Planning a Landscape

Planning a Landscape

Watching the snow fall outside calms the soul, but most gardeners are dreaming of Spring while they count the snowflakes falling.  Instead of daydreaming of flowers, why not start planning a new landscape?  There is no better time to plan out that new flowerbed or re-design a planting area than the middle of winter when we long for being outside.

 When planning a landscape, there are a handful of environmental factors to consider: temperature, sunlight, soil, and location. Each of these can help you decide the right plants for you and where they should best fit in your garden. 


Temperature determines what trees, shrubs, or perennial flowers will be able to survive your  winters.  USDA Zonal ranges indicate the temperature tolerance of a plant. These “zones” are determined by the average lowest temperature for an area built on a scale of one through twelve. Here in Cache Valley, UT, we experience zones all the way from zone 3 to a zone 6a. (-40℉ to -5℉ average lowest temperature). While these zones are a great guideline, they are just an average. You may find an area up against the house protected from harsh wind or next to an exhaust vent that keeps the area a few degrees warmer. These areas are called “Microclimates” that allow you to push your zonal limits. Many perennial flowers, trees, and shrubs will list a range of zones in which they comfortably grow. 


Next consider sunlight. South-facing beds will offer much more sunlight than a north or east-facing bed. Additionally, the afternoon western sun will be more harsh and hot compared to the morning eastern sun. Consider fences, buildings, and other larger plants that may limit the amount of sunlight in an area. This is important to consider when deciding on shade-loving vs. sun-loving plants or somewhere in between.  


Soil is the next factor when deciding what plants to grow. Soil is often categorized as sandy, clay, or loam. Loam is often considered “optimal” soil as it is evenly composed of silt, clay, and sand with a healthy dose of organic material. While loam may be optimal, there are plenty of plants that will thrive in other soil types. Cactus and succulents can perform excellently in sandy soils while plants like echinacea and phlox will perform well in clay heavy soils. Along with soil texture, consider the soil pH. Here in Cache Valley, our soil is highly alkaline as opposed to places like the east coast that are rather acidic. Incorrect soil pH can affect plant growth by restricting necessary nutrients that will ultimately result in poor plant performance. While pH can be adjusted, it is easier and more cost effective to grow plants accustomed to your native pH. 


The final factor to consider is your location. Have a nosy neighbor? Consider a “green fence” for added privacy. Those that live on the edges of town or in more rural areas should consider deer and other pest animals that may find a snack in your garden. Gardeners living on a hill may consider terraced gardening to prevent erosion and improve water retention. It can also prove beneficial to consult your local zoning laws and HOA restrictions.

Taking an inventory of your environment is just the first step to a successful landscape. 

Ways to Map Your Space

Now, let’s start mapping. You can save some time by acquiring a property map from the deed to the property or even satellite imaging (Google Maps).  Otherwise, grab a pen, paper, and tape measure to get a rough sketch with dimensions of the area. Once the area is sketched, map out the general areas of your yard with large bubbles or blocks. These areas can include things like; lawn, vegetable garden, patio, water features, play areas, etc.  Bubble diagrams help you determine what features or activities you want to happen in each of your outdoor areas or “rooms”.  It’s ok to be as vague or specific as you need – Contemplative area for relaxing, a sandbox in the play area, outdoor Kitchen, or even a scented garden near a path to the side yard, for example.  Be creative!  

Find Your Style

When designing your landscape, first consider what style of garden you want. Do you prefer a modern, clean-cut look? Or rather a natural, flowing English garden? There are countless styles to choose from, so consider also the buildings and location when choosing your style.  

 To design your landscape without it looking like a jumbled mess, it can be helpful to remember a few design basics; symmetry, repetition, layers, and color. Understanding basic design can make your job much easier.  Symmetry can help you frame your landscape and guide your eyes through the yard and even to the surrounding view. Repetitions allow your eyes to rest and fill space while also drawing your eyes to focal points in the yard.  Layers are important to help fill space and connect everything together. 


Layers can also provide depth to the area. Layers of the garden can include; floor, foreground, mid-ground, background, and focal points. Floor includes groundcover, pavers, pathways, etc. Foreground should include small plants to line the bed and accent other layers. Mid-ground utilizes large flowers and  medium shrubs, to help fill the space.  Background plants like large trees and shrubs can change how you view surrounding buildings making them appear smaller or larger depending on the choice of background plants. Focal points draw the eyes around the yard. These are usually large, colorful, or otherwise showy plants and lawn ornaments. 


When considering color, choose colors that complement each other as well as the surroundings. It is also important to remember bloom time. Not all flowers will bloom at the same time. If you are planning on colors that complement each other, check to see if they will be in bloom together. You can also overlap bloom times to ensure that there is always a splash of color in the yard all season long. 

Bed Preparation

Before you start placing any plants, prepare your beds. Install borders, boulders, and grading first. Amend your soil {Click here to read more about amending your soil}. Then, with your new landscape plan in hand, map out and install irrigation to appropriately suit your plants needs. 


Finally, once your ground is prepared, you can start placing your plants. What you put on paper is not always what it will look like in real life. To ensure that your vision comes to fruition, place all of your plants before you put them in the ground. This will allow for minor adjustments before it is too late. 

Building a landscape can be a daunting task. With a little bit of time and research, you can take away all the stress of the design and install phases and focus on what's important - playing in the dirt!

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