Landscape Master Planning

A property’s landscape is one of its biggest assets and maintaining it is often one of its largest expenses. Planning for landscape renovation(s) should take both of these factors into consideration.

Sustainable development is typically expressed as the relationship between economic, environmental, and social factors. A landscape must take into account the cost of upkeep, the impact of of water usage, pesticides, and fertilizers, as well the use and enjoyment of the landscape by the public. There is a point where each of these factors are achieved and this is, in essence, sustainability.


1. Was there a specific plan developed for the site? Renovations should fit within this vision for continuity.

2. Does the site look current? Does the choice of plantings fit the property?

3. Are there specific areas within the property that are challenging due to poor soils or lack of drainage?

4. How is the property used?



Weeds are typically controlled through the use of herbicides as hand weeding is typically not cost effective. Groundcovers have their use in keeping down weeds when suitable varieties are used, but they often contribute to a greater problem than they seek to solve when weeds grow through the Groundcover. As these areas cannot be sprayed without harming the desired plants, time consuming hand weeding is the only alternative. Installing shrubs with a spacing allows them to grow together and mulching helps reduce the need for costly weed controls.


Mulch greatly reduces weed germination; soil temperature is held more constant which increases root development. Mulch contributes valuable organic matter to the soil layer, increasing nutrient availability to plants. Finally, mulch increases the visual appeal of formal landscapes. There are many different types of mulches available for use:

• Bark mulch is the most commonly used and best controls weed germination.
• Fertile mulch consists of decomposed sawdust and aged manure. It has a higher nutrient value than bark mulch does, is smaller in particle size, and darker in color.
• Compost is created as a result of decomposing plant debris. In areas where additional plant nutrients are needed, this is a preferred material to apply.


Installing a drainage system can be accomplished by capturing water with perforated pipe; piping it away to an existing drainage system or into a native area. Flat areas are typically difficult to handle with drainage systems. An alternate solution is to replace chronically wet turf areas with bed areas by tilling in and mounding up well-draining soils and installing wet tolerant shrubs.


Pruning in a well-designed landscape is virtually unnecessary. Most plants do not look good when pruned and severe pruning adversely affects their health. Most pruning is performed because the plants have outgrown their location. This is easily solved by the use of plants that grow slowly and reach a size and shape appropriate for their spot. Natural hand pruning can be accomplished as needed. Plants which require shearing add cost to the landscape and reduce the natural aesthetic of the landscape.

In addition to plant selection based on appropriate growth habit, other qualities are considered in creating beauty and harmony. Utilizing differing foliage types, colors, and heights allows plants to stand out and show well against each other. Unique trees or shrubs can be planted alone, surrounded by more subdued varieties.


Hardscaping, (the installation of walls, decks, patios, walkways, etc.) is an excellent complement to the living landscape. Not only does it separate large planted areas, allowing them to stand out, it is typically much less expensive to maintain and is functional.


Many trees are too large for their locations; growing over gutters, into buildings, over walkways, etc. Roots can also damage hard surfaces, while large trees can make a property look dated, create excessive shade, and needle/leaf drop. Replacing large trees with smaller growing varieties handles this. Use trees that are insect and disease resistant and require little or no pruning. The idea is to allow trees to keep their natural form.
Below is a partial list of the types of questions that may be used in creating a comprehensive evaluation of the trees:

1. Are there trees that have been topped or were their central leaders broken off?

2. Do the trees have low hanging branches that are overhanging pedestrian walkways, paths, and vehicle driveways?

3. Are there tree roots heaving up sidewalks or asphalt creating a potential trip hazard for pedestrians?

4. Are the tree-roots close to underground utilities; are they causing potential problems to water lines for the domestic water supply or irrigation system and to the electrical transformers and underground power lines to the buildings?

5. Location of trees in relationship to the buildings. Are the trees located too close to a building and the branches extend onto the roof structure of the building? Is the tree or its root system causing unnecessary damage to the building?

6. Are trees in stand-alone locations or are they located in groups of like-kind trees?

7. Are there trees that could benefit from being thinned out so their branches will sail through a wind storm
as opposed to breaking off and becoming a potential flying object?

8. Is the tree located in the wrong place?

9. Does the tree provide too much shade for underlying plantings?

10. Are there too many trees adjacent to one another – in other words, are the trees crowding one another?

11. Does the tree have poor structural integrity?

12. Is the tree located in an area with poor soils, clay, compacted soils, or sandy soils?

13. Is there too much or not enough water for the tree?

14. Does the tree have a virus, disease, or significant insect infestations?

15. Is the tree leaning?


As turf areas mature on a site they will often progress towards what is commonly referred to as “climax” turf. Climax turf is often made up of several different species of grass, most of which seed themselves in over time, such that no single management regime will produce an even result. Preventing the progression towards climax turf involves a program of regular aeration, overseeding, and topdressing which must be repeated regularly.


Fertilization is an essential part of maintaining healthy, attractive landscapes. Turf must be fertilized regularly to maintain an attractive appearance. Most turf in the Pacific Northwest requires 4-6 pounds of supplemental nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of area. Most fertilization schedules call for this amount to be spread out over 3 to 4 separate applications each year.

In an effort to support sustainable landscape practices, bridge products containing 60% synthetic forms of nitrogen and 40% compost and bio-solids can be used. 100% organic fertilizers can also be used, but can be difficult to achieve good color consistently unless applied in landscapes with excellent soil conditions.

Use of mulching mowers on turf can add up to 1 lb of nitrogen over the course of a growing season and also has the potential to reduce labor.


Irrigation technicians treat water resources from the perspective of being good water conservation managers whose goal is to responsibly manage this resource. This can be accomplished by intelligent programming, using rain sensors, and by using appropriate irrigation heads for the intended plant material or turf area. A water audit on the site will help to identify the issues that need updating. Through this careful analysis of the property you are able to provide a long range vision that reviews the longevity of the working components along with the failure rate and cost to replace those components over an extended period of time.

Creating a 1-3 year plan incorporating these ideas can save money, improve sustainability, and increase the value of your landscape investment.