As a Landscape contractor and to an ever growing degree; a construction contractor, we encounter many different types of projects. I feel our mind set of constantly striving towards maximizing our efficiency gives us an edge in the landscape sector. Our broad skill set (which includes the likes of construction and other complimentary talents) gets us in the door on other outdoor projects. This broader ranging skill set and the ability to do more as an individual contractor allows us to accomplish more than many of our competitors. We’ve built value into our company by offering efficient broad ranged skills tailored to the outdoor environment. This saves our customers money and allows them to get the proverbial “most bang for their buck”. Most of our projects come down to that of new construction or renovation. Today, I’d like to elaborate some, on the value of using one company for all or most of your outdoor needs. For this discussion, I’d like to focus on new construction.
On any given new construction project, the home owner is faced with a myriad of decisions and options. This is compounded by the fact that many of them must flow in a certain order if maximum efficiency is to be attained. Efficiency translates to lowered costs. I’ve arrived at estimates where the home owner is excited to share their ideas with me as to the dream landscape they’ve always wanted. I listen painfully as they describe boulders, patios and berms with lighted large caliper trees. Inside I’m screaming. I think of the heavy equipment it’s going to require to perform such a task and before me is a newly sodded yard surrounding a home with a 3′ landscape bed. As they describe the dream, I think on the reality of the situation. The reality is they have just wasted countless dollars and reduced the budget for creating the dream by lack of planning and coordination. Sod and sprinklers will need to be moved or thrown away all together. Heavy equipment which could have radically sped up the project is now out of play or at least going to cause needless damage to the existing turf. Wiring for outdoor lighting has been left out and the cost has now doubled to install it. These situations can almost exclusively be avoided by simply hiring the right company to coordinate the entire process. Here are my suggestions on handling at least the outdoor aspects on a typical new home:
New Construction Guide: Steps one should follow during construction to maximize your outdoor construction dollar.
1. Planning: Get a plan or two for that matter. I can’t elaborate enough just how important this part is!!! Some landscape companies offer scaled drawings and or picture graphics software that provide you with a vision of what your outdoor environment can or will look like. This plan should be comprehensive and include those other elements that you plan on introducing into your outdoor environment. An example would be: fences, decks, patios, walkways, Retaining walls, utility sheds, fire pits, water features, outdoor kitchens, or special activities area’s (ex. a playground). These are but a few of the projects that can be added to the outdoor environment. I’ve been on many projects where builders coordinate some of these outdoor projects and I’ve seen different levels of success under these situations. The bottom line is getting a plan. You need to feel comfortable that your landscape contractor has your best interests in mind (aesthetically, functionally and financially).
2. Concrete: During the planning phase, a good landscape designer may alter or enhance the shape and flow of concrete walkways, drives and or patios. The concrete can often be utilized to accent the landscape beds creating a nice comfortable flow throughout the entire project. Understand that by adding curves and or square footage to the project you have the potential to see a higher price on that portion of the job as well. It’s always best to ask, I’ve found that generally the cost is nominal and the reward great.
3. Down spouts: When discussing concrete, it’s important to think about your down spouts around the home. Down spouts are occasionally disregarded, home owners can be left with a 4-6′ extension that requires you to flip them up each time the mower’s used. In some situations, a down spout is placed right next to a walkway, this allows winter melt off from the roof to turn around and freeze on the side walk creating a slipping hazard. Today, home owners have the option of in ground drainage systems. This system takes water from the down spout’s and moves water away from the home underground via PVC or corrugated pipe. The pipes can be day lighted (camouflaged yet openly exposed) into landscape beds or terminated via drain basins located in the turf. Drain basins need to be drilled at the base and covered on top to prevent critters from entering and plugging your lines. The covers are needed to avoid a nasty ankle sprain as well. I recommend dispersion plates as covers over popups, they are easier to maintain where large numbers of leaves may fall. In areas with large mature trees close to the home, I’d even consider adding leaf guards to the gutters. Down spouts can be ascetically pleasing as well. We have utilized rubber liner to create dry creek beds to transfer water; this works well and adds interest to the landscape.
Keep in mind, pipes are buried and buried pipes go in much easier if the concrete is not present at the time of installation. Again a good landscape designer will guide you through this process and should coordinate with the builder to make sure this step isn’t forgotten.
3. Drainage: Rough grade the property and add soil to the landscape beds where needed. This area is often overlooked, creating future problems in the landscape and even going as far as to see water damage to the home itself. The key words here are positive drainage. Water needs to move away from the home and easily find its way to the property lines. This same concept needs to work through the landscape beds. In heavy soils, such as those we work with here in Lincoln NE, soil is often added in the form of berming and or contouring. Nursery stock depending on its variety often requires far less moisture than that of turf. Berming and or mounding the soil (in an aesthetic manner of course) not only allows the plant material to grow in better soil. It also allows us to shed water away from those plants that tend to dislike high moisture growing conditions. Some landscape companies sub out the grading others are all inclusive. The bottom line again here is that your landscape contractor should be a part of this phase of the project.
4. Walls: Retaining walls and or stone work should occur next. With the grade for the most part being established in the rough grade, it’s time to build walls and incorporate stone features such as boulders. Granted in some situations, retaining walls may actually supersede this step. Quite frankly, it comes down to the situation and access to the wall and or stone portion of the project. Retaining wall blocks and boulders are heavy. Most of the equipment utilized to install those features is heavy as well. Your landscape contractor needs to coordinate this step of the project to avoid future conflicts. I’ve arrived at estimates where the home owner is excited to share their ideas with me as to the dream landscape they’ve always wanted. I listen as they describe boulders, patios and berms with lighted large caliper trees. Inside I’m screaming. I think of the heavy equipment it’s going to require to perform such a task and before me is a newly sodded yard, surrounding a home with a 3′ landscape bed. As they describe the dream, I think on the reality of the situation. The reality is, they have just wasted countless dollars and reduced the budget for creating the dream by lack of planning and coordination. Sod and sprinklers will need to be moved or thrown away all together. Heavy equipment which could have radically sped up the project is now out of play or at least going to cause needless damage to the existing turf. Wiring for outdoor lighting has been left out and the cost has now doubled to install it. These situations can almost exclusively be avoided by simply hiring the right company to coordinate the entire process.
5. Structures, buried services, landscape beds and low voltage wiring: These items (assuming you’ve budgeted for them) are the next step in finishing the outdoor portion of your new home. Structures fall under a board heading in my book. Structures, features or special needs areas can evoke many examples; some would include decks, fences, gazebo’s, playhouses, storage sheds, patios, fire pits, outdoor kitchens, etc. We want those structures or features that affect irrigation, fencing, and or landscaping to be placed now. These features should have been mentioned earlier during the planning and designing phase. A good designer would have thought this portion through carefully. I always try to place those structures in the landscape beds when available. You will lesson trimming and shorten the overall mow time on your home. If some of these features are to be added later, still consider the cost advantages of adding the service’s (such as gas lines, water lines, or wiring) now. If you know where the fire pit is to reside then install the gas line now. Pipe installation is far less costly if it can occur prior to a finished yard. A finished yard could require hand digging of gas lines or electrical services. Regardless of how it’s done, repair on irrigation systems and or turf are generally inevitable. Low voltage lighting allows for wiring to be placed right at the surface of the soil. If outdoor lighting is on your radar as a future addition, I’d recommend adding the wiring now as well. The wire and subsequent labor to install it is fairly inexpensive if you catch it now. Adding wire to an existing bed covered in mulch or for that matter weed barrier and rock is a real pain in the back side, as it adds labor and needless clean up to the process.
At Landmark, we like to package fencing into our overall outdoor package. It only makes sense for us to install the fence as we build the other outdoor structures in conjunction with the landscape beds. I generally like to see the fence go in prior to any type of irrigation. The fence is fairly rigid as to its position on the property. On many occasions, the fence line is going to follow the property line. Unfortunately, the irrigation contractor may be thinking that same thought. The last thing you want is for the fence contractor to drop posts all along (or on top of) your irrigation lines. It’s best to have the fence in place and then a good irrigation contractor can run parallel to the fence and install the heads as needed. Keep in mind structures, fencing and landscaping directly influence the coverage of an irrigation system. Once again, that’s where I think its best that landscaping and fencing both come prior to the irrigation system.
We also recommend installing the landscape beds prior to sprinkler installation (next step). Landscape beds are essentially those spaces ear marked for future landscaping. This space will eventually become home to trees, shrubs, perennials, and grasses. Landscape beds may be flat or bermed with boulders or without, mulched or rocked, edged or edgeless. It all comes back to your personal preference, your interest in gardening, and your budget. Landscape beds if done properly will accent the home and tie everything together. I can go on and on about the design process but for the purposes of this discussion I just want you to understand that the space needs to be created in this step and preferably covered to prevent weeds. By creating the landscape beds you allow for the next phase, irrigation. If outdoor lighting is on your radar as a future addition, I’d recommend adding the wiring now as well. The wire and subsequent labor to install it is fairly inexpensive if you catch it now. Adding wire to an existing bed covered in mulch or for that matter weed barrier and rock is a real pain in the back side. It adds needless labor and clean up to the process. If you’re planning on using rock as your mulch, then weed barrier and edging are also required. Edging holds the rock from spilling out into the lawn only to be picked up by your mower and thrown through your neighbor’s window. Simply stated, edging should go in now prior to rocking or mulching if you prefer. Edging is best installed by a machine, prior to sprinkler head placement. Remember, the irrigation design is directly affected by the landscape beds. So finish all of the above up and move to step 6.
6. Irrigation: There are many levels of irrigation systems available to the home owner these days. The essential areas are controllers, heads valves and lines. Just like a car, you have all sorts of options and upgrades. Pipe or lines are all fairly standardized these days and I think most of them offer fairly substantial warranties on the pipe. Ask the irrigation provider what your options are when looking at the irrigation system. I always suggest upgrading the heads. Entry level heads won’t last much past five years before they are having problems. It takes the same amount of time to install an upgraded head so think about this some. The next area to ponder would be that of upgrading the valves. Valves control the supply of water to the heads. Valves can be compared to your heart. This is another area that I generally make sure I’m utilizing good quality equipment. Lastly, you have controllers. I don’t go for all the whistles and bells, I just want one that’s bullet proof. Landscape beds will most likely require drip irrigation. This can be done through your irrigation subcontractor or in the case of us; we like to do that portion ourselves. My plants going in and by god I’m going to ensure that they are protected. The turf and landscaping have different needs. Don’t expect an irrigation system without drip to handle your landscape beds effectively. The number one killer of nursery stock is over watering, that’s why I spend a bit extra and have the two separated and controlled as per their individual needs. Though drip can be added later in life, it’s much cheaper to do it now as the landscape beds go in! If you don’t see yourself as being able to hand water during times of drought or stress, than you better get a quote for drip irrigation as well.
7. Final grade: This is fairly self-explanatory but I felt it best to talk about it briefly. As discussed earlier, rough grading is when a contractor whether it is the landscaper or a sub grades your yard and coordinates the water flow away from the home. They take out the highs and lows so no water is trapped. Final grading is when the contractor goes in and fixes any tracks left behind from the other contractors (landscape, irrigation, construction). Final grading should alleviate any low spots which hold water. The final grade also breaks up clods and yes for the most part cleans up the debris left by other contractors. Once the soil is prepared for seed and or sod (step 8) Turf is next.
8. Turf: Turf is the final phase for the new home. Today there are a lot of turf types out there. Check with your University if applicable and find out what is recommended for your area. Different turfs have different needs and different uses. They are also greatly affected by varying levels of sun or shade. Determine what site is going to have most of (sun or shade) and then do some research on your own or simply ask a qualified landscape contractor. On larger acreages you may find yourself needing and or wanting multiple turf types. I find myself recommending native grasses and other less needy varieties for the outlying areas. Natives look great once established, you can also add wildflower mixes to those areas where a beautiful meadow is desired. The native grass areas will require little mowing and little irrigation once established. Once you’ve determined which type of turf to utilize, the next step is to decide on how you want it to be installed. Nothing beats sod when it comes to holding slopes or making an instant lawn. At the same time, I tell most of my customers that for the price of switching from sod to seed you can often times come close to paying for your irrigation system. You are the final say. Let budget and need determine your course. If a pet needs access to the yard, than sod may be the way to go. At the same time, a small fenced in area can be sodded and the rest of the yard seeded. Slopes can readily be stabilized through the use of sod as well. Today seeding comes in mainly two forms, hydro seeding or direct seeding. Hydro seeding utilizes paper pulp to help protect the seed from desiccation and it generally has some type of started fertilizer built into the mix. Direct seeding can involve broadcast spreading where the seed is tossed out over the area to be seeded or it can be directly installed into the ground via a drill seeder. If broadcasting is utilized, I’d highly recommend that your installer provide some form or mechanical means to ensure that the seed has a good seed to soil contact. Keep in mind that some sort of erosion control material will need to be utilized on sloped areas of the yard. Today’s technology offers a variety of erosion control materials if seeding is your final decision.