Local Roots

Tricks of the landscaping trade

Working in the field as a landscape contractor for so many years has been quite an education. Many times I have been confronted with unusual situations and either been taught by others how to solve them or I have been lucky enough to have come up with some of my own solutions.A true landscape contractor is involved with not just plants but also drainage, electrical, flatwork, masonry, irrigation, lighting, painting, woodwork and good design. It is very similar to being a general contractor with the added discipline of knowing about living things.

Recently, while moving some mature queen palms we had to excavate some large holes in preparation for planting. As we got deeper into the earth, the soils became wetter and wetter and we soon discovered a leaking main line that ran by the excavations.

Usually, plastic pipe is quite an easy fix. Typically, the main water valve at the street needs to be shut off before the pipe can be repaired and the water must be drained from it so that the pipe can be dry before it is repaired. In this case, my workers used pipe primer and Christy’s Red Hot Blue PVC glue to put the pipe and new fittings back together.

The temperatures were warm and so they turned the water back on after about 45 minutes.

Boom! The pipe they had just repaired came apart at the fitting and water went everywhere filling the hole all over again. In fact, they repaired it not once but subsequently three more times with the same result!

The water pressure was so high in the mainline that any weak bond from just pushing the plastic pipe and fitting together was going to come apart, even after 24 hours of drying time. So, I applied one of my old tricks. First, we excavated and removed the convoluted piping that went every which way and made three connections, two for where the new pipe joined the old and an 90 degree elbow where the grade changed levels.

We primed the plastic pipe before coating it with glue but here is the secret, when you join two pipes or a pipe and a plastic fitting with glue you must twist the pipe and fitting back and forth as the glue hardens and binds the two together. The back and forth twisting motion will become more difficult as the glue and plastic quickly bond finally becoming permanent. This ensures a bullet-proof bond and you’re good to go.

We had no more problems with that high pressure main after that. Another great trick for fixing plastic pipe deep below grade where it is difficult to reach without having to dig for days is to create what some people like to call a bridge.

I don’t like to use the slip fix or manufactured sliding coupling that can extend and repair pipe below grade because it has an o ring that can eventually fail after time. I like to use four 90-degree elbows and create a permanent fix for the break. To do this, you cut the pipe back cleanly on both sides of the break, clean and prime the pipe below grade and then attach two new elbows on either side of the cut line.

Each elbow must be twisted back and forth as the glue sets until they don’t move and face in the same direction, either up or to the side. You then cut a piece of pipe to glue two more 90-degree elbows too, matching the distance apart of the elbows you have just installed on the original broken line.

I like to dry fit the elbows first without glue to make sure they will line up with those on the broken line. When they do, I glue them using the twisting trick and make sure they line up again as well. The final step is to connect the four elbows with two small connecting pieces of pipe that can be installed in the elbows outside of the hole. Finally, you insert the splice into the waiting elbows down below grade and use the same twisting trick to guarantee a strong bond.