Landscaping Tips from an Expert

Landscape Designer Michael Gulbrandsen offers advice to homeowners who want to take their properties to a new level of beauty. These landscaping tips will help beginners, or those planning on redesigning a landscape or garden.


“People typically don’t begin planning for new landscaping ideas until winter ends and the snow has melted. Having a plan in advance can give homeowners time to plan the perfect gardens and landscapes for their particular needs and wants.” -Michael Gulbrandsen

Common Issues

Michael says the most common request of homeowners is typically tending to overgrown plants. Some homeowners have plantings or gardens that were planted several years ago, and grown tired. Some need to be pruned and brought back to life, while others need to be removed all together, and a new creation birthed from scratch. Adding new energy and life to an old garden can change the entire presentation.

Mistakes that Lead to Future Problems

Using cheap topsoil for low cost per yard is probably not a good idea. Cheap dirt can have pebbles and rocks in it, dirt from septics, and fill gravel. If you buy cheap topsoil, you get what you pay for. Get estimates. If you find one provider that offers soil for half or a fraction of the cost of the rest, you might be getting bad soil. While it may sound good for your budget, you could end up spending more money in the future to address the headaches that bringing in cheap topsoil may bring.


Mike offers tips for beginner gardening. If you want a low cost way to begin a beautiful end result, you may want to consult a landscape designer to simply draw up the plan for you. Or, you can hire a landscaper to start the project for you by creating your bed.

The landscaper spends time with you as the client and gets to know your personality, ultimate goal for the property, and sometimes even your home decor tastes. He can then draw you a final plan, and then rototill the soil, add peet moss and top soil, and have a new bed ready for planting. “Setting the proper base increases survival rate of plants,” Gulbrandsen says.

Little Steps to Bigger Steps

Beginner landscaping projects can be done in phases, without the stress of completing an entire project at once. This requires careful planning and creative thinking about what the homeowner truly wants in a garden or landscape. Michael discussed a small lot in a city location that he was called in to for landscaping ideas. The homeowner decided on a secret garden. The first year, magnificent and well designed branch fencing and a beautiful entry arbor were created. The following year, the homeowner contacted Michael again, and employed him to redesign the entire front yard. The projects gave an entirely new look to the home and may have even increased the property value.

What’s Important? Get a Visual.

A drawing is a simple way to get your creative juices flowing. It gives you the ability to imagine an end result and plan to budget the cost accordingly. You may be envisioning a certain type of garden, but upon seeing a completed rendering, you may change your mind and either add, remove, or reconstruct certain elements of the final masterpiece.

Phasing is also important. For example, say you want to remove a garden that’s already there, and create something new. Your budget may be anywhere between $2,000- $10,000. If you’ll be bringing in a landscape designer, a price will be given for removal of plants at a certain price, redoing a landscape at another price, and making additions at another price.  Michael Gulbrandsen advises,

“You should make it feel like all one landscape, not 1 Home Depot, 1 Lowes, and a hodgepodge of other random plantings. That is what people realize they shouldn’t have done after it’s too late. Then they end up wanting to rip everything out and start over. So, I say it’s best to start with a plan and have a drawing done.”


Fall Planning: Timing is Everything

If you are interested in bringing in a landscape designer, the pro suggests that the best time to contact for next year’s planning is late this fall. You and your landscaper can devise a plan during winter, customize the plan, and be ready to go in the Spring. However, if you wait until Spring to contact the landscaper, you may be put on a waiting list.

Got Kids? 

If you plan on regrading your lawn and flattening it out for a kids play area, don’t do it in summer. The yard will be left with their only play area full of dirt and baby grass that’s trying to grow. That’s no place for kids to have fun. Unless you plan to send the kids out to play Frisbee or ball and trample the newly growing grass, plan your yard regrading projects for later in the fall.

When to plant grass

Lawn Problems

Dirt patches in the lawn could be grass disease, insects, pet tinkling, etc. Michael suggests to go on a lawn program if your lawn isn’t looking good. Plan to tend to the grass and properly apply fertilizer, seed, do your watering, etc. It takes a couple of years to grow in fully, so don’t expect a full growth in a couple of weeks. Be patient. Be sure to follow instructions on fertilizers, and buy good brands.

DIY clearing

Use caution if plan to do some DIY clearing. If you’re going to prep for a blank canvas yourself, you need to expect that there may be excessive poison ivy, including on trees. Remember that the deeper you go into the area, the more bushes, weeds or shrubs you may find. To clear a section properly to install a lawn, don’t just cut down or weed whack the weeds or bushes. The area likely needs to be dug out, or the same mess will grow back. A professional landscaper will use a machine to completely remove the vegetation at the roots. If you’re allergic to poison ivy or are concerned with ticks, you may want to call in the professionals for this part of the job, and then plant your lawn once the hard work is done.

Diy clearing
Poison Ivy (left) Poison Oak (mid) and Poison Sumac (right)
Poison ivy on trees
Poison Ivy on Trees

Complete Landscape Makeover

Amongst some larger projects of Michael Gulbrandsen’s was a property he recalls well.

“It was approximately 1/3 acre of woods. We did pruning, a pond, a waterfall, a great fire pit, a trail system, raised vegetable garden, and fencing around the outside made out of weaved tree branches. I like to reuse the original resources on my projects, including stone, tree branches and natural elements. It was an unbelievable transformation”.

Advice from a Pro When Choosing a Landscaper

Michael Gulbrandsen brings up something one may not have thought of when searching for a landscaper. Ask him or her what philosophies, ideas, and concepts they are partial to or inspired by. Who are their influences? Mike speaks of his biggest influences as Ian McHart & Capability Brown, the latter of whom is known for rolling meadow designs. If your landscaper has no influences to speak of, they may not have much background or advanced training in specific landscape designing as an art form. A great landscape artist can drive down a street and pick out a “cookie cutter”, as some subdivisions may use the same general landscape company for mass produced fast and simple jobs.


Think about what you like; Not what everyone else has. 

Someone who prefer a natural type of project may want to create an animal sanctuary with bird attractions, berries, etc. Some others may simply prefer a more formal, English garden. Some may prefer a rock garden or butterfly garden. Be sure your landscaper knows exactly what you’re thinking and listens well when you’re discussing your vision. 

Some say what they want. Some believe they know what you want better than you. Go with a professional who listens and wants to give you just what you are envisioning. Employ a professional who helps you to get to where you want to be through careful planning. 

Also keep in mind that it is important to get written estimates and proper agreements prior to giving the thumbs up for work to begin, or before providing any downpayment.

Landscaping tips

The suggestions, landscaping tips and landscaping advice in this article were provided graciously by Dutchess County expert landscaper Michael Gulbrandsen. Michael is the Landscape Designer and President of Reflections of Nature Landscaping. Please feel free to visit his website at

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