have it down to an absolute science without a doubt.

Well, back to the topic. Of those 600 roofs per year, I have maybe 1 or 2 plant issues and these issues are almost every single time unavoidable no matter what. Like for instance, French drained gutter systems on a 8 to 10 thousand sqft tile roof that all collect in 1 area at the roots of a hedgeline or in the middle of the yard of St. Augustine grass during a dry period without adequet rain. There is the home with horrible water pressure and weak neglected landscape, the shrubs that were already dead before we got there (I take photos of all of it for my records before I even mix my tanks) or one of my favorites – THE ROOF NEXT DOOR GETS CLEANED AND THOSE GUYS KILLED BOTH HOMES PLANTS. Yes, it has happened and I was able to prove and explain and win my side of the issue. Well, to say that I have not used 1 inch of plastic to cover plants since 2001 after using plastic for 3 years before with nearly zero plant damages that is the honest truth. I use plastic for a few reasons, mostly to protect coi ponds or stained wood and that is pretty much it.

Why do I not use plastic then? Prior to 2001 when safe non pressure roof cleaning was becoming the new thing and pressure washing roofs was proven to be highly damaging to all roof types. The chemical was known to burn or even kill plants and grass, so the best solution at the time was simple, buy rolls of plastic and cover everything up that should solve it, right? Well, not exactly. I was still getting plant damages, actually more plant damages than before. So, we tried using fertilizers, plant enhancers, miracle grow yada yada yada….. Still same issues, I was about to jump ship and do something else for a living, I hate complaints and confrontation. I really hated paying for and replacing all those plants and areas of grass too.

Revelation!! or my oh my gosh moment.. Sometime in 2001 right after 9/11 I was cleaning a tile roof in the Longwood Markham Woods area close to home. It was around December and the air temp was in the 60’s sunny and a light breeze. As I was finishing up, my helper and I were doing our usual rinsing off the plastic and pulling it off the landscape. One row of azeleas was the moment, as I pulled off the plastic I felt this burst of humid heat hit me in the face like opening an oven. Remember it is 60 out and for Florida, that is a cool crisp day, but under that plastic is had to be 120 to 140 degrees maybe. Then I thought, you know, I am going to come back later and look at these plants. Two days go by and I go back to that house and drive by, the whole shrub line was smoked, not a single green leaf. All the leaves were brown from top to bottom front to back. That is when it hit me, covering the landscape with plastic is the culprit. I knew in my heart it was. So the following week after that I decided to not cover anymore, I put down more water and rinsed 6 feet up the roof on roofs without gutters and plants in the direct drip line. Just like that, no more plant damages or atleast 90% of the time no damages. The company I worked for insisted I still need to cover plants, I of course didn’t listen. But! I had successfully become the only tech out of them all with no plant damage and 3 consecutive employee of the years were mine before I went off and took the jump to start my own business.

I always get asked if I cover plants, I just simply say no and I explain why. After I clean their roof and they see no damages to anything the words spreads fast and I get whole neighborhoods on lockdown.

BELOW IS A BIG NO NO!! This is the way you cook plants.

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Now, why does plastic kill plants? Simple, it cooks them and it gives the cleaning techs a false sense of security. The reason it cooks or suffocates them is because it only takes 10 to 15 minutes in the Florida sun even if it is 50 degrees outside to make the temperature under the plastic to double or even triple. Plants have to breathe too, just imagine if you were wrapped in plastic but you still could breathe and it was sunny and 50 degrees outside. You know you will start sweating within a minute or two and after 10 you will probably be close to passing out if you have not already and someone is doing chest compressions on you. Plants, they are living organisms too. Greenhouse effect on them is no good.

Over the years I have found out these tips and tricks that work. First, don’t spray hot mixes you don’t need to no matter how black the roof is. Some roof cleaning guys think that it works faster, it doesn’t. The hotter the mix the faster it dries up and cannot dwell long enough to effectively kill the mildew and it takes more to dilute. The lighter but not too light works better, too light you will be there all day cleaning 1 roof chasing brown spots and cussing like a sailor. The more water in the mix, the better the spread and it will not dry up as quickly. Stay away from surfactants as well, it sticks to the plants (as in the name surfactant) and does nothing to help clean the roof what so ever, have not used it in ages. Just algaecide and fungicide bleach and water. I use normally a stern 50/50 mix give or take, it almost always cleans up in one coat. Another tip, do not flood the roof or spray heavy, just a nice light even coat. The less chemical you put down, the easier it is to dilute it to absolute nothing. Stay away from air compressed setups and roller pumps. I prefer shurflo 12 volt pumps, 20 years and millions of square foot of roof can’t be wrong, and they are highly reliable and efficient, easy to swap and last about 24 months as long as you flush them out everyday.

Second tip, THINK!! If you just sprayed a 2500 sqft shingle roof with 25 gallons of 50% mix while your ground guy is down there rinsing drip and overspray, then you rinse the roof off until everything coming off of it goes from brown to crystal clear then you are 100% good. If you just finished rinsing and you see any yellow or brownish color coming off onto to drip edge, you did not rinse good enough. Note: most plants can withstand the chemical on the for over 30 minutes if the mix isn’t a hot one except for certain plants like azeleas, hibiscus, bougainvillea, impatiens, flowers like impatiens and most of all the one and only topiaries which I assume cannot withstand any kind of cleaner for more than a few seconds, so I keep my ground guy focused on them if they are present.

Third, make sure you have a ground guy that his or her only task while you are spraying is keeping everything rinsed off til the drip stops. AND PLEASE do not use those lame multi setting water wands that give you 8 options, they do not put out adequate water pressure. Use only brass y-valves and make it rain on the plants, get in the spray zone and soak them. If the roof is guttered then their job is a lot easier, they are just getting light overspray, that is if the spray tech knows how to edge in a roof without a banana whama 6 foot wand with a bend on the end LOL. I use a 12″ wand always have and always will, most versitile and you get better coverage with a wide fan tip opposed to a narrow fan or even worse a flood technique stream tip.

Fourth, rinse off the roof when you are done. Don’t depend on the rain unless the rain is pouring down and you are phsically there watching it.  The thing to remember is that you have to keep in mind how much chemical you used and to put down enough water to ensure that what you sprayed is diluted down to the consistancy of water. For example if you take 1 gallon of 50% and you put down 25 gallons of water then the mix is so diluted it is impossible to kill any plants.

Guttered roofs, always bag the downspouts if they are not French drained, most French drains go down deep enough that it will not effect any landscape whatsoever.

I hope this information helps you understand more why you should not and whoever you hire to clean your roof should not use plastic or tarps to cover plants. Remember this, Rookies and Newbies as well as big companies use plastic, so that is if there is plant damage they will just tell you that it is not their responsibility since they did infact cover them. I have a plant guarantee that in the event there is damage, I will personally pay or come out and replace them no questions asked. I have done that 4 or 5 times since I have been in business out of the thousands of roofs I have cleaned.

check out my website at roof cleaning, roof cleaning orlando, florida roof cleaning, orlando pressure washing, orlando pressure cleaning http://www.tropicalroofandexterior.com for more information.
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