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    Beginners Guide to Landscaping in California

    Beginners Guide to Landscaping in California

    The serrated coastline of Big Sur, the golden-sand beaches of San Diego, the colorful neighborhoods of San Francisco, the nonstop vibrancy of Los Angeles… California is home to an abundance of unique regions–and nearly just as many wildly different climates. The 15 climate zones spread across the state’s 163,695 square miles underscores the state’s range and diversity, but it can also render landscaping in California a bit of a challenge. 

    Yet, within every challenge lies an opportunity, especially when it comes to turning your California yard into a veritable oasis. From succulents for the tropical or subtropical regions to alpine flowers for the snowy tundras of the Sierras, there are dozens of plants and ways to obtain the outdoor Eden you’ve envisioned.

    Read on to discover how to accomplish your landscaping longings, one step at a time.

    Your 7-Step Journey Into California Landscaping

    Between the snow-capped mountains of Lake Tahoe and the breathtaking scenery in Yosemite Valley, there’s no doubt about it: California’s signature, singular beauty is one for the record books.

    And yet, there’s something downright exquisite about having an outdoor haven of your own. As we like to say, plants give every home a heartbeat and every space a soul.

    You’re not alone in this, either. California has the second highest number of landscaping businesses in the nation. Residents in the Golden State are fond of their yards, and many create and manage them on their own. 

    Marvelous landscaping requires some elbow grease–but the process itself is immensely enjoyable. Best part yet? You’ll have tangible, gorgeous evidence of all your diligence.

    #1 Determine Your Climate–And Its Soil

    Unless you have just recently moved to a new city or town, you’re likely well aware of its prevailing weather conditions. Still, it’s crucial to determine your local climate to better understand what type of plants will flourish in your environment—and which will be prone to perish. Wind, snow, rain, fog, humidity, extreme heat, droughts, and more—all can impact the health and longevity of your flora.

    Start by obtaining the highest and lowest temperatures in your area, and research what type of plants can survive these extremes. 

    Next, get a handle on the soil in your natural environment. Of course, soil can be replaced and amended, but working with what is present—if it’s possible—will save you time, money, and other resources. Further, amended soils and fertilizers such as Garden & Bloome’s line of Organic fertilizers, can be ineffectual for plant maintenance and growth.

    #2 Consider The Maintenance Required

    The amount of time and energy you have to dedicate to your landscaping is also a huge contributing factor to your overall design. If you will be handling the upkeep on your own, be realistic about how much work you are willing to perform. Some plants, trees, and shrubs require very little work; others need frequent TLC and pruning.

    #3 Choose Your Plants

    The climate in which you live should determine the types of plants you choose to install and nurture, but this isn’t as much of a constraint as it might sound. 

    The luscious and eye-catching climbing aloe, for example, thrives in warm temperatures—and yet it can also handle “mild” frost and temperatures that dip into the freezing zone (just not “hard” frosts).

    Several other plants that do well in California’s broad range of climates include native vegetation such as:

    • Yarrow
    • Deer Grass
    • California fuchsia
    • Toyon
    • Coffeeberry
    • Manzanita
    • Pacific Wax Myrtle
    • Sage 
    • Foothill Penstemon
    • California lilac

    Intrigued? This part of your landscaping plan is arguably the most thrilling.

    #4 Map Out Your Space

    Create a simple drawing of your yard, and include the permanent and semi-permanent items in the area, such as walkways, your pool or hot tub, full-grown trees, and patios.

    As you move through this exercise, consider what you would like to see in the future. Do you want greater privacy from your looky-loo neighbors? Then weigh the possibility of planting trees or shrubs that can reach impressive heights. Obsessed with color? Decide if you want to group flowers in a uniform hue–such as perennials in shades of purple and pink–or an explosion of different shades.

    At the same time, observe how the sun crosses your yard and keep an eye out for places that receive the following on the daily:

  • Full sun – 6 or more hours of direct sunlight

  • Partial sun – 4-6 hours of sunlight

  • Partial shade – 2-4 hours of sunlight

  • Full shade – Less than 2 hours of sunlight

  • This will determine where you plant your flora, as each plant has different shade and sun requirements, which are generally included on the plant tag to help.

    You should also weigh the wind factor. A bevy of delicate plants are intolerant of wind, and you may want to incorporate wind-blocking plants to shield them from the elements, such as:

    • Fraser's Photinia 
    • Indian Laurel Ficus
    • Oleander
    • Purple Hopseed
    • Sweet Olive 
    • Toyon
    • Wax-leaf Privet
    • Crepe myrtle

    #5 Design Your Dream

    Your landscaping should reflect your needs and desires. 

    • If your children need a slice—or a large wedge—of your yard for outdoor play, work it into your sketch, particularly if you have or plan to install a swing set, slide, or other structure.

    • If you would like to dedicate part of your yard to entertaining, sketch this down as well and include space for the essentials you will need, such as furniture, a barbeque, or perhaps even a bar.

    • Do you want to grow fruits, vegetables, and herbs? Or reserve your yard for annuals and perennials? If it’s the former, determine where these plants and trees would work best in your outdoor space.

    • Think about the landscaping designs that appeal to you. Do you prefer rounded flower beds around the perimeter of your yard, or are you a fan of straight lines? Play around with your sketch and realize that it is simply an outline—and, therefore, subject to change.

    • Strategize ways to plant shrubs, trees, and other greenery near your house. This will amplify the allure of your landscaping while reducing your carbon footprint and curbing your cooling costs during the warmer months. Shade-providing plants can cut your air-conditioning bill by 35%.

    • Create a center of interest. Landscaping experts suggest creating a main feature in your yard’s design. This could be a tree you wish to accentuate, a sculpture, a small waterfall, or even a koi pond. The eye should be able to take in the beauty around this focal point but also be drawn to it.

    • If you would like to encourage more wildlife in your yard, incorporate places—and items—that will promote visits from birds, bees, butterflies, and more. A birdbath, strategically-placed bird feeders, and certain perennials such as Shasta daisy and Salvia’s ‘Bee’s Bliss’ can give your landscaping a more natural feel–and give back to nature.

    #6 Establish Your Irrigation Needs

    Your plants’ wellness is also determined by the amount of water they receive—and the proper amount is contingent upon the different species and their unique needs. 

    Succulents, for example, require little water. Lettuce and celery, however, are perpetually thirsty. 

    To save on resources, consider grouping plants together by their water and sunlight needs—a technique that is known as hydrozoning.

    #7 Start Planting!

    As with choosing the plants that will make up your yard, planting your trees, produce, and blooms is ripe with excitement. You’ll generally need:

    • Edger
    • Hand pruner
    • Hoe 
    • Shovel
    • Wheelbarrow
    • Trimmer
    • Garden gloves
    • Soil
    • Fertilizer

    Plants have varying installation needs. So be sure to review them before getting down—literally—into the dirt and exercising your green thumb. 

    The Excellent Benefits of Landscaping Your California Yard

    Superb, well-thought-out landscaping doesn’t just award you and your family with an “on-site” sanctuary. It also has a host of terrific benefits:

  • Raises the value of your home – If you own your home, landscaping can increase its value between 5.5 and 12.7%.

  • Uplevels the “utility” of your property – With landscaping, you can create pockets in your yard that can serve double duty. A spot to read, a place to do homework, an eating area—all can make your home seem more spacious (and encourage your family to spend more time in the great outdoors).

    • Improves mental health – Spotting a spectacular flower or spending several moments staring at the beauty of a tree incites a sense of wonder and calm. Data indicates that simply looking at flora–even through a pane of glass–can mitigate stress.

    • Provides environmental benefits – Landscaping provides several benefits to the environment, from improving air quality to operating as a shield against noise pollution. Landscaping also hinders runoff and, as we mentioned, decreases heating and cooling costs.

    Light Up Your Landscaping with Plants Express

    Plants Express shares your passion for stunning landscaping—and was designed with DIYers like you in mind. 

    We offer 2,400 different types of plants and trees to satisfy your landscaping needs. We also simplify the process by providing customers expertly-crafted planting schemes up to 500 square feet. 

    Kick back, relax, and savor the sight of an extraordinarily designed yard with California’s leading plant supplier.


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    National Association of Landscape Professionals. Landscape industry statistics.

    University of Florida/IFAS Extension. Landscape design: ten important things to consider.

    The Spruce. How to grow and care for climbing aloe.

    Lawn Starter. 32 native plants for california: flowers, succulents, shrubs, and trees.

    Penn State Extension. Planting in sun or shade.

    Smart Energy. How to landscape your way to energy savings.

    University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources. Succulents & low water.

    SUCCULENTS & LOW WATER - UC Marin Master Gardeners (

    SF Gate. Vegetable plants that like moisture.

    Landscape Water Conservation. Grouping plants into hydrozones–water conservation for lawn and landscape.

    SF Gate. Flowers that will withstand wind.

    SF Gate. Does landscaping increase your property value?

    National Association of Landscape Professionals. Landscape professionals help families & the environment.

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