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Planning Your Landscape
Dated: March 2 2019
We’ve all heard the expression “April showers bring May flowers,” but a little prep work helps, too. Spring inspires many homeowners to get outside and get their hands in the dirt. A well-designed landscape also adds value to your home! Whether you’re sprucing up last year’s flower beds or planning a complete yard overhaul, experts recommend a little bit of planning before you dig in. Here are some tips that will help make your project a long-term success!
Spend time in your space and consider what activities you plan to use your yard for. During various times of day, step outside and enjoy the outdoor space you have now. Find your favorite spots to sit in the morning, afternoon, and evening. Where do the kids prefer to play? What spots most attract your pets? Really envision which activities you’d like to do in each area and make a list of wants & needs for your outdoor living. Until you spend time outside, you may not discover how much sun or wind one area experiences, and those conditions might impact your usage plans. Also consider entry and exit points for the area, and whether any machinery (like a lawnmower) will need access. Really understanding how you plan to use the space will be helpful in the planning process and will prevent oversights that might hinder the functionality of it.
Consider your time. Do you have hours to spend in your garden, and do you want to be working on it frequently, or do you want to set the automatic sprinklers and not worry about it? Some plants and landscape designs will require more maintenance than others. If you don’t have much time to spend pruning and weeding (and don’t plan to hire a gardener) steer clear of plans that call for straight-line rows of hedges or exotic plants and opt for something more natural that thrives in your native climate. Native plants may require less intervention, like more frequent watering, so that saves you money in the long run as well.
Determine your budget. According to landscape designers, homeowners spend 5-15% of their home’s value on average to design and install a whole new landscape, (this budget includes hardscape surfaces like pavers and decks). Revising what’s already there or changing out plants seasonally will cost significantly less. Consider what work you can tackle yourself, and what needs to be done by a professional. For work you’re thinking of doing yourself, do the research to ensure you’re going about it properly, especially when it’s a key structural component in your design. Retaining walls commonly fail after a few years due to installation shortcuts.
Note the weather patterns throughout the day. Draw a map, or use a copy of your last survey map and note which parts of the yard receive sunlight, at what times, and for how long. Also note which areas tend to remain moist, which spots dry out quickly, and how much wind impact there is. Knowing the sun, wind and moisture levels will not only show you which parts are better suited for certain activities,
but will also help you choose plants that will thrive in the conditions. You’ll also discover any drainage or irrigation problems that need to be addressed in your plans.
Note where underground utilities are. A survey plat map may show these, but if the survey is old or new lines have been installed, it may not be a reliable source. If you aren’t sure, contact your local providers and schedule to have those marked. You can dial 811 in many areas to schedule local utility marking, and this is a free service for most. Don’t plant trees or anything else that requires digging deep in areas with power, water, or gas lines. Take extra caution when working near these areas as well!
Consider long-term growth. When you plant new plants, most will not be at their fully-grown size. This is important for 2 main reasons. 1st, you’ll need to account for the eventual full size of the plant in your plans. And 2nd, your landscape may look a little bare and underwhelming when you first plant everything. The smaller and younger the plant is, the lower the cost in most cases. If you can be patient for a couple of years, you can stretch your money further!
Draw out your plans to scale. You don’t have to be a skilled artist, you can use symbols instead, since the scale is more important for these plans than a detailed sketch. Graphing paper can simplify this process significantly- you can use one graph square per square foot of space on your property, for example. Choose measurements that work best for you. Measure out your property lines and existing structures and draw those first (tip- copy your drawing of the land and existing structures in case you make a mistake or want to sketch a few different ideas), and then start filling in the new design.
Get recommendations for landscape contractors from friends and local professionals, check them out on websites like Better Business Bureau, and read online reviews. Quality professionals might charge a little more than others, but in the long run you’ll save money on repairs. The hard-surface elements like decks, pergolas, retaining walls, irrigation, and drainage systems will last longer when properly installed with the right tools and prep work.
Pace yourself when working and stay hydrated! Gardening is harder work than most homeowners anticipate, and time tends to get away from you when you’re busy in the dirt. Take frequent breaks to drink water, stretch, and rest your muscles. Be sure to apply sunscreen and wear hats & light long-sleeve clothing to protect your skin from sun damage. Insect repellents is a usually a good idea as well. If you suffer from allergies, be sure to take allergy medicines as directed, and have some antihistamines on hand.
Once everything is finished, enjoy your new outdoor space! Host a barbecue or relax in the shade. You’ve earned it!
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