Congratulations! You have bought your new home, packed up all your boxes and had your friends and family move you in to your new home. After all the pizza and packing tape is cleared away, you look out the window and see that the lovely pond and park and all the other features that drew you to this part of the earth are not visible beyond the large expanse of clay surrounding your house. Yes that’s right; part of being a new homeowner is the landscaping. But don’t worry, a little do it yourself, a few shopping trips and a long weekend of elbow grease and voila! You will have a yard you can enjoy for years. This is by no means a comprehensive process but hopefully it will give you a good jumping off point of what steps you need to take to go from clay to oasis.
When landscaping a new development, the first thing you need to check is the certificate situation. Call your builder and inquire if the rough gradingis done and if it has been approved by the City or municipality that you live in . A Rough Grade is done to ensure that the water will drain away from your house, keeping your investment safe. Typically your builder will rough grade your lot after the house is constructed, depending on the time of year you may have to wait for this process to go through.
So you have your rough grade, next step is to check your architectural controls in your subdivision. Usually the document is given to you when you sign your purchase agreement. Architectural Controls are a set of landscape and fencing requirements set by the developer to evoke a theme throughout the neighborhood. The subdivision that you fell in love with likely has a style and it is now your responsibility to adhere to that theme. Typically the front yard will require a certain size tree. Trees are measure by calipers, if you need a 2.5” caliper tree, the trunk of the tree will be 2.5” around. This is a mature tree, having been grown in a greenhouse for several years; mature trees are required to give the area a look of completion. You will likely require a specific number of shrubs. Now you may wonder why there is no list given…what kind of shrubs? What kind of tree?
While Edmonton is a cold climate, there are a myriad of suitable shrubs that will happily grow in your yard, and this is your choice. So how do you choose? Things to consider are: The direction your lot faces (south, north, east west), color and shape. Shrubs and trees come in many shapes and can be combined or unified for different effects. Head down to your local library or book store and choose a colorful shrub and tree book (one with lots of pictures). Find the right climate zone and find shrubs suitable to your lot orientation. These books will be invaluable, as quite often they will have seasonal care tips to keep your plants healthy. Consider what type of maintenance you are willing to do, what colors you want, and what color the shrubs and trees are in all different seasons, some trees flower in the spring and turn a brilliant red in the fall, or perhaps you want to include something that will stay green all year round.
So you have an idea of what you can bring into your yard to beautify your investment. But those plants won’t grow in clay, oh no, you will need to order topsoil…and lots of it. This is where your math skills get a little workout. When you purchased your lot you likely received a plot plan, this plot plan can be used to estimate the topsoil you need in your front and backyard. Length of the yard multiplied by the width will give you square meters, plus you will need 6” of topsoil or 0.1524meters (metric and imperial – don’t you love Canada?). If this seems a challenge to you, simply take your plot plan to your local landscape company and they can do the estimate of topsoil for you. Don’t forget to shop around for the best deal though! Also, please remember to do an Alberta 1 call, they will come out within 72 hours and mark where your gas and power lines are…so you don’t dig them up!
The landscaper will dump a truckload (or more!) onto your driveway…yes that’s right, your driveway. It’s time to break out the wheelbarrows and spread the soil over the yard. Once it has been evenly spread, rake the area smooth and level out any low spots. Use a sod-roller to firm the soil, ensuring that the soil does not become overly compacted. Whew! If this is sounding like a little more than a little elbow grease….you can hire a bobcat to pick-up the soil and place it. This is much quicker but it comes with an added cost. Personally I think it’s worth it, a bobcat can lay down that soil very quickly and they typically charge per hour.
Shrubs look best grouped together. Look at landscaped areas in your neighborhood or other areas to get an idea of what you like (bring your book for shrub species ideas). Once grouped together, the area around the shrubs is known as a shrub bed, and will require edging around the bed. Place the edging before you plant the shrubs. You can go simple with some invisible edging or super fancy with concrete or brick edging. It’s your choice, follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions.
Take your shrub list and visit your local greenhouses, shop around as prices can vary significantly. You don’t have to buy everything in one place. Make sure the plants you buy look healthy and that you are ready to dig them into their new home very soon. Most greenhouses will have a two year warranty on plants and trees; if they die you can dig it up and get a new one. Be careful though this warranty does not cover rodent damage (yes those cute bunnies you see hopping around are known as rodents).
So now you are ready for the sod (grass) and mulch (wood chips). Six inches of topsoil will be one muddy mess if you don’t lay it with sod pronto. Mulch or washed rock will be for your shrub bed. Use the area you calculated for the topsoil to order your sod (subtract your driveway area and house and any area that you don’t want grass). Sod comes in pallets and the landscape supplier will tell you how many pallets you will need. Buy a sod cutter (or one for each person laying down the sod). Lay the first row of sod, following a straight edge. For example, a curb, a sidewalk, a driveway, or a taut string will work as a guide. Continue to lay the sod so that the seams are staggered, edges of the sod should not overlap and they should be flush with one another. Roll the sod with a sod-roller to ensure that the roots will make good contact with the soil. For the mulch you will need to buy some landscape fabric to lay over the shrub bed, do it! This will save you weeding in the future. Cut a big X in the fabric where the shrubs are and gently work the fabric over the shrubs. Tuck the edges of the fabric into the edging or bury at least 2” into the ground to keep the fabric in place. You can order a truck load of mulch or washed rock and break out the wheel barrows again. Place the mulch or rock evenly around the bed, about 2”, making sure to leave at least 4’-6” away from the plant to allow it to breathe and to prevent waterlogging problems. The wood chip mulch will need to be renewed every few years, simply spread new mulch over the old.
Now that everything is planted – water, water, water! Also if you are in a new development, you will likely have to call the City or municipality and request your final grade certificate. Someone will check it out and make sure the lot has no low spots and drains away from the house. If you had to sign over a cheque to your builder for a landscape deposit, you can now collect it back! It’s like a reward for all your hard work AND you can enjoy the outside of your new home as much as the inside!