Landscape Design Basics - What You Need To Know To Landscape Your Yard

Once you learn the basics of landscape design, you will be able to design your own backyard, place foundation plantings, and plan for gardens and activities.

Being a new homeowner can easily become an overwhelming task. Below are tips for how to landscape as well as helpful links to help you with your new home maintenance and lawn care. These tips will help you plan your landscape whether your home is new construction or new to you.

  • Keep an accordion file that contains information on your home, such as: all building and remodeling papers and receipts, warranties paperwork on all appliances including water heater, heat/air system, garage door openers as well as receipts from all home or property improvements (you may need these for taxes, and should you decide to sell the property). Don’t forget a listing of repair services you use.

If your home is a new construction, then you may have a blank canvas to work with on landscaping. Should your “new” home be an existing one, keep in mind that foundation plantings in the landscape design generally need to be replaced every 12 to 15 years to keep them fresh looking and keep from getting overgrown. Smaller perennials and ornamental grasses will vary in their lifespan anywhere from 3 years to permanent fixtures. It just depends on the plant variety. There is a good selection of plants and shrubs for shade so don't be heistant to provide color under trees or other shaded areas.

For new home (construction) landscaping, begin with your foundation plantings and lawn area. To keep year around color and texture, I recommend planting at least 50% of the foundation plantings in evergreen shrubs. Then blend in smaller flowering shrubs and bushesornamental grasses and evergreen and flowering perennials. Use plants that bloom at different times of the year to create interest in all seasons.

The main rule for planting trees near houses is to keep them at least as far away from the foundation as they will mature in height. For example, the spring flowering red bud tree generally matures around 20 feet tall, so it should be planted no closer to the house than 20 feet. One can fudge a little, but over the long term, the root system from trees can seriously damage the foundation of the home.

As a new homeowner, it is exciting to begin your plan for landscaping your property. However, whether the house is new or new to you, I highly recommend living in the house at least a full year before actually beginning any major projects. A complete year will tell you how the house and property react during the seasons, such as drainage, lighting, privacy and other potential problems as well as showing you how specific areas are being used by you and your family.

  • Keep a journal and even take seasonal pictures viewing towards and away from the house as well as along the property lines. Note how you and your family use specific areas of the property. Some areas are natural draws such as the area outside the garage typically lends itself to utility, so you may want to install a couple of lattice panels to hide trash cans or utility meters. Make rough sketches of ideas that you get for plant layouts. Collect and store pictures/articles from magazines, etc for ideas on future projects in your journal.

Hardscaping refers to fences, walks, drives, retaining walls, patios, decks or anything built outside the house. Any major hardscaping projects should be completed first so that plants going into the landscape are not damaged.

Decide on a landscape budget. Generally speaking, 10% of the home's value should be dedicated to landscaping, which includes hardscaping and plants. This is only a rule of thumb for a starting point. Should you already have existing hardscaping such as patios, decks, walkways, etc, you may only need to provide newer plants for the landscape. Of course, this percentage can go up when projects such as a swimming pool, extensive patio areas, or other high end specialty projects are desired. Before including an in ground or above ground pool in your plan, check with your insurance agent to see what changes would need to be made on your homeowners policy as damage/liability are generally not covered with many homeowner policies.

When it comes to a budget, do be realistic. Moving into a new home (new construction) that is in a development where any sign of growth was cut down and you will be starting from zero, designating a landscape budget of $500 isn’t realistic. If you just purchased the house for $160,000, then an average landscape budget would be around $16,000., However, not every $160,000 house is going to have a $16,000 landscape job. Some will have more invested while others will have less. This comes down to how you use the property as well as your preferences and priorities.

Landscape architects can be well worth their cost. Just be sure to state up front in what capacity you are hiring them. Are you looking for someone to design your landscape and take charge of the project? They can do that or would you prefer to only utilize their talent and expertise to help you design your landscape? Many will work by the hour and present you with a design, a listing of plants for you to purchase and plant yourself and, also, the sequence in which you can separate the projects to be the most effective with your time and money.

You will need to locate any underground pipes, cables, and septic field lines running through your property. Most utility companies have a dedicated phone number to call to get underground cables marked. Roots from older trees can limit nearby planting, yet removing these roots can kill the tree so be cautious when working around older trees. Will you need to amend the soil? Mixing in organic matter will create healthier soil and help the soil to percolate better.

Outdoor lighting should add to the mood you want to create in your landscape and expand your garden living into the late evening hours. If you want permanent lighting, it should be installed with the rest of your hardscaping. Other choices include outdoor lighting kits where you can bury the cables and plug the timer box into an outside outlet. Solar lights are much brighter and last longer than those of even a few years ago and there are also whimsical designs to choose from. Do you have specimen plants that you would like to use as a focal point? Use low voltage spotlights (the solar brands work quite well for limited light). Oil lights such as tiki torches are fun and if you use citronella oil, it helps to keep the seasonal insects at bay. Place lights in areas where one needs to be cautious like walkways and descending steps. Candles secured in hurricanes or pots create wonderful intimate settings especially for dining. Twinkle or other string lights give soft lighting to conversation areas. Hang them on a tree, shrub, arbor or even a fence. Be creative.

Just as one can over build for a neighborhood, one can also over landscape for a neighborhood. Keep the 10% rule of thumb in mind, yet strive to create a private world that you and your family will enjoy for years to come.

Getting started with plant ideas - check out our Curb Appeal PlantsBorder Plants and Foundation Plants. These categories of plant varieties will get you started on the basics of plants with specific purposes and from there it is only a matter of filling in open spaces or getting even more specific with sun gardensshade gardensattracting butterflies or creating a water garden.


More Reading:

Questions to Consider When Designing Your Landscape

More Tips For Landscape Design

Landscaping Ideas and Maintenance

Home Maintenance Information

Free Landscape Design Software

Free Online Gardening Courses