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Landscape Design

Landscaping for Sunny Areas

Three quick solutions for summer hot spots

  • Shade Arbor This elegant shade structure features classic columns and cloth curtains that can block side light when the sun is low in the sky.
  • Shade Furnishings High end furnishings offer mini-living areas for relaxing within their protective structures.
  • Palapa A solid roof structure offers protection from both sun and rain.
  • Rustic Arbor A portico made of rustic material is known in the west as a "ramada".
  • Rustic Detail Utilizing locally available materials, this rustic arbor is considered the quintessential shade structure for Southwestern style gardens.
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In the good old summertime, shade is a must for outdoor living and entertaining. Where a landscape is fully exposed to the west, the cumulative heat of the setting sun can be a real challenge. Here all but the most rugged plants wilt under the strain. Whether it is hot and dry or hot and humid, each outdoor landscape must be made comfortable by configuring the design for protection from the west. Whether it's desert adapted plants or site specific shade structures, all are essential to enjoying outdoor life in the hot zone.

1. Quick and Seasonal SolutionsTensioned Fabric Structures or Shade Sails
When you need shade and need it now, there's no time for design of a custom structure that takes many months to complete. Shade sails are an attractive and effective solution. They are the first truly instant source of protection for outdoor living. Constructed of UV resistant, heavy duty shade cloth, these triangular pieces are available in a variety of different colors and sizes. Larger sail can be used alone or in multiples for a layered effect that casts patterns on the ground beneath. This graphic shadow makes them highly attractive for modern style homes where geometric forms and patterns are desirable.

Consult your designer for help in specifying a sail that casts shade where you want it, and does so safely. There are standard sizes (11' to 17'), but many companies will custom make one to fit your unique dimensions. Due to the potential for damage if one connection comes loose under pressure from rain or winds, the project will involve steel poles, large lag bolts, cables and turnbuckles for safe and storm-resistant installation. When contact points include anchors in your house wall, an architect will be able to specify the proper hardware and installation details.

Retractable Awnings
Nationally advertised retractable awnings are a quick and highly effective solution for small spaces immediately adjacent to your house. It can be installed in one day and fully usable the next. When constructed of waterproof canvas rather than shade cloth, this product also provides limited rain protection. The awning must be installed onto the face of the structure where it can be easily opened up to cantilever over living spaces. Motorized models may be opened with a remote operated electric motor or manual models with a hand crank. This is the best choice for sites that need help during hot summer afternoons, or to provide protection until young trees mature. It can be constructed with woven shade cloth to allow some light to come through. Be aware that retractable awnings are vulnerable to wind shear damage when fully open. The fabric may require replacement over time.

Retractable awnings typically extend outward 8' to 10' and are usually 10' to 20' wide. A manual awning will cost anywhere from $800 to $1600. A motorized awning is typically priced at $1500 to $3000.

Plan for These Pergola Accessories:

  • Outdoor ceiling fan
  • Overhead lighting
  • High pressure misting system
  • Tie-back curtains to control side light
  • Insect netting

2. Structures with StyleShade Structure
Shade structures are a permanent fix for making outdoor living more comfortable in hot climates, or just during the summer months where it's cooler. A custom designed shade structure should reflect the home style, materials and finish colors. Rather than standard wood posts, explore columns or streamline metals with your designer. The shade giving part which crosses overhead must be laid out relative to the position of sunset during July and August. The beams and rafters need to run perpendicular to the sun's rays in order to provide the best protection. The closer together the overhead rafters, the more shade it will cast.

Prefabricated Pergolas
A pergola is a freestanding flat-top structure that provides protection for outdoor living spaces. Prefabricated models are limited in size because the support members of a larger structure would be too difficult to ship without significant costs. Pergola kits are available in wood or steel as well as white vinyl preferred for its ease of maintenance. All pieces are to be assembled on site with posts into concrete footings for structural integrity. The average size of prefabricated pergolas is 10' by 10'. Oversized pergolas are usually 10' by 12'. Typical pricing is $1200 to $7000 plus shipping and installation.

3. Very BIG TreesA large specimen tree is better able to change the whole environment of your yard rather than just providing limited shade. It is a green and sustainable solution, but this endeavor requires a licensed landscape architect to select the species, hand pick the individual specimen and supervise all aspects of installation. A utility survey may be required to avoid conflicts with underground structures. The potential for damage to your home and worker injury during the movement and planting of such a heavy object can be considerable. Protect yourself by insisting on a well-qualified contractor approved by your landscape architect.

Olive Tree
Drought resistant olives are among the few broadleaf trees that can be moved without a significant rootball.

The biggest challenges of buying and planting a specimen tree are cost and accessibility. Added to the purchase price of the tree are labor and a crane to lift it off the truck and into your yard. Specimen trees are sold in wood box containers, the smallest measuring 24 inches square for about $150.00 to $300.00 depending on the tree species. From there the size increases to a 36" box, increasing incrementally to over one hundred inches or more.

Some mature trees will tolerate immediate transplanting, which has allowed many old olive orchards to be transplanted one tree at a time into yards. The same applies to date palm orchards moved to line entries of upscale shopping and business centers. Though transplanting is nothing new, a huge machine known as a "tree spade" was invented to dig out a tree with a cone shaped rootball. The same machine digs a cone shaped hole at your house so the tree is dropped right in for a perfect fit. Cone shaped rootballs fit tightly and don't roll in a wet planting hole like a flat bottom root ball does. The price for transplanted trees using a tree spade or more traditional methods using a crane will vary by size and the rarity of the tree.

Top Plants for Sunny Spots

  • Blue Agave
  • Bougainvillea
  • Tropicanna
  • Orchid Rockrose
  • See all top 10 plants for sunny areas

Your landscape architect will assist you in making sure the tree you plant is suited to the local climate. The contractor must be responsible for using standard horticultural practices to ensure the tree survives the move. Make doubly sure that your contract stipulates an extended "maintenance period". This ensures that if the tree tips over, fails to thrive or dies, the contractor must replace it free of charge. Insist on a well established, reputable, local contractor with a verifiable track record of specimen tree transplanting.

Contributing Author:

Maureen Gilmer, contributing writer for Landscaping Network, author and syndicated columnist

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