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Ask the Experts: The Landscaper

Jeff Cleator—Owner, Cleator Landscape Design


Trick of the Trade
“Take care of your soil—its the backbone of everything else in your yard. Not all soils need to be incredibly rich, but they need to be right for the kinds of plants that are going to be planted. ”

How important is landscaping in the overall appearance and aesthetic of a house?

While the house sets the tone for the property, the landscape should accentuate the home and tie it into the surroundings. It’s not something you should overlook or do halfheartedly; otherwise you miss out on a huge opportunity to create curb appeal with something that reflects who you are as the homeowner. 

What do you tell people who want to landscape but don’t have the budget to hire a pro?

If someone is looking for a DIY approach, my advice would be to find online inspiration, but choose one theme and focus on it. I often see landscapes that have tried to mix and match styles, which always turn out falling flat. 

What’s the most expensive part of a landscaping job?

Hardscaping—walkways, built-ins, pools, etc.—is always more expensive than the softscape, or plants and ground cover. 

iris douglasiana

Are there foolproof plants for beginners?

There are no completely foolproof plants, but there are plenty that are really tough and don’t require much attention. Succulents can take abuse and neglect, and even thrive under adverse conditions. Aloes are also very easy to care for and will reward you with stunning blooms.

What are the most high-maintenance plants?

Most plants that are not native to our climate are high maintenance, simply because they are built for more rain, different sunlight, etc.

One tool every gardener should have in his or her arsenal?

A clean, sharp pruning saw and a solid understanding of how and when to properly prune. 

You specialize in xeriscaping. What should people know about it?

Designer Black Book

Pottery and other finishing touches: 
Planters Paradise in El Cajon

“One of the best contractors in town”:
Justin Williams at La Jolla Landscape

Floral arrangements:
AE Floral Design

Even with El Niño and the prediction of a wetter winter, the drought will continue to be an issue here. With around 70 percent of our water used outside the home, xeriscaping is an easy way to greatly reduce our dependency on imported water. Luckily there are beautiful low-water options that aren’t the rock gardens of our past! 

Any other benefits?

It also reduces maintenance and the use of chemicals, and if done properly, it can attract wildlife and help create a sense of place appropriate for life here in a coastal desert. 

What about people who want drought-tolerant plants, but still want some greenery and color? Is there a happy medium?

Absolutely. San Diego’s Mediterranean climate provides a lot of flexibility. There are many plant options from similar climates, such as Grevillea, Leptospermum, and Anigozanthos from Australia, and Aloe, Arctotis, and Kniphofia from South Africa, that thrive here and can provide greenery and color.

What’s one quick fix people can do to improve the look of their yards? 

Follow a proper maintenance routine—whether you do it yourself or hire a professional. Even the best-designed landscape will lose its way without proper continued care. 

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