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Landscaping Has Come a Long Way

In recent years, landscaping has taken on a whole new meaning. People have learned that landscaping can add to the value of a home, dramatically increase living space, and contribute greatly to an improved home lifestyle.

Types of Landscapers

As a trade, landscaping has been divided into three fields – something to keep in mind when you consider hiring a firm. Lawn care companies specialize in mowing, raking, edging, seeding, and otherwise caring for the grassy areas. Landscape maintenance firms are primarily concerned with periodic maintenance of shrubs and flowerbeds. Then there are firms that handle landscape construction and planting under the direction of a landscape designer. This last group deals with everything from patios to fountains to rock gardens.

Most people have no long-term plans for their landscaping. While nearly every household does some landscaping, few achieve the results they seek. In most neighborhoods, truly appealing landscapes are few and far between.

Planning and Design

A good landscape designer can help you integrate all kinds of practical and aesthetic considerations into an overall plan that achieves the effects that are most important to you. Whether you want to attract birds, impress the neighbors, or create fanciful outdoor recreation areas for grand children, landscape designers can help you pull it together so that it really works. Designers can help you work within a budget and can help you implement the plan in stages spread over several seasons. Most homeowners who do their own landscaping end up redoing parts of it time and time again, trying to create the right look without creating a maintenance nightmare. A designer can help you develop an approach that doesn’t waste your time and money.

To get help with design, you have more options than ever. There are books and computer-based design tools with information on every aspect of landscaping. You can get great ideas from and flower and home shows as well as magazines. Most home centers and nurseries now offer free design help.

For the most comprehensive design help, use a landscape architect or someone with equivalent training. These people have studied landscaping from every angle over a long period of time and are in the best position to help you juggle thousands of variables to end up with the ideal plan for you. Even if you decide to formulate a plan on your own, have a landscape design professional review your ideas before you begin moving dirt around or buying expensive plants.

Here are answers to some common questions people ask about landscaping:

Q. Every house on my street is graded poorly. All the yards of these 35-year-old houses slope toward the foundation. Shouldn’t the builder be responsible for fixing the grading?

A. When a house is first built, the builder digs a hole and constructs the foundation. When the house is done, he fills in the hole around the foundation. The builder probably sold a home with perfectly acceptable grading, but over the years the disturbed soil settles back to its original density. As it settles, the slope starts tilting toward the house. Even patios and driveways are affected. After thirty years or so, it is often necessary to re-landscape the yard and, in many cases, replace patios and driveways.

Q. I have a grading problem that is causing a damp basement. I spoke to a landscaper who said it would cost over $5,000 to make the necessary changes. That sounds like a lot of money just to move some dirt to the foundation. What’s up?

A. It is rarely as simple as “moving some dirt”. The landscaper usually has to deal with existing plants that must be temporarily removed and replanted – a big job. Whenever you start moving old plants, there is a high risk that some will die, or that you’ll run into other complications. There is no joy in spending $5,000 to move dirt around to address a damp basement. Look at it as an opportunity to do something special with your yard. Take a step back and involve a designer to see if you could create a new landscape with real lasting value. Going all out might not cost you that much more than the $5,000.

Q. I spoke to a neighbor who has an absolutely beautiful yard. She says the whole project cost her over $25,000! No way I can afford that. Does landscaping typically cost that much?

A. One of the wonderful things about landscaping is that you can do it on whatever scale makes sense to you. The best solution is to break the job down into phases. You might do a part this summer, some more in the fall, another chunk next spring, and so on. The key is to have an overall plan so that each of these phases fits in well with the others.

Q. I once read that kitchen remodeling often makes sense because when you sell your house you’ll get back most of what you spent. Does landscaping work the same way?

A. Depending on the project, landscaping can have a dramatic impact on resale value. For projects that focus on the front yard and, especially, the area around the front door, it’s possible to increase the value of the home by even more than the cost of the project. If resale value is a priority, make sure the design professional you work with knows this do they can help you focus on features that impact resale value the most.

Q. While I would like to have a nicely landscaped yard, I’m not one of those people who want to spend my weekends raking, weeding, and watering. Nor do I have the money to hire a regular landscape maintenance service. Does it make sense for someone like me to invest in landscaping?

A. There are many techniques available to create a landscape that requires minimal maintenance. Choosing correctly sized shrubs, using native plants that don’t need watering or feeding, and selecting plants that don’t generate much debris can help you create a landscape that requires minimal maintenance.

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