Need help with landscaping for NC

Sims, NC

We live in NC and are definite beginners - so be nice! We have very sandy soil. Obviously the first thing needed is grass! We have sand spurs and we almost need to sod to take care of the sand spur problem or so we have been told. We have an acre of flat pasture land! We need lots of help. We have some knock out roses and loropetalum (sp?). I would love to see more flowering shrubs etc. The house faces north so we get very little direct sun. The back is just the opposite. There is a river birch tree that I believe was planted too close to the house. I am afraid of it eventually heaving up the sidewalk??? I would love to hear your ideas.

Thanks in advance!

Thumbnail by Susieq77
Contra Costa County, CA(Zone 9b)

If mostly you want to get a lawn of almost any sort started for erosion control reasons, then look into hydroseeding.
This is done by professionals who will answer your questions about which variety of grasses to use. They will arrive with a big machine that blends a special kind of glue with the seeds, and some fertilizer. They spray this on the area. The glue holds the soil from eroding until the seeds get going.
This is usually a temporary 'fix it fast- not fancy' solution while you get proper plans going for doing things right.
Here is what I would suggest:

1) Underground problems: Do you need drainage or irrigation? ANYthing that means having to trench or dig through the garden takes priority. Plans for an outdoor kitchen with gas, water and electricity? Swimming pool with remote equipment? Irrigation? Garden pond or fountain? Will you want more hose faucets in the garden? Greenhouse with lights and water? Dog run with water?
Plan it FIRST and get the plumbing in, even if it is just stubbed up for now. But you gotta know where these things are going, even if it will be a year or two before the budget allows completion of it. Landscape design will be the way you know what you are doing.

2) Hardscape: Concrete, masonry, carpentry... for decks, patios, walkways, retaining walls, patio covers, fences, raised vegetable boxes.... All these things come before planting. South facing back yard? Maybe you will want some sort of patio cover so the back yard is useable in the summer heat. Again, a good landscape design will lay out these things, specify materials and construction details. You can get the heavy equipment into the property while it is still open, and do whatever grading is needed, as well as bring in the materials for these things.

3) Planting.
Budget the trees FIRST. They take the longest to grow, so get them going ASAP. Bare root trees take transplanting the best, and that season is generally December and January (later in colder zones) A proper plan that takes into account the ultimate size of the trees is important for spacing, location and optimum shade.
Soil prep:
If you have rather sandy soil, then I would add as much organic matter as possible, perhaps as much as 50% organic matter, tilled as deep as you can. For example: if you spread compost 3" deep, then till with 3" of the original soil you end up with 6" deep blend of 50% compost and 50% original soil. This is not very deep! But is enough to get a decent lawn started, and ground cover plants around the shrubs and trees. If you can till it deeper, then add more compost. Remember that this raises the level of the soil, so do some grading as needed before bringing in the compost. Start with the soil several inches below finish grade, then, when you add compost and til, it will come up where you want it.
These generally assume their full size in just a few years. If the budget demands that some planting be left until next year, I would hold off on the shrubs. Buy 1 gallon cans of most things, they will grow faster then 5 gallon cans, and will catch up in just a few years. A proper design will help a lot, both with layout, and so you know how many shrubs and which species will it take to create the garden you are looking for. Larger shrubs for screening might be budgeted with the trees, so the screen fills in sooner.
If you have rototilled a lot of compost into the whole area, I would add more into each planting hole for each tree and shrub. These holes are usually deeper than you have been able to reach with a rototiller. Trees and shrubs that thrive in full sun mostly would be fine with about 1/3 compost and 2/3 original soil. Shrubs for shade, and a few specialty plants would prefer more compost, back to that 50/50 ratio.
Mulch: A really big item to reduce soil erosion, and help the plants in so many ways! If you are using a fairly fine material you could get by with about 2" of mulch, If you are using a coarser material you might need 3" or more.
If you decide not to do the hydroseeding, then you might mulch as much as you can with as deep as you can right away of anything you can get. Then start working on the landscape plans.
Call companies that specialize in tree pruning. They usually run the branches through a machine that turns the branches and leaves into coarse chips. Get as much of this material as you can (they will deliver it for free around here) and spread it as much as 6" deep. This will reduce soil erosion, minimize weed growth, and begin conditioning the sandy soil. By the time you are ready to plant the soil will be a lot better.

Ayrshire Scotland, United Kingdom

Hi Susieq77 You have a lovely blank canvas to work from, apart from the trees, Diana-K has given great advice and made you aware of the best order for starting out and laying the plans for a garden that I would say, to do properly, will take the best part of 3-4 years to complete unless you have enough money to spend thousands of dollars on hard landscaping alone, as Diane said, all the hard landscape things should be done or at least marked out first, as most will involve help from heavy machinery.
To begin your plan, the easiest way for an amateur to do drawings is, the picture you have posted, have enlarged, say A4 size, adhese this pic onto large role of paper,tack with adhesive to a board you can draw/ use to write on, (an old piece of wallpaper is always good for this as you can rip off and start again) on top of the picture and white paper, lay some tracing paper or a roll of grease proof baking parchment, you need to see through this clear paper.
Mark out to scale the size of the plot you are working with, mark out windows, doors

Begin to draw the pathways, steps, walls, fences and any other structures you MUST have like drain covers, electric cables, water pipes. boundary fences ect. onto the white paper. Remember you can rub things out as you go, hence the reason for clear paper

Once your happy with this, next start to draw the shapes of beds, borders trellises etc onto the tracing paper, this is overlaid on the white paper and you can see the paths, drains ect so you are able to keep clear of such while drawing borders and beds.

I found the best way for me to design beds, borders, paths ect, was to lay the garden hose out in the shape of the bed I want, curved, square, oblong ect, you can then go inside the house and look out the window for a different view of the shape / size and if happy, measure the bed and draw onto tracing paper,
If you want tree's mid bed /border, make squiggle circle with fan lines for branches. at the side of the white paper make a column for adding the name of tree's shrubs ect as you go along or these ideas are soon forgotten. I used to use a garden cane with a plasic bag blown up and tied to the top of the cane, I placed this where in the bed I wanted this to represent a shrub/tree, then look from a distance AND from inside the house outwards, then move left /right, back / forwards if need be. remember to mark out hose lines for installing a garden watering system if needed, doing that now is less costly than doing it later and digging up a bed of shrubs.

It's a good idea to go to your library/ book store and look for books that are for beds/ borders in gardens, they give lists of what is in the shown border pictures and time of year the flowers are flowering. Don't go buy expensive books as they cost as much as a tree / shrub in some cases, just borrow from library, they are free and IF you manage to get book with plane English and suits an amateur, buy that one and you will read it over and over again, Forget a book that is too into designer fashion without the info how to achieve the look. It's usually nice to look at, but most off putting for the hobby gardeners with complicated ideas..

Send away for plant growers catalogues, seed catalogues, tree growers ect, dont forget bulbs too, these catalogues give great info on planting times, what hight a tree will grow to, and MOST important, the spread of the trees branches as that measurement equals the spread of the tree's roots, so please take that into account when you buy a tree as you have found already with the trees you have that may need removed.
Seed growers catalogues are full of lovely pictures of beds and borders for shrubs, flowers, fruit tree's or even water garden plants, they make great winter reading when you cant get outside.

After a while you will get the hang of what kind of garden you want to look out onto and the type of plants, shrubs, trees ect, The best thing about planning the garden this way is, you can walk away and leave the plan, get on with other tasks, an idea springs into your head so return to the plan before you forget it, You get a chance to go to the garden centre and look at shrubs, pick out a few of your choices and place together, step back and re-arrange if needed, then take note of the name, size and order for planting, cost, flowering time ect, then go home and draw these in planting order you liked earlier and put onto your plan.

Remember making a garden is not done in 1 season, it is something that needs to grow with your ideas, your finances and time. You could plant a hundred shrubs or even a dozen, but several weeks later you may realise they are wrong, then have to dig them out and start again, however IF you take time, it will cost less, labour easier as your not making huge mistakes, and pleasure as you get to know your soil, your environment light and shade areas and your outlook from inside your home.

Remember there is no use making a footpath too narrow to get a barrow, heavy items or deliveries up the path, it might look good but totally in-practical, always remember also, paths don't have to be straight, there is nothing nicer than a meandering pathway that takes you a walk around and through a garden, especially if it leads you to a different area and you come across a little surprise like a seat, a statue / ornament, or pond, you can design a lovely garden without showing the whole thing all at once, Dont place a trellis outside the window for roses to grow up, looks great on paper but from inside, you have blocked the light, I only give these as examples by the way.

Remember you have lots of birthdays /Christmas gifts to ask for so gather books, tools plants etc as these come around, then you don't feel guilty about spending a bit more on a tree or shrub that is on your wish list.
Have lot's of fun designing your new garden, Rome was never built in a day, so remember a garden is for life or the plants more or less are so take your time.

Lastly, for lawns, tree's ect, the best time for sewing lawns, planting trees / shrubs is Feb / March when the weather is cooler, the soil is warming up and still a bit of daylight around but not too much hot sun. IF you want to go ahead and lay grass or grass seed, then mark out the areas you dont want grassed by spraying coloured marking foam /sand you can buy at horticultural stores or garden centres, this will mark out the areas to leave free from grass / paths ect.,.that way your not paying for lawn where it will be dug up a few months later. IF you miss early spring sewing / planting, the next best time is end of summer when the soil is cooling down, the heat is less from sun and usually nights are cooler.
Good luck. WeeNel.

Contra Costa County, CA(Zone 9b)

WeeNel has made some really good points about do it yourself landscape design:

Base sheet, drawn to scale. Shows house, windows, doors, driveway and anything else you want to keep, as well as problem areas like the neighbors' houses that you might want to hide. A 1/4 acre plot can be done at a scale of 1/8" = 1'. A smaller area could be done at 1/4" = 1' You can buy graph paper with these sizes already printed, and use that as the base sheet. A 1/4 acre at 1/8" = 1' would probably take up a sheet of paper about 24" x 36", depending on the actual shape of the lot. So buy large paper, or tape several sheets together.

Tracing paper (also called Flimsy) over the base sheet to begin the layout of the hardscape. Copy the house onto the tracing paper, at least mark the corners so you can match up the tracing paper if you remove it. I often use cut outs that are standard sizes for example a hot tub or a play structure, and try it in several places to see what works. Include the underground parts like the plumbing and wiring on a separate sheet of tracing paper. Then set that one aside.

Another sheet of tracing paper over the base sheet and the hardscape to figure out the plants. Simple circles, about 75% of the mature size of the plant seems to work the best. Do not get to 'artsy' trying to draw weird shapes to represent different plants. Label the plants as you go, or wait until the end. A circle template is a really good tool to have for this.

Design by garden hose is a very good way to get a visual of curved things. Giant boxes, or several boxes put together can represent a bar-b-que or garden shed. Get creative! Then, absolutely, look at it from all angles, including from inside the house. Standing up, and sitting down.

If you need to block a view have a partner holding a long pole outside. When you see the pole in the right place you can then estimate how large a tree or shrub is needed to screen off that area.

You can buy many things to help with the layout in hardware stores or irrigations stores.
Marking paint in many colors is a spray paint, but it is water based, and disintegrates in a few months. It comes in many colors. The special thing is: It sprays upside down.
Flags on wires. These are great for marking the locations of low voltage lighting and irrigation heads. You could also use them to represent shrubs or perennials.

Go to local rock yards. Take some pictures of nice boulders. Print out the pictures, then tape the boulders on your plan where you want to use them in the garden. Take other pictures, or cut outs from magazines. Oriental bridge, bird bath, fountain... all sorts of things...

Ayrshire Scotland, United Kingdom

Hi Diane, think were both singing from the same Hymn sheet, hope Susie can keep us informed of the progress, I know when we took over the place where we are now was daunting from the start but as the seasons changed, things began to take shape, I just hope they don't rush at it because I know we made lot's of mistakes through trying to cut corners and in the end, it costs you money, but hey, that's what learning how to make a garden is all about EH.
You also have a good gardening season. WeeNel.

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