A Homeowners Guide to Landscaping

No matter where you live, you, the homeowner, can spot a downtime for your yard. Most world climates have seasonal changes, spring, summer, autumn, and winter that last about three months and bring changes in temperature, precipitation, and/or length of daylight. These downtimes also change the use and demands of your landscape.

In middle parts of the Northern Hemisphere, warm spring days occur in March, April, and May; June, July, and August bring hot days and warm nights; and in September, October, and November, autumn days become cooler, leading to the winter cold of December, January, and February. In the Southern Hemisphere, seasons reverse and homeowners in places such as Australia and New Zealand experience summer in December, January, and February.

Equatorial and polar regions may not experience seasons or temperature changes but those living close to these areas do encounter environmental changes. In parts of the tropics, rainfall varies greatly, creating a wet season and a dry season. In areas close to the poles, day lengths vary leading to a light season and a dark season.

I believe that one of these downtimes is the best time to begin or continue the landscape planning process. At those times, the “bare bones” of a piece of property, or even one of the little gardens that most of us have accumulated, can be seen the best.

Once house and property measurements are recorded in a notebook or on a piece of graph paper for inclusion in a base plan, homeowners can begin to take stock of their own and their family’s lifestyles. Conclusions arrived at during this period of fact-finding can be recorded in a notebook, and of course modified when necessary, ready to be included in the master plan.

Launch this period of taking stock by equipping yourself with a loose-leaf notebook and then begin answering these six questions:

1) What do I like in a home landscape, and what do I detest?

2) When will the yard be used?

3) How will the yard be used?

4) Who will use the yard?

5) How much time and money can be allowed for implementing the overall plan?

6) Who will do the work?

Study garden magazines, design books, and plant catalogs. Clip pictures and ideas that appeal to you from the magazines and catalogs and copy them from the landscape and horticulture books. Start lists of items you absolutely can’t tolerate. Look carefully at yards in your own and surrounding neighborhoods. Invest in a point-and-shoot camera for spontaneous discoveries and observations. If you think a homeowner might be touchy about pictures, ask permission first. This part of taking stock can be ongoing. Just remember to include all of your observations in your notebook.


Question #2, when will the yard be used, is easier to answer. If every summer season is spent away from home than the best option is to plan a scheme for those months that looks neat and requires little maintenance. In this situation, an elaborate perennial garden is a waste of time, energy and money when a variety of slower-growing trees and shrubs would enhance the same amount of space. Be very honest and unambiguous in answering this question.

A crucial issue in question

#3: how will the property be used? Is your idea of a finished landscape one of low maintenance that embellishes the house…what Realtor’s term “curb appeal?” Or do you want a hobby or recreation area? Or is a plant paradise more to your liking?

An ongoing landscape project is certainly a possibility. Families, finances and needs all change. Just because you’ve captured ideas for 2002 and made a master plan does not mean it is engraved in stone. The plan can and should be changed as your lifestyle changes. Of importance here, however, is to again be honest and unambiguous. How your property will be used is central to space and time allocation, and any change will be the hub around which the master plan can be changed in the future.

You must plan around who will use your yard, question #4. We all know that the needs of senior citizens differ from those of growing children. However, we need to understand and plan for these differences, especially when a mixture of ages and interests will be sharing spaces. Perhaps the easiest way to prepare for an assortment of needs is to painstakingly watch in public parks and other yards how spaces are used and where the difficulty is encountered.

Parents of young children remark that they’ve purchased beautiful play equipment that the children never use. When I find out where Mom & Dad hang out, it’s usually in a plot, or working on a project on the other side of the yard. Moving the play equipment closer to what interests the adults usually results in family togetherness.

As their mobility decreases, seniors need flat, stable footing especially where levels change, and when level changes are drastic, handrails might be in order. Bird feeders, small water features, anything that brings in cheerful motion and sound, can provide a satisfying environment. And of course, a wide variety of comfortable places to sit will guarantee interaction among those who use the space you’ve designed.


Question #5 may represent the most difficult part of the process, and it demands frankness. How much time and money can be allowed for the overall plan? Perhaps the best way to answer is to divide this large question into smaller parts on a chart, table or checklist. The focus is to compare money on hand against the time available to implement the plan and put it into practice.

How much time and money do I have to budget:

+ During each season of the year;

+ During various times of each season;

+ During any particular week?

Tasks can be designated as:

+ Repetitive jobs such as lawn mowing, fertilizing, raking leaves or deadheading perennials and shrubs;

+ Hard physical jobs such as pruning trees and shrubs, edging beds and borders, or spreading mulch;

+ Dedicated tasks such as caring for a perennial border or annual flower bed;

+ Delicate tasks such as maintaining a rock garden or spring garden of native plants.

A common misconception is that once drawn up, master plans are easy to implement and maintain. So, finally, identify the jobs that must be done and who will do them. Ignoring this issue sabotages the best-made plans, soon leads to difficult and down-at-the-heel surroundings and tumbles homeowners into distress. For example, it is unrealistic for a wife to assume her husband will mow the lawn each week when he’d rather be fishing or playing golf. Then again, if a mother has three young children, she won’t have time to properly maintain an elaborate perennial bed. For success and comfort, this question must be realistically addressed.

Some of the questions blur into each other, but they create a beginning for sorting out the many parts involved in creating a realistic and livable master plan, whether it’s a simple or complex one.

If you have trees on your property landscape that have become overgrown, have died or are dying, you need to have those taken care of. Portland TT will help you out.