When she first moved to her “forever” home in Larchmont more than 20 years ago, Catherine Wachs, then an advertising creative director, admits she knew nothing about gardening. “I only knew that it was spring because Bloomingdale’s was showing pastels in the window,” she says laughing.

If you’re in a similar spot, both thrilled and awed by your greenery, take heart. Wachs became a competent gardener and then some, with her new passion eventually fueling a career change. After studying landscape design, Wachs worked as a naturalist educator and founded a cable TV show, then established her own landscape design firm, The Lazy Gardener in 2007.

Wondering what to tackle first, and how to budget and plan? Here is our list of the top to dos.

Get the Lay of the Land

Grab a clipboard and wander around your property. “Look at light and water needs,” says Wachs. “Where is the sunniest spot?” Identify plants, shrubs and trees, how much lawn do you have and what is its condition. Also note the location of utilities like gas lines, the status of any retaining walls, your water features and water sources (hoses and sprinklers), and check drainage. If you have a wet basement for example, says Wachs, look around outside. “Look for clues like mossy paths, little mini rivulets, where erosion is happening.”

Then ask questions. Previous homeowners are a great source of information as are local experts like utility companies, and landscape designers. “I do an hour consult,” says Wachs. “Those are helpful when people want to do their own work but they’re not sure where to start and don’t know the names of the plants.” (See the sidebar for local resources.)

Prioritize Care of Trees and Shrubs

Oftentimes, says Wachs, previous owners have neglected pruning. “The bushes in front, they can start to eat the house,” she says.

Here she warns homeowners about quick fixes. “Some shrubs don’t take kindly to pruning and it takes years if you try to cut them back.” Instead, Wachs says a landscape designer or other resource can help you determine whether a shrub needs renovating or replacement, and about suitable plant choices.

With your trees, consider hiring a certified arborist to inspect and identify disease and potential dangers to people and property.

Tending your Lawn

Lawn care seems simple. But as Westchester County’s lawn care resource indicates, best practices – from aerating to early morning watering – are your secret weapon and very important.

With larger properties, Wachs also suggests swapping out some of that green for native plantings – “which is beautiful, costs less and involves less maintenance, less water, less chemicals.”

Don’t be Hasty with New Plantings

Many experts advise observing your garden for a full year to track perennials and bulbs. Feel free to deadhead blooms and mulch beds to battle weeds, but before committing to expensive new plantings, do your research and create a plan. “Otherwise, people might buy a cute little blue spruce … and that cute little spruce becomes this 30- to 40-foot monster hanging over your house,” says Wachs.

Develop a Plan

Think about how you use the property. Do you like to entertain? Wachs says homeowners also need to look at the size of the garden, develop a budget, look at priorities and then build a timeline. “You have to get a good idea of what you want and maybe break it down into chunks ‘This year we’ll do the front garden. Next year we’ll do the back garden.’”

Feel like you need help? “You can talk to a landscape designer or many nurseries have designers on staff,” says Wachs.

Go Shopping

If you don’t have gardening tools, America’s favorite handyman Bob Vila, at bobvila.com suggests researching lawn mowers first and buying “a rake, shovel and some pruning tools, at the very least.”

Finally, treat yourself to some colorful annuals or planters of fragrant herbs. You may be too busy the first year to tackle everything, but a few easy touches let you celebrate. “It’s not too much work, it’s just a pot,” says Wachs.

Connie Jeske Crane is a freelance writer with an interest in landscaping.

Selected Local Resources

Landscape designers, arborists, general care:

•Almstead Tree, Shrub & Lawn Care, almstead.com

•Evergreen Arborists Inc., evergreenarboristsinc.com

•John Jay Landscape Development, landdesign.net

•The Lazy Gardener, lzgardener.com

•Morano Landscape & Garden Design, moranolandscape.com


•PoundRidge Nurseries, prnurseries.com

•Rosedale Nurseries, rosedalenurseries.com

Online resources:

Bob Vila, bobvila.com

•Cornell Cooperative Extension of Westchester County, Westchester.cce.cornell.edu

•The Native Plant Center, Westchester Community College, sunywcc.edu/about/npc

•Rutgers Landscape Plants Rated by Deer Resistance, njaes.rutgers.edu/deerresistance

•Westchester County Lawn Care Information, planning.westchestergov.com/lawn-care