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Landscape Plantings: When to DIY and When to Hire a Landscape Designer

Posted On: July 25,2019 By: Mary Dresser, RLA ALSA

When it comes to landscape plantings, a lot of people assume that they can perform the work on their own. And when projects are small enough, that’s certainly true in many cases. If you are willing to put in some research and hard work, you could likely perform some other installations on your property.

However, it’s not uncommon for homeowners to start a project and realize they’ve turned a corner and it’s gotten larger (and more complicated) than they anticipated. There’s nothing worse than feeling over your head and suddenly worrying whether you’re doing the work right—or whether you’re potentially risking your time, effort, and monetary investment going to waste.

In order to help give you some sense of when to choose a DIY route and when to hire a professional landscape designer for landscape plantings, we’ve rounded up some helpful information. 

Keep in mind that we’re focused on plantings in this article. Hardscaping always requires the input and expertise of landscape designers.

Consider DIY for These Landscape Plantings

The following tasks are potentially suited to a DIY approach. However, keep in mind that even if a task seems simple, you should still perform some research and have a good understanding of what needs to be done in order to achieve success. 

Even something as seemingly “simple” as planting flowers can go wrong when simple mistakes are made related to factors like plant selection, planting depth, or site conditions.

Replacing a Few Shrubs

With some research on details such as site conditions, planting depth, and spacing (to name some important factors), it’s quite possible that you’d be able to replace a few shrubs around your property on your own, particularly if you’re putting them in a spot that’s already had shrubs planted and is properly prepared. 

shrubs around driveway

Of course, creating a brand-new landscape bed is a whole different story and a lot more involved.

Adding a Few Flats of Annual Color

Installing annuals in an existing plant bed is another DIY-friendly task. But as we mentioned, though it seems simple enough, you should still be prepared with some vital information. 

You can’t just go to your local box store and pick what you think “looks good.” You need to have a good understanding of how much sunlight and moisture the area gets as you choose your flowers accordingly.

Container Plantings

Container gardening is another common DIY task. In fact, we have performed some projects in which a spot for containers was planned on the landscape design but the homeowner handled those plantings on their own. 

container flower garden

Because containers are something that are usually switched out seasonally, it’s something that some homeowners like to tackle themselves—and may even really enjoy, particularly for those with a green thumb. 

But that’s not to say that we won’t install your container gardens for you as part of a complete landscape design. We have worked with plenty of homeowners that would prefer we handle all of the tasks, making it truly hassle-free and hands-off for them.

Planting a Couple of Small Trees

Small tree installation can also potentially be handled on your own. But the larger and more mature the tree, the more complex the job. Plus, with a larger and more mature tree, your wheelbarrow and personal tools simply might not do the trick. 

You might require mechanical equipment and deeper excavation. It’s also worth noting that some trees can get pretty expensive. The last thing that you want to do is make a mistake and waste your money because the tree died. Before tackling any tree installation, make sure you feel confident you know what you’re doing and don’t over-simplify this.

Choose a Pro for these Landscape Plantings

Sometimes, the tasks are simply too large to handle as a DIY project. Of course, that might not always be evident from the start. We’ve heard from homeowners who thought they could handle a certain task but quickly found themselves over their heads. The following landscape plantings should consider the involvement and expertise of a professional landscape designer.

Adding Large Plant Beds

The installation of a large plant bed can be a complex task. For one, it can require mechanical equipment and tools that the average homeowner doesn’t own. You also need to make sure that your soil is amended properly in order to allow plants to grow in a desired location.

large plant bed near pool

It’s also hard for most homeowners to visualize what these new planting beds are going to look like in 5, 10, or 20 years down the road. To avoid a cluttered mess or plants that outgrow their spaces, it may be a good option to connect with a knowledgeable landscape designer and have their team install these plants with the proper spacing. A pro will also have knowledge of plant species you may not be aware of and could offer a  better alternative to popular choices. 

Adding Layers of Color or Attempting Multi-Seasonal Interest

Installing a few flats of annuals is one thing but any time that you get into trying to create layers of color, a large number of flowers, or attempting multi-seasonal interest, the work becomes pretty complex.

colorful plantings around patio

There is both an art and a science to this and who better than a professional landscape designer to bring the art and science to life for your long term enjoyment. A pro will be able to create a layered look that takes everything from plant heights to fullness to even complementary color palettes into account.

A pro will also know exactly what will be in bloom (and when) and can create a landscape design that encompasses this. The last thing that you want is to have some big “holes” in your landscape because you didn’t coordinate bloom times just right. 

Adding Terraces or Planting on a Slope

Landscape plantings on a sloped property can be an incredibly complex endeavor. Even the physical ability to install the plantings is difficult when you have to traverse a slope or embankment. But also finding plants that will actually work in this environment is another challenge.

plantings in sloped landscape near pool

Sometimes, homeowners prefer a solution such as adding terraces, which are leveled off areas that “step down” the slope. These leveled areas require proper grading and perhaps the proper installation of small retaining walls that remain functional and upright for the test of time. The peace of mind that such tasks provide to a homeowner, are certainly delivered best when the pros are brought in. 

Considering Plants Near Structures, Patios, Pools, Etc.

Landscape plantings alongside hardscaped areas or near structures pose their own set of challenges. For one, you have to consider any potential disruption to the foundation of these hardscaped areas. You also wouldn’t want to create a drainage problem when an issue never previously existed. After all, the last thing that you want is soil or mulching suddenly washing out over your patio or walkways.

professional landscape plantings around patio

You also have to think about root systems when planting near structures or hardscaping. Roots can be invasive and can potentially lift up patios or cause damage to structures. You need to know exactly what the roots will be like for anything that you plant.

It’s also worth noting that not all landscape planting material makes a good choice around pools. You don’t want to plant something that is going to shed debris all over your patio and wind up in your pool. You also want to be careful about attracting bees and other stinging insects to your pool area, or surrounding the site with prickly plant material, where your kids will be hanging out.

Consider Your Landscape Design Options Carefully

It can be easy to want to tackle landscaping planting projects on your own, assuming that they’ll be simple. But too often we’ve seen projects go awry or become more complex than anticipated. This can lead to more hassles and more investment in the long run than had you worked with a professional landscape designer in the first place.

You deserve to get the great-looking landscape that you desire. By working with a landscape designer from the very beginning, who is an expert in design as well as plant material, you’ll avoid having to redo your landscaped areas down the road. That will prevent future problems and unwanted investments. Instead, from day one, you’ll be able to fully enjoy the space with peace of mind and investment satisfaction for years to come. 

If you’d like to start a conversation about how you can bring your outdoor dreams to life including professional plantings at your Reading, Lancaster, York, Lebanon, or Hershey, PA home, contact us for a free consultation or give us a call at (717) 276-9447.

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Mary Dresser, RLA ALSA

Written by Mary Dresser, RLA ALSA

Mary Hatch Dresser is a Registered Landscape Architect with a Bachelor’s degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Georgia School of Environmental Design. Mary has designed landscapes for 32 years and joined ETW exclusively in 2009. Mary is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA); and also serves on the Shade Tree Committee in Strasburg Borough where she resides. Mary prides herself in carefully listening to her clients to professionally meld their ideas and personal criteria with sound, experienced design practice.

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