Setting the scene
Landscape designs to help shape your yard this spring
by Danielle Jackson
As the ground thaws and spring blooms cover once-barren trees, the time comes to take stock of your yard. What are you missing? A landscaped outdoor living space? A vegetable garden? That pool you’ve always wanted but could never picture?
“Everyone thinks of color in the spring and of greening up their landscape,” says David Case, vice president of operations for Down To Earth Landscapes, a full-service landscape design-build maintenance company based in Raleigh. “It starts with the flowering cherries, saucer magnolias, dogwoods and forsythia, and people get excited about the possibilities.”
These possibilities can be as simple as adding color beds or as complex as incorporating a pond or water garden.
“Color beds are one of the easiest things for homeowners to do on their own,” Case says.
“After they work with a professional on the hardscape and landscaping, they can accessorize with planted containers and patio furniture,” he adds. “Smaller projects like this that can be done over a weekend seem to be the most appealing to do-it-yourselfers.”
One for the pros
While working on your own landscape can be rewarding, there’s a time and place to call in a professional.
“It can be a lot of fun to do it yourself, but many homeowners hire landscapers and landscape designers to lay out and then complete their back yard projects,” says Tara Onthank, vice president of retail operations for Rising Sun Pools & Spas in Raleigh, which works with landscaping subcontractors in addition to building and maintaining swimming pools.
“I had a ball with my family picking out the trees, bushes and flowers to complement our yard, but it was a lot of research and a lot of work,” she adds. “Not every design will work in every yard.”
As with any project, it’s best to consult with a few landscape design specialists to see which will give you the best bang for your buck.
“We have to listen to clients to find out how they want to enjoy their yards and which features they want to incorporate,” Case says. “We have to consider the overall lay of the land and the orientation of the home and property to offer a solution that balances their desires with their budgets.”
The company, which has been in business for 17 years, specializes in landscapes that incorporate swimming pools, ponds and water gardens. Elements Case sees that continue to be popular each year include ponds and water gardens, as well as outdoor kitchens and fireplaces.
“Lighting has come a long way too,” adds Ben Case, owner of Down To Earth Landscapes. “LEDs are becoming more popular and affordable, and now have better light quality than earlier generations.”
An effort to conserve
For homeowners less interested in major landscaping projects — and more interested in lessening the impact their yards have on both their wallets and the environment — there have been some major advancements in recent years.
“Conservation in general is getting a lot of attention,” Ben Case says. “Things like efficient irrigation heads, which are engineered to provide a more uniform spray pattern while preventing misting and airborne evaporation, can save homeowners 30 to 40 percent on their water bills.”
According to Case, retrofits are quick and simple — they simply involve swapping irrigation heads — and can pay for themselves in as little as a year. Check valves also can be added to existing sprinkler heads to prevent water from seeping out.
Rain sensors also are common, as are soil moisture sensors — which override the controller if the soil already has adequate moisture — and wind sensors, which delay sprinkler operation during periods of high wind.
“Some ‘smart’ irrigation controllers can offer significant water savings by adjusting the program based on hourly wireless updates from local precision weather stations,” Case adds. “They take into account solar radiation, wind, temperature, humidity and an evapotranspiration equation to maintain the optimum moisture balance in the soil.”
Rainwater-harvesting systems, or cisterns — which capture roof runoff at gutter downspouts — also continue to be popular with homeowners.
“These can be in-ground or above-ground and can be tied onto existing sprinkler systems as a great way to save money while reducing runoff,” Case says.
“They also can be integrated into water features and ponds so that clients can enjoy a nice, natural stream or waterfall while providing a reservoir for their own irrigation water supply.”
A swimming success
When it comes to pools, Onthank is seeing a return to simply designed and shaped pools and landscape designs, as well as low-maintenance and automated systems.
“Sun ledges and custom features are a frequent request, which help consumers personalize and tailor a pool to their own needs instead of getting a cookie-cutter package,” she says. “Consumers want choices.”
Onthank has two rules of thumb for those already with pools. She suggests opening the pool at the end of March or early April if it has a safety mesh cover — the pool otherwise can develop algae quickly once warm weather arrives — and recommends getting pool water balanced and the sanitizer up and running as soon as the system is started for spring.
“The longer you wait to get the water in balance, the harder it will be,” she says.
Danielle Jackson is editor of Wake Living and Triad Living magazines.
A spring checklist
Al Cooke, extension agent for horticulture with the N.C. Cooperative Extension in Pittsboro, offers a spring checklist for any type of gardener. Here’s what to do as warmer months approach.
- Prepare a vegetable garden. Start this whenever the soil becomes workable, and start plants from seed. It’s important to pay attention to the weather, though, because there’s still plenty of opportunity for frost. Good vegetables to plant include cabbage, carrots, onions, peas, potatoes, radishes, rutabagas, spinach and turnips.
- Plant fruit trees, and prune the ones already in the ground. These types of trees grow roots when the soil is cool.
- Fertilize fescue lawns. It’s also a good time to apply pre-emergence herbicides and mulch to help moderate soil temperatures and reduce moisture loss.
- Plant more vegetables. Good ones to plant this month include asparagus, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, lettuce, mustard and Swiss chard.
- Plant more fruits. These include blackberries, blueberries, Muscadine grapes and strawberries; these also work for April.
- Dig and divide or plant new perennials. The soil starts to slowly warm in March, so water after planting to ensure good root-to-soil contact.
- Plant trees and shrubs. If you haven’t done so by now, then it’s best to wait until fall.
- Plant more vegetables. These include beans, beets, corn, cucumber, pumpkins, squash and tomatoes. It’s also an ideal time to harvest asparagus and pick peas.
- Plant summer annuals. It’s important to wait until the last frost, if possible, so May also is ideal.
- Fertilize Bermuda and Zoysia grass. This should occur late in the month, after the grass has turned completely green.
- Work on your summer garden. Plant the fruits and vegetables that you plan to can and freeze later in the summer. Cantaloupe, eggplant, okra, peppers and watermelon can be planted in May. It’s also the month to pull beets, cut broccoli heads, cut well-formed cabbage into heads, pick outer lettuce and spinach leaves, pick peas, and pull green onions, radishes, rutabagas, and turnips.
- Monitor fruit trees for insect and disease problems. Apple, cherry, peach and plum trees are more susceptible to disease.
- Dig and divide perennials that bloom in late summer or fall. Recovery is faster if plants are well-watered before planting. Watch as new growth begins, and continue to water on an as-needed basis.
- Plant summer annuals. May typically is optimal for planting most summer bedding plants.
For more information, visit http://chatham.ces.ncsu.edu.