Phasing Your Landscaping

March 16, 2018
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How do we get started on this project? 

Do we have to do it all at once?  Will our whole yard be torn up at once?  These are questions that we frequently hear.  Taking the plunge and allowing a landscape contractor to tear up a perfectly good yard – with the promise that it will be better in the end – takes faith.

If these questions and concerns resonate with you, maybe you should consider a phased approach to your project.   Why do people phase work?  For many customers, it is simply a budget thing.  They want to get started on the project, but it works better for them to bite off manageable chunks over a longer period of time than do it all at once.  Others may have a pretty good idea what they want in one area of the property, but are uncertain what would be best in another area.   Some like to start a relationship with their contractor slowly – do a small piece and see how you work together.  Is the design a reflection of your vision? Does the contractor show up on time?  Keep to a reasonable schedule?  Does the contractor give you a lot of change orders that really should have been included in the original bid?  Starting slowly can give you an indication if this is the right contractor for your long-term needs.

So how do you decide where to begin? 

Your landscape architect or designer should really be able to walk you through this.  One thought is to tackle the biggest potential problem.  Do you have a drainage issue that needs addressed?  Has there been settling on your patio that is threatening to channel water back toward the house?  Do you have several events coming up that will require additional patio space?  Maybe your first phase should address one of these problems.  Another starting place is simply the most bang for the buck – what is the least usable or least attractive part of your outdoor space?  Maybe the front yard looks decent, but you really could use more patio space.  Or, perhaps the front is bare, and improved curb appeal is priority one.    One thing to consider – if you do the front now, will it get torn up to create access to the back yard?  No one likes to see last year’s investment damaged so that this year’s project can occur.  A good reason to start in the back!  I regularly counsel my customers to focus on what makes the biggest mess.  Then, when the messy projects are complete, the final touches of finish grading, lawn work, and planting have a chance to be just that – the final touches.

There is no argument that a well maintained landscape with five years’ maturity is much more pleasant to look at than a first-year job.   As plants mature, if they are spaced correctly, they take up the space that they were planned to occupy; filling out beds, hiding views, and providing shade that new plantings can’t accomplish.  This is one reason people plant trees as an early phase – get them in the ground in the right place so you can enjoy them as they mature.

What are the downsides of phasing? 

It will probably cost more to do the project in stages rather than all at once.  Contractors need additional fees for setting up equipment, lawn repair after each stage, and permits that could be rolled into one bundle rather than strung out in several pieces.    Another downside is that the initial steps may not change the appearance of the property very much.  Hidden items like drainage pipe, electrical wiring, and water lines set the stage for future beauty, but don’t make your yard change much on the surface.   Some customers see the disturbance of contractors in the yard multiple times as a bigger hassle than just getting all of the mess out of the way at once.  Others don’t mind the process and prefer the gradual pace of a phased project.

If this is the summer to get started on the yard, but you don’t know where to begin, maybe a plan that can be phased  is a good idea.  The first step is to develop a master plan.  Don’t feel like you need to nail down all areas of the plan – by starting to consider the use of space, you can research and inventory ideas before commencing work in that area.  Websites like are a great place to research looks and options.  Don’t feel like you are not a desirable client if you aren’t willing to plunk down thousands of dollars before testing the relationship a bit.  This is a project that your family will enjoy for a long time – plan, get a quote that considers phasing, and dive in!

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