By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
Late October through March is prime time for planting hardy trees, shrubs and ground covers in Louisiana landscapes. That means now is an excellent time to assess your landscape and begin to make plans for planting this fall.
Landscaping is a great way to give your home a beautiful appearance as well as make outdoor spaces function usefully for the family. The benefits of a well-planned landscape are many, from providing shade, privacy and color, to correcting drainage problems and creating outdoor living areas. Beautiful landscaping increases the value of your home.
Most gardeners should have no trouble dealing with small projects themselves. Planting a tree, designing a flower garden or planting beds around a deck is a good do-it-yourself project.
Designing an overall landscape — including drainage, traffic patterns, use areas, outdoor living areas and major plantings — requires careful study, planning and a good sense of design. However, it is not necessarily beyond the ability of many home gardeners. After all, most of us do a decent job designing a home interior that is attractive and comfortable.
Help is available. Books on home landscaping provide an excellent source of information. Carefully studying one or two of these books will either convince you that you can do it yourself or that you may need to consult with a professional.
To do the job right when designing a landscape yourself, make sure you first determine your needs. Do you want a free-flowing, natural garden or something more formal? Is a play area for the kids important? Do you enjoy tinkering in your garden — trimming and planning next year’s flower beds — or would you prefer a lower-maintenance garden that minimizes general care?
Study your site carefully so you can match plants to the growing conditions they need. And make sure you choose plants that will mature at the right size for their location and will thrive in your area. Your local parish LSU AgCenter extension office has excellent pamphlets, and online information is available to help you select appropriate plants at www.lsuagcenter.com.
If you decide you need to seek professional help, you have several options. You can talk to horticulturists at your local nurseries and garden centers. They can answer questions you have on choosing the right plants, including how large they grow and the growing conditions they prefer. Some nurseries have individuals on staff who can even help you develop a design or give you feedback on some of the ideas you have.
If you have a good idea of what you want to do but need some help refining the details, you can often hire a landscape architect as a consultant for an hourly fee. A landscape architect could also be hired to draw up a complete design for an agreed fee. You may then hire their firm or a landscape horticulturist to install the plan, or install it yourself.
Landscape horticulturists are basically licensed to install landscapes. They also can help you develop a landscape design but only in a package deal that includes the cost of the plants and installation.
Before you hire a professional, make sure you check their credentials. Landscape horticulturists and landscape architects must be licensed by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry in order to conduct business in Louisiana. Also, ask for references and to see pictures of previous jobs they have done. Try to interview several individuals before making your decision. The best way to establish a productive working relationship is to find an experienced professional whom you trust and who understands what you want to accomplish.
Get a mutually acceptable written agreement with a firm price that states everything it includes, a work schedule and a completion date. Be specific about what you expect and when you expect it.
Remember, the landscape plan and the installation are two different parts of the process. You could pay a professional landscape architect to create the plan, and then install the design yourself in stages This will spread the cost of plant materials and construction over time, making it easier to budget.
If your plans include establishing a new lawn, you should try to get that done as soon as possible. You should use sod this late in the growing season, and try to get it laid by early to mid-October. If you are considering including tropical plants such as palms, gingers or philodendrons, they should be planted in May next year.
So, if you’ve been thinking about adding a shade tree, planting privacy hedge, landscaping around the patio, dressing up the front of your house or even doing extensive landscaping, the time to start planning is now. As the weather begins to cool this fall, you will be ready to plant the hardy trees, shrubs and ground cover that make up the bulk of our landscapes.