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Home Landscape Design
A well designed home landscape can provide many benefits to the homeowner. It cools the home in summer, conserves heat during the winter, screens out street noises or unattractive views and offers increased privacy. It also increases the overall value of the home.
Evaluating Existing Plants
Many considerations go into designing a pleasing and functional landscape. First, take a good look at the existing landscape including the trees and shrubs. Decide what is worth keeping and what isn't. Large trees are often considered a permanent part of the landscape, but their health and placement in relation to the house should be considered at this stage in the landscape plan. If a tree is unhealthy with potentially weakened limbs, consider having it removed. It is a hazard to you and your house, and to any visitors or pedestrians who might pass underneath it. Likewise, if the tree is planted too close to the house. Aside from being unattractive and blocking the view from inside the house, it can also contribute to structural damage of the house. Keep in mind that carpenter ants can enter a house from tree limbs that rest on the roof. Tree leaves that continually fill up and block gutters can lead to damage of the roofing shingles and rotting of the roof sheathing.
Need help evaluating your landscape's existing plants? Refer to "Evaluate the Health of Landscape Plantings."
During the landscape evaluation also identify plants that you like, but are not in a great location. For instance, maybe there is a large lilac bush that is very attractive but is planted in the middle of the backyard. This plant would be fine in the landscape but the present location is inconvenient. These plants can be incorporated into the new landscape plan and moved. Other plants that you don't like can simply be removed.
Evaluate Existing Hardscape Features
Also take a look at the placement of sidewalks, patios, sheds, driveways, air conditioner units, telephone poles, fences, utility boxes, etc. These are called "hardscape" features and are just as important to the development of the landscape design as are the existing plants. Some hardscape items like patios will be incorporated into the landscape design and plants will be used to accent them. Driveways or sidewalks might be screened off to increase the home's privacy. Other items like utility boxes and air conditioner units can be screened with plants to hide these necessary but unsightly elements of modern life. Making a rough sketch of the property including the house with all the existing plant and hardscape features is a good way to really make a full evaluation of all the existing features of the property. It will also help you decide what plants to keep and what to eliminate.
For more information on evaluating your home landscape, refer to"Evaluating the Landscape of a Prospective Home."
Develop a Scale Drawing
Next, with a helper, measure the landscape and house. Measure the property lines and all the outside measurements of the house. Locate any plants that you plan to include in the new landscape design by measuring their distance from the house and from one of the side property lines. Then make a drawing of the landscape to scale, eliminating any of the existing plants that you plan to remove. Graph paper is very helpful in drawing a scale plan. Just give each square a size designation, like each square equals 5 feet or 10 feet. Choose a measurement that will be large enough to allow you to put the whole landscape on paper. Note the direction the house sits on the property by indicating the direction of north. This plot plan drawing is the beginning of your new landscape design.
Consider the Outdoor Environment of Your Home
Now that you have a scale drawing of your landscape including the property lines, house, driveway, other hardscape features and the existing plants that you want to save, it is time to evaluate other features of your site. Environmental considerations include blocking the winter wind and providing shade for the house during hot summer days. Heavy evergreen trees on the north side of the house will help to slow down winter winds. Planting deciduous shade trees on the south or west side of the house will provide shade in summer, but not prevent the winter sun from warming the house. Deciduous trees are preferable to evergreen trees for providing summer shade because they will allow the sun to melt ice and snow from sidewalks and driveways in winter. Evergreen trees keep these areas shaded and cool even in winter and make it more difficult to eliminate icy patches.
Also consider the view from various locations around the house. Is there a busy and noisy street on one side? An unattractive view to screen off or a beautiful view that you would like to accentuate? An ugly fence that you share with a neighbor? Would you like more privacy from your patio or deck? Evaluate your property and decide how you would like to "frame" you landscape. Image that you can build walls or create windows with trees and shrubs to accentuate or eliminate views. This will help you decide where to place large tree and shrubs in your new landscape.
Family Landscape Use
Now think about your family, how they use the property and how much time you want to put into maintaining the property. Some things to consider include: the children's play area, outdoor entertaining, cooking, seating, sports areas, extra parking for a boat or camper, placement of garbage cans, dog pens, clothes line and firewood storage. Also think about special garden areas including vegetable gardens, fruit trees, roses or flower beds. Lawns and vegetable gardens require more maintenance than other parts of the landscape and single plants are more time consuming to care for than several plants grouped together. All of these things will have an impact on how the landscape is designed.
Home landscapes are often divided into three types of use areas: public, private and service areas. Public areas are usually found at the front of the house and are designed to create a warm and welcoming atmosphere for those visiting the house or viewing it from the street. Private areas are those used by the family for their specific needs. These may include outdoor entertaining, a children's swingset or sandbox, or a vegetable garden. Service areas are those where necessary items like garbage cans, extra parking, firewood or a dog kennel can be placed. Service areas can be attractively hidden from public view by screening with plants or fencing. Identify the public, private and service areas for your landscape and then you can begin to decide how to screen or frame these areas of your property.
When talking about landscaping, foundation plantings at the front of the house are one of the first things that come to mind for many people. These plantings are in the public area and greatly effect the perceived quality of the landscape. It used to be a standard practice to heavily plant the foundation of a house, but with newer home construction techniques, and less unattractive foundations, hiding the foundation is not such an important concern. Too often foundations are planted unimaginatively with heavy evergreens, planted in a row, that are allowed to become too large.
If a foundation planting is necessary, consider the height and style of the house then determine the number, color, texture and size of plantings needed to fit nicely in the space when mature, to look attractive and to direct the visitor's attention to the front door. All the plants need not be the same, in fact planting groups of complementary plants, even mixing shrubs and herbaceous perennials, can be more effective than several of the same plants in a row. The plants don't all need to be the same size either. One or two taller plants on the corner of the house with smaller plants toward the front door is a good way to soften the corner of the house and lead the visitor's eye to the front door. It's also much more interesting.
Massing and Repetition
However, with that said, keep in mind that in most cases plants are much more effective when planted in groups rather than singly. But instead of planting 10 of the same shrub across the front of the house, group plants in 3's or 5's. The characteristics of the plant stand out more in groupings. In most cases, plants should not be planted in straight rows, but staggered or grouped to make the planting more interesting. Also, when choosing plants think of quality rather than quantity. Choose interesting, attractive plants and group them together for the most impact. When using small perennials, annuals or bulbs, mass the plants in large numbers for the greatest impact.
The exception to the "massing" concept is the specimen plant. These plants are true standouts in the landscape, whether because of beautiful flowers, interesting shape or unusual bark, and are most effective when planted alone. Examples of specimen plants include River Birch, magnolia, Japanese Maple, crabapple, topiaries or anything "weeping" (weeping plum, weeping mulberry, weeping pine, etc). The character of these plants is best appreciated alone; too many of them in a landscape would definitely make things look cluttered and busy.
Finally, if the site analysis determined the need for a screen, either to block out a noisy street, unpleasant view or to screen off a service area, consider planting a tall evergreen hedge. Or use a mix of evergreen and decidous plants together to block out the view. If a more immediate screen is needed then a privacy fence might be the answer. Keep in mind that landscaping isn't just about plants, but involves "hardscape" features like fences too.
Creating a Final Design
Use a piece of tracing paper over the scale drawing of your property and begin to experiment with the placement of trees, shrubs and other planting beds. In creating your final landscape plan, consider all of the elements identified during the site evaluation and remember that a "good" design is one that fits your family's needs and is pleasing to you.
For more information on home landscape design, refer to "Home Landscape: Understanding the Basics of Landscape Design."
Choosing plants can be one of the most difficult steps in the entire process of designing a landscape. But fortunately there are many books available to help. There are also several good publications available through with the University of Nebraska- Lincoln Extension. Hard copies are also available upon request at your local UNL Extension office.
- Annual Flowers for Nebraska
- Landscape For Shade
- Ornamental Grasses for Nebraska Landscapes
- Perennials in Water-wise Landscapes
- Trees in the Home Landscape
- Wildflowers in the Home Landscape