Frequently Asked Questions

I have a landscape project, but don’t know where to begin. How do I get started?

Whether you will be doing the work yourself or hiring a licensed landscape contractor to do the work, you should start with a plan. The plan begins with a “program”. The program is a list of elements that will need to be included in the plan: pool, patio, fire pit, BBQ area, play area, lighting, vegetable garden, fruit trees, etc.

Once the program has been identified, you’ll need to do a little homework. Explore what it is that you like and what you don’t like. Pinterest.com and Houzz.com are popular websites that can be helpful with this process. Tagging photos in home and garden magazines or books works too. Reference photos are a great way to narrow down your style and aesthetic.

Some other considerations: What are your favorite and least favorite colors? What is your favorite time of year? Do you or your family members have any plant or insect allergies? Are there “must have” plants? Do you need more shade or more sun? Do deer have access to the garden? Who will maintain the garden when it is completed?

If you will be hiring a landscape professional to design the plan for you, answers to these questions, along with the program and reference images, will be most helpful for communicating your aesthetic and should lead to a more effective and efficient design process. Last but not least, develop a budget for the project and communicate that budget to your designer or landscape architect before beginning the design/development process. The design needs to fit the budget and I’m sure you won’t want to pay for a plan that financially, can’t be implemented.

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What factors are most important for a successful garden?

The success of your garden depends, in part, on three critical factors.

a. Choose the right plant for the right spot. Understanding the climate in your area is helpful for selecting plants that will thrive in your garden. You can find out what your cold hardiness zone is by checking the USDA Climate Zone Map and/or the Sunset Climate Zone Map (both maps can be found online). Generally a plant’s cold hardiness rating will be based on one, or both, of these maps. However, micro climates and sun exposure can vary quite a bit in your own yard. What parts of your yard get the most sun? The most shade? Keep in mind that sun exposure will change throughout the year as the sun is high overhead in summer and lower on the horizon in winter. Consider the mature size of a plant when determining where it will be placed. Putting a 6 ft. shrub in a spot that will only allow for 3 ft. of growth means you will be pruning the plant on a regular basis to keep it from outgrowing the space. Plant deciduous trees on the south and west sides of your home to provide shade in the summer months and allow for solar exposure to help warm your home in the winter when the trees have lost their leaves. Evergreen trees should be planted on the north and east sides of your home.

b. Understand your garden soil. Begin by taking a few soil samples from the garden and have them tested by a soils lab. We use Sunland Analytical Lab (www.sunland-analytical.com) to perform our testing. Be sure to follow the lab’s proper procedures for collecting samples. A “Complete Landscape Evaluation” will provide results for a variety of soil characteristics that are relevant to landscape plants. The lab will also provide recommendations and specifications for soil additives to improve the health of your soil. You should expect to pay about $100 for the testing…..money well spent considering the investment you will be making in your garden.

c. Irrigation water management. Proper water management starts with a well-designed garden and irrigation system. Clustering plants in the garden according to similar water needs will allow you to group these clusters in similar irrigation zones. “Hydrozoning” your irrigation system makes it possible to customize irrigation schedules based on the water needs of each zone. Be sure each hydro zone has the same method of irrigation. For example, don’t include spray irrigation and drip irrigation in the same zone since they apply water at different rates. Adjust the watering schedule monthly. It is not good enough to simply turn on your irrigation timer in the spring and turn it off in the winter. Plant water needs change throughout the year and the irrigation schedule should be set accordingly. Irrigation schedule should be written, by month, for the entire year. Consider installing a “Smart Controller” which will automatically make adjustments to the irrigation schedule based on current weather conditions. At the very least, be sure your irrigation timer has a rain sensor to interrupt irrigation cycles during periods of rainy weather. Clustering plants, hydrozoning, proper scheduling and smart controllers are only tools to assist with proper irrigation water management. These tools can be rendered ineffective if the person pushing the buttons and turning the dial on the irrigation timer does not understand them.

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Can my project be done in phases?

In most cases…..yes.  Sometimes the budget will not allow for implementation of the whole project. Breaking the project into phases that fit a budget can be an effective way to develop your garden and outdoor living spaces over a period of time. Certainly there are some considerations when phasing a project. Be sure you have a plan or design for the entire project before starting phase one. You may want to implement the project in parts, but when the full project has been completed all of the parts should fit together into one well thought out and comprehensive design. Phase one elements should be determined by your priorities, construction sequencing and your phase one budget. Be sure to include any infrastructure for future phases. You won’t want to tear up phase one development to install utilities for phase two. Also be sure to get an estimate for the entire project, prior to starting phase one. You need to know what your total investment will be to complete all phases.

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How do I find a landscape contractor?

Ask for personal recommendations from co-workers, neighbors, friends or family who may have had a similar project completed. Local material suppliers, subcontractors, local building departments and trade associations can provide recommendations as well.

Make sure the contractor has a current business address and telephone number. A contractor that operates a business from the back of a pickup truck with a cell phone may be difficult to find if a job needs to be fixed after the last bill is paid.

Be sure the landscape contractor has a valid C-27 Contractors License and carries liability and workers compensation insurance. In California, a contractor’s license is mandated for any project where labor and materials is $500 or more. California law also requires that all contractors’ advertising (newspaper/magazine ads, flyers, business cards, or company name on the side of a truck) must include the contractor’s state license number. You can check license and insurance status online with the California State License Board at www.cslb.ca.gov or call (800) 321-2752.

Ask contractors for references……and check them. Find out what kind of experience other customers had with the contractor. Did the company perform the work in a timely manner? Did they do what they said they would for the amount they said they would do it? Did they show up on time? Did they pull off the project only to return at a later date? Were they courteous and respectful of your property? Would you hire them again for future work?

Get at least three written bids on your project. Be sure the bids are based on the same plan, specifications, and scope of work. Do not automatically select the lowest bid. You should be aware of any bid that is substantially lower than other bids. This could indicate the contractor made a mistake or is not including all of the work quoted by his/her competitors. It is also possible the low bidder may cut corners or do substandard work to make a profit. Accepting an abnormally low bid may lead towards a dispute with the contractor mid-project or after it has been completed.

Most licensed contractors are competent, honest, hardworking and financially responsible. However, a responsible and informed consumer can work more effectively with reputable contractors, and avoid being victimized by unscrupulous or unlicensed contractors.

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Does your Home Have Curb Appeal?

It is said that you never get a second chance to make a first impression.  When it comes to front yard landscaping a first impression can put “passer bys” at ease or hurry them along.  Popularized in suberbia after WWII, the phrase may be one of the most important functions of your front yard and what people see when the drive, walk past or park in front.

Curb appeal is a well tended and visually appealing front yard that will add value to a property or at the very least get noticed in a positive way.

Following are ways to create a curb appealing landscape:

Stand on the other side of the street where you can see the entire front yard, put yourself into idea and design mode and consider yourself an interested buyer, a garden club member or even a visitor.  What is your impression of what you are seeing? Is it “oh my…”, cute, needs work or WOW!

Considering what your response is as a “third party” think about what you are seeing. Do things look in balance? Do the type of plantings match the architecture of the house?  Does the landscape fit into the feel of the neighborhood?  Is the landscape cared for but not overly so (think all plants pruned into box shapes)?

If you realize that the yard needs something – create a “wish list” such as a new sprinkler system, lawn replacement for water conservation, removing a large tree that is out of shape or in the wrong place or out of scale with the property.  Maybe repaving a driveway, moving a walk way to the front door, repainting or new window treatments perhaps even a complete makeover.

Wish list items may be outside of the budget so think about a “reality list”, which may be more effective.  How about repainting the front door?  Adding pots of flowers along the entry path, fertilizing the lawn, installing new flowering plants or seasonal plants.  Think about items that you would like to see that can be tackled in a day or weekend.

Now that you have a list of ideas and inspirations, put a plan together to get started, perhaps a drawing, sketch or photos from social media will help you focus your efforts.  Consider symmetry, your architecture, movement through the areas from street to door, door to side yard, driveway to front door.  Maybe at this point it is time to consider a professional designer and landscape company to do the heavy lifting.

In the end what started as standing across the street to look at the curb appeal of your front yard could soon become a whole new vibe for your home and property.

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What are the Advantages to Landscaping with Native Plants?

Current trends and new regulations in California are focused upon sustainable practices both inside and outside of residential and commercial properties. These efforts are helping to counteract climate change, energy consumption and water waste. This movement translates into local landscapes and gardens as well.

There are seven basic tenets to sustainable landscapes as outlined in Russian River Friendly Landscape Guidelines. They are as follows:

  • Landscape Locally
  • Landscape for Less to the Landfill
  • Nurture the Soil
  • Conserve Water
  • Conserve Energy
  • Protect Water and Air Quality
  • Create and Protect Habitat

Landscaping with native plants is part of this effort. Because native plants are adapted to the local area, they are genetically disposed to long dry summers and cool wet winters. They are adapted to living in our local soils (as long as those soils are not compacted or mitigated in some fashion). They are habitat for endemic wildlife. They are suited to the local area soil flora and fauna. They attract local pollinators and other beneficial insects. They bring a sense of the local natural environment closer to our back door. They are typically non-invasive. They will grow with less water and care. They will help with curb appeal to give you that trendy “California style” garden.

When planting California native plants it is important to do your homework with regards to the best place to install them in and around your landscape. Consider how tall and wide they will get and do not crowd them. Typically, they might only need supplemental water to become established and once they are, only occasional water may be needed outside of the natural winter pattern. Separate them from more typical ornamental plantings and give them their own watering zone and schedule. Consider exposure, native plants are like any other type of plants and some need a lot of sunlight while other thrive in shade. Natives are survivors and do not typically need extra fertilizing or tender loving care. Please keep in mind that native plants may not be deer proof.

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What are the Benefits in Designing Your Landscape for Water Conservation

Originally, water-efficient irrigation systems were developed for homeowners who lived in climate zones where drought was a persistent problem. Now we can create water-efficient landscaping in any climate and this concept has become increasingly important to our local area. If done correctly landscapes designed and installed with water conservation in mind produce a two fold results: optimal landscape growth with efficient water use.

Water-efficient landscapes are also beautiful visually and create a style that works in harmony with your property. The key to managing water use is balance — mixing the flowers, shrubs, and lawn areas of your property in a way that is both aesthetically and strategically pleasing. It is also then necessary to create zones for these areas for proper water application and water budgets created exclusively to match and to avoid overwatering.  These are called hyrozones

So, what are the benefits of water efficient landscapes? Here are some considerations:

  • Reduced water use. In California, nearly half of a homeowner’s water can be tied to use in landscape areas. When you better manage your water use, your water bill will be less and you’ll feel good that you are conserving this costly and valuable resource.
  • Less maintenance. Water efficient landscapes require less care and fewer chemicals (fertilizers, weed controls) to stay healthy. When you use locally appropriate plants and proper water application disease and insect pests are less frequent.
  • Improved property value. A well-maintained, water-efficient landscape adds color and style to a home, enhancing curb appeal.

Provides wildlife habitat. Native and other Mediterranean climate adapted plantings welcome birds, butterflies and other local wildlife into the landscape. These types of plants and plantings often need less input and are as such more “sustainable”.

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What can I expect to spend landscaping my entire property?

This is one of the most common and important questions to consider. Speculating that all key components will be included such as hardscape elements (deck or patio, paths or walkways, drainage, irrigation and lighting) as well as plant material and mulch – a general rule of thumb according to real estate surveys and studies suggests a range of 10-15% of the home and property value. This can be higher or lower depending upon site conditions, access, size of the landscape area and specific amenities (water features, fire pits, outdoor kitchens and large trees).

Instead of asking how much does landscaping cost, a better approach is knowing how you much you want to spend. Work from a budget, realizing that it may take several phases over time to reach your dream garden. Landscaping for the most part is a form of construction with a lot more components that simply installing plants.

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Why mulch?

Water conservation is a standard in California. Along with an efficient irrigation system and proper plant selection, applying a 2-3” layer of organic mulch is another corner stone in water use efficiency. In fact, all things considered, mulching is one of the best things for a healthy landscape. Mulching:

  • Keeps weeds in check
  • Retains moisture in the soil
  • Prevents soil erosion
  • Adds organic matter into the soil as it breaks down
  • Sequesters carbon in the soil

Lowers water and energy costs by lessening the amount of watering needed

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How much maintenance will it take to keep a garden looking its best?

Differing styles of gardens and plants require various levels, techniques and education regarding care. From formal gardens requiring an intense amount of plant trimming and care to more natural California friendly gardens requiring much less of both and typically using less water, each landscape has its own unique proposition when it comes to care.

Consider that every landscape is a unique urban ecosystem that is based upon healthy soil, proper plant selection, correct type of exposure and water needs. The role of a maintenance plan is more of a management plan. The factors listed above, if balanced and tuned appropriately, will actually reduce the amount of labor and resources needed to keep the garden green and growing. For example, selecting plants for their ultimate size and spacing them accordingly will reduce the amount of trimming. Budgeting the appropriate amount of water will reduce plant stress which will lower insect and disease problems. Mulching will reduce water lost through evaporation and will add organic matter to nurture the soil food web.

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