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Tips for your landscaping project

Our month long project of landscaping has almost come to a close! It’s been a long and painful process, but the facelift on our main house exterior is finally complete.

Over the course of a few weeks, we completely gutted what was left of the weed-filled lawn and half dead bushes that came with the house when we bought it and gave everything a complete makeover.

The lawn we started out with wasn’t the worst, but it definitely didn’t do much for us. The bushes in the front had been neglected over the course of many months and were starting to dry up. We took this opportunity to do over the front yard in a more environmentally-friendly direction.

First up was removing everything that was already there. By the time we started our landscaping project, 50% of our front yard was covered in dandelion weeds so we were happy to start with a clean slate.

This included ripping up our old driveway and pouring a brand new one. The original driveway was barely wide enough to fit my car on it and was disintegrating into small pieces near the road. I’m willing to bet it was original from 1929 when this neighborhood was created. We went from this…

… to this!

We also put in a 6 foot fence in the backyard so that the dogs can safely run around.

Next up was thinking about the design of our front yard. We knew we wanted to go with desert plants to conserve on water usage, but we needed to find a larger tree or centerpiece for the yard before deciding on everything else. We went with a (baby) King Palm. He’s tiny now but will grow 3 ft per year!

We then had our landscaper create sections (or as I like to call them, islands) for the plants. Adding benderboard to delineate between where we would lay decomposed granite and where we would lay gravel helped create structure for the layout of the yard.

I was pretty concerned that going with desert landscaping would end up looking messy, so going with distinct areas really helped with that.

When it comes to plants, Kokoro is a huge grazer outdoors. Chibi only eats plants if they’re nicely potted inside the house. So it was important for us to find pet-safe plants that are low-maintenance, drought-tolerant, and non-toxic.

This is our first home and our first time working with a landscaper. It definitely had its ups and downs, so below are a few tips that I hope are helpful when it comes to your next landscaping project!

1. Look for a landscaper who is referred to you or who someone you know has worked with

We went with a business with 5 star reviews on Yelp, but did not have the best experience. However, other contractors we’ve worked with through personal referrals have always been amazing to work with. We made a decision to take a risk and work with someone through Yelp reviews due to timing constraints on our project (and simultaneous construction on our garage conversion) but if I could go back in time, I’d definitely be patient and work with the landscaper I was referred to. Try to find someone to work with who is recommended from real people you know. It’s also always good to ask how long a contractor has been in business!

2. Know the difference between an estimate and a quote

Some contractors provide “estimates,” meaning the final cost of the project may be different from what they original guess. We only work with contractors who give us “quotes” where there is a fixed price that we are paying after both parties come to a full agreement on the scope of work. There should be a payment schedule determined based on progress on the project, but make sure to check the laws in your state regarding these payments. California law states that it is illegal to ask for or accept a down payment of more than 10 percent of the total home improvement contract price or $1,000, whichever is less.

3. Carefully review your contract

Make sure the person you are hiring is licensed and insured. Read through all of the details on the contract before you make any payments or sign anything. Work with a licensed contractor so that if there are any issues, you can hold them accountable. It’s probably a good idea to have a cancellation policy in the contract just in case something goes wrong. That “something” could include:

– Failing to fulfill the terms of the agreement
– Poor construction or workmanship
– Failure to pay subcontractors or material suppliers
– Violating building codes or labor laws
– Using false, misleading, or deceptive advertising

Your contract with the landscaper should outline the total cost for the work and all details associated with the scope of work the landscaper is providing. Additional costs may come up those and situations should be outlined in the contract clearly based on the cause for the additional work, materials, etc.

4. Ask for a drawing of the plans

Some landscapers do this and others don’t. Those who do may charge a fee, but it’s a good idea to have everyone on the same page prior to starting work on a landscape design. Our landscaper did not do this so we had to mock things up ourselves, resulting in some room for miscommunication and incurred costs.

5. Make sure there is a labor warranty

Reputable landscapers should be able to guarantee the quality of their work for 2-5 years. Our warranty varies with our fence, plants, concrete driveway, and more. This should give you peace of mind that they are working diligently on your yard and not just messing around!

6. Research, research, research! 

The more information you arm yourself with, the easier the process will be. This way, you also reduce the chance of being taken advantage of, which sadly is very common in working with contractors. Also, landscapers may be plant experts, but they’re not always thinking about the yard’s usage and the four-legged members of your family. Our landscaper recommended oleanders, a beautiful and common plant used in many drought-tolerant yards. However, we discovered they are poisonous when ingested by dogs. Certain palm trees (like sago palms) are extremely toxic to dogs, too. Better to research every plant you’re putting in your yard when you have pets who will be playing outside.

7. Insist on necessary permits

Especially in Los Angeles, it is easy to get away with doing work without a permit. And experienced contractors know how to find the loopholes. In the case of our driveway, since we wanted to re-pour our apron, it was necessary to let the city know since technically it was city property. We had to deal with a situation where our landscaper told us it wasn’t necessary to secure a permit. However, with simultaneous inspections going on for our garage conversion unit, we insisted it was necessary and had him go through the process of properly applying for and securing a permit.

8. Communication is key

We were in almost daily communication with our landscaper, whether it was via text, email, or phone call. It’s always best to have all communications in writing in case something comes up, so recap phone calls and ask for confirmation of your verbal conversation via email.

Although it had its high points and low points, we are pretty happy with the way our project turned out. Kokoro and Chibi can’t wait to romp in the fully fenced backyard!

Emily is a Los Angeles based content creator with a passion for photography, videography, and storytelling. Through @emwng, you'll find photos and videos of people, places, delicious food, and of course, her two fluffy sidekicks Kokoro and Chibi.


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