Planning is initial phase in landscaping

By Barbara Harrington
Senior Writer
There are similarities between building a home and landscaping – they should both start with a plan.
This plan should be drawn on paper. The Mississippi State Extension Service offers a wealth of information on many topics, including gardening and landscaping.
When it comes to home landscaping, MSU suggests developing a plan as the initial part of the process. Like the saying goes, failing to plan might be a plan for failure, because things done randomly at different times may not coordinate as well together as those that, even though they are done at different times, are part of a plan. A home’s landscape should be functional as well as beautiful. According to MSU, plant selection should be the last part of the plan.
Before that, landscapers need to understand the property’s drainage, soils and ecology; conduct a site inventory; determine use areas for development; and assess needs. The site inventory should include steep slopes and water drainage areas, soil types, existing trees and other vegetation, shady and sunny areas, wind directions, and buildings. An analysis should be made of all of these elements.
Families needs in a landscape will be different, depending on types of outdoor activities enjoyed. Decisions include how much open lawn a family wants and what space will be utilized in gardens or water features, if there are pets, what type of outdoor entertaining or recreation might be done, the level of maintenance a family is willing to commit to, whether a family wants to attract birds or butterflies, and of course, budget.
Once these elements of the plan have been determined, a general list should be made of plants that are suited to the site, or to different areas within the landscape. Plan for planting areas to complement the outdoor use areas and architectural features. These plans generally start with larger shade trees, then progresses from there to smaller trees, shrubs and flowers and ground covers. Deciduous trees should be placed on the south and west side of the home to provide shade to the home and outdoor use areas in summer, yet provide sunlight during the cooler months.
When drawing the landscape plan on paper, plants should be shown at their maximum maturity size, so the landscape will not be cluttered or look as if it were done randomly.
Planting beds should directly reflect the forms of the paving areas and outdoor use areas. If rectangular patio forms are selected, simply extend a rectangular planting bed of the appropriate size to complement. Use the design principles of rhythm, unity, balance, and focal points for planting combinations.
The form of the outdoor use areas should complement the architecture of the home and surrounding structures.
Extension agents list eight simple steps to create an easy-care yard. These are:
n Reduce the total amount of unused lawn area.
n Use quality, long-lasting landscape materials.
n Select perennial plans over annuals for landscape color.
n Avoid problem or high-maintenance plants.
n Use geotextiles, covered by mulch, or groundcovers for weed control.
n Put the right size plant in the right place, so constant pruning is not required.
n Place plants in masses, not individually.
n Keep your landscape simple.
Some “tough” plants are listed, ground covers, trees, shrubs and perennials, which should be used instead of high-maintenance ones. These include monkey grass, dwarf bamboo and sedum (groundcovers); daylily, Louisiana iris, lantana and purple coneflower (perennials); butterfly bush, forsythia, holly and spirea (shrubs); and live oak, Southern magnolia, red maple and bald cypress (trees).
To access information from the Mississippi State Extension Service, go to www.msucares.com. The site offers information on garden design, types of gardens, plants for the garden, sustainable landscapes and wildlife for the garden. It also gives information on vegetable and herb gardening, weeds and plant diseases, plus a host of other topics such as farming issues, livestock and poultry, forestry, environmental quality and leadership.

Barbara Harrington