Plan Outdoor Spaces to Meet Your Needs

A female gardener observing the yellow leaves of a flower with overall green leaves and red petals.

hink before you dig: To ensure your yard will meet your needs, determine how you'll use it before you undertake any landscaping projects.

A little planning is all it takes to ensure you’ll enjoy your yard for many years.

You’ve bought that beautiful new home and you’re all moved in. Now what?

Although many new homes come with basic landscaping, many homeowners like to customize their yards. If you are just getting started, there are lots of things to think about before you begin your landscape project.

For example, how are you going to use your yard? Will it be a play area for young children? Do you want a garden or fruit trees? Are you going to have friends over often? Do you want a swimming pool, pond or outdoor kitchen? Think about how you want to use your outdoor space and then start to get some ideas of how your yard could accommodate your long-term plans.

Websites such as Pinterest are great places to get ideas. Such websites are inspiring and offer designs that you wouldn’t have thought of yourself.

Another place to find ideas is your state’s landscape association. Many have state award programs that feature some of the finest landscape projects in the state. California’s version of such honors is the Trophy Awards, where contractors submit their best work, which is then judged by their peers. To be named a Trophy Award Winner is truly a sign of excellence. Viewing your state’s award winners allows you to see beautiful examples of projects that utilize plants and outdoor lifestyles that are popular in your area.

As you begin to put together your ideas and develop a plan, take note of the sun, weather and wind patterns around your home. If you are considering outdoor dining, you’ll want to select an area of the yard that not only has the space, but that is comfortable wind- and temperature-wise. If you are considering an awning, pergola or other shade option, think about how the wind and sun will affect the placement, use and long-term wear of any materials used. For instance, in a really sunny spot, you’ll want to use something that will stand up well to heat and long-term sun exposure. However, if you live in an area that gets plenty of snowfall, you’ll want an option that can handle the weight of all that snow.

Before you build a structure or retaining wall or lay cement for your yard, first find out what your local ordinances and regulations are to prevent headaches, fees or even the loss of what you initially constructed.

Another important thing to consider before you start your landscaping project is drainage. Water should drain away from your house. If you are laying pavers or cement, be sure to allow proper drainage to direct water away from your home and away from your neighbors’ homes. If you have a hill, you’ll want to make sure the soil is secure. While you may be tempted to handle such projects yourself, there are some things that are worth hiring a professional to handle. Doing so will give you the peace of mind knowing that you are protecting the long-term value of your home and that of your neighbors and that you are meeting local code requirements. California, for example, has regulations specifying how water is to be transported to the street, so a professional may be necessary to ensure that the landscaping meets those specifications.

For many, plant selection is the hardest part of planning a yard. A plant may look good online or in a magazine, but is it right for your yard or soil? Plants from different parts of the country have different needs, such as weather tolerance levels. For example, many areas of California are capable of growing citrus and palm trees due to the milder weather. Nurseries often have plant hardiness zones on plant labels, along with care instructions. When selecting plants, consider those within your hardiness zone, where they will be located in your yard and how large they will grow. A local landscape contractor or your local nursery will be a valuable source of information for plant selection in your area.

If you decide to hire a landscape professional to help with your yard, many state industry associations maintain a list of members who meet state requirements. Many associations, such as California, even offer a Contractors Search feature that assists the public in finding a licensed contractor in their area. To help in your search, here is a list of state landscape associations.

Regardless of whether you tackle your landscaping project yourself or hire someone to do the work, some advanced planning and preparation can help ensure that you enjoy your outdoor space for many years to come.

After graduating in 2016 from The University of Texas with a degree in English, Sanda Brown became a SEO Associate for (...more)

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