Congratulations! You’ve done the planning, bidding and now it’s time to break ground. It’s an exciting time and one where many questions arise. Hopefully this timeline will help you understand the general construction phase, but of course feel free to ask your contractor if you have job specific concerns. There are always small deviations to timing for a multitude of reasons!
Your landscape contractor has several crews and they each have a specialty. His priority is to schedule the crews that he needs based on not only availability of the labor but materials, weather, other vendors and a bunch of other moving parts that are not always in his control. Landscaping unfortunately doesn’t happen in a consecutive, linear way that some other trades work. As the client, this can be frustrating to not see crews at your home each day but please don’t take this as a sign of neglect. Often times, the team is working on other components of your job like: pulling materials offsite, in the office preparing for the next steps or in meetings with your designer/other vendors.
Also called demo, this phase is just what you expect: removing all the old to prepare for the new. Clients can expect noise and dust. Loud noises from jackhammers might be needed to break up concrete and dust can get stirred up as lawns and plants get removed. Bobcats may be involved for hauling away debris. Your landscape contractor will typically have a debris box located on your job site for hauling. Smaller jobs may only need a trailer or truck bed.
As the client, you may feel sad to see some things go like a tree that you coddled over the years but never produced fruit or you may feel totally elated to see old 70’s aggregate go away. Either way, demo is typically fast (anywhere from a day to a week depending on how much removal you have and the type of access to your yard) or then you can move onto bigger and better things.
Grading and Drainage
Once the old is removed, the crew can regrade the yard by moving soil as needed. The goal here is typically to achieve a 2% slope away from the house for future hardscaping. The reason your new hardscape has slopes is for drainage. Drainage is any plan that the landscape contractor has designed that diverts rainwater away from the house to protect your homes foundation. This included tying down downspouts, adding French drains and/or dry wells.
All your underground piping for irrigation, drainage, electrical and gas lines will be run through underground conduit that get buried in trenches. Clients will notice trenches near and around their outdoor kitchens, fire features, louvered arbors and planter beds. As the client, this is an excellent time for you to take pictures of your yard. You may someday want to dig a hole and not remember exactly where a particular pipe was located. Alternatively, you and your landscape contractor can sketch this right on your hardcopy plan for safekeeping.
While temping for a young child who wants to play tractor in the dirt, this is probably the worst time to have little ones in the yard. Open trenches provide tripping hazards and twisted ankles if one is not careful.
Forming and Hardscape
This is my favorite phase because it’s when we can all see the design beginning to take shape. Forms are laid out of wood, bender board or string to show where future hardscape will go. As the client this is the only time you will have to make small changes. In other words, if you have a patio that is 15’x20’ but you notice that it was smaller than you had envisioned, speak up! My contractors can make small adjustment (like a 16’x20’) patio without much difficulty. After concrete is poured in a form, it’s very hard and expensive (change order) to change the shape/size.
Client tip: forms can be hard to read to the untrained eye so ask your landscape contractor or designer to review it with you before if you have questions. Also, if you need a big change be sure to involve your designer and contractor right away. No question is too trivial to ask during this phase.
Hardscaping refers to the “hard” features of your yard like the patio, deck, walkways, retaining walls, concrete slabs, gravel or decomposed granite. Each of these have site specific manufacturing standards in which they are built. Look carefully on your bid or contract to see exactly what you’ve signed up for to avoid surprises.
A Note about Preliens (If you read nothing else…please read this)
This is also the time then you may get a “pre-lien” notice in the mail. If you’ve never done any remodeling before, you need to read this so that you do not over react. It’s a standard business practice in the material building industry and frankly, nothing to worry about. Click here to read more.
Masonry and Carpentry
Are you doing any stonework or wood work? Now is typically the time when trained finishing tradespeople will do the fine work to the hardscape and built structures.
This is a fun time because greenery arrives on the scene! For the client this is the time when they will be asked to be the most flexible minded and patient. Not all plants will arrive as specified on the plan (some will need substitutions based on availability at time of install), some may need multiple deliveries and on rare occasions plants may arrive in poor condition (they can be refused at time of delivery and exchanged at no upcharge). Once the plants are laid out many clients find their plants to be “small”. However we in the trade like small because that means that the plan is fresh, has a new root system and is ready to take hold in its new environment where it will grow to maturity. Patience will be needed to allow these wonderful new yard companions to do their thing. It takes some clients a leap of faith but in time they realize that they love their new planting design!
The key during the first couple years will be to keep plants alive and remove weeds. Regular maintenance from a garden professional is recommended for most non gardeners. Don’t forget to top off your yard with new mulch when you see it getting low. Two inches of medium sized fir bark is recommended on all soil planter beds areas to help plants achieve their full capacity.
Got dead plants? Check your landscape contractors warranty for plants. Typically there is a 30 day grace period to protect the client from a possible lemon or bad stock. If you should experience a plant death within the warranty period, simply contact the contractor for a one-time replacement. If you experience loss of a plant outside the warranty, you can typically pick up a new plant at your local garden nursery and have your gardener plant it. But if you’re experiencing multiple plant failure especially in a specific area it could be the sign of a larger problem like irrigation, pests, disease or microclimate. For these matters please get in touch with your designer to troubleshoot. For a small fee, we can consult with you or your gardener onsite to set up expectations, care schedules and answer questions.
Now that planting is finished, drip lines need to be laid out and staked down. Our preferred drip method is the product called Netafim. We’ve had great success over the years with this product because it waters both sides of the plant’s root ball and gives it less opportunity for dying out.
Lawn is installed around this time and spray heads are tested. Your contractor will set up your timer for its initial run and give you specific directions on when to decrease your watering schedule along with a tutorial on how to use your new controller.
Your new LED lighting system is powered by a transformer which is typically installed in a non-conspicuous place like a side yard or garage. The lights will have their own timer and will go on and off each day at the scheduled time. Your contractor can provide you with a quick tutorial on how to change the time if needed.
Most lighting is on stakes and can be moved slightly around as needed while plants are growing. The wire themselves are buried under the mulch so that they are out of site.
What happens if a light goes out? 99% of the time a non-working light just needs a bulb replacement. The rest of the time it can be other issues like a critter that has bitten through a wire or other act of nature. If you have already changed the bulb and it’s still not working, please contract your contractor for other troubleshooting.
When your job is complete, we all want our clients to be happy with their results and tell their friends about their positive experience. If there is something you see that you have questions about or that just doesn’t look “quite right”- you can add these concerns to a punch list.
After these items have been addressed, you can sit back, relax and enjoy your new landscape!