With new construction homes, creating an outdoor oasis that will thrive and provide opportunities for leisure and relaxation requires a different approach than with an existing home. Where should you begin?
Considerations for new construction landscaping
The wide-open opportunity for landscaping that comes with a new construction home is a bit of a double-edged sword. Homeowners can be unfettered with their design creativity, but the choices can be overwhelming.
This anxiety can be countered with planning and a gradual approach to projects, explains Blythe Yost, co-founder and chief landscape architect of Tilly, an online landscape design company.
“With new construction homes you are generally working with a completely blank slate, which can be overwhelming and expensive. We recommend phasing your landscape design one section at a time,” says Yost.
“Start with a master plan. This will save you time and money and ensure you don’t have to redo a section of your landscaping down the line to make room for something else,” she says.
When planning, homeowners should consider the slope of the yard, seasonality of the region, orientation of the yard and exposure to the elements, particularly wind, all of which will influence design and improve functionality.
New construction homes and soil quality
There are special considerations with landscaping a new construction home, especially when it comes to grading, topography, and most importantly, soil.
The soil around a new home may not be good quality, as dirt and low-grade soil may have been used during construction. There may be topsoil in the mix, but chances are that there is less desirable subsoil at least partly, if not prominently.
There may also be other construction debris such as wood, bricks, nails or concrete.
The problem with low-quality soil is that the chances of a garden or lawn taking root and flourishing are lower.
“When installing a new landscape take time to investigate the soils and add the needed amendments to help new plants thrive,” says Yost.
Picking plants and flowers to flourish
Pick plants, flowers and other features that suit lifestyle. While nothing is quite as beautiful as a lush garden, it’s a lot of work to maintain. If the homeowner doesn’t have time to invest, or if they simply aren’t inclined, the garden won’t be beautiful for long and will negatively impact curb appeal. It will also add stress to the homeowner, which is the opposite of what outdoor space should do.
It’s worth building the plant life wish list locally to increase chances of success, according to Yost.
“Research what is native to your area. Planting natives will help your local wildlife. As their natural habitat is lost, it’s important to replace what we can,” says Yost.
Also consider how large plants and shrubs will be in a few years’ time. Don’t plant things too close together or too close to other structures. Make sure shrubs and trees (or anything with a more substantial root system) are planted at least two or three feet away from the home’s foundation. Tree roots growing into the foundation, or into sewer lines can be very damaging and problematic.
General landscaping advice
Generally speaking, it is smart to do hardscaping projects in advance of softscapes as hardscaping often involves heavy equipment which may damage plants, grass and trees. It’s also more challenging to move a tree or a shrub sustainably than to simply plant new.
In the same vein, it’s smart to do the backyard projects before the front yard. Aside from a front porch, or maybe hardscaping for a walkway, typically most of the bigger landscaping projects take place at the rear of the home, such as a deck, patio, pool, outdoor kitchen, play areas, sport court etc.
Typically, heavier equipment will be needed to access the backyard, often cutting through part of the front, causing damage to trees and the lawn.
Before embarking on landscaping plans, the homeowner should double check with the builder and HOA to see if there are any requirements or restrictions around what is allowed.
Extending indoor living space to the outdoors
No matter the size of your outdoor space, the way to maximize its functionality is to create zones that communicate purpose, either with landscaping and hardscaping choices, or with accents and décor.
“Extend indoor/outdoor living with smart design so you can easily flow to the outdoors and enjoy it as much as you do your indoors,” says Yost.
“Creating an outdoor room can make a space feel more intimate and ultimately make your backyard feel larger,” she says.
To establish outdoor rooms or dedicated zones, “can be as simple as using containers with flowers or as complex as a low stone wall. Adding an outdoor rug or a fantastic cantilever umbrella are other ways to get an outdoor room feel,” says Yost.
In terms of how to layout the yard, the first step is to think about lifestyle and how outdoor space should serve that goal.
- Do you entertain guests?
- Do you host large or small groups?
- Do you have pets?
- Do you want somewhere for solitude?
- Do you plan to exercise outside?
- Do children need a play area?
“First think about how your family uses the space, what’s the best way to use it and then fit it together with connectors for a cohesive design,” says Yost.
How to add privacy and make the most of a small yard
For homeowners with smaller yards, or who live near their neighbors in high-density subdivisions, as is often the case in new construction developments, there are dual priorities: creating an outdoor oasis, but also creating privacy while enjoying backyard bay.
Ideally, the design would create a cozy outdoor ambience while providing privacy at the same time.
“When designing a small backyard every square inch counts! The flow of the space is very important and think about how you can design a space that has multiple uses – for example, a lounge area can also be an after-dinner fire pit area,” says Yost.
Another compact, but effective idea is a cascading garden that has plants, flowers and trees planted at varying levels. The levels create privacy, make excellent use of available space without consuming it with “garden”, and allow any special features like hardscaping, water features or garden art to stand out on their own more prominently.
Probably the most effective way to create privacy is with fencing, lined with trees or shrubbery. As the greenery grows, it will provide more privacy as well as muffle sound, contributing to calm in a backyard oasis.
“If you are installing a privacy fence, make sure it aesthetically fits in with what your neighbors are doing and that it’s appealing on both sides,” says Yost.
When pairing the fence with greenery, “We love hedges that give privacy, but also greenery all year round. There are great trees like Emerald Green Arborvitae that are skinny, but dense so make a nice division between neighbors,” says Yost.
Some other quick and easy ideas to create privacy in a high-density neighborhood include:
- Planting bamboo around a deck or patio. It grows quickly and will create a natural privacy wall. It’s exotic look and scent help to make backyard bay a vacation destination worth visiting.
- Oversize planters with tall grasses and flowers work well.
- A pretty privacy curtain that encloses the patio or deck separates the area completely from the world outside while adding an element of décor. The curtains can be hung from beams, or tree branches.
- A movable privacy wall or screen is decorative and can move around to serve multiple purposes.
- If a homeowner wants something a little more permanent, building a wall up one side of the deck or patio will be more private, but also still allows for open views on the other sides.
- Vertical gardening is a way to increase greenery and help with privacy at the same time. Planting up instead of out not only helps with privacy, but offers more garden space, even when the available yard space is small.
- A shade sail extended over a deck or patio helps provide shade on a sunny day while blocking views from above, which is handy in a high-density neighborhood.
- Can’t decide between privacy and a view? A pergola or gazebo is a good compromise. Pergolas in particular add visual interest but permit the breeze and the sightlines to flow through.
What are the most popular outdoor projects?
A lot of the landscaping projects that are trending center on health, wellness and activities to enjoy at home, such as meditation gardens, pickleball and sport courts, pools and spas.
Also very popular is the outdoor kitchen, which can be as simple as a BBQ grill with adjacent prep and dining space to a fully built-in kitchen, complete with an outdoor dining room, to really dine and entertain al fresco.
Many homeowners are seeking firepits of varying sizes
“Everyone loves a firepit area. They can fit in any size yard. From portable firepits to custom-built firepits, there is a style and price point that matches every homeowner’s needs. Firepits can also be used year-round, which is a big plus,” says Yost.