How to get started on your landscaping project (landsteward article)

The Plant Man column for publication week of 10/09/05 - 10/15/05 (749 words) ###
The Plant Man by Steve Jones
How to get started on your landscaping project
You look out of your window and all you see is wide expanse of nothing but grass, but what you really want to see is a vista of attractive landscaping with colorful shrubs and trees. Or perhaps you're looking at a tangle of brambles and ugly bushes that have gotten out of control and you'd love to create an easy-care outdoor oasis.
Does this sound like you? If so, read on.
As with any project, the biggest hurdle is getting started. And the biggest problem to that is knowing HOW to get started! Today, I hope to give you some inspiration to help you do just that: get started.
It all begins with an idea and getting that idea down on paper. It doesn't have to be a fancy architect-style blueprint, but if you have some kind of drafting skills, so much the better. Look at the Deeds to your property or get a long tape measure and sketch out the rough shape of the land on a piece of paper. You can just "eyeball" it at this stage if you have to.
Draw the shapes of the beds you'd like to see and where you might plant trees. Try several different layouts until you find a basic layout that appeals to you.
Formal or informal?
If your house has a distinctly "formal" look (such as symmetrical Georgian style) consider echoing that look with a formal landscape layout. This might include a straight path leading to a centrally-placed "island" with neatly squared-off hedges.
A less formal house design can inspire an informal landscape layout with curving pathways of irregular stone slabs winding between beds of shrubs that spill over the walkway in places and a hidden seating area amid a cool arbor of trees.
Now, go outside and translate your sketch to the real world. No, you won't need a shovel just yet. You'll want to layout your proposed beds on the grass before you start digging. A simple way is to use your garden hose or a long piece of rope. Lay the hose or the rope on the ground and move it in or out, forward or back, curved or straight until you've created a line that is pleasing to your eye.
My advice at this stage is to go to a garden center or a hardware store and buy a can of marking paint. This is a spray can designed only to work upside-down. You can find cans that dispense chalk instead of paint, but this is less effective if you anticipate wet conditions.
Does size matter?
A frequent error made by amateur landscapers is making the beds too small. Narrow, thin beds or tiny islands looks goofy, particularly as the shrubs and other plantings mature and spread out. Trust me on this: If you're in any doubt, move that garden hose or rope and make the bed larger than you originally planned. Step back and take a look. Better still, find a way to look at it from a higher vantage point, such as a second story window.
If you're replacing plantings in an existing bed (or in a bed that you will reshape to a more pleasing layout) simply dig up and dispose of the old plants, being sure to get all the roots and other debris. Creating a "virgin" bed from an area of lawn takes a little more finesse.
Following your painted guideline, cut down about one-and-a-half inches and peel the sod back towards the center of the bed.. Now you can do one of two things. You can remove ALL of the unwanted sod from the new bed and dispose of it.
Or you can firmly pack down the peeled-back sod (so it's all "green side down") and cover the entire pile with about 10 or 12 layers of newspaper and/or brown paper grocery bags. If you use this second method, you can leave it for a while for nature to kill off the grass for you, without resorting to chemical means. If you prefer using chemicals, send me an e-mail and I'll suggest some products for you.
Next time in this column, I'll continue with the theme of getting started with your brand-new landscape.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to For resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve's free e-mailed newsletter, go to

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