November through February is the prime season for planting hardy trees, shrubs and ground covers in Louisiana. So now is an excellent time to assess your landscape situation and begin to make plans.
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 are good do-it-yourself projects. 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, this 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 for those who need it. 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, think about the style you want and make sure you determine your needs first. 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. The LSU AgCenter has excellent pamphlets and information available at parish offices and online to help you select appropriate plants.
If you decide you need to seek professional help, you have several options.
You can talk to horticulturists at your local nurseries or garden centers. They can answer questions you have on choosing the right plants, how big 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, licensed landscape architects can often be hired as a consultants for an hourly fee. A licensed landscape architect could also be hired to draw up a complete design for an agreed fee. You may then hire their firm or a licensed landscape horticulturist to install the plan – or install it yourself.
A landscape horticulturist is basically licensed to install landscapes. They can, however, also help you develop a landscape plan, 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, including a firm price, everything that the price 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 sections. This will spread the cost of plant materials and construction over time, making it easier to budget. The advantage is that even if the installation is done in sections, it is guided by a comprehensive plan that creates a unified, attractive and functional landscape when it’s finished.
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. Have your decisions and plans in place for November, and you will be ready to plant during the best time of the year.
Dan Gill is a horticulturist with the LSU AgCenter. He can be reached at DGill@agcenter.lsu.edu