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Answer questions now; projects flourish later

A friend who will be renovating his front yard recently asked me for some ideas. He was surprised at the number of questions I asked him that he had never thought about. Whether you're putting in a new landscape or doing some renovation, a little work ahead of time will save you time and money during your project.

First, it's important to understand the difference between simply planting and landscaping. Landscaping means laying out of your property according to a definite plan. This will save you time, money and labor. Two of the most important tools you use will be a pencil and paper.

Some basic information will help you get started. Ask yourself these questions:

What type of landscape do I want? Are you more comfortable with a formal or informal design? School yourself about the differences. Look at homes similar to yours and see which designs you like.

How much maintenance am I willing to do? Do you want a design that requires low, moderate or high maintenance? Be honest with yourself. Remember we have long, hot summers. That design requiring hours of work each week may not be so appealing when it's 90 degrees with matching humidity.

What's the orientation of my house? It's important to know how the sun moves across your property. This will affect where you place your outdoor living space as well as which plants you choose.

What functional areas do I need? A service area for garbage cans, wood storage or a clothesline? What about play areas, an outdoor entertainment area, pet area, work area or garden spot? It's important to define the roles your yard will play before you start digging. Ask your family members what they expect from the yard.

How much lawn do I want to take care of? Grass is a fairly high-maintenance item. How much mowing, watering and fertilizing do you want to do? Do you have a need for large expanses of lawn for children or pets?

Do I need plantings to help reduce noise or to ensure privacy?

What plants do I truly like and want in my yard?

Are there any plants I absolutely don't want?

Will I be including any specialty plants such as bulbs or roses?

If you take the time to answer these questions your design will be much easier to create and you'll be much happier with the results. If you are working with a landscape professional, he or she should be asking you these questions.

Another important but often overlooked aspect of landscape design are the elements you don't see: drainage and underground irrigation systems.

We receive a lot of rain in Florida and good drainage is important for the health of your plants. Drainage can be improved by changing the slope of your yard, adding French drains (simply digging a big hole and filling it with gravel) or using perforated pipe to carry the water away from unwanted areas.

Underground irrigation systems can be real time and water savers when installed and used properly. If you're a novice, you might do well to ask for some professional advice. Just one quick point: Sprinkler zones should include plant materials with similar watering requirements. This allows for a wiser use of water.

Designing a landscape doesn't have to be an overwhelming task. Take it one step at a time, do your homework, ask the right questions and seek out professionals when necessary.

Sources of help include good nurseries, the cooperative extension service, master gardener clinics, garden columns and magazine articles, and garden shows on television and the radio. You don't have to do it all alone.

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