Spring is right around the corner and it’s time to venture back outside, assess the damage caused by the harsh Chicago winter and determine what landscaping projects to tackle. From planning to execution, landscaping can be an extensive undertaking. With that in mind, we asked local landscaping professionals for tips and recommendations on how to proactively put a landscape plan in place for making the outdoor areas of your yard a true extension of your home.
It is critical to have a vision for your outdoor space and to plan accordingly. Local experts recommend that even avid do-it-yourselfers hire a professional to devise a landscape design plan. Failing to plan for future growth or planting vegetation in the wrong soil conditions can be detrimental to a landscaping project. An expert will also be able to provide a quote for the project and the cost of maintaining the landscape.
Working with a designer to develop an initial plan will also help assure that "your landscape will have the proper scale as it relates to your house," says Bob Gerts, senior project manager at King’s Landscape Design in Lemont.
There are numerous factors to consider when establishing a design plan, says Design Director Tony LoBello of Mariani Landscaping, who recommends starting with a basic site analysis. "Identify sunny areas, shady areas, where water flows, good views to emphasize, poor views to block, and whether there are any elevation changes you can take advantage of," he says.
The next step is to "think how your family will use, enjoy or benefit from each space and then design it to fit your needs," says Zach Lukes, a landscape designer at Bruss Landscaping in Wheaton. For example, "A very shady area of the property may not be ideal for lawn but could work well as a children’s play space or a sitting area for taking refuge from the hot afternoon sun."
Once you decide what elements you want to include in the overall plan you can consider style, says LoBello, who believes "the landscape design should be a reflection of the architectural style of your home, especially in the front yard or in close proximity to the house. As you get farther from the house you can loosen up the design."
After formulating a design plan, you can determine the sequence of installation and proceed at your own pace independently, or you can select a landscaping contractor to execute the plan for you all at once.
"If you install your landscape incrementally," says LoBello, "caring for and establishing the plants is a much less daunting task then trying to care for a large initial installation."
During the planning process, selecting the appropriate plants will be an important step. LoBello recommends homeowners"consider plants that will have four season attributes like fall color, flowering, fragrance, seed pods and branching habits for winter interest." Doing so will make for a pleasant aesthetic year round and, in some cases, help make maintenance more manageable.
Jake Agema, branch manager at Mariani Landscaping, recommends incorporating both bold and fine-textured plants for a more intriguing, eye-catching appearance.
Lukes advises homeowners to "choose plants that need less maintenance but provide a great bang for your buck." One of his favorites are Hydrangeas due to their versatility and because there are several varieties with different bloom times from which to choose."
Many homeowners begin with grand visions of spending weekend afternoons outside gardening, only to have the work week sneak up all too soon. Plants that demand less upkeep offer more flexibility and long term sustainability.
Mistakes to Avoid
Landscaping comes with its own set of challenges and plenty of opportunities for error but our experts have some tips for avoiding mistakes. The professionals agree it’s best to avoid taking on too much at one time. "I like to focus on one task or group of items," says Agema. For example, focus on your perennials one week, your trees and shrubs the next, then move to annuals and so on. By breaking projects into smaller, manageable chunks and cycling through on a regular basis, you can make your property appear to be expertly maintained."
Gerts of King’s Landscape Design has found under- and over-watering to be another common mistake that can lead to diseases in the summer months, wasting the time and money that was spent.
Return on Investment
A well-manicured lawn with attractive landscaping can be great for personal enjoyment while also adding value to your home when or if you choose to sell. "When selling a home, curb appeal is number one," says LoBello. "The landscape should welcome you to the home. It’s the first thing a potential buyer sees." Beyond enhancing your home’s curb appeal, LoBello believes adding a great private space to your backyard that can be used for family gatherings and parties offers the best return on investment.
Luke’s agrees. "The most common design request is to create beautiful and livable outdoor entertainment areas the homeowners can enjoy now and feel confident will add value when they sell."
It is also worth considering the value of landscaping relative to the value of your home. Gerts believes the amount of money you spend on landscaping should correspond to the size and value of your home. Generally, higher priced homes have a better chance of improving their value through landscaping upgrades.
Tips for Getting Your Yard Back in Shape This Spring
Chicago winters can wreak havoc on a yard. Even with the relatively mild weather of the past several months, there are still a number of things that need to be done to help your lawn and plants recover and get off to a healthy start in the upcoming growing season.
"Calendar-wise, March is your planning month," says Jake Agema, branch manager at Mariani Landscape, with offices in Westmont. "April is cleaning and prep work for the growing season. May, it’s time to plant. June, sharpen those pruning shears. July, enjoy the fruits of your labor and all the while maintain, maintain, maintain."
With that broad plan in mind, following are some recommended first steps to get the process going.
Remove Leaves and Debris
You’ll want a clean canvas to work from, so start with a light raking of the yard and around the base of shrubs and perennials, says Bob Gerts, senior project manager at King’s Landscape Design in Lemont.
Compost or Mulch Garden Areas
Spreading compost throughout perennial and vegetable garden beds in early spring provides plants with the necessary nutrients to grow throughout the year, says Zach Lukes, landscape designer at Bruss Landscaping in Wheaton. Similarly, mulching can help with moisture retention when the summer heat sets in and can also help combat weeds.
This is the process of using a machine to extract tufts of turf in order to make holes in the soil that will allow water, air and nutrients to enter, resulting in healthy root growth. Aerators can be rented or you can hire a professional. Gerts likes to aerate in a crisscross direction and suggests aerating at least every other year.
Apply Crabgrass Preventer and/or Fertilizer
This should be done when topsoil temperatures reach 50 to 55 degrees, typically around mid-April when the grass starts growing and flowers begin to blossom. For best results, it is important to water the fertilizer into the soil with at least an inch of water per week (including rain). Follow up with another application 30 to 45 days later.