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There's much to consider when landscaping a yard

Published February 13, 2004

A friend who's about to renovate his front yard asked me for some ideas. He was surprised at the number of questions I asked. But a little work ahead of time can save you time and money later on.

First, it's important to understand the difference between simply planting and landscaping. Landscaping is the laying out of your property according to a definite plan. Two of the most important tools for this are a pencil and paper.

Ask yourself: What type of landscape do I want? Am I more comfortable with a formal or informal design? School yourself about the differences. Look at houses similar to yours and see which design makes you more comfortable.

How much maintenance do I want to do? Should my design require low, moderate or high maintenance? Be honest. Remember we have a long, hot summer.

What's the orientation of your house? Know how the sun moves across your property. This will affect where you place your outdoor living space as well as which plants you choose.

How much lawn do I want to take care of? Grass is a fairly high-maintenance item. How much mowing, watering and fertilizing do I want to do? Do I need large expanses of lawn for children or pets?

What are the functional areas needed in your yard? Do you need a service area for garbage cans, wood storage or a clothesline? What about play areas, an outdoor entertainment area, pet area, work area, or garden spot? It's important to define the roles your yard will play before you start digging. Ask your family members what they expect from the yard.

Do you need plantings to help reduce noise or to ensure privacy? What plants do you truly like and want in your yard? Are there any plants you are adamant about not including? Will you include any specialty plants such as bulbs, roses or others?

If you take the time to answer these questions, your design will be much easier to create and you'll be much happier with the results. If you are working with a landscape professional, he or she should ask you questions such as these so you end up with a design you can live with and maintain.

Another important but often overlooked aspect of landscape design are the elements of your design that you don't see. This includes drainage and underground irrigation systems.

We receive a lot of rain in Florida and good drainage is important for the health of your plants. Drainage can be improved by changing the slope of your yard, adding French drains (simply digging a big hole and filling it with gravel), or using perforated pipe to carry the water away from unwanted areas.

Underground irrigation systems can be real time and water savers when installed and used properly. If you're a novice, ask for some professional advice. Just one quick point - sprinkler zones should include plant materials with similar watering requirements. This allows for a wiser use of water.

Designing a landscape doesn't have to be overwhelming.

Sources of help include good nurseries, the county cooperative extension service, master gardener clinics, garden columns and magazine articles, and garden shows on television and the radio.

If your family includes a dog, you will also want to design and care for your yard with its health and safety in mind. Dogs and a garden can work well together. Here are some things to keep in mind:

/ Be careful with chemicals. The Animal Poison Control Center of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reports that, nationwide, July is the No. 1 month for calls to its hotline. One of the top problems is that dogs have swallowed weed killers or fertilizers. In Florida this is the time of year that we are applying these products, so be extra careful when your dog is around. Ask for pet-safe products at your local garden supply store and double check the label for ingredients and warnings.

/ Let your vacation work for you. If you are going on vacation and your dog will be away from the house, that's the time to fertilize your yard.

/ Go light on fertilizer. Your dog's urine is full of nitrogen and works as a fertilizer. If the dog's urine creates yellow spots on the lawn, just water more: That area is basically just overfertilized.

/ Landscape with your dog in mind. Use raised beds and containers. Put fencing around gardens that aren't compatible with busy paws. You can also provide special places for your dog to enjoy. If she has a spot where she likes to rest, make that her sanctuary.

/ Create a sandbox for your digging dog and "seed" it with toys.

/ Beware of poisonous plants, including some popular garden plants. Check out the Cornell University poisonous plants informational database at or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at

Of course the best defense for your yard may be supervised playtime for the dogs. My dogs are so spoiled that they won't stay outside unless one of us is with them, so there is little concern about damage to plants.

Think about the needs of both your two-legged and four-legged family members, and you'll end up with a design you'll enjoy for years.

- Mary Collister of Valrico writes about how to garden successfully in Florida's climate and offers problem-solving tips for your home garden. Mail questions to: Mary Collister, Brandon Times, 426 W Brandon Blvd. Brandon, FL 33511.

[Last modified February 12, 2004, 12:52:02]

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