Create Your Own Resort Style Retreat
Take advantage of fall’s great weather to transform your home landscape into a resort retreat complete with trees, shrubs, groundcovers and containerized plantings. In previous articles we’ve discussed creating a landscape plan for resort-style flowerbeds and turf. Now it’s time to complete your landscape plans with the use of trees, shrubs and groundcovers, and begin planting.
The first decision is placement. Where is the best place to put the trees, shrubs and groundcovers? Knowing the locations of the planter beds is simple – everywhere there’s not annual flowerbeds and grass. That’s not to say that every inch of yard will be covered with plants, but every inch is part of your overall landscape plan and should be considered. In other words, the landscape plan will account for the form and function of all the areas in your garden.
Forming areas for trees, shrubs and groundcovers will utilize the same hallmarks of resort style that we previously discussed: shapes are free flowing, the sharp edges of house and fence corners are softened with sweeping curves, outdoor “rooms” or vignettes are created for your special outdoor living needs, techniques like massing and collage can be utilized with shrubs and groundcovers, and the “icing” can be added with special features like outdoor lighting and sound, ramadas, patios, and special BBQ areas.
With the planter beds sketched, note areas for each type of plant. Placement of trees can shade the house and drastically cut energy bills. And, a deciduous tree can allow the warmth to penetrate in winter when the leaves are shed. Medium-tall shrubs under windows can reflect away warming light rays. And a strategically placed vine, for example on a large wall surface, has a cooling effect on the wall and home. Note on your sketches where these ideas can be implemented and note where you want each type of plant placed. Mix placement to vary the depth and texture between the top story (trees and large shrubs), mid-story (medium to small shrubs) and ground story (groundcovers, mulch, and rock covers).
Be aware of the specific challenges your design faces. Plant up a bad view of a block wall, break up long narrow spaces with varied points of interest, give unsightly garbage containers a home by building a beautiful screen wall with lattice and vines. There are as many solutions to design challenges as there are challenges to overcome. Use your imagination and good taste.
Poolside planters need special consideration. Plant choices should avoid anything that sheds. You’ll be in a world of pool maintenance trouble if you plant deciduous trees, plants that shed blooms and plants that drop fruits near a pool.
There are abundant choices of plants. And, knowing what to plant where can be daunting, especially for newcomers to our climate. Choices range from xeriscape desert plants to lush yet water-wise plants. There are a few ways to navigate these choices: resource books, logical deduction and professional assistance. The Sunset Garden Book and Plants for Dry Climates book are especially detailed and thorough, with literally hundreds of listings with photos. This type of research can be time consuming, and many resource books for the southwest are geared toward a more tropical climate like that of California. So, some of the plants in the listings may not thrive here. A combination of logical deduction and professional assistance may get you further faster.
Go to your local nursery and look around at the plants. But, go prepared. Bring your sketches. Know the north/south/east/west orientation of the yard. Photos of the space are great too. Also, have an idea of how much sun each area receives: eight hours, six to eight hours, less than six hours, and total shade. As you hunt your way through the nursery, note which plants you like. If it is in the sun, a logical deduction is that they will live in the sun. If the plant is under a light shade cloth, the plant will need an area protected from the hot sun of the afternoon, but will likely do well with morning sun. If the nursery has the plant in a completely shaded area, you can bet that’s where it needs to live at your home. This process is called choosing plants for their preferred “microclimate.” Each planter bed and vignette will have a microclimate varying from full sun to full shade. So, when choosing plants, first find out what you like and then work on where in your landscape it will go.
Get a little assistance from a garden pro in deciding where the plants you like will live best. Take your list and have a nursery professional review it and your plan. There is a certification program offered by the Arizona Nursery Association (ANA) that help the consumer know if the nursery person they are working with is a professional. The Arizona Certified Nursery Person (ACNP) program ensures that the professional knows what plants will grow in Arizona, water requirements, soils and will understand microclimates. In many cases having a person help you with plant placement is a free service. The nursery person will be able to tell you what water requirements the plant has and if the plant groupings will work together in the same area. That spiky cactus looking plant you loved may not live in the same planter bed as the other plant you had your heart set on. A nursery professional can help evaluate the technical details of your choices and ensure that the plants will be grouped in compatible microclimates and watering patterns. And, if you’re in need of extensive design assistance, the fees for a landscape designer that works from a nursery are usually pretty reasonable.
When you get your new plants home, there are a few planting tips to follow to ensure your landscape thrives. Dig a hole for the plants that is twice as wide and twice as deep. Some of our soil is incredibly hard, and digging a larger hold ensures the roots get a healthy start. Mix mulch with the dirt from the dig, about half and half. Sprinkle a handful of soil acidifier in the bottom of the hole, two handfuls for a 24-inch box tree. Fertilizer briquettes are my preferred fertilization method for new plantings. The roots will get a shot of fertilizer right where it’s needed. Backfill the hole with the mulch/soil mix until the depth of the hole is right to make the plant level with the topsoil. Then, water thoroughly. If the dirt settles after watering and leaves holes around the root ball, just fill them in. Now your planters are ready for a top dressing, like crushed granite or any number of bark mulches. IMPORTANT: When planting, don’t bury the stem of the plant any deeper in the soil that it already is in the container. When the stems get buried, the bark begins to rot and eventually the plant will die. Also, if bougainvilleas are in your planting scheme, be extra careful with the root ball. Bougainvilleas are very root sensitive. Cut the can off and gently place it in the hole. Most plants can be handled with average care and be fine. The nursery pots can usually be tapped off with a shovel or trowel.
Do-it-yourself landscaping is work, but well worth your investment. Typical savings for do-it-yourselfers is an amount equivalent to the sum of your plant purchases or slightly more. Give yourself time to complete the project, execute it in stages, arm yourself with information and resources, and you can plant the design of your dreams.