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Landscape decisions for new homeowners

May 13, 2002|By Keith S. Mayberry

University of California-Imperial County Cooperative Extension

One of life's greatest pleasures is to purchase a brand new house. The decisions you make will determine your future landscape needs. Incorrect choices can be costly.

Unfortunately, many new homeowners fail to plan ahead and do not learn proper techniques of landscaping. For them, putting in a yard can be both frustrating and expensive.

After a few months, an unprepared new homeowner may be suffering the consequences of poor planning. The grass grows only in patches. By this time of year, the pretty green rye grass from winter has turned brown in the heat. The newly planted trees are dropping their leaves and are starting to die. Many of the shrubs don't look like they are going to make it, either.


In order to not have their friends and neighbors think they have a brown thumb, the homeowner runs down to the nursery for another batch of plants. Soon those plants start to wither and die. Where did the homeowner go wrong? Here are some tips to help plan landscaping decisions.

You need to decide what you can afford to spend on landscape.

Trees are a relatively expensive investment and you do not want to have them die or put them in the wrong location. Sod is far more expensive than growing a lawn from seed or stolons. A standard low-budget landscape without a sprinkler system could cost around $500. An elaborate, professionally designed landscape with automatic sprinkler system could cost several thousand dollars.

Are you going to design and install your landscape yourself or hire a professional?

Few homeowners have the skill and knowledge to design and install a landscape as well as the professional. However, landscape architects can cost several hundred dollars for a good plan.

Professional landscaper contractors will be expensive but are often worth the money in terms of long-term investment in the home and the potential improvement in resale value should you move.

Next decide what the planned use is for your yard. Is it to be a play area for the kids? Will you have dogs? Are you going to have a permanent garden area? A rose garden? Flower beds?

Will you have a pool or a spa? These are nice to have but expensive to install and maintain. Be sure to budget these into your plan. If you will wait a few years to install them, leave room in your temporary landscape plan.

Next determine where the "hardscape" will go. This is additional paving that did not come with the house. Many people like to have a 3-foot concrete walkway all around the house to keep water splash from the stucco or wall surfaces. Brick, pavers and asphalt are also other hardscape considerations.

Some other types of surfaces to consider are decomposed granite, gravel, pebbles or wood decking.

Fences are a big investment. Cedar or redwood is less expensive than slump stone, brick or concrete but the lifespan of wood is roughly 20 years. Wood also requires periodic maintenance.

A major investment is a sprinkler system. They are important and almost necessary if you have a large area to water. Manual watering requires a lot of attention and dedication to do it right.

Sometimes you can get a free irrigation design from the supplier where you purchase the sprinkler parts and lines. Be sure to have some good advice BEFORE you buy and install the system. A sprinkler system that does not cover well (underdesigned) will cause the homeowner a lot of grief and frustration. The lawn and shrubs will suffer and the homeowner may have to redo the whole systems eventually.

In order to make a good sprinkler design, you need to know: the water meter location and size, the static water pressure, any elevation changes from the meter, the soil type, and the type of heads to be used. Most designs are developed by making circles (equivalent to distances of sprinkler throw) on graph paper so that there will not be any dry spots.

Most homes are constructed on soil that was heavily compacted to form a solid footing for the pad of the house. Unfortunately the areas that will be planted to lawn, shrubs and trees are also heavily compacted. A heavy-duty rototiller is often required to break up the compacted soil. You can apply a 2-inch layer of organic mulch (compost, decomposed straw) over the soil, wet down the whole area, wait until the soil is moist (not wet and not dry) and run the rototiller.

Mounds, rocks and boulders should be added before the lawn/sprinkler system is installed. Mounds are difficult to keep wet and even more difficult to mow. Boulders help breakup the lawn but require more trimming around the base to keep down the grass.

Be sure if you work up the soil and move it around that you do not create a depression near any building. You want to have drainage away from a house, not toward it.

There are three basic types of lawn grasses used in the desert: common Bermuda grass, hybrid Bermuda grass and St. Augustine grass. These will be covered in the next Desert Gardener column.

There are special procedures to install trees and that is the subject of another column or you can contact us for a handout at 352-9474 or

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