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The smartest investment you can make in your backyard might be to hire a designer.

Sound expensive? Consider what a landscape designer or contractor can do for you:

Save you money.  A pro will steer you clear of fads and safety hazards that a homeowner might regret paying for, and point you toward money-saving trends that might help them get a high-end look for a little less cash. An example: When a homeowner requests flagstone for the patio floor, a landscape pro might show you a sample of travertine, a natural stone in the limestone family, whose price has dropped so much recently that it has become affordable for many who once considered it out of reach.

Help coordinate all of the pieces of your landscape and patio design so the outdoor lights don’t shine in your eyes, the sprinklers don’t “water” the patio floor, the trees don’t cast all-day shade over a grassy patch that needs sun and the fireplace chimney complies with the city’s height restrictions.

Choose plants that not only look nice, but serve the purpose you have in mind. Perhaps you’re ultra-water conscious and want a desert-friendly yard, but you love to see color around your house all year round. A landscape designer can introduce you to drought-tolerant plants that bloom even in the winter, like Mexican honeysuckle, Angelita daisy and the Valentine emu bush.

Place those plants strategically. Ground cover can soften the look of a rock-covered lawn, as can strategically placed bloomers. And a designer will know how far away from the house to place plants that do need water so you don’t douse them so close to the house that you wind up with hard-water marks on your stucco or cracks in your foundation caused by wet soil under the house.

Create the right mood with outdoor lighting. You can make things look amazing with the right kind of lighting in the right spot, or you can make your yard look like an airport runway. The trick to getting to “amazing”: Vary the voltage of the lights, and don’t place them all in a row. Instead, look for places where you need light, like at the top and bottom of steps, and where light will cast unique shadows or dramatically highlight tree branches. Landscape designers use a combination of uplights, downlights and “moonbeam” lights, which illuminate the tops of your trees. Work within your budget so you can get the highest-quality lawn and patio products that you can afford.

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