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Planning for your New Lawn

by Dawn West, All About Lawns Columnist

Planning for your new lawn is just as important as planting it! Without proper thought and preparation, you may end up with a lawn that falls short of its potential. After all, if your going to spend the time and money, you might as well get the best bang for your buck.

To help make your lawn the best it can be, there are three things worth considering before you begin. First, you need to decide what kind of lawn is best for you. Second, you need to decide if you need to hire a professional to help. Third, you and/or the professional need to create a design of how you want your yard to look.
How would you like to improve your lawn?
  • Make it greener
  • Eliminate patches
  • Less weeds
  • Make it thicker
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What kind of lawn is best for you?

When determining what kind of lawn is best for you, there are a few things to keep in mind when making your decision:
  1. What size lawn do I need? If you have children and/or pets, then the size of your lawn is almost always a consideration. So is the future time and costs associated with maintaining it. By measuring the dimensions of your property minus the house, gardens, driveways, sidewalks, trees, etc., you will be able to estimate how much land you have to plant on. As a general rule of thumb, houses with children and/or pets will need at least 5,000 - 7,000 square feet of grass to meet their needs. If you are planning on using your lawn for sporting activities, the following are the minimum general dimensions needed for the following sports:
    • Badminton: 30X60 feet
    • Volleyball: 50X85 feet
    • Croquet: 50X80 feet
    • Short-field football and Soccer: 60X80 feet
  2. What kind of Grass should I plant? By reviewing the section on Getting to Know Your Lawn, you can better determine what kind of grass is best for your lawn. The following factors should be considered when finding the best grass to plant:
    • How much shade will your house, trees, etc. have over your lawn?
    • How much wear will your lawn have to withstand from children, pets, activity, etc.?
    • How long will it take your lawn to fully grow and look good?
    • What time of year are you planting? Remember, it is best to plant just prior to your grass's prime growing season.
    • How much will it cost to not only plant, but maintain your lawn each year? Remember, the larger your lawn, the larger the expense.
  3. How do you want your lawn to appear? Since everybody passing by can potentially see your lawn, it's a good idea to determine how you want your lawn to appear. If you take pride in your home and its appearance, then why not make the same effort with your lawn? As you will see, a beautiful house and a beautiful lawn are not two separate things. But rather, each tend to complement (or take from) each other. Many lawns are accented, privatized, and balanced through the used of shrubs, trees, plants, flowers, and fences. What might now be a dull looking square area, could potentially be a beautiful space filled with all kinds of colors and shapes with just a little planning and imagination!

Will you need to hire professional help?

Whether or not you need to hire help depends greatly on you and your lawn. You may be able to handle certain phases of project yourself, or you may need to hire somebody to handle everything for you. Click here to find a listing of professionals you can hire in your area. Most people will hire a Landscape Architect if they need a licensed professional for commercial and/or residential work. Most Landscape Architects will prepare designs as well. For strictly residential work, Landscape Designers (mostly unlicensed), Nursery Workers, and Professional Gardeners can also help. Try to make sure that when you hire a professional, you consider the following:
  • Have them complete a free estimate form for you. For larger projects, always try to get more than one estimate so you can review the services and make the best decision.
  • Always ask for references. By referencing and even talking to former clients, you can get a good idea of how the contractor worked in the past and if his customers are happy with their performance.
  • Make sure that a contract is created that covers the following items: dates for completion, guarantees that designs and specifications are met, penalties for work not completed or due-dates missed, and payment plans that are not fully completed until the job is done.

Creating a design of how you want your lawn to look:

Your next step is to put your ideas and desires on paper. If you have hired a professional in your area to draw a site plan, then all you need to do is review the plan, and make any final changes. However, if you're planning on creating a site plan on your own, here are a few steps to follow in making it successful:
  1. The first step is to create a sketch of the property on a large sheet of paper (11X17 or larger). If you have an existing survey of your property, this could save you a lot of time. Many city and/or county building departments will have a copy on file if you don't already have one. From the survey, you can place tracing paper (or some other kind of transparent paper) over the survey and write down the rough measurements and design features you have in mind.

    If no survey of your property is available and you're not hiring a professional, then you need to create a site plan on your own. You will need a few pieces of tracing and/or graph paper to help keep your drawings symmetrical and to scale. The best way to begin is to measure the boundaries of your lot first, and then measure and include the other features such as your home, driveways, trees, gardens, pools, walkways, etc.. Depending on the type of graph paper used, you will want to make your drawing to scale be equating each box to a certain measurement such as feet or yard/s. This will help you determine how much grass needs to be planted once you decide the areas you want to plant in.
  2. Example of a Site Plan
    Example of a Site Plan
  3. For the most part, the structures on your property (such as a house) will look symmetrical whereas your yard plans may not. If you plan on adding trees, plants, gardens, etc., then you might have irregular looking areas on your design. To help determine the amount of square footage of lawn your site plans shows, it is best to trace a second copy over the first where the irregular areas are equated to similar geometric shapes such as squares, circles, etc.. You can then either count the amount of boxes covered or use a ruler to scale to determine how much grass to plant. Remember, the measurements do not have to be exact and it is usually better to be on the higher end when determining how much seed or sod you'll need.
  4. Once completed, now is a good time to figure out what kind of trees, flowers, plants, etc. you want to complement your yard. Additionally, you will want to make sure that any narrow passageways such as the side of a house are not planted too narrow, especially if they are high traffic areas. It is good to keep these areas at least 10 feet in width for ware and tear from people and pets and ease of mowing. This is also the best time to install a sprinkler system in your yard. The digging that takes place will not damage an existing yard and the system will help you in the constant daily waterings that lie ahead (at least 6 weeks in many cases). Click here for a sprinkler system company on your area.

About the Author
Dawn West B.A. holds a B.A. in English from Harvard University and teaches writing at Oregon State University.

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