6 New Construction Landscaping Tips
When you purchase a new construction home, you may have landscaping done by the builder, or you may not. That’s something to discuss as you’re going over the plans for your new home. Basic landscaping may be part of the base cost of your new construction home. It’s a good idea to check and ask what “basic” landscaping entails.
If basic landscaping does come with your new home, great, that takes some of the burden off of you. Even if you’re not 100% happy with what is provided, at least you’re not looking at a desert of bare patches for a lawn, making your beautiful home look oddly out of place. Go with what’s provided and change it after you’ve moved in if you so desire.
If your new construction home comes with no landscaping, you’re going to have to do it yourself. Most builders don’t allow you to have a vacant lot or, if you have a homeowner’s association, they will have rules and regulations as to what you can and cannot have in your lot. Check with them first. No point in going through the time and expense to build a grotto in the backyard if the head of the homeowner’s association is going to show up with a basket of muffins and a cease and desist order. Find out the rules first before you jump into building your own Taj Mahal.
Table of Contents
Overview: It’s Not a Burden; It’s a Blank Slate
If your new construction home has no landscaping, don’t look at it as a burden; see it for what it is, a blank slate. You now have the freedom to create the landscaping you want, replete with choice of trees, grass, and other amendments like water features, shrubbery, with a nice path between them, or maybe just a lovely lawn of robust and green grass.
Start by visualizing how you want your lot to look. Take a walk around your new property and sketch what you see. Don’t worry about your art skills; this is for you, you’re drawing to incite inspiration. Sketch the lot, the house, the hills, the neighbor’s trees that might be hanging into your property. Sketch everything that you will incorporate into your final vision of your new landscaping. In this beginning stage, just let your mind run free and don’t say no to anything. In the beginning stages, everything is possible.
Map the Sun
Grab your camera or your cell phone and create a sun map of your property. This process might be a little time-consuming; however, it will help you lay out your ideas.
Take a picture of the area you’re going to be landscaping every hour of daylight so that you can see where the sun shines brightest and which areas are in shadow.
You can also get an app like SunSurveyor or SunSeeker to help you understand the sun’s journey through your lot. Once you’ve done this, lay the photos out in a timeline, and you’ll have a great representation of a day in the life of your soon-to-be lawn.
Use the Sun Map
further. Now you know high sun and low sun areas. Now, you’ll know when direct sun is hitting the earth and for how long.
With this information, you can start to visualize what your lot will look like as time progresses. Visualize what you want the area to look like once trees have grown and fruited, bushes have come in full, and your flowers have exploded in color. A landscaping design app can help you better visualize and thus plan what you will plant and where.
Once you have this all worked out head to your local greenhouse and ask about plants and trees that thrive in constant, direct sun and those that thrive better in the shade or no sun areas. More information brings you more choices for your landscaping. Take notes and add what you’ve learned to your sketches.
With your knowledge of sunny and shady spots, plus the information as to which trees and plants flourish in those particular areas, you can start making choices about what you want to plant. But before you purchase any flora, you must …
Have a Dirty Mind
Yes, let your mind get down into the dirt.
Before you purchase a single plant, you’ll want to think about soil. All soil is not created equally, and the soil around a new construction home can be susceptible to one or more of the following conditions;
Poor soil quality. Contractors often bring in fill dirt to elevate a new home, fill in depressions, or provide a slope to get water to flow away from the house. This fill dirt can come from anywhere in the surrounding area and may include topsoil if you’re lucky. Most likely, though, it will contain large amounts of subsoil.
The subsoil has not been watered or worked over by nature’s natural gardening assistants; worms, microbes, insects, organic materials, and nutrients. All of these ease the soil into planting shape. When time and the elements have been with the soil, the structure becomes more conducive to rooting plants.
Improve poor quality soil. First, you’ll want to get a soil test. This test will help you discover which nutrients your soil lacks to amend your soil accordingly. Most likely, you’re going to build your topsoil.
Construction debris. Fill dirt is poor quality soil not only for what it lacks but also for what it contains. Most likely, your soil is filled with construction debris. When you’re digging in fill dirt to plant your rose bushes, your garden spade is likely to quank into large rocks or other construction debris.
Remove this stuff. That’s the remedy, remove it. You’ll have to clear away large stones and nails, chunks of wood, bits of concrete, coffee cups, and goodness knows what else that has been folded into the soil when it was trucked into the construction site.
If there’s a lot of debris or it’s big stuff, it may cost you to have it hauled away. Some townships or municipalities will transport it for you; most won’t. So, you’ll need a plan to get rid of all that junk in the soil before you can plant.
Compacted soil. There is a lot of activity on a new home construction site. There’s heavy machinery as well as foot traffic from laborers. All that activity is going to compact the soil on your lot. You may ask, why don’t the builders do something about that? Well, the truth is, builders like compact soil. For them, it’s okay. They want well-compacted soil so that structures aren’t shifting during their building.
For your soon-to-be lawn, compact soil is no bueno. Grass, plants, and trees need a loose soil structure to thrive. The roots need a smooth path to go as deep as possible to anchor the plant and stay healthy.
Till the cows come home. With compact soil, any area that you’re looking to cultivate will need tilling. If you have a layer of compacted soil and add a topsoil layer, you’ll want to till deep enough to combine the two.
If you don’t till deep enough and combine the two soils, you’re discouraging your new lawn and garden from setting deep roots, and it will be weak. It may run off with heavy rain and leave you with bare dirt. So, till and till, til the cows come home for a healthier lawn.
You’ve tilled your land, you’ve planned out what you want to plant and where. Before you get to planting, I know, I know, you’re so anxious to put stuff on the ground and watch it grow. Patience, that’s happening soon.
Before planting grass, you’re going to bury wiring and set power outlets. In your planning stages, make sure you consider where you might need power outlets for lighting, power tools, water features, or anything that may require power. At the very least, put the conduit in those areas before you start your planting.
Also, use high-quality insulated wiring to protect against mother nature and time. Once you’ve done that, and your wires and outlets are installed, it’s time to start planting.
Pick the Right Grass
If your builder has dropped down sod or did a quick grass seeding, it may not thrive. That could be because it is the wrong grass.
While you’re imagining your landscape layout, keep in mind where you want to plant grass. Once you’ve decided on the area, you can then choose the proper grass. Look at your sun map and see what kind of sun the places where the grass will go will receive. Will there be long periods of direct sunlight, or will the area spend a lot of time in the shade? You’ll need this information when you’re picking grass strains.
Cool-season varieties will do well in cool, shady areas but will wilt and brown in constant direct sunlight. In comparison, warm-season grasses will need tiny hats and parkas to survive if you place them in a predominantly shaded area.
Closer to home here in Utah, we see predominately cool-season grasses, but different varieties will react accordingly in shade or direct sunlight. You could do a nice blend of grasses but still consult your sun map and talk to a lawn specialist about the best type of grass for your specific lot.
Pick the right grass for the right areas, and your lawn should remain lush and green for a long time. Ask a specialist or do some online research. With your sun map in hand, you’re bound to make the perfect grass pick.
Preparing for a New Lawn
You have a blank canvas, and you want to start by creating a lush lawn of soft, green grass. Here are a few simple steps to take, ensuring that you have a strong, long-lasting, healthy lawn.
Sart by tilling your soil. As we mentioned before, you’ll want to loosen compacted soil with a deep tilling. This loosens soil and prevents it from holding water to allow grass, plants, and trees to grow freely.
Once tilled, scatter a layer of topsoil around. Fill in holes and uneven areas with the topsoil. Once the soil is prepped and ready for planting, you’ll then add some fertilizer.
For strong roots, use a fertilizer that is rich in phosphorus. To get the right fertilizer, look for the tag on the bag with the NPK compound identifier. The label will show you the ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. You’re going to want a fertilizer that is 5-10-5 or 5-10-20 at twenty pounds to every 1000 square feet. Or, 10-20-10 at ten pounds to every 1000 square feet. This fertilizer will give you the right chemical balance and the amount of fertilizer you’ll use on your lawn.
Use a grading rake to ensure the fertilizer is evenly distributed. Spread grass seed of choice. It’s best to use a mechanical spreader rather than your hands for maximum, even coverage. Once the seed has been spread, water thoroughly for your soil to settle, and grass seed to be pushed under the surface.
DIY or Pro?
Preparing the area and laying down sod or seed is labor-intensive. If you decide to do it yourself, it’s going to be a workout. However, you don’t have to be a professional to do the job properly. It’s not difficult; it just takes time and energy.
You could hire a professional to do the work; it will be costlier but, you get the advantage of just sitting back and watching it all happen.
If you choose to use sod instead of seed, many sod companies offer installation. Installation usually includes prepping the area, adding amendments, the sod, and, of course, planting it.
If you’re thinking about hiring a professional to handle the job, you will be saving money on the cost of renting rollers and tillers unless you already have them then, why not handle it yourself.
Once you’ve got your grass areas set up, you can move on to flower beds, trees, shrubbery, and whatever other features you want in your yard.
Conclusion: The Keys
You’re looking for landscaping that looks beautiful and lasts a long time. This will rely on planning, preparing, tilling, proper seed, proper aftercare, and continuous care as the things you’ve planted start to grow and fill in.
Plan well. Consult a landscape architect or just read and look at images of landscapes that you like. Remember, you’re not stuck with what the builder has put in; that may be fine for the initial move-in but, you’re most likely going to want to make your yard your own. Good planning will ensure a long life for your landscape. Even if you decide to change what you’ve planted a few years later, the right prep and care will keep your soil in a good structure, so moving different plants in and out will not be that difficult.