I may not be a professional landscape designer, but I am a homeowner who was trying to improve our home's curb appeal and save some money in the process.
The shrubs in our front yard were original to the house and our house was built in 1969. It was time to update the look, but we didn't want to break the bank. We considered hiring someone to help us design and install our front yard landscaping, but we are do-it-yourselfers and my husband was the one that convinced me that, "we can do it!".
I have written twice about our adventures in re-landscaping the front of our home, you can read about them here: Front Yard Landscaping: We Did It Ourselves and Do-It-Yourself Front Yard Landscaping: Take 2.
We have learned many lessons along the way, some by learning the hard way through trial and error, some from books and online, and some lessons were learned by just asking an employee at the garden store. Whether you are creating a foundation, entry planting or a border, I hope our lessons learned will help you improve your curb appeal and save you a buck or two.
15 Tips to Help You Design Your Landscape and Save Money Along the Way
1.Take Before Shots
Take 'before' and 'empty' photos of the area that you want to landscape from different angles and through out the season. I like to take updated photos around the 1st of every month. It is interesting to see how plants bloom, change, grow through out the season.
Beware of the killer yews...
Without any shrubs, it already looks so much better...
2 Take Measurements of Your Space.
Measure your space and draw it out on grid paper. With the grid paper, you can draw it out to scale, which will be very helpful when placing plants. On my grid, 1 square = 1 foot.
3. Know Where the Sun Is
How much sun/shade does the area get that you will be landscaping? And where does the area face: north, south, east, west? This is very important to know, because you don't want to put a shaded plant in a hot spot or you will likely kill the plant. Some areas get morning sun and afternoon shade and vice versa. Pay attention to the area and make notes on your drawing.
4. Know Your Growing Zone
What zone do you live in? This is important to know, because certain plants thrive in certain zones. Your local garden nursery is likely to only have the plants compatible with your zone, but if you buy through a catalog or online, you will want to know this number. Here is a Plant Hardiness Zone Map or you can ask someone at your local garden center.
5. Scout out Ideas
Walk or drive around different neighborhoods for visual ideas of design and plants. We drove through an upscale neighborhood, thinking we would be 'wowed' by the landscaping, but I was disappointed with the lack of originality of the designs. It turned out that we found more ideas from an older, established neighborhood.
6. Look for Inspiration Through Books and Magazines
Head to the library for landscaping books and magazines to get ideas for plants and design.
7. Write Your Plans Down
Keep a garden/landscaping journal or notebook to keep magazine pictures and articles or to jot down ideas, notes on what you have done, what worked, what didn't work, what you like, what you don't like, etc. This will be invaluable in years to come. I do this for my food gardening as well.
8. Talk to Local Professionals
Visit multiple and local garden nurseries to look around for ideas and plant suggestions. Take your pictures, measurements, ideas and notes and if you are stumped, ask the staff for ideas. Usually the nurseries are set up in sections by sun, shade, perennial, shrubs, evergreens, etc. You should now know the type of area that you are landscaping, so be sure to go to the correct section, for example, if your spot is shaded, go to the section for shaded plants. When we were designing our front yard, we visited 3 different garden centers and I asked a lot of questions. Most of the employees were very helpful or they led me to someone who could help us. We ended up buying our plants from all three places.
9. What is Your Focal Point?
What is the focal point of your landscape? We consider the bay window the front, center and focal point of ours and were disappointed with the results of our first choice. We recently moved the original plants and planted some new ones that will hopefully work out better for us. We basically have 3 sections to our landscape: the center bay window, the left corner, and the section right in front of our front door. Yet we wanted the entire landscape to flow together, hence the need for a drawing(#1).
10. Add Interest with Color
Consider planting for continuous color. In our landscaping, the color starts with some daffodils, then the azaleas start to bloom, then the rhododendron will bloom and later in the summer the hydrangea and St. John's Wort will bloom. To create more color, I want to add annual flowers for more summer blooming.
11. Know What You're Planting
When purchasing plants, read the tags on the plants carefully. The tag should give you information about the plants sun/shade needs, water/feeding instructions, etc. After purchasing your plants, keep the tags in your journal or notebook for future reference. When your landscaping is finished, people might ask you what the name of a particular plant or shrub is and you will be able to tell them with pride, 'that is a silversword azalea'. A lot of research, work, blood, sweat and maybe a few tears...just kidding...will go into those shrubs or plants, be proud of your work and know what you planted.
12. Don't Over-crowd
Give the plants the proper space that they need. Do not crowd the plants together. This is easy to do in the beginning when the plants are small, but they WILL grow into their determined size. If a plant tag says that it will grow 4 feet tall by 4 feet wide, allow for that space. This is also where your gridded drawing will come in handy.
13. Go Native
Consider plants native to your climate and location. Your garden center can give you recommendations on these plants. We just selected 2 Mtn. Laurels for our front landscaping, a PA native and our state flower.
14. Follow the Instructions When Planting
When it comes time to plant, make sure you get instructions on how to plant your shrubs/plants/flowers. Some plants have very specific needs on how they need to be planted. Their root ball might need to be slightly above ground or maybe 2 inches below ground. It is very important for the health and longevity of your plants to plant them correctly.
What kind of soil do you have and how do you need to amend it? You also need to know how to feed and water the plants especially that first, critical year. Some plants need to be watered regularly at first and some need some space between watering. Any good garden center will have this information ready to give you when you check out and pay for your plants.
Your garden center might also offer a warranty for a plant that died, but was clearly taken care of properly. Ask your garden center for their policies.
15. Use Coupons and Buy on Sale
Don't forget to look for coupons and specials from your local garden centers. We saved $15 recently on our new shrubs from coupons that were printed in the newspaper and bonus book.
The process of designing, preparing and installing your landscape area might take you several months. That is okay, because curb appeal is important to the overall beauty of your home and it's resale potential. Landscaping can also be a costly project, but if you're up for the task you will save a lot of money by doing it yourself. It can also be an overwhelming project, so maybe you feel more comfortable hiring a landscape designer. Whether you hire someone or do it yourself, hopefully these tips will help you develop your project. By carefully planning out your area, you will most likely design a beautiful space to be very proud of.
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