Plan a Landscape Project
Like any home project, planning is one of the most important steps in re-landscaping your yard. Having a well thought out landscape plan will save you tons of money, reduce headaches, and help make your project beautiful. Resist the temptation to run out to the nursery on a weekend and buy whatever plants they have in stock, and follow the steps below.
The key steps in planning your landscape project include:
- Analyze your yard and needs
- Get ideas
- Develop a landscape plan
- Choose the plants
- Develop an irrigation plan
- Estimate the cost
- Analyze Your Yard and Needs
- Get Ideas
- Develop a Landscape Plan
- Choose the Plants
- Develop an Irrigation Plan
- Estimate the Cost
Analyze Your Yard and Needs
- Existing Conditions: Analyze your yard and make a list of the existing conditions that may need to be addressed.
- Do you have views you want to highlight or block?
- Do you have drainage issues?
- What parts of the yard get lots of sun and what parts are shady?
- How do people get to the front door from the driveway or the sidewalk?
- What existing trees or shrubs do you want to keep and what can go?
- What kind of soil do you have?
- Preferences: Make a list of what you want out of your new landscape.
- Do you want to add a pathway from the sidewalk to the front door?
- Do you want a California Native Garden?
- Do you want to attract butterflies, bees, and birds?
- Do you want low maintenance?
- Do you want lots of flower color?
- Neighborhood Inspiration: One of the best ways to get design ideas is to look around your neighborhood for yards that inspire you.
- Internet Search: Check out Gardening in Contra Costa County, which features photos of gardens suitable for the climate, and allows you to create your own custom plant list. Also, if you're considering a California Native Garden, check out Design Fundamentals for California Native Plant Gardening. Otherwise, there are many websites on gardening - and it's easy to search for any preference you may have. Let the internet inspire you!
- Books: Three excellent books to consider are:
- Garden Tours: We recommend attending the Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour where you can visit local water wise, sustainable gardens.
Develop a Landscape Plan
Whether you are completely re-doing your front yard or simply replacing a patch of lawn with water-wise plant, your planting plant is where you put down on paper what will eventually be in the ground.
Before designing your new landscape, visit Introduction to Design to learn about the types of things you should include in your planning. Below are recommendations if you're interested in hiring a professional, or need a design template to get you started.
Professional Landscape Designer
- See our list of professional landscape designers (PDF) who, as part of our Lawn to Garden Rebate Program, offer a discounted rate for participants in the Landscape Design Assistance Program.
- Landscape designers focus on residential design. Find a designer near you through the Association of Professional Landscape Designers.
- Landscape architects focus on residential design, as well as commercial design and more. Find a firm near you through the American Society of Landscape Architects.
- The California Native Plant Society's regional native planting guides take the guesswork out of which plants to use where and give you the tools you need to get started with your landscape project.
- Take a virtual tour of the City of Long Beach's Top Gardens and check out the free designs with plant lists. Keep in mind that Long Beach is coastal community in southern California, so it's a good idea to confirm that the plants work in northern California as well.
- Check out Sonoma-Marin Water Saving Partnership's Landscape Design Templates that were developed to help fire victims rebuild. Although the climate is slightly different from Contra Costa County, these are helpful for developing a plan.
- The University of California at Davis Arboretum's Sustainable Gardening Toolkit has helpful resources like plant lists, including their all-star list, and several planting plans.
Choose the Plants
Choosing the right plants is essential for a successful landscape project. Choose plants that do well in our climate and soil. Contra Costa has hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters, and many of us have heavy clay soil. Although nurseries offer a wide variety of plants, you'll have the greatest long-term success by choosing California native plants and those that can thrive in our local conditions. Visit Water Wise Plants for resources.
Develop an Irrigation Plan
Once you have a planting plan completed, you need to figure out how you are going to water. We recommend using drip irrigation because the water is delivered right at the root zone. Designing and installing a drip system can be technically challenging, so check Irrigation Systems for advice on types of drip systems, where to purchase and installation tips. A great local resource is The Urban Farmer Store, where they offer free irrigation design sketch with a product purchase from their store.
Estimate the Cost
The cost for landscape projects can vary widely depending on the cost of the plants, soil amendment, mulch, irrigation, additional elements such as dry creeks, boulders and pathways, and the labor cost. Below are cost estimates for typical lawn to landscape projects:
|Type of Project||Cost Range |
($ per sq. ft.)
|Cost Range for |
800 sq. ft. project
|DIY simple project||$2 to $4||$1,600 to $3,200|
|DIY project with additional elements|
(i.e. dry creek, boulders, pathway)
|$3 to $6||$2,400 to $4,800|
|Contractor installed simple project||$4 to $10||$3,200 to $8,000|
|Contractor installed with additional elements|
(i.e. dry creek, boulders, pathway)
|$6 to $14||$4,800 to $9,600|