Plan Your Landscaping Now, Save Later

From on June 05, 2007 in Landscaping

lawn sprinklerIf you’re thinking of changing your landscaping, you’ll save a lot of money, energy, water and pure aggravation by planning the project thoroughly and designing it to give the effect you want in your own unique circumstances.

Particularly if you live in a newer development, you’re likely to find that your homeowners’ association and/or city codes have fairly strong views on the subject, so be sure you know where you stand before you’re committed to a feature that won’t get the official blessing.

John Garcia of Landscape by Design in Fremont notes, “What the new homeowner’s going to find is that the homeowners’ associations work closely with the city in developing their guidelines. They should be checking in with their HOA to find what specific guidelines are going to be used for landscape implementations in their respective yard.”

Generally, the issue that’s going to be uppermost on official minds is drainage, and the specifications vary from locale to locale. Some cities along the Bay, for example, encourage or require permeable hardscape (e.g., bricks, cobblestones or flagstones on sand, rather than concrete) so that water soaks into the ground instead of flowing into the Bay. Other cities prefer impermeable hardscape such as concrete.

In general, says Garcia, “What they usually want is pretty much a 50/50 rule—they like to see the hardscape being proportional to the softscape (i.e. the planted areas). They don’t want it to be a concrete jungle, they want it to be a mix.”

You might also look at how your city has handled water conservation issues in the past; if, for example, it makes a regular habit of forbidding residents to water lawns or maintain fish ponds in years of low rainfall, it might be wise to avoid incorporating those features in your plans (or, if you must have them, figure out your contingency plans now).

drip diagramYou’ll save a lot of water and money over the years if you pay attention to your yard’s microclimates, as well as the particular needs of existing plants, e.g. fruit trees, you want to keep. Put sun-loving plants in the sunny spots, shade-loving plants in the shady spots—and put them all on an irrigation system.

Except in the most extreme conditions, Garcia says, watering three times a week is plenty; the length of time the water’s running, and at what volume, depend on the plants. “One of the best water conservation things you can get is a drip system. The water’s going to a specific place, it’s not spraying the yard.” Customizing the drip system for different areas of your garden—from different size emitters to different watering schedules—ensures that each plant gets exactly what it needs.

fountainAn increasingly popular and water-wise option in the Bay Area, he reports, is replacing large lawn areas with courtyards (in the front yard) or patios (in the back), using concrete, bricks, or flagstones, and perhaps using a water feature such as a fountain or pond as a focal point. To soften the hard pavement edges, landscapers surround the area with a variety of plants in pots, each with its own node in the drip system.

(And don’t forget that most basic and often-overlooked water conservation tip: Don’t overwater your plants. Garden pros are fond of remarking that more plants die of overwatering than of any other cause—not only are their owners wasting water, they’re killing their plants. If one of your favorites is looking sickly, don’t get out the hose; take a cutting to your local garden center and ask the experts to diagnose the problem and suggest proper treatment.)

Consulting a local expert early in the planning stages of your landscape project ensures years of satisfaction with the result, whether you’re basking in the summer sun, hosting the neighborhood barbecue or watching the kids play on the lawn. Not to mention the satisfaction of lowering your water and energy bills.

[tags]landscaping, planning landscape, hardscape, softscape[/tags]