Written by Marge Vorndam, Colorado Master Gardener, 1997
We are in the Season when we begin to think about changes- like adding veggie gardens and flower gardens to our domestic lives. Both features of our yard space require planning. That means that we should approach the process wisely to come up with an optimal result. This article will present the Steps that can be followed to achieve desired outcomes for your yard space and your lifestyle. I am involved in this process at my new home, so this is a timely summation for me also. In my case, as a Native Plant Master, my goal is to build a wildlife flower garden to promote the populations of native birds and insects in my landscape. I am hoping to incorporate trees, bushes and native plants into my outdoor space. As a codicil, because I am an NPM, my examples here will be oriented to wildflower gardens, but the listed steps apply to overall landscaping for your home.
You likely already have thought about what you would like to see happen in your landscape, but whoa there! To optimize your eventual goals, you should follow the landscape planning steps. Do not just “plunk” plants without considering what you wish to achieve, and what the needs of your current landscape can offer. Here is the recommended process:
To begin with, an assessment of the space that you are considering changing should be developed. This means that you would conduct a comprehensive site analysis before you begin moving sod. This process will identify the opportunities and limitations of your existing situation. Draw up a map using grid-line paper that reflects a true physical scale of your current structures. This will be your base map. Be sure to include the landscape features, such as existing surface items (home, driveway, gardens, slopes, and trees/bushes). Also, check how the larger environment affects your overall property. Where do you have total sun or partial shade? Which direction does wind generally come from? What existing features already located on your property do you wish to maintain? For instance, there are patches of scrub oak and chokecherry on my property, and since those bushes have high wildlife value, and low, if any, water requirements, I might consider leaving them where they are, or moving them to a more desirable location. (See Colorado Native Plant Society. 2020. Low-water Native Plants for Colorado Gardens: Southeastern Colorado. https://conps.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Low-Water-Native-Plants-for-CO-Gardens-SE-CO.pdf for ideas of plants that will work in the Pueblo County and surrounding areas))
Figure 1: An example of a site analysis drawing
Also, delineate where current irrigation and utility lines exist. For utility line placement, call 811 to tap into the local utility company’s line location services.
Then, use a copy of your map to pencil in where you would be wishing to make changes. Consider the needs of your family culture. Do you require grassy open spaces for children to play in? What are your goals related to establishing a flower or vegetable garden? What are the constraints of your existing landscape that will allow for those activities? Will you have to relocate utility or irrigation lines to achieve what you wish to accomplish? What would need to be changed regarding that?
Another consideration is the health of the existing soil in areas where you plan on making changes. Get the soil tested to find out if soil augmentation would be required. In Colorado, this service is provided by Colorado State University’s Soil, Water and Plant Testing Laboratory (see http://www.soiltestinglab.colostate.edu/index.html). You may have to augment the soil based on the needs of the plants that you will be using. After all, you will see the most final success if you put the right plant in the right place.
Irrigation is a major factor in Colorado landscaping. Will you have to adjust the watering pattern and volume to achieve what you wish to accomplish? Changing your sod from a high-water use lawn grass to a low-water type may be a consideration toward water conservation. The new sprinkler control systems, battery powered smart irrigation controllers, are an energy and water conservation feature that brings landscape watering into the modern age. See for more information Dukes, M.D.2018. Smart Irrigation Controllers: What makes an Irrigation Controller Smart? UF/IFAS Extension https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ae442 .
Think of your landscape as an extension of your home, with outdoor “rooms” of trees, shrubs, plants and gardens. Do you want to develop paths and hardscape features to guide access to your landscape areas? That should also be drawn on your map.
Then, it is time to assess what is appropriate for your overall space. Will the drawn-up landscape plan that you envision fit into your landscape, given consideration of slopes, soil, your irrigation system pattern, incoming climate considerations, and so on? Does it need revision based on the existing site conditions and your desires? Does further research on the needs of the landscape items which you wish to incorporate to ensure that they will be successful in the areas in which you want to incorporate them? Revise your Landscape plans in accordance to what will be the constraints of the site with which you are working.
The work begins. You have a good plan, but before tearing up your yard, you may wish to consult a Landscape Planner/Architect /Contractor to help you to review, revise, and finalize your plan. That person has considerable experience and can save you from errors in judgement. The actual changes to your landscape can be self-accomplished or created with the help of the Landscape Planner. All the best as you develop a super landscape layout for your enjoyment.
Figure 2: A well planned landscape can be beautiful and functional
Resources Available Online
CMG Planttalk Landscape Design Resources. https://cmg.extension.colostate.edu/gardening-resources/online-garden-publications/landscape-design/
Vasquez, L.A., 2021. Redesigning Your Landscape: A Guide to Transforming your Yard into a Florida-Friendly Landscape. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1XhTl7D-SFfRinafWhV_PKYzvp2pNxtal/view – This is a presentation from Florida, but it provides more detailed information on landscaping steps generally. The information on plants to consider will not be germane to Colorado landscapes.