Violet and crimson bursts of tulip magnolias and eastern redbud trees in early spring stirs a renewed awareness of our yards and landscapes, as new life emerges from several months of dormancy.  Naturally, many of us are beginning to plan, or have been planning, landscape projects to improve curb appeal and livability for the coming warm months. Whether you’re adding a new patio or building a custom home and commissioning a professional landscape designer, there are several planning considerations that we encourage homeowners to give extra thought to, and the earlier in the process the better.

How will landscaped space be used? The answer is intuitive at your existing home; how do you currently use your outdoors, and what improvements can be made to facilitate desired activities? But this requires diligent thought in new construction. Take the time to walk your homesite and consider how the yard will be used. Are you more partial to an unobstructed flat lawn for field play or the aesthetic of mulched and planted beds for more of a garden appeal? How much of your lot do you want to keep natural? Do you foresee any extension of your home’s entertaining space into the yard? If so, you’ll want to examine the topography of the lot early on to integrate patio and porch designs with the natural grade to create a comfortable flow into the yard.

Ongoing maintenance and irrigation requirements: Different grass species require different watering and mowing schedules, and indigenous shrubs and tree species typically require less irrigation than exotic species. When shopping for plantings and sod, inquire about the maintenance requirements of the plants your interested in. The upkeep might not be worth the aesthetic. Also, bear in mind existing tree canopy presence; if you have a lot of shade you will want to select a cool season grass and shade tolerant plantings, and vice versa if you have full sun.

Sight-lines and plant sizing: Take the time to think about the various vistas of your yard. What would you like to see from the master bedroom window, from the kitchen sink, and from the back deck looking out? When planting shrubs, hedges, or trees in the beds around the foundation, think about how future growth could obstruct the views from your windows or porches. Similarly, size your plantings for future growth, not present size. For example, when looking out across your yard you may envision a row of 10-foot junipers across the back-property line, but if you install 10-foot junipers then you will soon be pruning and stunting the tree to maintain its size. This will result in thick, stubby branches visible at the edge of the plant, and requires more maintenance.

Drainage: Water is the biggest enemy to a home, and thoughtful landscaping can serve as a critical water defense. The land should be graded and compacted to shed water away from the foundation. Tree and shrub root systems help water penetrate the earth while grasses and ground covers prevent erosion of the topsoil. When installing hardscapes like patios and sidewalks, ensure these surfaces are sloped to promote drainage, and work with the existing slope of the ground.

Finally, for custom home builds, budget realistically and appropriately. Landscaping proposals include plantings, seed and sod, mulch, labor, grading, irrigation, lighting, and other elements that add up quickly. It is paramount to think through the above considerations and speak with a landscaping professional early in the process to receive preliminary bids of what the real costs are going to be. If the landscape of your dreams is going to cost thousands more than you anticipate, it may be worth reducing the cost of the house to fit it all in the total budget.