Planning a Landscape Project Designing Beyond a Budget

Question: We’re in the planning process of landscaping our new home and want to know where we should spend the biggest part of our landscape budget? Should it be on more mature trees, irrigation system or whatever? Any help would be appreciated! Jean Birmingham, Alabama

Answer: When starting the design of any landscape project either new or a rehab you must look at more than budget alone. Budget time for both planning and the design process as the first steps. Take your time.

The mistakes made in the beginning by rushing through the planning and design steps can cause problems later on and create lots of headaches for you and contractors during the installation of the project or later on with ongoing maintenance issues.

Determine The Landscape Needs

A landscape design when properly executed should meet your personal needs in a pleasing manner this includes the plant selection and other design elements working in unison.

Landscape plans go beyond looks alone. Areas for recreation or privacy may be desired coupled with other elements like running water, fragrant flowers or items to attract wildlife like birds.

Bringing all these items together does not happen by chance. An overall plan should be put in place from the beginning to deliver the end wants and needs.

Map The Landscape Out

Every landscape should start its life with a map to layout the overall property. This map should be drawn to scale and include building locations and other items on the property such as a pool or driveway.

Think of the landscape as building outdoors. Your map should also include other elements on the property like trees, native shrubs or undesirable views you want noted. Make sure the map includes any property restrictions, easements and the location of all utility services. Make sure any drainage issues are also referenced.

Break The Landscape into Zones

Look at how the property will be used and start breaking the areas into zones. These zones could be privacy areas, parking, areas for play or recreation, entrances, patio and poll, etc.

By creating these zones you’ll be able to select the best landscaping plants and give the right spacing according to the needs and function of each zone.

The use is one kind of zone but the landscape should also be broken into different irrigation zones. Areas that are highly visible and feature some tender plant material may need more regular irrigating than areas requiring less water or water at all.

Consider dividing the irrigation into 3 types of zones

  • High water requirements sometimes called — Oasis — This concentrates water and improves water management in plants close to main landscape areas. The zone often has reduced irrigation cost since water mains are closer to the areas needing water.
  • A moderate zone requiring occasional watering
  • Low or natural zone requiring possibly only rainfall

Time to Create the Design


The time has come to finally give some form to all the pre work landscape planning and define what the landscape will look like. It’s time to create the landscape plan. With the design goals laid out and plant material properly selected for the zone the design takes shape on paper.

It’s important to remember when reviewing the plant material to take into account the mature size and shape of the chosen plants. Plant “grades” need to be selected. Questions like how many trunks? Plant size and spread need to be nailed now. The selection process not only includes plant material and soft goods but also hardgoods, sprinklers, landscape rocks, pavers, landscape edging, etc — everything involved in the landscape installation.

The best design is often the simplest. A well-planned landscape, which is functional and simple, makes maintenance easier and also uses water efficiently. The landscape goes beyond the money part of the budget. Make sure you budget the time and effort for planning your landscape.

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