Monday, April 16, 2018

So You Want to Do Some Landscaping

Posted by: Andie Wommack, Douglas County Extension

First thing’s first. Why are you doing this landscaping? Have you moved into a new house with no landscaping? Are you redoing an old landscape? Are you adding an area of landscaping? Next. What restrictions do you have when doing this landscaping? Does your HOA have requirements on the types or amounts of plants you can put in? Do you have water use restrictions, or will you have water use restrictions at some point during the season? Are there topographical or climatic restrictions? Other things to consider are the aesthetics, water consumption, and site preparation needs. There is a lot of planning that should happen before you go to your favorite garden center to purchase plants.
Speaking of plants. One of the biggest things you should think about when planning a landscape is right plant, right place. Colorado is a hard place to live for most plants, even the ones who grow natively here. Most plants that grow well on the east or west coasts will not grow well in Colorado. Rethinking what constitutes a “beautiful” landscape may be one of the hardest things for transplants moving to the area. Planting an Autumn Blaze Maple because you love the beautiful fall color will become problematic at some point in its lifetime. The alkaline soils in Colorado bind iron, making it unavailable to plants. This will cause your maple to become chlorotic. Other plants that need a lot of water to do well, like azaleas, will not thrive in our climate with the amount of water you will be able to give them.
Dryland Mesa Garden

Water in Colorado is the biggest limiting factor for plant growth and survival. We have had a couple years of very dry winters. Looking at the drought monitor for Colorado, the percentage of the state in Extreme Drought conditions has increased three percent just in the last week. ( Roughly 50% of municipal water is used for outdoor landscaping. This will mean there will be mandatory water use restrictions during the hottest months of the year, creating stress on all the plants on your property. Maintaining a lush, green lawn in Colorado can be difficult if you do not plant the right variety of grass and take care of it properly. Landscape plants that don’t have some degree of drought tolerance will also struggle. When planning your new landscape, strongly consider planting xeric plants that will tolerate drought and native plants. Natives will grow well with little to no additional water once they are established in your landscape. They have adapted to grow in our climate so they will be able to survive, for the most part, on only the precipitation that we receive. Another great resource is Plant Select, which is a program run in partnership between Colorado State University and the Denver Botanic Gardens. These plants are tested in trial gardens to determine whether or not they can grow successfully in our climate.
Photo Credit: Jim Tolstrup, Summer
A key thing to note when putting in a new landscape are the needs of the newly planted plants. If you put in a xeric garden, you will still have to water those plants. Xeric and native plants take about three years to get established after planting. If you do not provide supplemental watering during those first three years, you will lose plants. It is also important to note that you will have some plants that will not make it through the first year for a wide variety of reasons. Plan on having to replace some of your plants.

Here are a couple resources to use when choosing plants and trees.

Colorado Native Plant Society:
Low-Water Native Plants, Front Range & Foothills:

1 comment:

  1. Andie, I think you covered many important facets of home landscaping; although I feel you may have left out one very important aspect or at the very least it should be one of the first things to at least consider. Being a landscape designer I may be a bit partial, but one of the first steps is .... don't do anything until you have a plan.

    Sure, quality design work is expensive but spending $1000-$2,000 on a design usually benefits the homeowner long term and can a real bargain in hindsight. Too often I meet with a homeowner who did exactly what you've written, spent thousands of dollars and the only thing they have to show for it a couple of years later is a disaster of varying degrees.

    Over the years, I've seen very, very few homeowner installed landscapes that hit the mark. Simple reason, time is just not on their side. What do I mean by this? A homeowner has to expend a great deal of time and energy to simply create a list of suitable plants for what they are attempting to create; and even then don't fully understand the complexities of the plants on their list. They need to study up on sprinkler and drip systems. They need to understand what type of hardscapes are available and what would best suit their intended goals. They need to understand differing soil types, what type of garden are they striving for. A cottage garden will require more organic amendments than a water-wise garden using natives; as a rich soil for natives will allow them to grow tall, weak and floppy. Plus, just the process of amending soil is incredibly labor intensive endeavor. In addition, there are many other aspects which they need to be up on - such a lighting, drainage issues, human engineering just to name a few.

    Yes, landscape design should be considered first. If it is considered last -- now you have a very expensive landscape. You have the cost of everything you have spent on a myriad of materials that didn't work and you have this disaster. Now you have the cost of a quality landscape design and on top of that and the cost of quality installation. Yes, I seen it too many times where a homeowner, in an effort to save money, spent $12,000 on a landscape and had really nothing to show for it and we had to basically had to start from scratch. So he now pays me the $1,500 and the coast of the installation is $23,000 - now add in his initial cost, yes it can be the most expensive landscape in the neighborhood.

    So, back to the issue of time; an physicist hires a lawyer to draw up some legal papers, a lawyer hires and architect to design his room addition and a homeowner hires a landscape designer to design their landscape to make sure it satisfies all their wants, needs and desires. Professionals hires professionals when time does not permit them the luxury of knowledge in so many fields.

    Steve Aegerter