Overhauling an existing landscape

By Cynthia Bee, Conservation Garden Park

Whenever I teach one of our Localscapes classes, I always have a class attendee tell me I must have an amazing yard—and I get a little embarrassed. In the past, I’ve often described my own yard as a “hot mess with good bones.” Happily, that description applies less and less these days as the combined impact of a major initial project followed up with small annual projects have produced a backyard landscape I’m almost proud to claim. As I’ve come to learn the hard way, the only landscape project more difficult than installing a new yard is fixing an existing landscape that was poorly done in the first place!

Project scope

Sometimes existing landscapes can be reworked through a series of small changes, which was the topic of last week’s article. Other times, a major overhaul is required (as was the case in my own yard). Grouping changes into a single large project is often more cost effective in the long run and is sometimes the only way to fix the real problems.

How do you know which is the better route for your yard? If your yard requires leveling, retaining walls, or installation of other major features which will bring heavy equipment to the property, you’ll likely need to start from scratch—and hire a pro for those tasks! Older irrigation systems are often built of parts which are obsolete, inefficient, or improperly designed and installed, and may need complete replacement. If you’ll be removing a lot of existing vegetation to accommodate a new design, it usually makes more sense to include plant removal as part of a major one-time project.

Hire it out or self-manage? 

If you have the budget to hire out the job start to finish, the Localscapes website has a list of professional partners who’ve been trained in the method and can install a Localscape for you—though you’ll still want to do your own due diligence for any landscaper you hire.

Many projects, including my own, are self-managed by the homeowner and employ help from landscape specialists as needed. For example, we hired experts to remove the existing lawn, do all of the soil work, build a small retaining wall, and design the new sprinkler system based on a professional plan. We installed the sprinkler system and new sod ourselves. Those projects took all of the initial budget so we’ve been slowly upgrading our seating area surface materials, improving the planting beds, and adding elements such as edging and landscape structures as time and funds allow.

Plan ahead

A major landscape overhaul can cost tens of thousands of dollars, especially if you hire a professional to complete the tasks. The only way to get accurate, comparable bids from contractors and suppliers is to make sure you start with a plan. Whether you create that plan yourself by taking our Localscapes classes or hire a professional to create it for you, you’ll likely get back the money spent on the plan through the savings it generates.

Our Localscapes website contains lots of free resources for homeowners. Check it out at localscapes.com.