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Landscaping Design Ideas

Landscaping Design Ideas

Landscaping Planning Landscaping Plans should be derived before any installations begin. These should actually be hand drawn or computer generated drawings detailing the placement of all the components of the finished landscape. This will ensure a well thought out finished product.

Landscape design professionals adhere to seven basic principals for landscape design. These are Unity, Balance, Transition, Proportion, Rhythm, Focus, and Repetition. These principals assure that your landscape has a coordinated attractive appeal, rather than a collection of plants. They can generally be applied to landscapes in any climate.

However, incorporating water smart ideas into the landscape takes it to another level of efficiency. Our principals of water smart landscape design are to:

Observe Nature's Landscape Designs

We strongly recommend visiting some state and national parks in your area and observe how plants grow there. Compare the sizes of plants growing near ravines and along side creeks to those growing on steep hill sides. Plants grow where the water flows and stops. No other climate brings this out more clearly than the deserts. Because rainfall is so sporadic, desert plants take advantage of any depressions or low points in the land where water is trapped and allowed to penetrate into the ground. A creosote bush, for example will grow several times larger near a road side ditch than it will on a mound. In the inter-mountain west, as you drive up a slope to a mountain pass, you notice several different plant communities that transition as you go up. There is generally a valley community, one or two mid-level communities, then a juniper community, and finally a pine community. These communities overlap somewhat, but are very distinct in that plants in each community has evolved to survive where it is. If you try to grow an aspen in an open desert valley in full summer sun, it's going to be high maintenance, and will probably eventually die because of the salty water. Likewise, if you tried to grow a frost sensitive succulent plant in a high elevation pine forest, it will freeze to death the first winter.

Create a Plan

Make a list of what you want included in your landscape. Decide how much space to allocate to each function. Draw it out on graphing paper in pencil, so if you make a mistake you can change it.

Use Plants that are Adapted to Your Climate

We highly recommend using native plants and/or plants adapted to your climate. Most big box retailers carry a generic set of fertilizer pumped plants grown in a greenhouse or southern California. The same plants are delivered to all their stores across the country, no matter the climate. These delicate un-adapted plants generally last2-4 weeks after planting in your yard.

Try to shop for plants at your local community college, garden clubs, botanical garden, or independent nurseries. Many of the community colleges and universities have been employed by land management department to grow native plants for wilderness restoration. Many times they make these plants available to the public at spring and fall plant sales. Typically, every state has a native plant society, with chapters in cities and towns around the state. See if there is one available in your city or state. Contact them about local plant sales.

Landscaping in the Western States

However cold or warm the local climate is in the west, it is mainly characterized by many sunny days (in many places more than 300 sunny days per year). The rain and snow quickly drain off the surface of the hilly and mountainous land. Because of the low humidity and stubby vegetation, soils to be salty and alkaline. Plants must be adapted to long dry summers, unpredictable periods of wet weather, and alkaline soils and water.

The west is an arid climate that is generally characterized being an endless weave of hills and valleys. As the seasonal moist air streams move from west to east from the Pacific Ocean, the hills and mountains determine which valleys get moisture. Here's a list of native plant societies for the southwest states, listed from east to west.

Landscaping in the Eastern States

The eastern climate is generalized by high humidity and many cloudy days. Around the Great Lakes area you can expect only one third of the days in a typical year to be sunny. You can also expect an average of four inches of rain a month. Vegetation is dense where not farmed, and the soils lean more towards clay and acid. Here is a great nursery that specializes in native plants for eastern states.

Use Rain Harvesting Techniques

In case a of heavy rain event, residential properties are usually elevated to allow the excess water to run-off as quickly as possible, The front yard is usually tapered with the low point at the curb. When designing your landscape, you want to include diversions, scenic water paths, and depressions to slow the water down and allow for infiltration. These interruptions or detours can be planted with sustainable plant species. Here are some tips for rain water harvesting:

  • Use rain gutters and rain barrels to catch relatively small amounts of water for later use.
  • Install berms, which are simply small mounds of dirt placed in water channels in the landscape.
  • Observe where weeds sprout after rain. In the desert, they usually come up where the ground stayed wet long enough for the weed seeds to germinate. You want create or use these kinds of depressions in your yard for planting.
  • Build your pathways above your planting beds so that water runs into your beds. We tend to do the opposite: we build mounds with plants higher than the walkways. This makes it difficult to retain water on the mounds, because the bulk of the rain water runs off the top.
  • Plant trees in depressions and allow curb rain water from the street to run in, fill the basin, then overflow back into the street.
  • Build a rain-garden. it’s simply a concave area in your yard, garden, hillside or any other area that will collect any runoff directed to it. Fill in with locally adapted plants that can handle the amount of rain water that deposits into the lowered area.
  • Create a vernal pool. A vernal pool is a basin that fills with water during the rainy season. As the water infiltrates of evaporates, rings of different types of wildflowers appear in stages just above the current water level.

    Vernal Pool Means Rings of Flowers
    Vernal Pool Means Rings of Flowers

    This usually coincides with the spring season transitioning from cold to warm. Plants adapted to various temperatures and moisture levels grow at different times. By the time summer arrives, the vernal pool is dry. Most natural vernal pools have been replaced by farm land. However, you can create of these in your own back yard.

  • Install swales along hillsides to slow water run-off. Swales are elongated rounded ditches that prevent high speed run-off, thereby reducing erosion. After a large rain event, the swales may fill with water, but it will sink into the ground fast. This is a great place to plant nitrogen fixing legume (bean pod producing) trees, such as acacia. This will naturally fertilize the ground around the swale. Then on the perimeter of the swale, you can plant fruit trees.
  • Use organic mulches to soak in rain water, then slowly release it to the plant roots.

Use Drip Irrigation

Use drip irrigation rather than overhead sprayers. Drippers place water directly to the roots. Overhead sprayers waste water by creating run-off, evaporation, and over-watering. Drip irrigation allows you to fine tune watering needs of the plants. Drip irrigation better supports grouping plants into zones of different water needs.

Place Low Water Use Plants on Mounds

Drought tolerant plants that don't any irrigation, such as some species of cactus can be placed on mounds. This will prevent those kinds of low water use plants from rotting from over-watering.

Place High Water Use Plants in Depressions

Plants that need supplemental water should be placed in low areas in the landscape.

Landscaping Software

Landscape software is a way to lay out your front and bacck yard visually, before you start building. There are many programs available today with many features. You can view your landscape design in 2 or 3 dimensions (2-d or 3-d). Although you can create and view the landscape design of your dreams, most software have learning curves. It may take some time to learn how to use the program before you can do anything useful with it. You can experiment with freely available software before purchasing. Google has a general purpose 3-D program, called Sketchup that is freely available from their apps site. Sketchup allows you to rotate your landscape creation in any rotation. Objects, such as trees and benches, are redily available for download. If you have never used landscaping design software before, take a few days to play around with it before beginning your design.

Sketchup Landscape Design Software by Google
Sketchup Landscape Design Software by Google

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