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Landscape Design–Now is the Time to Start!

The branching structure of crape myrtles makes an impact to landscapes even in winter time.  Photo credit: Beth Bolles

The branching structure of crape myrtles makes an impact to landscapes even in winter time. Photo credit: Beth Bolles

Most people associate yard work with the spring and summer, but if you’re considering a major redesign of a home landscape, now is a great time to start.  Without the vegetation on deciduous trees, it’s easy to see the “bones” of your yard—the tree trunks and branches, sidewalks, and fences—which frame it.

One of the best ways to start with landscape design is a piece of paper and pencil.  If you’ve got a paper copy of your survey, even better—you can sketch in trees, sidewalks, and fences with an aerial view and see where the open spots lie.  Take some time to walk around your yard, considering how you use the space.  Do you have children or pets that need room to run?  A shady area for relaxing?  Full sun for a garden?  All of these uses can co-exist in a single yard, but the key to good landscape design is allowing for them to flow together in a logical, attractive way.

If you’ve never put together a comprehensive landscape design before, there are several very helpful tools online provided by horticulture experts with UF IFAS Extension.  The “pattern guide” is ideal for starting and completing small projects, such as side yards, shade areas, etc. and even suggests appropriate plants based on light conditions and region of the state.  Using this guide is a great way to start from scratch and build up to a diverse, healthy landscape.  On the other hand, if you are essentially satisfied with your yard but just need a few accent plants or another tree somewhere, a great online resource is http://floridayards.org/.  Here, you can enter a set of specific criteria based on the type of plants you’re looking for, and the site will create a customized list of suggestions to use in your landscape.

The online Florida-friendly landscaping pattern book has great ideas for redesigning your landscape.

The online Florida-friendly landscaping pattern book has great ideas for redesigning your landscape.

After deciding on additional needs for hardscape and plantings, the next step is to make room for them by removing sod or unwanted landscape plants.  Now is also the time to look at irrigation needs—if you have an existing system, make sure it still works with your new landscape design.  If it doesn’t, it’s much better to redirect water, piping, or add new sprinkler heads while you’re digging into the soil than after you’ve finished installing new vegetation.  If you aren’t using an irrigation contractor, you’ll need a solid understanding of how the system is set up before making changes.  Inexpensive kits can also be purchased to add drip or micro-irrigation to an already-installed system.

Once irrigation and hardscape are complete, you can begin with plant installation.  It makes the most sense to plant trees first, add mulch around the root zone, then put in shrubs and groundcovers based on your plan.  Many do-it-yourselfers will take their time on this step, adding new plants as time and budget allow.  This method works well and can be a fascinating way to watch your yard transform.

We have many great resources for more in-depth discussion of landscape design and irrigation work, including your local UF IFAS Extension office. Don’t hesitate to call us with questions or send photos of your new and improved yards!

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