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Landscaping for dummies?
Old 01-27-2008, 01:29 PM   #1
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Landscaping for dummies?

We are about done doing stuff to the house for the forseeable future, although we will need to repaint a few roooms. The only thing left that is really a shambles is the yard. I need to do something with the yard this year. The grass is mostly gone, and what is left is the remaining bits of grass, bare dirt, native plants that have volunteered, and moss. There is edging done in white stone that we have hated since we bought the house, and the plantings of cheesy little pine trees are not "us."

At the very least I need a new lawn seeded. That would likely be a band-aid approach, since the enormous oak trees provide us with a ton of shade and the grass really struggles. What I would really like is to hire a landscaper and start over from scratch, but I have no idea how to choose a landscaper and even a vague idea of what that would cost (3k? 5k? 10k? more?). We are talking about a quarter acre lot with a house on it and three large trees, so its not like I have a family compound to deal with. Any suggestions? I am poking around and getting some ideas, but I don't really know where to even start.
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Old 01-27-2008, 01:52 PM   #2
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Last year I had some landscaping done . I asked around for recommendations and found a guy who did it on the side. You can get recommendations from most nurseries . I wanted an easy Florida landscape that was just basic care . He plotted it out and it turned out great . I would have done slightly fewer plants but it's nice . Total price for plants ,planting ,mulch ,dirt ,etc.. $2,000. He was willing to work with ever price you wanted . Be careful I had some done a few years ago by an inexperienced guy and they all died .Also be careful some of the landscapers want to go hog wild with real expensive plants .
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Old 01-27-2008, 01:54 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by brewer12345 View Post
We are about done doing stuff to the house for the forseeable future, although we will need to repaint a few roooms. The only thing left that is really a shambles is the yard. I need to do something with the yard this year. The grass is mostly gone, and what is left is the remaining bits of grass, bare dirt, native plants that have volunteered, and moss. There is edging done in white stone that we have hated since we bought the house, and the plantings of cheesy little pine trees are not "us."

At the very least I need a new lawn seeded. That would likely be a band-aid approach, since the enormous oak trees provide us with a ton of shade and the grass really struggles. What I would really like is to hire a landscaper and start over from scratch, but I have no idea how to choose a landscaper and even a vague idea of what that would cost (3k? 5k? 10k? more?). We are talking about a quarter acre lot with a house on it and three large trees, so its not like I have a family compound to deal with. Any suggestions? I am poking around and getting some ideas, but I don't really know where to even start.
If you're in no hurry, then trawl HGTV's website for landscaping suggestions. There's a lot of info to look at but it'll help you decide on preferences.

Is there a community garden within 10-20 miles or a gardening club with master gardeners? They'll know what plants in your area look pretty yet survive with minimal water & care. Like discussion boards, they love pontificating to clueless newbies for free.

If you're starting over, think about infrastructure first-- does the ground freeze hard enough to make it worthwhile to put in sprinklers or underground drainage lines? Any place on the property that's mushy or floods during rain? Is everything graded away from the house and is the basement sealed against seepage? Any trees or plants close enough to cause foundation (root) problems or to fall on the roof or to make squirrel/raccoon highways to the attic? Any water/sewer/gas/electrical conduits that might be suffering from tree roots chewing into them? Any septic systems or wells that need pumping or primping before the landscaping goes in? Do you want to put in any patios or decks or retaining walls or sidewalks or paths or privacy walls/fences or pergolas or gazebos or awnings or underground wiring/lighting or storage sheds or bomb shelters? Is there any project around the house that needs construction equipment which might have to destroy your yard while driving through it? Any playground equipment or tree houses to put in before the rest of the yard?

If you want to keep the trees, now would be a good time to have them assessed & pruned-- especially if they're going to want to drive trucks on the property to do it. If they're near electric lines then the utility company might coordinate with you.

If your lawn is really shady, what about laying down heavy-duty landscaping cloth and covering it with huge mulch beds? You could add little gardens or flower patches or even raised beds for accents or projects. Deer & rabbits might be an issue with the growing stuff, but the mulch will look good without having to mow or weed. Mulch around here is free from the city's green waste disposal.

If you haven't seen it lately, take a look at artificial grass. Seriously. The stuff ain't Astroturf and it's far more durable yet lifelike than you'd expect. You can lay out places that are safe for play (or for putting greens) without having to deal with pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides, or any other maintenance. It's not because you're lazy, it's for the kids' safety.

If you do decide to plant the yard then the ground prep is worth the trouble & expense (more of that master gardener advice). I've watched This Old House crews start by rototilling the entire yard to break up the clay, getting rid of some of the surface tree roots, and adding all the soil amendments to give it a fresh start. Usually it rains for three days in the middle of the rototilling...
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Old 01-27-2008, 03:02 PM   #4
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What kind of oaks? Odds are there is a lot of roots on the surface that the oaks are not going to appreciate having disturbed. And you can end up suffocating the roots if you just dump dirt on top. Can you post a picture? How is the drainage? How is your soil?

If you want to keep the oaks, be sure you get someone who knows how to not hurt the trees when you are planting. Some landscapers seem to just want to start fresh and heck with the nice old trees.
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Old 01-27-2008, 03:09 PM   #5
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Brew, you've got kids, right? Do you have pets too?

We focused more on hardscaping. Play areas, patios, paths, decks, etc. Decide what you want and then hire some cheap labor to do the heavy lifting. Leave planting as a final "finishing" touch.
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Old 01-27-2008, 03:37 PM   #6
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Soil has a lot of heavy clay and I suspect it is somewhat compacted, which is one reason the grass has issues. No clue what kind of oaks, but big ass roots are all over the place. Between the oaks and the enormous sycamore, the driveway looks like an aerial photo of Hawaiian lava flows after they have cooled.

Deer aren't an issue. The 'hood is a cul-de-sac that is bordered by a lake on one side and a moderately busy road on the other. I could hunt deer with a baseball bat in the state park I hike in 8 minutes from the house, but I have never seen one in my 'hood. Bunnies overrun the area, though, so much so that I usually have to wait for themto get out of the street when I leave for work in the summer. Osprey who live in the lake mean that an outdoor koi pond is pretty much an open buffet for the local birds.

Already got a deck and a porch. The frint yard I think I will leave more-or-less as is. Just have something done with the lawn and spruce it up. The backyard is where we spend more time, so that will be the focus. Thinking about having a dog run fenced off, so I don;t have to watch my step in the entire back yard. Also want to have the only sunny spot in the back sectioned off for a garden spot. There is also a concrete patio in the back that I probably won't mess with. Thinking about a backyard firepit/fireplace. Anyone done that? Pros and cons? Bad idea?

So I don't think I will be doing much hardscaping. Mostly a new lawn or something else to keep the dirt from washing away, and then plantings of stuff that can deal with shade and doesn't require much maintenance. I really don'twant a sprinkler system, and I would love to get rid of the grass, but I don't know that it is feasible, Its too wet here for Xeriscaping, so grass replacement will probably be limited to beds of hastas and similar.

Still no idea about budget, but I suppose I could call a landscaper and get numbers. Think I really need to look at pictures of yards to get more ideas.
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Old 01-27-2008, 03:53 PM   #7
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If you are so inclined, Atlantic City Convention Center hosts a NJ Hardscaping Show Feb 20-22 and NJ Home & Garden Show Feb 22-24 which I enjoy trolling for ideas and expert advice. I suggest leaving the checkbook home. The Hardscape show is more contractor oriented. Never been to that particular Home & Garden Show, but the ones down my way (DC/MD) are homeowner oriented and probably still have all the landscape/hardscape vendors.

We have a large 'discount' Nursery chain down my way that will come to your home and give a professional 'free' landscape design plan. Two neighbors told me it was so well done they were happy to spend a some bucks to buy a few of the recomended plantings with the idea of adding more each year (purchased elsewhere).

I'm getting revved up to get out in the yard!
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Old 01-27-2008, 08:21 PM   #8
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i'd scope out local botanical gardens in your area. that's how i got a lot of the ideas for my gardens. think of landscaping in the same fashion as you would the design of interior spaces of a house. what function might take place in what space, maybe seating over there, a place to play frisbee with the dog over there. a safe place for the kid to play over there.

pay attention not just to what areas get shade but how the sun moves during the day. plant to take your best advantage of the sun. leaves and flowers will turn in that direction and you don't want to wind up looking at the backs of your plants. as you locate plants, look out the windows of your house and see what views you are creating. how does it look when you approach the area from the backdoor, from the side of the house. it should make sense from as many directions as possible.

keep in mind scale & proportion. use color to accent areas and break up the green. use lighter greens to brighten very shady spots. don't just look at plant color but look also at texture. some plants are very rough looking and some are fine. use that for contrast.

don't hesitate to contact your local ag ext service for master gardeners as nords suggests Rutgers NJAES: Cooperative Extension County Offices

for every $10 plant dig a $20 hole.

and for heaven's sakes, do not plant a thing without first getting one of your gay friends to help you plan your garden.

ps, no dog run. just train your dog. mine was trained as a puppy to only go in his bathroom area of the garden. and while baby sitting my brother's dog a few weeks ago i had that dog trained within his first few days here. just be consistant in your training and it is easy.
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Old 01-27-2008, 09:11 PM   #9
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I second LG4NB to contact your Cooperative Extension Service. Ask them to recommend a master gardener or a landscape architect to draw up a plan at least. Underscore your concern for the trees if you wish to keep them. The Extension Service should be able to give some idea of cost.
We have trouble here with nurseries selling plants that do not survive in our zone, and some invasive species too, so I'd try them last. Nursery motivations may be different than yours.
The plan is important, sexual orientation of the planner not so much IMHO. Some of my best friends are gay, yet have jumbled yards!
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Old 01-27-2008, 09:51 PM   #10
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You might check out the book you reference inyour thread title-yes, it is a book. I have it, it is good.
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Old 01-27-2008, 10:05 PM   #11
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We had a similar situation in our last home -- very big tulip poplars, dead grass, rampant bamboo.

We went to a local (very upscale) nursery for advice. They came to the house for $50, spent a couple of hours walking around with us. They ultimately gave us a nice sketch of the yard, with suggestions about which plantings to put where, depending on shade/use.

It worked out great. I spent hte next couple of seasons following my little "landscape by numbers" plan....bought and installed the plants myself....few years later, our garden was transformed from wasteland to lush escape....and for a fraction of the price paying someone else to install for us. It took a *lot* of work though, so you have to enjoy the whole process, as well as have quite a bit of time.

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Old 01-27-2008, 10:47 PM   #12
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Bah. Just grass is simple. Figure out a low-light grass that works for your area/soil, fertilize, water the crap out of it for 2 weeks, and you're done. Do it in chunks, if the kids still need a place to play. Go whole hog and have some sod delivered. Coupla hundred bucks.

It doesn't have to be rocket science.

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Old 01-27-2008, 11:01 PM   #13
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Grass can be one of the hardest things to keep alive, in the wrong spot. A nice patch of flowering azaleas or some such are tough, resistant and care-free plants.

Grass needs constant tending in certain parts of the northeast (hot dry summers). Definitely needs a sprinkler system unless you want to stand out there with a hose every week for an hour. Also not very eco-friendly these days, if you care about such things. too much fertilizer in the run-off, and water down the drain.

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Old 01-27-2008, 11:04 PM   #14
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I would have someone look at your yard because of the oaks and clay. Planting under the oaks has the problem of both shady and dry. Hostas do ok in dry and can be planted amongst the roots. Vinca and pachysandra are other options and don't get so overrun by slugs as hostas. Stella de Oro day lilies are good in dry and if not too too shady you might get some blooms. Tulips do fine in the dry but they don't much like clay.

You might get away with aerating the soil where you want grass and top dressing with compost every years for the foreseeable future unless you really want to do something drastic about the clay. I am concerned about disturbing the oak roots and tilling around too much in clay can make it worse. In your part of the country you might want to add some lime as well.

I suggest raised beds where you want to garden. Good luck with the bunnies though. If you want to fence them out, dig down six inches or a foot and put in chicken wire or other bunny impermeable fencing.
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Old 01-28-2008, 08:52 AM   #15
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Brewer

The back yard was one of the first things we tackled in our new house last year. We also weren't keen on spending the $7-10K it costs around here to get the whole deal done in one shot.

We broke ours up into tasks we could do ourselves and those that we needed hired help. We did a perimeter of bushes along the fence which the wife and I were able to do in a few hours. We were also able to grow grass ourselves, but we did require some grading which unless you have heavy equipment you probably don't want to do yourself.

As for hiring people, I found a method that works well for me. The previous owners of our house thought that a giant area of white rocks looked great right in the middle of the yard, it looked terrible. We had quotes for upwards of $1k to remove them. Instead, I came home early one night and with $200 in my hand waved down a lawn truck leaving my neighbors house. 3 hours later, problem solved.
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Old 01-28-2008, 10:07 AM   #16
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Thanks for all the tips. I think the next ste p will be contacting the Rutgers extension service. I am a compulsive planner, so all of this will be extensively planned out before the first thing gets done. As for the bunnies, they are really only an issue for the front yard, where I have never seen evidence of bunny damage to my plants. If they get into the back through the fence, my two rabbit hounds will make it very clear that bunnies shouldn't enter an enclosed space with two predators and no real handy exits.
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Old 01-28-2008, 10:18 AM   #17
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I live in north Florida. I looked online for a local native nursery. I went to the place and talked with a few people who worked there on multiple occasions. I grabbed some graph paper and plotted out what we were going to do, brought back to them and showed them the shady and sunny parts of the house and what I planned to do. They had great suggestions for changes and additional information. That was a year ago.

My plants are all still living and the only thing I have had to do is weed a little bit (not that much surprisingly) and re-mulch once.

My philosophy was simple. If it needed constant pesticides or me covering it with a sheet on those rare nights when it freezes, it wasn't coming home with me. Native plants to my area fit the bill. They also attract a lot of butterflies and birds, so it's nice in that regard, too.

Anyway, my suggestion would definitely be to at the very least go talk with a native nursery in your area.
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Old 01-28-2008, 11:18 AM   #18
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I would go with lots of beds and mulch in the front yard with a minimum of grass. May not flow well with the rest of the neighborhood but if it does, will cut down on mowing. Plus looks good in my opinion.

You might be surprised to know that places like Home Depot has educated and experienced people in the garden department. A former work buddy's son has a degree in horticulture/landscaping and he is the manager of a HD garden center. He gives his customers good tips and will do a little landscaping on the side. This may not be common practice with all HD's stores but wouldn't hurt to ask.
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Old 01-28-2008, 11:51 AM   #19
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Brewer ,

If you don't have a lot of plant knowledge make sure they leave you with detailed instructions on the care .
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Old 01-28-2008, 11:55 AM   #20
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Brewer ,

If you don't have a lot of plant knowledge make sure they leave you with detailed instructions on the care .
Heheh, in case you couldn't tell from my posts, I have no idea whatsoever about any of this.
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