Angie's LIST Guide to
Landscaping

Landscaping your property adds beauty, value and curb appeal. Start with a clear plan of what you hope to achieve, then decide if want to do it yourself or hire a professional.
 

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Front yard landscaping
Landscaping pros can transform the look of your home's exterior. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Grant N. of Auburn, Wash.)
 
 

Home landscaping

Your home's exterior appearance is just as important as the interior. Landscaping experts can design a plan for your yard and bring it to life.

Most people hire landscapers to increase their home's curb appeal. A home that's landscaped nicely stands out. If you ever sell your home, great curb appeal will attract potential buyers to your property.

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Still, other people enjoy working in the yard, and a nicely landscaped lawn is a matter of personal pride for them. If you choose not to handle your own lawn work, you can hire a landscaping company to complete a number of jobs, other than planting and mowing.

Other services landscapers provide:

Fertilization: This service is also a common benefit of a lawn care package. Companies suggest fertilizing your lawn a few times a year to help it grow thick, but too much or the wrong type of fertilizer can harm your grass. A professional will know that delicate balance. Landscapers calculate the cost by the square foot and the average fertilization package typically costs around $200 to $300 per year.

paver walkway
Simple paver walkways are a great way to keep your mulch where it belongs. (Photo by Eldon Lindsay)

Landscape design: If you just can't visualize what you want your yard to look like, many companies offer design services. They'll pick plants, plant flowerbeds and create the perfect layout for your lawn. This service may be free if you decide to implement the plan. If not, you'll have to pay a fee for the plans.

Aeration: Typically done in the fall and spring, aeration pulls plugs of grass, thatch and soil from your lawn. These plugs leave holes that allow the lawn to breathe better. It also allows fertilizer and water easier access to the roots. Aeration costs on a typical lawn fall in the $100 range.

Hardscaping: Need a new patio area or fire pit? Many landscapers also take on hardscaping projects, such as installing brick or stone pathways.

RELATED: 10 Questions to Ask When Hiring a Paver Patio Installation Contractor

Landscape lighting: If you're so proud of your landscaping that you want to show it off at night, many companies provide exterior lighting options. Lighting is also a great idea along the driveway and sidewalks to improve nighttime visibility.

Leaf removal: Raking leaves is a major chore in fall. Many landscaping companies will do this chore for you. Expect to pay labor, hauling and disposal fees. Generally, leaf removal costs about $350 to complete.

Planning a landscaping project

Because we don't all live in areas where it's 85 degrees and sunny year round, it's important to plan ahead when considering any landscaping projects. Planning ahead will give you ample time to do your research and make sure you're hiring the best professionals in the area. It will also help you get a clear idea of how you want your outdoor space to look and give you time to compile your wish list.

Plants in planter bed
Look around your neighborhood or in magazines for landscaping ideas. (Photo by Eldon Lindsay)

Here are some tips to consider:

Consider utilization: Think how you'll use the landscape. Will it be for outdoor entertaining? Are you trying to gain privacy or dampen noise? Hoping to boost curb appeal?

Get inspired: 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.

MORE: Photo Gallery: Outdoor Patio Ideas

Break it down: 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.

Hire or DIY: 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. You'll also want to make sure you have the appropriate tools to complete the project.

RELATED: DIY or Hire: How Much Does Lawn Mowing Cost?

Landscaping ideas

There are infinite possibilities when it comes to landscaping, so the sky's the limit. Small, affordable projects include adding mulch, planting flower beds and edging, while more advanced and expensive projects might include building a koi pond or patio, or planting multiple trees. If you have no idea what you really want, consider talking with a landscaper.

Planting flower beds: Landscapers can make flower beds into various shapes and sizes. When done correctly, their design will complement the home. Make sure to add mulch to give the beds a clean look, suppress weeds and preserve moisture.

hanging plants
Hanging plants bring landscaping off the ground. (Photo by Eldon Lindsay)

Mulch: Mulch helps soil retain moisture, limits temperature fluctuations and improves the look of your landscaping. Mulch comes in a variety of colors and grades. You can even use recycled rubber as mulch.

Hanging plants: Most landscaping is on the ground, but hangers allow you to take it up a notch. Hanging planters bring landscaping to eye level.

Trees and shrubs: There are multiple options when it comes to planting trees and shrubs, but it's crucial to pick types that will thrive in your specific climate. Talk to a landscaping professional if you need help choosing a tree or shrub.

Gardens: Want to grow your own food and save money at the grocery store? Hire a landscaper to to create a garden area, or build your own raised garden bed.

Water features: If the sound of water soothes you, consider a waterfall feature, pond or water fountain for your yard.

Patios: Patios are a great place for the family to connect, whether enjoying a cookout or just relaxing at the end of the day. Pavers are a good, durable option, and there are many varieties of pavers to choose from, depending on your style.

Landscaping for curb appeal

First impressions are important, and that goes for your home, too. Whether you’re trying to attract potential buyers and achieve the highest resale value possible or wanting to make your home stand out from the others on the block, landscaping can make or break your home's curb appeal.

Curb appeal with trees
Your home's curb appeal forms people's first impressions of it. (Photo by Eldon Lindsay)

Make sure your yard is clean and tidy. A neatly mowed, edged and debris-free landscape offers the impression of a home that’s been well cared for. Keep the front walkway clear and uncluttered, and consider landscape lighting to create a warm and welcoming entrance.

RELATED: Photo Gallery: 10 Ways to Add Curb Appeal

Because you want your house to be the focal point, it’s important to stay on top of pruning. You can't showcase your home if it can't be seen from the street. Prune overgrown trees and shrubs to frame and show off the house. Branches in contact with the house are a red flag for appraisers checking structural integrity and potential pest damage. Safety issues, such as dead wood and dangerous trees, are sure to show up on costly work orders.

On the other hand, if your front yard is devoid of plants, consider planting a tree as a focal point.

Consider color. First impressions are largely emotional. Use color to attract and focus attention on positive aspects of the landscape. A single substantial container brimming with blooming bulbs and fresh spring color creates a bigger splash than the same number of plants scattered throughout the front yard.

Maintenance is especially important with color — faded bulbs and burned out plants are off-putting. Plan to trade out and refresh container plantings with seasonal shifts.

If you’re thinking of putting your home on the market, Realtors say the online photo is the first step of curb appeal, so make sure you have a photo of your home’s exterior looking its best.

Land surveying

When building a fence, planting trees or installing outbuildings, contracting with a land surveyor before making changes to a property can prevent clashes with neighbors and city code violations.

Land surveyors place iron rods or other markers at the corners of a property to establish boundary lines. Essentially, land surveyors determine where one property ends and another begins. They can also provide other services including topographical mapping and flood elevation surveys.

While a survey is not needed for every kind of landscaping or outdoor home improvement project, any plan that includes working near a property line has the potential to create a dispute with a current or future neighbor.

Land surveying is most important before erecting permanent, expensive structures near boundaries. That includes wood fences, rock walls and other barriers that are difficult to move. Trees and shrubs can also be expensive, and planting them too near a property line could result in a neighbor forcing them to be removed.

land surveyor
Hiring a land surveyor is a good idea before starting construction on outdoor projects like building a fence or landscaping.

Storage sheds and other outbuildings are often erected near property lines, but a recent, accurate land survey is necessary to make sure buildings comply with utility easements and other building code requirements.

Even if the relationship with an adjoining neighbor is friendly, the house could later be sold to someone who insists on complete compliance with property boundaries. Other factors, such as blocking a neighbor’s view or creating unwanted shadows on his or her property, should also be considered.

Land surveying is also useful to homeowners trying to prove that a neighbor has encroached on their property. Land surveying could provide the evidence to win a civil or small-claims court case.

Hiring a land surveyor

Because of the need for a state licensing and specialized equipment, land surveying is never a do-it-yourself project. Professional land surveyors are easy to locate, however. In most parts of the country, they are known simply as surveyors, and are sometimes part of civil engineering or land use planning companies.

Finding firms that offer the service is easy, but choosing a well-regarded firm with proper state licensing, a high rating on Angie’s List and good references is essential to getting an accurate measurement of your property. A written contract is also an industry standard, so it's best to avoid surveying contractors who refuse to provide one.

RELATED: Why Land Surveys Are Crucial for Home Buyers

While surveying costs vary based on the area of the country and the size of the job, homeowners can expect to spend between $300 and $1,000 for a survey, or more.

Like hiring any professional, choosing a land surveyor involves thoroughly vetting all prospective contractors.

Some questions to ask include:

  • Do you regularly perform this type of surveying?
  • Will my lawnmower damage or interfere with the markers you place in my yard?
  • Will you be filing your report with any governmental agency, and if so, where will it be recorded?

A land surveyor should be willing to walk the property with the homeowner after the survey, pointing out where markers have been placed and answering any additional questions.

Landscape lighting

Landscape lighting
This solar-powered light creates a moonlighting effect. (Photo by Eldon Lindsay)

Well-placed lighting can bring your landscaping to life at night, and it also enhances home security. Lights along sidewalks and the driveway will allow you to see when walking at night. LED lighting and solar lighting are good options for efficiency.

There are several ways to use landscape lighting, depending on the effect you wish to create:

Downlighting: Casting light downward to increase drama and beauty.

Uplighting: Casting light upward to highlight texture, size and color.

Moonlighting: Usually globe-shaped, they cast a soft, natural light glow.

Spotlighting: Casting light to specifically focus on a garden feature, such as a flower bed or sculptural piece.

Pathlighting: A series of lights set low to define a walkway for safety and increased aesthetic appeal.

Silhouetting: Incorporating background lighting to accent structural features.

Grazing: Directional light placed at an acute angle, to emphasize texture.

Hiring a landscaper

Not all landscaping professionals do the same work. Much like doctors, many of them have an area of expertise. Here's a primer on several related professions:

What kind of expert do you need?

Landscaper: These professionals can plant new trees and shrubbery; remove, modify and replace existing plants and materials, such as mulch; establish new planting beds; install sod or seed a new lawn; and provide routine maintenance. Some landscapers offer design services, but usually they work from plans the homeowner commissioned from a landscape architect or landscape designer. Many landscapers offer irrigation and sprinkler services, but there are also individualized specialists who can install these systems.

Landscape architect: If you aren't sure what you want, or if your grand plan requires changing the lay of the land, you may need to start with a landscape architect. These professionals often work on large or custom landscaping projects. They can also work on smaller, yet complex, residential projects. Often landscape architects are involved in commercial and municipal projects as well. They often have advanced education or professional training.

Backyard landscaping
A landscape designer can provide the blueprint for a beautiful backyard. (Photo by Eldon Lindsay)

Landscape designer: Many have horticulture backgrounds or nursery experience and can design a landscape for a new home or renovate an existing area. They'll provide a blueprint for your yard, indicating the optimal placement of each plant and feature.

Certified arborist/tree service: These pros specialize in tree pruning as well as disease and pest diagnosis and treatment. Depending on their experience, they can provide suggestions for tree replacement, install lightning protection, or secure and brace trees that have broken limbs or are near collapse. Certification can be verified through the International Society of Arboriculture.

Gardener: A person with or without horticultural education, and often performs routine garden chores similar to a landscaper. They perform simple maintenance chores like dead-heading flowers and feeding and repotting plants. The more education or experience the gardener has, the better he/she will be able to help you pick the plants, flowers and vegetables that will thrive in your location.

5 tips for hiring a landscaper:

  1. Have an idea of what your ideal landscape looks like. This will help the professional understand what you're looking for; however, be open to ideas. They know what will work best for your space.
  2. Get recommendations from others. If you join Angie's List you can search for landscapers in your area and read the reviews and ratings submitted by other Angie's List members who have used those companies.
  3. Make sure the landscaper you hire meets state and local certifications and licensing requirements, if any. Use this tool to check licensing requirements in your city or state.
  4. Obtain a signed copy of any contracts and work orders.
  5. Be prepared to go on site visits. Some professionals will ask you to view examples of past work or similar landscapes to what you're requesting.

Comments

Landscaping ideas for small backyard

Hey Mari, this is Garrett with Angie's List. This article I wrote should help with some ideas for landscaping in a small backyard: www.angieslist.com/articles/landscaping-tips-small-yards.htm?CID=SocialM... Thanks!

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