Planning for a comprehensive landscape, irrigation, lighting and hardscape project

Written by Gene Caballero on September 29, 2014

I remember it like it was yesterday, my company was ¾ the way through a full scale hardscape and landscape project, one of the biggest my company had ever undertaken. The homeowner had upgraded every facet of the project incorporation the best lighting fixtures, stainless steel irrigation heads, only the best pavers and lush mature plant material.  It was set to be an award winning project.  What started as a $75k project had ballooned to a double that in scale, my team was excited to be creating this landscaping masterpiece.

The feeling of excitement and accomplishment was soon to be replaced with disappointment when the homeowner informed us that they had run out of money, and were not going to be able to make the final progress payment.  Sadly, we had to wrap up the project short, cutting out many finishes.  Everyone involved was disheartened as the finished project ended up anything but finished.

Long story short, we returned a year later to complete the landscaping job, ultimately costing the homeowner even more money to open the project back up and finish.  Sadly, all of this pain could have been easily avoided.

When consulting with homeowners on large scale projects I recommend at a minimum taking the following approach.


Critical to your projects success is proper budgeting, plain and simple. What can you afford to spend on the project vs what does the project of your dreams look like in your head, or perhaps something beautiful you saw in a magazine or HGTV?  Don’t fret you can have the project of your dreams with proper budgeting and planning.  Large scale projects can be broken up into phases and installed over several years a chunk at a time.

Design and Plan creation.

This is an important step that many homeowners skip, which later comes back to haunt them, costing dollars in inefficient projects, doing things twice, and ultimately not getting the finished project you envisioned.

My recommendation is if your project is over $20k, that an independent 3 rd party Landscape Architect needs to be commissioned.  The ASLA is a great source to locate Landscape Architects in your area.  When interviewing these professionals make sure they work on Residential design-build projects as many only work on commercial projects.  A good LA will require an investment of 5%-10% of the total project budget, however, this is money wisely invested, especially if you project will require the creation of a master plan with multiple phases executed over several years.  This will be the best money you spend, as the benefits are countless. LA’s typically are more knowledgeable, creative, and will best incorporate the many disciplines into one comprehensive plan.  It is foolish to just call sever landscapers and get “estimates” as you will get 5 different sets of opinions.

Contractor(s) Selection

Next, the most important step is selecting who you are going to partner with to install the project; this can be extremely tricky to get right.  It is very important to conduct your due diligence and interview contractors recommended to you by your LA, your neighbors or friends that have had similar work of similar scope completed, and quality landscape contractors you discover in the BBB or possibly observe working on similar projects.

Characteristics of the contractor you are looking for:

This means, do they have the proper experience and track record to install the irrigation, the lighting, the ground prep, grading and dirt work?  Anyone can dig holes for plants, but it takes a seasoned professional company to pull together all the different disciplines and resources to complete an extensive project.  If not, you’ll be managing all the different contractors, i.e. the irrigation company, paver company, landscape installer, and grading contractor.  This will be a nightmare, and there are great companies out there that do it all, you just have to find and qualify them.

Job Completion, Maintain, Enjoy

If you follow this approach, you’ll substantially increase the chances that you’ll have a positive experience, and that the project will actually be fun!  Upon nearing completion, make sure you have a solid game plan in place for how you are going to maintain your investment.   If your installing contractor offers ongoing maintenance services that is a natural option to lean towards. However, its my experience, that most solid installation companies are not very good at ongoing maintenance, so make sure you vet that aspect of whoever you partner with, as maintenance is a whole different animal altogether.  Be prepared to invest the proper money needed per your installing contractor’s recommendations, as plants, pavers, irrigation systems, and lighting systems will all need ongoing maintenance forever. Cheers!

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