The Basics of landscape design:

Landscape design is often best left up to the experienced landscapers and landscape designers as they often have the vision to create an oasis or dream landscape that may not have even occurred to the average home owner. They can also help you avoid common mistakes which can be costly in the long run. But it is a good idea know the process and have some basic ideas of what your looking for before meeting with a designer. Putting these ideas down on paper is helpful. Or if you would like to design your space yourself these tips may be helpful.

Before you put anything to paper or on the ground, you should become familiar with the basic principles of landscape design. This will give you a better understanding about color, balance, form, choosing landscaping plants, and “tricks” like Repetition and Contrast. It doesn’t matter if you plan on creating your garden yourself or “borrowing” ideas. It’s just good to know.

Does your garden have a purpose? If so, you should be clear about it. Your garden will either be created to be a viewed work of art, an extended livable “room” of your home, walked through and enjoyed, or all of the above. Purpose and function go hand in hand. Purpose will help determine the functionality of your design. I think the first question you should ask yourself is how am I going to use this space? Is it just to look at? Will I be entertaining guests here? Is this an area for the kids to play? Or just a quiet retreat to get away and read the paper (as if people still read newspapers anymore) and enjoy a cup of coffee?

Then it is a good idea to choose a design style. Italian, tropical, southwest, native, or a mix of several styles. I find it is helpful though, not to get to caught up in staying true to a particular style when it is often the blending of styles that give the best look for Orange County landscapes. People often ask me for a California native landscape design because they want to conserve water without realizing that the “native look” is often the “weedy look” to a lot of people. And the same water conservation can be achieved by blending in the other plants that are more attractive and through proper soil amendments and irrigation design.

Once you have answered those questions you can then layout the basic areas of the space. Starting with the largest hard scape areas such as patios, walkways, raised planters. Then define the ground level planters, and lawn areas.

It is also important to design your space with long term growth in mind. Failing to keep long term growth habits in mind is the most common mistake I see in landscape design. It might look beautiful when first planted, but it looks like a mess in just a few short years. This is one reason it is a good idea to use dwarfs when ever possible. In Orange County with the typical small landscapes, They can grow to their full beauty with out over growing their space.

At this point, I design in plants that serve a function such as privacy screening plants, privacy screening trees, shade trees, specimen trees, or vines to soften a boring wall. Then I compile a list of plants that I know will work well together in the yard I am designing, and will last for many years with minimal maintenance. After all, I have yet to have a client ask me for a high maintenance yard. I then start placing plants with the tall ones in the back, and shorter ones closer to the front. It is usually best to group your plants in groups of three or more, and repeat these groups in other parts of the landscape design while keeping in mind the contrast of adjoining plants in their leaf shape and color. For example, try not to use to many different “grassy” type of plants together with out mixing in a healthy dose of broad leaf plants for contrast.


How to water plants:

This may seem like a basic question to some, but it is often the most miss understood. In my years of managing retail nurseries, it would often take a full year to train a new employee how to properly water the nursery. The two most basic things a plant needs is water of course, and oxygen in the root zone. In most cases, you can not give a plant to much water at any given time, as long as you let it dry out between watering. Most plants like to be deeply watered and then slightly dry out. When you regularly deep soak a plant you drive the roots down deep where water stays longer, thus making your plant more drought tolerant. Light surface watering keeps the roots at the surface, making it require watering a lot more often. Most areas of south Orange County has heavy clay soil which takes longer to get the water into it, and it holds onto water for a long time making the need for deep watering then drying time between watering all the more important. I am a big believer in mixing in soil amendments to this clay soil, and a lot of it! This breaks up the soil, and allows for air pockets to form so that the plants can breath. I am also a big believer in laying down a thick layer of that same compost on top of the soil at least once a year to help keep the water in the soil, and at the same time it slowly works it’s way into the soil replacing decaying organic matter.

 How to plant a tree: 

The most common mistake when planting a tree is digging a hole, which is both too deep and too narrow. Too deep and the roots don’t have access to sufficient oxygen to ensure proper growth. Too narrow and the root structure can’t expand sufficiently to nourish and properly anchor the tree.

As a general rule, trees should be transplanted no deeper than the soil in which they were originally grown. The width of the hole should be at least 2 times the diameter of the root ball or container or the spread of the roots in the case of bare root trees. This will provide the tree with enough worked earth for its root structure to establish itself.

When digging in poorly drained clay soil, it is important to avoid ‘glazing’. Glazing occurs when the sides and bottom of a hole become smoothed forming a barrier, through which water has difficulty passing. To break up the glaze, use a fork to work the bottom and drag the points along the sides of the completed hole. Also, raising the center bottom of the hole slightly higher than the surrounding area. This allows water to disperse, reducing the possibility of water pooling in the planting zone.

Container trees (though subject to greater heat and drying conditions than Ball and Burlap) can also be stored for a brief period of time after purchase as long as the soil in the container is kept moist and the tree is stored in a shady spot. The procedure for planting container trees is similar to that for B & B trees. In the case of metal or plastic containers, remove the container completely. In the case of fibre containers, tear the sides away.

Once carefully removed from the container, check the roots. If they are tightly compressed or ‘pot bound’, use your fingers or a blunt instrument (to minimize root tearing) to carefully tease the fine roots away from the tight mass and then spread the roots prior to planting. In the case of extremely woody compacted roots, it may be necessary to use a spade to open up the bottom half of the root system. The root system is then pulled apart or ‘butterflied’ prior to planting. Loosening the root structure in this way is extremely important in the case of container plants. Failure to do so may result in the roots ‘girdling’ and killing the tree. At the very least, the roots will have difficulty expanding beyond the dimensions of the original container. To further assist this, lightly break up even the soil outside the planting zone. This allows roots that quickly move out of the planting zone to be more resilient as they anchor into existing surrounding soil conditions.
Once the tree is seated in the hole, mix the original soil with a quality compost to a mixture of about 40% compost to 60% original soil. Then the original soil/compost mixture is then back-filled into the hole to the soil level of the container. Again, remember not to overly compress the back-filled soil especially by tramping it with your feet. Compress gently using your hands instead.
What kind of fertilizer should I use?

I always recommend Gro Power fertilizer.

Why use Gro Power?

  • GRO-POWER breaks up compacted and heavy soils.
  • GRO-POWER develops better root structures.
  • GRO-POWER feeds the bacterial life in the soil to promote better assimilation of plant food.
  • GRO-POWER promotes healthier and more abundant plant and turf.
  • GRO-POWER contains humus to increase the moisture holding capacity of the soil.
  • GRO-POWER contains humic acids and bacteria which aid in unlocking the nutrients and other elements that have become locked in the soil.
  • GRO-POWER produces a healthier soil, which aids in eliminating many diseases of the roots and plants.


GRO-POWER is a complete fertilizer and soil conditioner. All GRO-POWER products contain all essential plant nutrients plus Humus, Humic Acids and beneficial soil microorganisms. All GRO-POWER products contain non-staining iron, manganese and zinc, with the exception of our liquid product.

What Is Humus?

Humus is organic matter which has decomposed over a long period of time; it is in a state which can vastly improve the physical structure of any soil.

What Are Humic Acids?

Humic Acids are organic compounds made up of enzymes and proteins and naturally occur in soils rich in Humus. Humic Acids help to maintain the chemical balance in your soil.

Is GRO-POWER Organic?

The base of GRO-POWER products is natural and organic, but most of the plant food elements are not “certified” organic. We do have a new product, “GRO-POWER PURE’N’NATURAL” which is “100% Organic”. All GRO-POWER products are non-toxic and contain no sewage, animal or human waste of any kind.

Can I Use GRO-POWER In My Whole Garden?

GRO-POWER has all-purpose products for preparing and maintaining your complete garden. The product line also includes specialty products for flowers, lawns, trees, shrubs, roses, palms, water gardens and specialty plants., etc. . GRO-POWER also comes in several forms, such as granular, liquid, controlled release and tablets.

Where Can I Get GRO-POWER?

GRO-POWER products are available from your better independent nurseries and garden centers.

Sounds Like a Gro Power Commercial huh? Well I have been using and selling Gro Power for over 28 years and I believe in it. I recommend applying Gro Power at least 3 times a year to everything. Please follow the label directions for application.