Landscaping in stages - how to minimize cost & disruption

GWlolo(9b/ Sunset 15)March 19, 2013

We have a fairly large & mature yard but we need to redo the landscaping as we did a major remodel that included new water lines etc. It would be better for us $$ wise if we do the landscaping in stages. Can you help me figure out the right way to sequence this to minimize upfront cost but also disruption. The worst thing would be if something we delayed to a future date ended up ripping up or destroying what was done in an earlier stage. Here are the high level things we want to do and I have sorted this in what I thought was a logical order. Please advice if some things are better done together and earlier than later. We live in Norcal where we have 6+ months of fairly dry weather in summer and rains starting in Nov timeframe and ending by March.
1. Completely new irrigation for main areas (lawn, veg bed, flower beds)
2. New irrigation for additional areas which are currently not landscaped or have no irrigation (hand watered currently). I was thinking to provision a irrigation tapping point)
3. New sod
4. Vegetable bed (14x14) prepare the soil, add in manure and compost, make paths
5. Fencing for vegetable bed
6. Plant fruit trees
7. Plant berry & fruit vines (kiwi, grape, raspberry, blackberry, currants)
8. Two new beds for perennials (flowering, foliage and some edible perennials)
9. Remove old juniper and liquid amber

  1. Plant new gingko in the same spot as liquid amber being removed
  2. Landscape lighting (my landscsape guy prefers low voltage over solar) main area (paths, a couple of main plantings)
  3. Decomposed granite in the sidewalk area (this is currently dirt and gets muddy in rain and is very dusty in summer)
  4. Decomosed granite under some redwood trees. This is just a big mess of leaf droppings here and I want to be able to use the area for kids to play and be able to sweep the leaf droppings away
  5. New wire trellis on brick fence wall for espaliered fruit trees and flowering vines like clematis
  6. Garden shed

PS: x-post to california gardening

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Fori is not pleased

Why would you EVER remove a prickleball tree? Just kidding. Ouch.

As someone whose front yard is currently rebar, dirt, and pipes, I'll have to go along with the people here who told me to get a darn landscape designer to do a plan. The LD should be able to lay out a process for you, tell you what goes in when, and make sure you don't end up undoing things you did earlier.

Now, if you already have a plan, that's a little different. Do you already have a firm layout where you know exactly what goes where, right down to the lighting and daffodils?

    Bookmark   March 19, 2013 at 5:05PM
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GWlolo(9b/ Sunset 15)

Ah Fori - No landscape person I have spoken to is OK with my idea of phased installation. They all recommend getting it all done all at once. I have not spoken to anyone who is just a landscape designer. I can try that. My yard is mostly all laid out and has not changed much in the last 50 years. I do have a good idea for the most part for where I want major elements like vegetable bed and fruit trees. My GC has a landscape guy whose work seems pretty good but he is not a designer :)

    Bookmark   March 19, 2013 at 5:16PM
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carol6ma_7ari(zones 6 & 7a)

A landscaper and a contractor usually like to finish projects so they can be enjoyed and seen by others. But a resident might want to take more time to figure out, for example, the exact number of square feet of the kitchen garden. So one's yard becomes a work in progress: a dynamic landscape but not finished.

My experience with my own yard is, one wants more kitchen garden space than one estimates at first. You could save some money by getting ideas from walks and drives in your area, looking over the fences of others' gardens; and also by doing some of the work yourselves.

For example, you could have loam and manure trucked in, but spread it yourselves. You could have your fences put in, but do your own new-garden rototilling. You could certainly plant much of your own new plant material except for large shrubs and trees.

And do you have to present a large lawn to your neighbors? (maybe there's a HOA rule about this.) There are better eco-ways to cover your acres, that would use less water and look more interesting, and -- who knows? -- be edible too.

So my general advice is to take your time, don't do it all at once, and do some of it yourself.


    Bookmark   March 19, 2013 at 5:39PM
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What was said above - a landscape designer knowledgeable about installation can advise you on what to do in what order. Ever since the economy bottomed out everyone wants to phase their projects so this is a big part of what we do. I'll tell my clients straight up what has to happen, what can wait, and where they can value engineer.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2013 at 11:08PM
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I am no expert but after having proposals submitted to me, actually none of the landscaper designers were adverse to me working in stages due to cost.

The "best" and highest end, very reputable company proposed my work in three stages according to overall big plan. The first phase: taking care of my drainage issue, re-soding, and then creating more defined beds, replanting & using salvageable plants/bushes in the yard. Second phase: filling in with plants around the house. Third phase: addressing a large area on the side front of my yard. Then, eventually the hardscape (new walkway). Of course all the phases together easily exceed $35K so it's really just a dream, not a reality for me. But the design/vision is lovely and makes sense with my yard.

However, what I have been led to believe is that if you want landscape lighting, best to run the wires while the yard is torn up and not in a later phase (same for irrigation systems).

In your case, I don't see why some plantings, a shed or a trellis must be done when other work is done. Those seem like add ons when budget allows.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2013 at 11:23PM
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I second the advice about getting the design first. The irrigation will depend on what types of plants go where. You could create mulched beds, plant trees and large specimen shrubs and add sod first. Then, add the smaller plants any time later. Low voltage lighting could go in anytime after you've created a place to be lighted. The one thing that sounds strange to me is decomposed granite as a mulch under trees. Why wouldn't you use a wood-based mulch that returns to soil over time, rather than create a "mess" to be cleaned up later by someone?

    Bookmark   March 20, 2013 at 12:41AM
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100% disagree with prewiring for landscape lighting. You prewire a house, that wiring is safely behind drywall till you need it. Low voltage landscape wire is direct burial (no conduit) so every time a bed is edged, every time someone sticks a shovel in the ground somewhere, those lines can get cut or nicked. If someone unknowingly cuts a line on a 1/2 acre property and six months later your lighting tech can't figure out why the circuit doesn't work, you've negated all the cost savings prewiring was "supposed" to provide.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2013 at 1:17PM
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Don't paint yourself into a corner is a common error. Many choose to work on the property front first. When they get around to the back they have blocked access for heavy equipment. Materials have to be hand carried to the back, and there is no way to get the stump grinder, backhoe, concrete trucks, and other equipment back there. It can mean 1000s in extra cost. Or you can tear out the front to get there. Start at the back and work to the front.

Landscapes are built from the ground up. Nobody builds a house by building the kitchen first and then building a foundation under it, but the world is full of people who plant first and then see they needed grade changes. Assess grade and drainage first. Construct underground items, then surface hardscape, then install plants last.

The best way to keep everything in order is with a comprehensive plan as others have said. Make sure you anticipate any future uses for the property.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2013 at 1:35PM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b

If your landscaper is not OK with phased landscaping, get another one!!

Our landscaper is very cool with working within our time and budget. He has other customers, and is happy to work us in increments, when our budget allows. This is a smart businessman! He is not about ego! He is about making his customers happy!!

My only worry with your plan is No. 9. OMG! Please know if you remove a Liquidamber..AKA Liquid-DAMNN-ber, you will be pulling out baby trees for the rest of your living days unless you find a way to kill the tons of roots that shoot out 35+ feet from the trunk!! We are in that boat, and they don't come up in onsies... Oh NO! You get a clump of trunks... Round-up has no effect! AND the thing is, gophers are no help either! They go for the roses!!

Check my horror story in the trees forum. Liquid Amber.. has now become LiquidAnger!! I HATE that tree!!


I'm staying tuned to see how this goes for you!

    Bookmark   March 20, 2013 at 4:18PM
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Fori is not pleased

It's hard to beat liquidambar in the fall, swaying gently in the yard of someone else. We just don't have that many trees that can do fall color like that around here.

Anyway, you know if you need grading or not--it's not a new yard.

A designer won't care how long it takes you to do the work. They usually don't have a dog in that fight (unless they're involved in the actual installation). But landscapers do prefer to work in big bites, I think.

If you don't actually need a design, you might be able to get just a consultation with one for less cost than an actual plan. Or your GC's guy, working with the plan you have in your head, might be all you need to get the order of things worked out, especially if he doesn't mind doing the smaller, spaced out jobs.

Basically everyone is saying to get your plan in order so you can do things in the proper sequence, which is exactly what you came here to say you want to do. Hehe!

    Bookmark   March 20, 2013 at 11:50PM
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The theory on how to stage a renovation should not be any different than the staging required to put in a brand new landscape. And it's not all that difficult once you know what you want to do and where and a rough idea of plan in mind.

1. Site Prep:
Clearing out unwanted plants, removing trees (digging out/grinding down stumps), weeding.

Grading and amending soil, if necessary.

2. Hardscaping:
Building or installing any permanent, non-plant fixtures likes patios or terraces, walkways, walls and fences, trellises and any outbuildings. It is at this point you should think about putting in lighting or irrigation systems too, if that's on your list.

3. Planting:
Planting by size and seasonality - trees first, then smaller shrubs, perennials, etc. Annuals or very seasonal plantings tend to be the last items included, allowing for appropriate planting times (like for bulbs, basil, etc.).

The last thing you do is seed the lawn or lay sod. Ideally newly planted lawns should be kept free of any foot traffic until the sod has established or the seed germinates and that's pretty hard to accomplish if you are trekking all over it schlepping plants :-)

    Bookmark   March 22, 2013 at 6:40PM
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