The top 8 Myths About Landscaping

There are many myths in the landscaping world,  I hear them all the time from customers.  'The only time to install plants is the spring' OR 'You should only water grass at night.' While both of these myths are untrue, other myths persist. Let's take a look at the top eight landscaping myths and debunk them:

LANDSCAPING MYTHS:

 1. 'Landscaping really doesn't matter': When building a new home, often the landscaping is the last item on the 'to do' list and consequently the last item in the budget. Since the landscaping is one of the first things the neighborhood sees of your home, it is important to plan a reasonable amount towards the landscaping.  With the median home price in Greensboro for 2015 is $159,000.00, it is suggested that a minimum of 2% of the home price be budgeted towards landscaping.  For the average Greensboro home, this formula would mean budgeting  a minimum budget of $3,180.00. This amount typically could provide you with some professionally prepared beds and foundation plantings.  If your builder does not include fine grading, sod, and irrigation for your new home, a higher landscape budget should be considered. Once the landscape is installed, a homeowner can anticipate recouping  100% of the landscaping cost in their home value, according to HGTV.  You can read more this subject in the 'Top 15 Home Improvement Projects' here:
http://www.hgtv.com/design/decorating/clean-and-organize/top-15-home-updates.

2. 'You don't need a plan': A master plan is essential in developing an overall 'installation strategy' for your property. The master plan will take into consideration the goals and uses you anticipate for the property and the ways your family plans on using your new outdoor spaces.  The Landscape Architect or Designer you choose can assist you in developing and prioritizing those goals and turning them into a 'plan of attack' for implementation.  Once the plan is developed, the homeowner can phase or install the high priority elements, saving the rest to be budgeted for later. Further, the plantings for a property need to be planned carefully taking into consideration:  hardiness zone, soil conditions, sunlight, water existing on the site and many other factors. If the incorrect plant materials are installed, they can languish based on the selection and placement. Look here to find a Landscape Architect in your area:
http://www.asla.org/ISGWeb.aspx?loadURL=firfin

3. 'Anybody can do it': While there is something to be said about sweat equity and its value to the homeowner in landscaping, there is a limit to the profitability of this effort. While the homeowner should concentrate their endeavors towards such tasks as weeding or cutting out beds, it is best to leave the rest of the installation to the professionals. Proper planning, bed preparation, and installation is very important to have your landscape thrive and remain beautiful and healthy for years to come.  Furthermore, Landscape Architects, Designers, and Contractors train for many years to develop the skills needed to successfully design and install a beautiful landscape. Their expertise and skill will be translated into a beautiful and functional landscape you can enjoy for years to come.

4. 'Take Low Bid':  This practice is very commonplace, but it can cause a homeowner a lot of heartaches if you do not choose wisely. While saving some money initially may be a very attractive enticement, there are a few guidelines that should be taken into consideration when evaluating landscaping bids.  All bids may not be considered equal, check out the contractors:

  • The reputation of the company: Check out the contractor you are considering on Angie's List, the BBB and other online reviews. Do they have any outstanding judgments? Do they carry current insurance on themselves and their subcontractors? Companies that do not carry adequate insurance may appear to be lower. Are all of their workers in the country legally? (If not, there could be legal risks to the homeowner if one of these workers is injured on your property.) Ask for references, proof of insurance and whether they use E-Verify to document their workers before making your decision.
  • Look at samples of their work: Does the contractor you are considering use highly skilled workers and does it show in their work? Take a look at past projects and ask for a list of references. The old adage is true that 'you get what you pay for', so be sure to look at their work before you sign on the dotted line.
  • Check the amount of materials in the quote: Some unscrupulous contractors will cut corners on materials to make their quotes more competitive. Ask for quantities of materials be put on the quote for you to evaluate. Also check to make sure that they are all quoting the same size plant material. This can make a huge difference in the bottom line.
  • Check their change order policy: Another unscrupulous tactic in the landscaping world is the use of the change order. Some contractors may appear to be the low bid, but plan on hitting you with incessant change orders to drive the price up once the project begins. Ask about their change order policy and let them know that no change orders will be approved without your prior knowledge and signature.

5. 'You don't need Bed Preparation': This is sometimes skipped by owners and builders, to their peril! The soil in most areas requires amendments to allow the new plant material to get the nutrients they need to flourish. Make sure you spend the extra amount of money to have the proper soil amendments provided and tilled into your soil before planting. I have written a post on bed preparation, you can read it here:
http://musings-of-a-gardendiva.blogspot.com/2014/12/winter-to-do-list-how-to-properly.html

6. 'Don' t worry about plant variety, buy what is cheap.'  
Many homeowners and contractors purchase the least expensive plant material offered at your local nursery or garden center. Without a thought as to the mature size of that tree or shrub, that 'cute little bush' ends up planted too close to the house. In 4-5 years, that 'little' shrub is now 7' tall and blocking your window! Plant variety is a consideration and needs to be carefully considered and placed to ensure the proper size. These types of problems can be avoided in the planning stage by having a master plan prepared.

7. 'Cut your grass short, and then you won't have to mow as often.' 
The only thing that will happen if you follow this advice is grass burn-out. Blades of grass need to be maintained at 2-3" in height to allow enough of the leaf to keep the root system cool and retain moisture. Shorter than that can cause stress, loss of moisture and burning of the grass blade. I know it is tempting, but it is an unhealthy practice for your lawn!

8. 'Prune your shrubs severely, and then you won't have to prune as often.' 
This advice is similar to the point above on lawns, but the amount you can prune a tree or shrub depends on several factors.  The decision on pruning is dependent on the variety of the plant material and the ultimate size required to maintain the health of the plant. In most cases, it is best to prune a tree or shrub in the late winter or early spring before new growth occurs. This rule can be applied differently to some flowering shrubs, in those cases you will need to know if the shrub blooms on 'old' or 'new' wood. Trees and shrubs blooming on 'old' wood form their flower buds on last year's growth. The best time to prune these plants is immediately after blooming. Plants flowering on 'new Wood' form their buds on this year's growth. Prune these trees and shrubs in late winter or early spring.  Other pruning techniques include 'topping' or 'thinning'\ plant material. In general, I do not advise 'topping' plant material, this method is used harshly to reduce the size of some trees and shrubs.  I could include an entire blog post just on pruning , so I will plan on doing that. In the meantime,  NC State Extension Service has a great pruning guide; it contains when to prune the most popular trees and shrubs. You can take a look at it here:
http://content.ces.ncsu.edu/how-to-prune-specific-plants.pdf

Use these tips if you are anticipating an upcoming landscaping project, they can make the difference between a successful and a disastrous experience!

About the Author:

Lori Hawkins, RLA, ASLA has been a registered landscape architect and active in the landscape design/build industry for over 30 years. Her service area includes Greensboro, High Point, Oak Ridge, Winston-Salem, Chapel Hill and the Raleigh NC metro areas. For additional inspiring project pictures, design ideas, or great garden gifts, take a look at these websites:
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