Landscaping involves more than just pushing some dirt around and planting some trees, grass and flowers. Creating that showcase front or back yard takes careful planning and a good understanding of such basic matters as drainage, soil conditions, irrigation and which plants are appropriate for the climate.
It also takes time and money.
Orange County homeowners are spending as much as 15% of their property values--sometimes more--on landscaping, local landscape professionals say. The price of a showcase yard today, they say, can be $40,000 to $50,000.
The good news is that you can learn to do it yourself.
Landscape design and maintenance classes are offered through continuing education classes at Golden West College, Huntington Beach; Rancho Santiago College, Santa Ana; Irvine Valley College, Irvine; Saddleback College; Fullerton College and the North Orange County Community College District Education Center office in Fullerton.
In them, you can learn basic landscape design, the principles of grading and drainage and how to do them, how to select plants, basic gardening and landscape maintenance techniques, the value of efficient irrigation and even how to design and install a sprinkler system.
Even if you eventually decide to hire someone else to do the job, your knowledge can save you money and irritation: You'll know how to avoid certain problems, and you'll have a better chance of getting what you really want.
"I think they come out excited about their yards," says Daniel Songster of the students who take his class series at Golden West. Songster has 20 years of experience in landscaping and is on the maintenance staff at the college. "They come out with a realistic idea of whether they can actually do the job themselves."
Songster's three-hour classes cover landscape design, basic lawn and garden care, irrigation and sprinkler installation and selecting the proper plants. In them, he says, the students are helped to focus on what they want in their yards and on what can help them save money. For instance, he said, students in his sprinkler installation classes learn how to install a system with PVC pipe, how to put a valve assembly together, how to hook up off a main line, how to make a system manual or electric and even how to dig trenches. Designing and putting in your sprinkler system yourself can save you as much as 80%, he said.
Many of his students decide they can create their own landscape design plans too--a decision that could save them, he estimates, at least $1,000. He estimates that perhaps half his students install at least part of their own landscaping.
The key to a successful landscape is to have a specific design plan. A design plan will take into account grading, drainage and irrigation, and it will have a theme for the planting. It may also include hard scape such as walkways or decks.
A preliminary plan might cost as much as $1,000, says Howard Reynolds, a landscape architect who teaches a four-week series of classes at Saddleback. A final plan might cost $1,000 or considerably more, depending on how much hard scape is desired.
But hiring a professional to prepare a design plan can also save a homeowner money. With a plan, a job can be put up for bid by landscape contractors. Without one, it's difficult to compare bids because each contractor may be envisioning something different. Another factor to consider is that contractors often submit higher bids for a job without a plan so that they can be sure to cover unforeseen expenses.
The biggest eye-opener for most neophytes is the high cost of landscaping, says Dave Kull, a landscape architect who teaches four landscape classes at Irvine Valley, Rancho Santiago and the North Orange County Community College District Education Center office.
If there's a disappointment among those taking his classes, he says, it's "the reality of today's marketplace." Some are dismayed to learn that the yards they had envisioned are not possible with the money they have to spend.
Some landscape contractors won't even bother to bid for a project whose budget is less than $10,000, Kull says.
The classes also stress what not to do.
"If there's one thing most people mess up, it's not considering grading and drainage," Kull says.
When a tract home is built, Kull says, the yard is graded to drain on the surface," Kull says. That is, water from the yard will drain away from the house and out toward the street.
It will, that is, if everything is left as it is. Often, though, he says, a "homeowner comes in and he starts changing that and messes up the surface drainage without realizing it. It looks great all summer long, and then the rains come and there're problems." Anything homeowners do to the landscaping is going to affect the surface drainage, Hull warns.
Improper drainage can cause water to become trapped against the side of a house or under a driveway, according to Kull. When that happens, the ground will expand and contract, causing cracks in masonry or other damage.