12 January 2005
Virginia Cooperative Extension, Charlottesville/Albemarle County Office
460 Stagecoach Road, Charlottesville, Virginia 22902
phone: 434.872.4580 fax: 434.872.4578
The junipers are blocking the living room windows, the shade tree in the backyard has more dead than live branches, and the hollies and azaleas in the shrub border long ago gave up being individual shrubs. Sound familiar? If so, your home landscape may be in need of remodeling or renovation. And even though you may have realized this long ago, you have been hesitant or you have postponed doing anything about it.
If you start your renovation job not with a shovel or pruning shears, but with a pencil and paper, you can eliminate a lot of hard work and discover ways to minimize the change. Draw your house and landscape to scale, then do a thorough analysis of the existing environmental and plant conditions. Draw the house and semi- to permanent features (driveways, swimming pools, etc.) on a piece of paper. Make the drawing large so that plants and notes can be easily read and comfortably added to the plan. Tape a piece of tracing paper over the house plan and draw all of the existing plants. Begin making plant and environment notes (shady areas, prevailing wind direction, wet spots, etc.).
Look for and make notes about plant-related problems, hazards, and aesthetic or visual problems. Plant-related problems include poor growth, few flowers, or need for frequent pruning. Hazards exist when plants block windows or doors, or cover house numbers or utility accesses. Examples of aesthetic problems include a cluttered look, plants out of proportion, or a lack of seasonal interest.
Note the condition of each plant as either good, marginal, or poor, using different colors to indicate condition. If a plant is in good condition (growing at an appropriate rate, flowering properly), it might either remain where it is or be moved to a more favorable spot, but regardless, it should continue to be fertilized, pruned, and sprayed as needed. If a plant is in marginal condition (growth rate diminished, weak or total lack of flower production, many dead branches), several actions are available. Compare the monetary and time costs of renovating the plant (fertilizing, pruning, etc.) versus removing and replacing the plant. Consider how long the rehabilitated plant will be effective. If a plant is in poor condition (mainly dead branches, small leaves of pale color, no flowers), make a note to remove it.
Once a scale drawing has been made assessing the current landscape, start your renovation plans. Use another sheet of tracing paper over the base plan and the assessment overlay. Draw in those plants you feel should stay, either in their existing or different locations.
Make a list of what you want in your landscape in the future (e.g., less plant maintenance, more parking space, a swimming pool, a perennial garden, more shade on the hot southwest side of the house, etc.). Compare this list with the overlay that shows the plants you hope to save, and design a new landscape accordingly. Indicate the new permanent features first (parking area, swimming pool, tool shed, fencing), then add new planting areas.
Once you have a completed design, decide how much you can get done at one time. Renovation may take several years. If possible, complete permanent areas first to minimize future destruction of plantings. Use the overlay showing which plants to remove or move and carry out that work. As time and money permit, add the new plantings. Then remove any lawn areas that are poor or have been disturbed in the renovation process.
As the work progresses, adopt the proper cultural techniques to keep that new landscape growing at its best. Learn from earlier mistakes and capitalize on things you have done correctly.
Consider attending some winter lectures or seminars to get some good ideas for your plan. Two that are coming up soon are the Piedmont Landscape Associations 22nd Annual Landscape Management Seminar on Thursday, February 10 and for those of you who only go out at night consider the Piedmont Master Gardener Lecture Series on Wednesday evenings beginning February 23rd and going through March 30th. Flyers for both of these are on the web at http://info.ag.vt.edu/vce/offices/newsletters/PLAFlyer2005.pdf and http://avenue.org/pmg/lect2005.htm or you can call (872-4580) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org) my office and we will send them to you.
For more information about landscape topics contact your local Virginia Cooperative Extension office. The local Virginia Cooperative Extension office numbers are Albemarle 872-4580, Fluvanna 591-1950, Greene 985-5236, Louisa 540-967-3422, and Nelson 263-4035.