Planning for Spring Residential Landscaping

Happy New Year one and all!  With our holiday vacations now a distance memory and perhaps some of you gearing up for a few days of skiing this winter, landscaping is probably not foremost in your minds.  That’s unfortunate, because if you wait until the crocus’ bloom to plan your site improvements, you are missing out on opportunities to save time and money for the upcoming construction and planting season.  If you are planning site and landscape improvements for this calendar year, now is the time to engage a professional to allow sufficient time to plan, design, permit and bid the project so that when the ground softens and the nurseries open for the season, you can pull the trigger on construction.  That way you will be able to enjoy your completed landscape by the time the warm weather arrives.

  • Start the process early enough to be at the front of the line.

I advise clients to work backwards from the time they want construction to be finished in order to determine when to start the planning process.  Say your deadline is a Memorial Day barbeque.  That’s the weekend of May 28 this year.  Plenty of time, right?

If your project includes improvements to the back yard, like putting in a new patio, lighting, planting, some retaining walls, etc.  You probably want to leave 6 to 8 weeks for construction.  This allows time for the contractor to mobilize on the site and perhaps to order pavers or a special landscape light that are on back order.  Then there are always unanticipated delays such as bad weather.  In addition, spring is the busiest time for landscape contractors, so the longer you wait, the more your work will be competing for the contractor’s time with their other active projects.  That brings us back to April 4. 

  • Allow enough time to design and bid

Working backwards again, allow 3 weeks to interview contractors, bid and award the contract, and then an additional 4-6 weeks to work with your professional on planning, design and budgeting, depending on the complexity of the work.  (If your project requires local permitting such as site plan review, that can add months to the process.  We’ll address that issue in another post.)  This brings us to January 28. 

Scary close, right?  It’s going to take you a few weeks to identify and engage your designer which brings us to…well…today!

Note that the goal is to bid the project in early March.  The contractors are hungry for work at that time and they want to book as much work as possible for the spring.  Prices will be competitive.  If you wait until May to bid the work, you’ll probably have less interest because the contractors are already busy.  This will lead to inflated pricing and/or you go to the back of the line and have to wait until the fall to complete the work. 

  • Pay attention to the planting season

Here’s another reason to start the process now.  Planting season goes until about June 15.  After that, you are choosing plants (especially trees) that were dug in the spring and have been sitting above ground for a few months.  The best specimens will have been purchased and you are left with the scraps.  The nurseries don’t dig during the summer months because they don’t want to guarantee the material if it is planted in the hot summer months.  They will start to dig trees again in the fall, but even then, the palette of tree choices is reduced because many species, like Maples, most Oaks, Birches, Hornbeams, Cherries and Dogwoods don’t like a fall transplant.

To summarize

  • Start the process early enough (in January) to be at the front of the line
  • Allow enough time to design and bid
  • Pay attention to the planting season