It’s time to think about landscaping

Daniel Gill, Bogren, Richard C.  |  8/28/2008 9:58:53 PM

Get it Growing For 09/19/08

By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

When it comes to home landscaping, many gardeners remain confused about how to create what they want. Efforts at landscaping can be disappointing despite spending a substantial amount of money. The important thing to remember is that developing an attractive, properly functioning landscape is best done using a process.

Although landscaping is a great way to give your home a beautiful appearance, your landscape should also create outdoor spaces that function usefully for the family. The benefits of a well-planned landscape are many – from providing shade, privacy and color to correcting drainage problems and creating outdoor living areas. Since November through February is the prime season for planting hardy trees, shrubs and ground covers in Louisiana, now is an excellent time to assess your landscape situation and begin to make plans.

Most gardeners should have no trouble dealing with small projects themselves. Planting a tree, designing a flower garden or planting beds around a deck are good do-it-yourself projects. Designing an overall landscape – including drainage, traffic patterns, use areas, outdoor living areas and major plantings – requires careful study, planning and a good sense of design. However, it is not necessarily beyond the ability of many home gardeners. After all, most of us do a decent job designing a home interior that is attractive and comfortable.

Help is also available. Books on home landscaping provide an excellent source of information. Carefully studying one or two of these books will either convince you that you can do it yourself or that you may need to consult with a professional.

When designing a landscape yourself, a step-by-step process makes success more likely. First, determine what the landscape needs to provide for you and your family. Do you want a free-flowing natural garden or something more formal? Is a play area for the kids important? Do you enjoy tinkering in your garden – trimming and planning next year’s flowerbeds – or would you prefer a lower-maintenance garden that minimizes general care?

Study your site carefully so you can match plants to the growing conditions they need. And make sure you choose plants that are the right size for their location and will thrive in your area. Your parish LSU AgCenter office has excellent pamphlets and information available to help you select appropriate plants.

Next, make some sketches and put your ideas down on paper. Try a variety of arrangements and ideas before you make your final decisions. And finally, proceed with planting and installing the landscape.

If you decide you need to seek professional help, you have several options. You can talk to horticulturists at your local nurseries or garden centers. They can answer questions you have on choosing the right plants, how big they grow and what growing conditions they prefer. Some nurseries have individuals on staff who can even help you develop a design or give you feedback on some of the ideas you have.

If you have a good idea of what you want to do but need some help refining the details, landscape architects often can be hired as a consultant for an hourly fee.

A landscape architect also could be hired to draw up a complete design for an agreed fee. You may then hire their firm to install the landscape, hire a landscape contractor to install it or install it yourself.

Landscape contractors are basically licensed to install landscapes. They can, however, also help you develop a landscape design, but only in a package deal that includes the cost of the plants and installation.

Before you hire a professional, make sure you check their credentials. Landscape contractors and landscape architects must be licensed by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry to conduct business in Louisiana. Also ask for references and to see pictures of previous jobs they have done.

You should interview several professionals before making your decision. The best way to establish a productive working relationship is to find an experienced professional that you trust and who understands what you want to accomplish.

Get a mutually acceptable written agreement, including a firm price, everything that the price includes and a work schedule with a completion date. Be specific about what you expect and when you expect it.

Remember, the landscape plan and the installation are two different parts of the process. You could pay a professional landscape architect to create the plan and then install the design yourself in sections. This will spread the cost of plant materials and construction over time and make it easier to budget. The advantage is that even if the installation is done in sections, it is guided by a comprehensive plan that creates a unified, attractive and functional landscape.

So, if you’ve been thinking about adding a shade tree, planting privacy hedge, landscaping around the patio, dressing up the front of your house or even doing extensive landscaping, the time to start planning is now. Have your decisions and plans in place for November, and you will be ready to plant during the best time of the year.

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Contact: Dan Gill at (225) 578-2222 or dgill@agcenter.lsu.edu  

Editor: Rick Bogren at (225) 578-5839 or rbogren@agcenter.lsu.edu  

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