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Skaggs: Landscape perfection requires a good plan
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This fall I have received quite a few questions from area residents interested in renovating their home landscapes. Often the conversation starts something like this:

"We are interested in landscaping our yard and have consulted with a few companies to do the preparation and planting. With the economy like it is, we'd like to do it ourselves. How you would recommend starting a landscaping project?"

The initial steps are definitely the most important in any landscape project. In particular, do your homework - specifically, the first phase of planning a landscape should involve self-examination.

1. Determine how you want to use your landscape. Will it be for entertaining, kids play area, pet area, curb appeal or a combination of these? Can you divide the landscape into separate areas for separate functions?

2. Determine how much time you can honestly devote to landscape maintenance. Pictures in garden magazines are tantalizing, but unless the caption specifically mentions low maintenance you can be assured that someone spent a lot of time achieving and maintaining the effect.

3. Before you buy the first plant, take a soil sample to see what the nutrient levels are in your landscape. Depending on the soil type, you may or may not need to spend much on fertilizer. Soil testing will tell you just the right type and amount of fertilizer and amendments your soil needs. Considering the current cost of fertilizer, that can save you a lot of money.

4. Do a rough sketch of your yard. Know where north, south, east and west are and note which way your house faces. Remember to note on your sketch where existing plant material is located, especially large trees.

5. Keep in mind functionality and serviceability; i.e. a pathway for the lawn mower, location of spigot(s), accessibility to plants for pruning, etc.

6. Design for year round color/texture. Start with evergreen foundation plants, then add deciduous trees and shrubs. Finally, fill in with perennials and annuals. Implement a water-efficient landscape by using heat- and drought-tolerant native species.

7. Place large deciduous trees on south side of house; this will shade the home in the summer and allow sunshine to heat up the home in winter.

8. Keep your landscape flowing and unified by occasionally repeating plant groupings. Create a clean edge on all your borders, walkways, islands, etc.

9. Know the mature size of your plant material. You don't want to plant a Leyland Cypress next to your mailbox or under your electric service lines.

Doing a little planning before you get started will certainly save you time, money and perhaps some back-breaking work on your next landscaping project. For more information, contact your local Extension office at 800-ASK-UGA-1 (800-275-2421).

Billy Skaggs is an agricultural agent and Hall County extension coordinator. Phone: 770-531-6988. Fax: 770-531-3994.

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