Plan ahead for landscape projects

Plan ahead for landscape projects

It's cold outside and the last thing on your mind is landscaping, but this is the perfect season for planning ahead. Designing a beautiful yard deserves diligent thought and consideration. The aesthetics of the land — when it's done right — can be enjoyed year-round and add dollars to the sale price of your property. Here are some tips to get you started:

• Decide which parts of the property you want to landscape. You don't have to do the whole yard at once. Break it up into projects or phases. This makes the tasks more manageable and affordable.

• Think how you'll use the landscape. Will it be for outdoor entertaining? Are you trying to gain privacy or dampen noise?

• Collect landscape images that appeal to you. Try sketching a rough idea of what you have in mind. Visit garden centers and make a list of plants that interest you. Present these materials to the landscapers under consideration and listen to their advice. Sometimes designs or plants may look good but aren't well-suited to your particular property.

• Decide if you're going to do the job or hire someone. If your property has slopes, drainage issues or other kinds of potential engineering problems, hiring a landscape architect or designer may be your best option.

• Read reports about landscapers on Angie's List and cross-check them with your state's association of landscape professionals. Meet with two or three to discuss your plan and get estimates. Check references of jobs they've completed and their record at the Better Business Bureau.

• Be crystal clear about everything in the contract. Know exactly what work will be done, when the job will begin and end, how much must be paid up front, what allowances will be made for weather delays, the size of the plants that will be planted and what's covered by warranty.

Lastly, don't base your decision solely on price. "Hiring the best price will not necessarily get you the best job," says Donna Sheets, executive director of the Indiana Nursery and Landscape Association. "I cannot emphasize enough to ask for referrals and credentials. These set your professionals apart." 

Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp, freelance writer, author, speaker and photographer, is an Advanced Master Gardener and a national director of the Garden Writers Association. A self-proclaimed trial-and-error gardener, she also enjoys spending time with her dog, Penn, and cat, Cowgirl.


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