Try these tips to create a happy, inviting landscape.
By Carol O’Meara
Keeping a lovely house with an immaculate interior may be where your skills lie. But if guests are dismayed by your overgrown yard, savvy décor alone may not impress them. If it’s time for a landscape face-lift, here are some tips from the pros.
Get a Plan
“Devise a landscape plan—all other things relate to it. Don’t go planting everywhere without an idea of what it will look like,” says Paul Hartman, owner of Changing Landscapes Inc. in Longmont (changinglandscapes.com). “A pro knows how plants work in a landscape.”
If you want to devise your own plan, see “Time for Winterscapes” in the winter 2010 issue archives at homeandgardenmag.com. It describes how to create a landscape plan with suggestions from a local landscape architect.
Your plan should take into consideration your garden’s conditions, including light, soil, moisture, exposure, minimum and maximum temperatures, wind, contours, microclimates and existing vegetation.
Consider how your landscape is viewed. Stand across the street and imagine how guests see your yard. Do hedges and shrubs make your house look more fortress-like than inviting? If you want a welcoming look, replace drab concrete with flagstone and washes of flowers, and define borders with deciduous shrubs and ornamental grasses.
Note the views from windows, patios and decks, and consider how to enhance attractive features and screen off unwelcome ones. Shape your yard according to how you use the space. For example, leave grassy open areas for kids to play in, and create outdoor rooms for entertaining (see “Out & About” for tips on creating an outdoor room in the summer 2010 issue archives at homeandgardenmag.com).
“Too many times I’ve seen trees or shrubs that get too big for where the homeowner put them, because they didn’t pay attention to how big they’d grow,” Hartman says. A blue spruce that’s cute when it’s little blocks windows and views when grown. A trumpet vine can swallow fences whole. Read—and believe—plant tags, which list how big the plant will get, as well as its growing requirements.
Choose plants that reflect your style. Do you lean toward more formal, informal or naturalistic gardens? Pick plants that help you express your preferred style. And don’t forget maintenance concerns. Do you want to deadhead and water on a regular basis, or would native plants that need less tending suit you better?
Be Water Wise
Always keep irrigation in mind. “We have a very different climatic experience here, a high desert with low humidity. That makes it difficult for gardens to flourish,” says Scott Deemer, owner of Outdoor Craftsmen in Erie (outdoorcraftsmen.com). “Good irrigation is key to it all, whether you want an English or a xeric garden.”
By combining good design with low-water plants, you can have any popular garden style. “We use the same materials and get beautiful perennial gardens while being water-conscious. But you need to know where to group plants and how to water them,” Deemer says. Cut-leaf maples, for example, are perfect for locations protected from direct sun. But if you put one in the middle of a sunny yard “it wouldn’t last a week.”
Choose plants for your site’s exposures, noting where you have sun or shade. Group plants with similar water requirements together, so you’re not drowning xeric plants or crisping those that require more moisture. Grow plants with higher water needs in low spots that collect moisture. Grow tough, heat-loving plants on south- or west-facing exposures.
And consider exposure during all seasons, because winter sun can be as damaging as summer rays. “There’s a dramatic change in temperature from day to night in winter,” Deemer notes. “Sun during the day gets sap moving, then nighttime temperatures freeze the cambium, leading to sunscald.” Put sensitive plants in spots where nearby buildings or fences can keep them warmer.
Gather the Groups
Planting large masses of fewer plants or smaller groupings with a variety of plants are two equally valid landscape approaches. “It’s not always about variety; many times you get great appeal by repeating groupings through front and back yards,” says Jake Krug, operations manager for 1st Green Lawns in Lafayette (1stgreenlawns.com). “You get big impact by mixing the colors, heights and textures of plants. Purple maiden grass, ribbon grass, or the 10-to-12-foot-tall pampas grass makes a statement.” Plant groupings in odd numbers, which are most pleasing in threes, fives or sevens, he says.
Plant grasses where they’ll catch low sun rays in fall, so their colors will be backlit at season’s end. To keep them standing tall in winter, Deemer wraps their bases with twine, about 1 foot up from the ground. Come spring, you’ll need to cut grasses to ground level to prepare for the new growth. Keep out weeds by using professional-grade barrier cloth.
Be Budget Conscious
Again, it all comes back to a landscape plan. “A good landscape plan is crucial,” Krug says. “It creates a map for what you do. Break out the plan step by step for your budget, and decide where you can hire a pro or do it yourself. We’re often asked to prepare soil, set up irrigation and lay sod, and then the homeowner does the plantings. Everybody’s conscious of where their money goes, but you don’t have to do everything by yourself.”
Carol O’Meara is a local gardening expert. Find her blog at gardeningafterfive.wordpress.com