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Thaumas P. Ehr, Landscape Architect

Create a Backyard Oaisis on a Budget

You want to turn your backyard into an oasis with all the right stuff -- from fire pit to hot tub -- but you're hoping to do it as economically as possible.You've even thought about doing some of the hardscape yourself.Regardless of your plans, start with a good design. A landscape architect can show you the best available plants and products.A very basic design alone can probably be done for a price range of about $500 to $1,000. But the more space involved, the higher the cost.

If you're on a budget, you might ask for a plan that will allow you to have the work done in stages by contractors. You can do a few features this year and some next year.The landscape architect can tell you what should be built first, next and last, and can also give you recommendations on what work you can do yourself and an estimate of construction cost.

Talk about all the details you dream about:

Do you need outdoor lighting? If so,where should the electrical lines go?

What about the gas lines for the barbecue or a fireplace?

Do you want a shade ramada?

How much of the yard should be paved and how much planted?

Think about where the irrigation lines will run and where you'll put the irrigation controls. Installing many of those features is probably a job for contractors.You may be thinking of paving the patio yourself. After all, the latest interlocking pavers are extremely easy to work with.But experts advise that you must first remove the original soil and lay a well-compacted base. If you cut corners and lay the pavers on typical Arizona clay, the ground may swell when it rains, and the pavers may pop out. Also available are overlay pavers that can go directly on boring, cracked concrete to add a fresh look to your old patio area. Be aware that some masonry companies will not guarantee their product if it is not laid by a certified, trained installer. And if you do the work yourself, you may incur the added expense of buying the proper tools.

The hard surfaces can be do-it-yourself friendly for homeowners, but it's definitely labor-intensive and is going to require a lot of digging. So what jobs can you do in your backyard? Homeowners can build planters and tree rings out of block. Installing veneers on columns, small walls and barbecues are also good projects.Do-it-yourselfers can also build stacked retaining walls that don't require mortaring, and of course, do much of the planting themselves.

Here are five concepts homeowners should think about in planning a backyard. If you keep them in mind, you'll have fewer problems later:

Think layout. Most homeowners don't spend enough time thinking about the logistics -- for example, where the grill and outdoor kitchen should go.Consider a pass-through window from the kitchen to the grill area outside.

Be practical. Make the landscape fit your lifestyle. If you have three kids and a dog, you're probably going to need a lawn and play areas. Synthetic turf has also become a popular and attractive option.

Plan major features. Leave enough space and plan for a way in and out of the yard for the builders if you're planning to put the pool in eventually. The same goes for other major features to be added later -- such as fountains and water features.

Consider drainage. Talk to the landscape architect about drainage of surface water. Is part of your yard on a slope? Will irrigation water drain into your pool or make spots on your walls? What will happen to rainwater once you change the configuration of your yard?

Think long-term. For example, take into consideration how big a plant or tree will get after a few years. Those 5-gallon starter plants may look good now, but they can create problems with foundations, walls and roofs after a few years if their mature size isn't factored into the design plan.

Also, consider whether there are features you will want to add or replace later.

So before ordering the pavers and the barbecue grill, proceed cautiously.Please feel free to contact me for a consulting session -- on how to create that year-round oasis in your own backyard.

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