Landscape Design Basics

Our goal is to provide you with landscape design basics to help you convert to landscape designs that are drought-tolerant and use California native plants. We want to help you have a beautiful low-maintenance garden without paying for an expensive landscape design and the discomfort of a complete upheaval.

Here is the short version of what will need to happen before you have that beautiful new garden area.

We are going to help you gather information that we need to provide a useful garden design for you. Download our worksheet here (NEED TO DO THIS). Once it is filled out, we can begin helping you choose a landscape design that will work.

1. Decide what style of garden you would like. Find gardens in that style in books, and in neighborhoods near you, and look and see what things about them work, or not. Look at the photos in our Landscaping ideas page, visit the public gardens in our Public Gardens page.

2. You need to know what climate zone you are in. Start from our California Native Plants page and browse to understand both the USDA plant hardiness zones as well the Sunset Climate Zones for California.

3. What irrigation is available, mark out what part of your new area is high, medium, or low water. Even if you plant no water plants, you'll need to hand water initially. It is important to group plants in watering areas that are consistent - all high, medium, low and no water plants in the same watering zone. If you are re-engineering an old watering system, or installing a new one, check out the new watering controllers. There are new controllers that do multiple zones, days, have rain sensors... If you are re-engineering your water system, a new controller could be the most important decision you make to save water. Look here at out irrigation systems checklist.

4. What sun/shade level are the areas you are planting. You will need to choose plants that thrive in those light areas. Add sun levels here.

5. Decide on what use patterns you have for your garden. Are there areas you need to keep the way they are? Are there areas you should hardscape? Do you have adequate paths/walkways? What kind do you want to have? It is usually a good idea to do hardscaping, and setting up of paths before you begin planting.

6. Know your garden soil. Soil types are sand, loam, or clay. Santa Clara county tends to be clay. Choose plants that will do well with the type of drainage your soil has. Clay, for example, has poor drainage, so if you want plants that need good drainage, you will probably want to create mounds, or berms in your garden to create some drainage.

7. Draw a basic landscape map for yourself before you start. It will be the backbone of your design. Include watering zones, soil type, light planes, and hardscape. There is an area for this on the information sheet we wouldlike you to fill in.

8. Choose one of our garden designs that fits the style you would like, climate zone, the sunlight amount you have, the soil type you have, the irrigation level (high, medium, low, or no water) you have, and that will fit with the hardscape you have.

9. Using the garden design you have chosen, choose plants for your design using our plant search area. Write the plant names and amounts needed down on your worksheet.

10. Remove your lawn. (We will need a plan here for how to do that - R is working on it)ible either in your planting schedule, or in putting in temporaryplants, may be necessary.

11. Improve your soil before you start. Oyster shell is a very effective soil amendment for the clay in Santa Clara county. Go to your local nursery and ask what they recommend for your area. Compost is also an excellent amendment. You can buy compost, but the compost you make is much better, and richer. If you can't make you own, another option is to pour "compost tea" on your soil. After amending, or even if you decide not to amend, mulch is good for any California soil. It is important to surface mulch 3-4" deep. Mulch can be shredded redwood or cedar bark, wood shreddings from your local tree service (request "clean" mulch from them, they usually deliver for free) do not use straw, hay, manure or treated wood products.

12. Prepare your irrigation system. Our irrigation page will have the basics of how to convert normal sprinklers to drip. Drip Works USA has a website with free videos, and design tools. There are many books on sprinklers and drip systems. There are online tutorials like this one from Jess Stryker on how to install irrigation systems. Find source you like, and set up the appropriate thing for the garden you are installing. Our garden design plan will include what kind of watering we suggest for each plant.

13. Buy your plants. We have a list of nurseries that carry native plants. Many do mail order, and many others will let you order, and then pickup your plants. Your local nursery may also be able to order plants for you. Planting directions for each type of plant will come with the design plan that you choose.

14. Plant the plants. With each Garden Design we will have basic planting instructions for each plant we recommend.

15. Maintain your plants. Weeding, mulching, and careful and appropriate watering are the way to have a successful garden. We have links to California Natives, and gardening forums here that can help you troubleshoot problems with your plants, find new plants to add, and provide information you need to enjoy your new garden.

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