May 17, 1997

Patience, Planning Keys To Landscape Perfection

By The Spokesman-Review
 

More than nearly anything else, landscaping is about discipline.

It’s about resisting the temptation to buy ponies of petunias and flats of phlox until after the fences, retaining walls, sprinkling system, sod, top soil, specimen trees and foundation plantings are all in place. Then, you get to buy the flowering plants - if there’s any money left in the budget.

Whether you’re starting from bare dirt in a new yard or attacking just one aspect of your yard to get a corner of chaos under control, do-it-yourselfers need a plan and they need to follow it.

Where do you start? At the nursery or home center, of course - but you’re not there to buy plants yet.

“When people come in, we begin by asking where they are in the process of their yard,” says Steve Badraun, owner of Duncan’s Nursery in Coeur d’Alene. “We ask if the final grading has been done, will there be any more disturbance by the contractor and do they have topsoil down.”

If a sprinkler system is going in, this is the time to install it. In other words, get the infrastructure in.

Badraun says the irrigation system drives the landscaping, so plan the system carefully. Those planning to water their yards the old-fashioned way will not have these restrictions, offering flexibility later in placing flowerbeds.

Spend a month walking through nurseries looking at plants. “If possible, spend two or three months looking at the plants, and if possible, go in the fall so you can see the fall color of the trees and shrubs. Make lists of plants that have the textures and colors you like,” Badraun says. “Try to latch onto a person at a nursery who will spend some time with you as you are going through the process.”

After the infrastructure is in, then it’s time for lawn and specimen trees, which are often the focal points of the yard, unless there’s going to be a bigger project like a water feature. Expect to pay between $80 and $150 per tree; Badraun says look for a tree just under a 2-inch caliper (the diameter of the trunk). “The caliper drives the price and the price jumps dramatically at the 2-inch mark,” he says.

Along with specimen trees, the foundation plantings can be done. Then start focusing on the specialty areas such as flowerbeds and vegetable gardens.

While it may appear daunting, no part of the landscaping process is beyond do-it-yourselfers. Patience is required, as is hard work and planning, planning, planning, say Steve Scheller and Dennis Dillin. They moved into a new house in a subdivision just north of 37th Avenue on Oct. 1, 1991.

Now, nearly six years later, their yard is a showcase and was one of the stops on the annual Associated Garden Clubs Garden Tour last year.

“We had two dogs when we moved in, so the fence had to go up right away,” Scheller says. “Our priority was to confine the dogs and get sod down in October to avoid having the dogs in mud all winter.

The impending winter forced Scheller and Dillin to proceed before their plan was well-developed, but the infrastructure was done by the time it snowed. Now, though, they face resetting the sprinkler system.

“It was a mad dash before winter to finish the fence, build a retaining wall, put in a sprinkler system and install sod; we did it in three weekends and some evenings,” Scheller says. “We even planted some beds in November and got a couple of trees and shrubs in.”

Five months later, they were planting the first of several trees and some heirloom plants they’ve kept in the family and moved from house to house.

After they had been in the house a year, they were already moving some plants to put in more trees.

“Now, five years later, we have a lot of shade trees,” Dillin says. “We’ve taken out most of the evergreens we put in because they take too much space and they rob the yard of moisture.”

Scheller and Dillin planned on four-foot-wide flower beds when they installed the sprinkler system, but the beds have grown wider to accommodate more plants, so the sprinklers are less efficient they they would like.

“We didn’t have enough time when we moved in to design the beds, and we had to get rid of a lot of the sod we put down to make the flower beds the next spring,” Dillin says. That meant wasted expense and effort. “Every year we still design beds, but the way we put our sprinkler system in dictates our beds.”

Scheller and Dillin represent the quintessential do-it-yourselfers. Instead of fighting with a slope in the back yard, they erected keystone retaining wall. They talked to the experts at home centers and nurseries when they needed information to install sprinklers and fences.

They designed and built water fountains and container ponds. They saved money by trading with other gardeners for plants and getting starts by dividing perennials.

Even though they saved money by doing all the labor themselves, when they look at the bottom line, they see a figure close to $4,000 for their landscaping.

That’s not out of line, though, with the amount that contractors and developers recommend for landscaping. The yard is the first thing you see when you drive up to a house - the curb appeal - and a big part of the resale value. Landscaping costs typically run between 10 and 15 percent of the cost of the house - $15,000 for a $150,000 house, for example.

For a focal point, such as the water features bubbling up all over the suburbs, add anywhere from $2,500 to, well, thousands more.

Interest in waterfalls has boomed, and so has the business of Mike Semerad, owner of Alderwood Nursery on the Newport Highway. He specializes in water features, although as a landscape architect, he will do complete landscaping, from walks and driveways to primroses and petunias.

Landscape design should flow from one area of the yard to another, Semerad says. That’s an especially difficult task when you’re talking about adding a waterfall to an otherwise flat yard. Build a mound in the back yard, line it with boulders and rocks and start the water pump and it looks like you’ve built a waterpark for the kids. And, considering some of the boulders weigh in at more than 1,800 pounds, even the most avid do-it-yourselfer realize it’s time to call in the professionals.

“When we build a feature, whether it’s a waterfall or a dry steam, we design it to look natural, to look like the feature was there already and you built your house around it,” Semerad says.

There’s a lot more to building a waterfall than just creating some holes in the ground, lining them, installing a pump and sending water over the rocks. “We test water pitch, to determine the sound the water makes,” Semerad says. Can you hear the pleasant sound of water through an open bedroom window at night, for example, or is it so loud it drowns out conversation on the deck?

And the water feature needs to blend into the rest of the yard. “A lot of attention is paid to the transition between the waterfall and the other landscaping. For example, you should never encircle a waterfall completely with plants; it just wouldn’t occur that way in nature so it doesn’t look natural,” Semerad says.

Water features range from a simple rock drilled so it becomes a water fountain to the two-acre lake with the multilevel waterfall Semerad built near Hayden, Idaho. The price-tag for a water feature you can Jetski on? About $250,000.

Whether you hire a professional or decide to tackle a water feature yourself, pay attention to the rocks. Those quarried underground will look like boulders from a highway construction project plopped down in your yard, all new and bright. Rocks that will look natural will already have growths of lichen and moss and some aged sides and edges.

And, as you are writing checks for hundreds of dollars for trees and water features, as you are raking out top soil and on your hands and knees putting together sprinkling systems, try this as your mantra: Gardening is a journey, not a destination.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 5 Color photos

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Plants that aren’t rated hardy enough for this zone won’t thrive. Much of the region is Zone 5; take your plant books to the nursery when you shop and check the rating since many plants aren’t tagged for zone. That said, don’t always resist the temptation to buy a plant just because it’s rated zone 6-9; it might surprise you, especially if you plant it in a spot in the yard protected from winter winds.

Shop early in the season. Nurseries have the best selection until about mid-June. Growers dig and ship (to the nurseries) only once a year, says Steve Badraun of Duncan’s Nursery in Coeur d’Alene. “We can’t just order up a single plant like they are chocolate chip cookies. We get a high demand for plants in the spring and when they are gone, they’re gone.”

Be patient with trees; they usually take about two years to adjust to your site and really start growing the third year.

Be conscious of fall color and shape in the yard and plan for color throughout the three seasons, and for the shape of the bare branches in winter.

The south side of the house is always the most challenging because of summer heat. Even plants that require full sun won’t necessarily stand up to the south side, especially the afternoon and setting sun.

Spend a year noting which areas in the yard are always shaded, which get morning-only sun and which get late-afternoon sun and plant to these specifications. Remember that the sun rises and sets in different locations in June, for example, and in September.

With deciduous shrubs, start with small plants, even those in the four-inch pots. They grow fast and will catch up with plants that came in gallon containers in just a short while. “You can get a dozen plants for about $25 in four-inch pots and early in the season they are pretty close to the size of the plants in gallon containers (which may run $12 or $13 apiece). They may look puny for awhile, but they will come on,” says Badraun.

Evergreens grow slowly so it’s worthwhile to buy the bigger plants in the gallon containers. Smaller plants wouldn’t catch up with the bigger plants in a single growing season.

If you don’t have a completed landscape plan and you are installing a sprinkler system, consider putting lines in pathways at the edge, with heads that spray away from the path. Then, when you sod and plant flowers, you won’t overplant the sprinkler heads.

Expect to spend 10 to 15 percent of the price you paid for a new house on the landscaping.

This sidebar appeared with the story: Plants that aren’t rated hardy enough for this zone won’t thrive. Much of the region is Zone 5; take your plant books to the nursery when you shop and check the rating since many plants aren’t tagged for zone. That said, don’t always resist the temptation to buy a plant just because it’s rated zone 6-9; it might surprise you, especially if you plant it in a spot in the yard protected from winter winds.

Shop early in the season. Nurseries have the best selection until about mid-June. Growers dig and ship (to the nurseries) only once a year, says Steve Badraun of Duncan’s Nursery in Coeur d’Alene. “We can’t just order up a single plant like they are chocolate chip cookies. We get a high demand for plants in the spring and when they are gone, they’re gone.”

Be patient with trees; they usually take about two years to adjust to your site and really start growing the third year.

Be conscious of fall color and shape in the yard and plan for color throughout the three seasons, and for the shape of the bare branches in winter.

The south side of the house is always the most challenging because of summer heat. Even plants that require full sun won’t necessarily stand up to the south side, especially the afternoon and setting sun.

Spend a year noting which areas in the yard are always shaded, which get morning-only sun and which get late-afternoon sun and plant to these specifications. Remember that the sun rises and sets in different locations in June, for example, and in September.

With deciduous shrubs, start with small plants, even those in the four-inch pots. They grow fast and will catch up with plants that came in gallon containers in just a short while. “You can get a dozen plants for about $25 in four-inch pots and early in the season they are pretty close to the size of the plants in gallon containers (which may run $12 or $13 apiece). They may look puny for awhile, but they will come on,” says Badraun.

Evergreens grow slowly so it’s worthwhile to buy the bigger plants in the gallon containers. Smaller plants wouldn’t catch up with the bigger plants in a single growing season.

If you don’t have a completed landscape plan and you are installing a sprinkler system, consider putting lines in pathways at the edge, with heads that spray away from the path. Then, when you sod and plant flowers, you won’t overplant the sprinkler heads.

Expect to spend 10 to 15 percent of the price you paid for a new house on the landscaping.


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