Urban and suburban lots need not be professionally designed with formal shrubs and statuary to be attractive. Most homeowners can successfully complete their own landscape design with some basics preparation and knowledge about which plants to use. A soil test at the local agricultural extension office and some realistic plans about the functions of the property should begin the process.
Each piece of property comes with plants. An inventory of trees, shrubs, grasses and other plants that currently grow on the property--and those in nearby yards--will help narrow down the types of plants that will be successful in the area's soil and mini-climate. The inventory should also include decisions on which trees must be removed and an estimate of the effect of any changes on the light exposure on areas previously shaded or occupied by shallow tree roots.
Plants group and divide landscape areas or "rooms." The front yard is its most public room, whose purpose is to enhance and frame; never obscure the home's entrance and outward views. Side and back yards that do not border streets are more informal, private areas that might contain rooms for activities like athletics, entertaining, agriculture or hobbies. Because landscape plants are permanent residents, they should be the best quality the homeowner can afford.
Trees provide shade to save energy but they also monopolize space. Smaller trees or those with looser canopies cast more dappled shade. Clemson University's Extension suggests mulching under hardwood trees such as maples, oaks and ash to encourage root development. Choose evergreens for year-round foliage and deciduous hardwoods for autumn color. Always choose trees and shrubs for their mature height to avoid constant pruning and early replacement of woody plants.
Lawns and Ground Covers
Turf grasses should be tough enough to hold up under heavy traffic; reserve expensive or high-maintenance hybrid types for ornamental lawns. Choose warm season or cool season turf grasses that match the climate; "fast-cover" annual grasses may provide a thick lawn this year but will not return next season. Choose low-maintenance ground covers for non-traffic areas.
Choose perennials for long life. Annuals and high-maintenance perennials like roses should provide special areas or focal points; garden areas for rose or daylily hobbyists can be set up as a special landscape room and annuals can fill in empty spaces or complete cutting gardens. Arrange plants in uneven numbered groups for interest in a planned natural look; single plants look cluttered and accidental.
Group plants with similar light, soil and water requirements together in "care zones." Native plants minimize on the need for water and fertilizer needs; Clemson recommends setting aside "natural areas" such as woodland gardens for beauty and easy maintenance. Consider using xeriscaping; grouping plants where they need minimum water added to natural rainfall for good health. Rain gardens help keep rainwater from running off into storm sewers by planting moisture-tolerant plants in low or wetland areas of the landscape.