Most subdivisions that create individual lots, also have streets, drainage systems and utility easements that are either dedicated to the local jurisdiction or an easement over your private property. Streets are often designed to certain standards and their overall width as shown on the subdivision plat map often encroaches onto what you may think  is your property. The right of way goes beyond the edge of pavement.So don’t assume your property line is at the edge of the pavement.

A Right of Way or Rights of Way (ROW), is typically the section of land between the edge of the street and your actual front property line. This Right of Way allows the city or county to do a number of things including access utility connections, maintain drainage ditches, curb and gutter, sidewalks or even to widen the road if that is in the master plan. So what can the homeowner do to install landscaping in the front yard right of way you may ask.

In the City of Sedona, a Right of Way permit is required for any kind of development within the ROW including mailboxes, drainage ditch rennovation, driveways and even the placement of dumpsters. The County of Yavapai also requires Right of Way permits for the same kind of improvements.

Most homeowners are not aware that this section of land has restrictions on its use. In fact, many Sedona homeowners assume they can do what they want with it since all the surrounding homes appear to have landscaped all the way up to the edge of the pavement. Whether it is an easement across your property or the Right of Way is city or county owned, you may not build or construct anything you want without risking it being removed if access to land is required. A Right of Way permit is required to do any kind of improvements, yet most homeowners are unaware of the rules.

Landscaping in the front yard right of way is not entirely up to you. First, you must determine exactly what you own and what the city or county owns. In a Right of Way, typically you may install a driveway across the ROW to access the street. But building any kind of wall is typically not allowed within a Right of Way or Easement. If the city or county was to grant you a permit to build it, who then would maintain it and if the city had to dig up utility lines and remove the structure, who would pay to replace it? These are the reasons, only minimal improvements are allowed such as driveways and landscape plant material.

You will also find out about your front yard building setback which is different than an easement or a ROW. It is a part of the Zoning District setup by the city to regulate how close buildings can be to their lot lots on all four sides. Front yard setbacks restrict how close to the front yard property line you can build your house or any extension of it including low walls such as for a courtyard.

In planning the design of residential landscape, I check with the city as the first step to determine where the Right of Way, Easements and Setbacks are located. These are all building restrictions that must be followed, especially if what the homeowner wants to do requires a building permit.

Jurisdictions have different regulations and use restrictions as to what can be done and who will maintain it. The city may turn maintenance responsibility over to the homeowners even though they own the underlying property. If a homeowner improves the Right of Way with landscaping for their benefit, then it is in their best interest to continue to maintain it so it looks good. The one thing the city is most concerned about is liability. If the Right of Way is subject to flooding or has excessive weed growth, it may go ahead and perform maintenance because, legally it is the owner of the property.

Restrictions on the use of one’s property is part of the due diligence everyone should perform when buying new real estate. Locating the property corners will often reveal that a good portion of the front yard is really not your property, or may have restrictions that may not be acceptable to you. This is often the case with raw land where the actual property lines are not obvious.

I have seen where a person property is actually the center line of the street and also where the property line is about 25 feet away from the edge of pavement.  These Right of Ways and Easements can vary widely among jurisdictions. If you have an issue with your Right of Way landscaping, I may be able to help.


Newcomers to Sedona who plant Bougainvillea or Lantana in the fall go through a learning experience and then realize why they don’t see them planted all over town like in their former towns. The reason is freezing temperatures. Subtropical plants cannot withstand temperatures much lower than 32 degrees. But plant materials are not the only concern when it comes to cold weather. Irrigation systems, masonry and fountains are also concerns for Sedona landscaping in winter. Here I share some winter weather lessons learned for your Sedona landscape.


Sedona has a USDA cold hardiness zone of 7 or 7b, which means the average lows can reach 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Some subtropical plants can tolerate an infrequent dip below freezing, but a series of cold nights below 25 or so can be deadly, especially if the root system is not established as in newly planted. The best thing to do to deal with our cold winters is to choose plants that can tolerate Zone 7 and treat others in higher zones as annuals, or expect them to lose their leaves during winter.

Lantana is a colorful plant that is widely planted in the Phoenix area which is Zone 11, but I have seen some Lantana around Sedona as well. The difference is they lose their leaves after the first frost even though they are considered an evergreen shrub. They should be cut back in late winter to trigger new growth in the spring.

Plants that can tolerate our winters are ideally planted in the fall when the soil temperature is still warm enough to allow for some root growth before winter. Planting during winter is okay for some plants in containers, but don’t expect any growth till spring. It’s better to wait and not risk losing these newly planted shrubs especially if they are small 1 gallon containers or came directly out of the greenhouse at the nursery.

 Arizona Municipal Water Users Association How to Prune Frost Damaged Plants


People who come from harsh winter climates know how to winterize their homes. Exposed pipes can burst when frozen water expands, even a copper pipe can burst. That is why all exposed piping above ground should be insulated. Pressure Vacuum Breakers (or PVBs),  are those devices near your water meter and keep water from back flowing into the municipal water system. PVBs have an internal plastic part that can freeze and break, causing a major leak to occur under pressure. They must be above ground to function, and thus vulnerable to the elements.


Protect them with specially made thermal insulated pouches.





PVC piping that feeds your valves or sprinkler system is also at risk if it is holding water during a freeze. It’s best to have a bleed valve at the lowest part of the system to drain all the water from the pipes. If your site is level, you can dig a dry well to create a low spot for the water to drain. Also shut off the water supply that feeds the irrigation system, so in case a leak does occur, the system will not be under pressure creating a significant waste of water until you discover it in the morning.


Our climate is not cold enough to be concerned with soil freeze thaw conditions as in the Northeast. Hardscape such as concrete, masonry stone and tile is more susceptible to water penetrating their surfaces, freezing and then expanding and causing cracks or lifting of the top surface.

Care must be taken with certain installations during winter so water is not trapped underneath freshly laid tiles or stone. If gaps and crevices are present, these are areas where water can accumulate. A tile job for example should be laid, grouted and sealed without water infiltration and without freezing.

Drainage is also very important so that the surface does not collect water or snow.




It is recommended that pumps be operating during freezing conditions, otherwise water inside the pump may freeze and damage the pump. Flowing water also helps keeps the water from freezing in the plumbing. Sometimes, however it is best to shut down the fountain for the winter depending on the kind of fountain or water feature you have.

A fountain with relatively shallow basins such as a shallow bowl like a bird bath will freeze solid if cold enough at night. If the material is prone to crack due to the expansion of the ice, the vessel itself may be at risk, so it would be better to drain the water from the vessels and turn off the pump.

Since there are so many different kinds of fountains, it is best to ask, what if the pump stopped running and all the water in the basin and the bowls froze solid. Could the fountain otherwise remain intact without cracking? Is the material reinforced? Or is it made of fiberglass or resin? How easy would it be to remove the pump and bring it indoors? These questions should be asked when designing and installing a fountain whether its custom built or prefabricated.


This urn style fountain to the left if filled with water and froze, may expand and crack the vessel because of its shape. However, these wok style bowls to the right, have a very large surface area of water that if expansion occurs would simply rise in the bowl.





When spring comes and the weather warms up, its easy to forget about frozen pipes and plants that died during the first freeze in November. The best strategy for Sedona landscaping is to plan around the worst season of the year — winter and its freezing temperatures rather than the heat of the summer.



What exactly is a Feng Shui garden? What does a typical Feng Shui garden look like? The same elements that are essential to good design are the same used in designing a Feng Shui garden.  Feng Shui principles are as subtle as basic design principles. They don’t jump out at you with overly thematic elements. Let’s look at a case study of a remodel of the front entrance of a contemporary southwest custom built home that was in need of some curb appeal. Or, contemporary southwest meets Feng Shui in the garden.

The subject property was built about 15 years ago and as such, the front entry evolved to fit with the needs of the owners. Recently, a large native pine tree that graced the entrance died and was removed leaving a large empty spot near the front entry. Not only did it soften the architecture of the home it gave the entry a woodsy feeling – the type of energy recognized in Feng Shui as that coming from living creatures including trees and shrubs. A form of good Chi, or beneficial energy.

Without that tree, the entrance felt bare and lost its vitality. Focus was also shifted to what remained – a 6 foot high iron fence that was installed to keep deer out of the owner’s small collection of roses. But now the fence seemed more like an afterthought, certainly not intended when the home was initially designed. The area inside the fence was rather small, filled up with a mixture of shrubs that became overgrown, further affecting the flow of Chi.

The owners knew their front entrance needed some help. They agreed the fence took away from the potential of a newly remodeled entry and were willing to see it go away. They also wanted to be able to sit out and enjoy perhaps a small fountain. I was then called in to prepare a design. With that background and basic criteria, I began to further study the front yard area. My criteria however, is a stealth one, that is, to blend in Feng Shui principles into all of my designs whether or not the owners request it. Of course, I knew in the end, the new entrance would not “look” like a Feng Shui garden, but would have that certain attractiveness that is hard to put into words.

In addition to creating a more Feng Shui friendly entrance, the secondary focus was to create a remodeled entrance that did not appear as an addition, but rather, that it resembled the original architectural design and features. The result is a more inviting entrance, with excitement and drama, a small patio space to sit and enjoy and a mix of native and low water use plants that are not as attractive to deer and wildlife.

With the fence out of the picture, I could literally open up the entrance and let the Chi pour into the front door and circulate around the entry, the sitting area and the new plantings. Here was my approach:

1) Remove the psychological barrier of the uninviting fence.
2) Use deer resistant and native plants that obviate the need for a barrier to wildlife.
3) Add a fountain to improve the flow of Chi and prosperity and abundance to the entrance and the occupants. Also serves as a focal point and a reason to pause and admire the space before entering the home.
4) Remove a portion of the existing concrete and replace with paver stones to delineate the entrance area from the driveway and to allow for more useable space.

5) Create a small patio space to enjoy the view from the north side of the house, previously where there was simply a walkway.

6) Use the Chinese 5-Elements Theory to create a balance among the elements.

The vision was a low key, low profile contemporary style fountain that was based on the strong strip-stone style flagstone used on the veneer of the house. I created a two tiered set of pedestals that were elongated and set perpendicular to each other, each with a wok bowl style fountain that created a double series of pouring scuppers. The lower wok bowl poured into a submerged basin covered with red polished river stones.

 Here are the solutions that incorporate the 5 Elements Theory:

Earth: Use of low profile horizonal lines, natural flagstone stripstone

Water: A flowing fountain

Fire: Red Sedona flagstone colors, spiky grasses, Agave

Wood: The proportional use of plants to balance the hardscape.

Metal: Steel agave sculpture and the circular shape of the wok bowls


This contemporary style front entry landscape remodel shows that you don’t have to create an Asian style garden when using Feng Shui principles. So we now have an example where  contemporary southwest meets Feng Shui in the garden.

Photograph contributed by client (name withheld for privacy)

Note: I want to give credit to the client/owner for many contributions and inputs that went into the details of this project including the idea and selection of the steel agave and planter and its night lighting, the off setting of the pedestal walls to reflect the angle of the home, the color of the basin pebbles, the choice of pavers and the styles of the planters in the background.


Sedona fiberglass pool being craned into placeIf you live or have a second home in Sedona and are thinking of getting a pool, your choices are basically concrete, fiberglass or vinyl. Depending on which part of the country you are from, you may be used to vinyl or fiberglass. People who come from cold climates are very concerned about concrete pools because of freeze and thaw soil conditions. Fiberglass and vinyl liner pools will not crack and so theoretically may be better suited for the colder climates. But if you have never owned a pool before, you may be confused as whether a fiberglass pool is the best choice for Sedona.

Research performed on the internet will reveal a huge debate between concrete/gunite pools vs. fiberglass. Much of the information is being put out by the fiberglass pool industry in defense of the misconceptions and myths about the downsides of fiberglass pools. So be careful as you educate yourself as the information is very biased when they are making side by side comparisons.

If you search for “sedona fiberglass pool” you will not find any local builder. There are only a couple of builders who claim to be able to install fiberglass pools, but it is not their mainstay. Most Sedona pool builders install concrete pools. So even if you have made the decision to go fiberglass, you may have to find a fiberglass pool builder located in the Phoenix area willing to come to Sedona to install your pool. This limits your selection process from whom to solicit proposals. Each builder may be able to install any of the top fiberglass pool manufactures, but may focus on only one because of issues of delivery, shipping and manufacturer warranties.

Things to consider for a Sedona fiberglass pool:

1) Maintenance

The long term maintenance cost savings of a fiberglass pool is persuasive for pool buyers who want less maintenance and less monthly cost. Because the fiberglass shell is impervious to water and chemicals, water chemistry is less likely to get out of balance compared to a concrete shell.

2) Initial Cost vs. Long Term Costs

It would be in your best interest to compare the cost of a concrete pool to that of a comparable fiberglass pool in terms of the initial cost of installation. Generally speaking, fiberglass will cost more and you will have to take that added cost and see how many years it will take to offset it due to the lower maintenance costs.

3) Design Considerations

The major advantage of a concrete pool is the endless shapes and styles that can be designed. There are no limitations. You are not limited to a number of cookie cutter shapes as in a fiberglass pool.

sedona fiberglass pools are typically uninspiringFiberglass pools also tend to be variations of a basic rectangle and are made from molds or templates. Fiberglass pools are not made to order, you have to choose from among what they have to offer.

4) Aesthetics

Fiberglass pools are not very imaginative due to the manufacturing process. You will not see many negative edge fiberglass pools, nor will you see boulders set into the edge of the coping nor inside the pool itself as you will with concrete pools. Spas that come with a fiberglass pool combination tend to be simple square extensions of the pool and not very innovative in design options.

Vanishing edge concrete pool designed by JSL Exteriors  Landscape Design Build

Innovative site design like this is not possible with fiberglass pools

You cannot have beach entries or place umbrella sleeves inside the pool. A fiberglass pool must be embellished by the decking and surrounding elements since the shape itself may be on the simple side.

5) Value

Pools do not add actual market value to the home, nor does the overall landscaping for that matter. What it does however, is make the home more marketable, but only for those buyers who are looking for a house with a pool. Some people see pools as a maintenance headache and safety issue, but everybody is different. A fiberglass pool may have a perceived value of being less desirable than a concrete pool because of the stigma due to decades of being criticized in the industry as being a “plastic facsimile” of the real thing. Some may have heard stories about fiberglass pools being prone to floating out of the ground.


If your criteria is primarily based on simplicity of design and lower maintenance costs and you plan on living with the pool for the next 10 years, then a fiberglass pool should be considered. But if your primary consideration is innovative, unique design that is well integrated with the surrounding landscape elements, a concrete pool will be the better choice.

In either case, I am familiar designing with either fiberglass pools or custom designed concrete pools. From a design standpoint, I prefer to not have to work around a pre-designed shape, because it is often difficult to find a shape that fits the design criteria. I do find it a fun challenge however, to take a simple fiberglass shape and design around it to make the overall landscape design innovative and unique.

So if you are still in the market for a Sedona fiberglass pool, I can help you with the whole process, from design to installation with my network of contacts and years of experience both in Phoenix and Sedona.

Top 10 Drip Irrigation System Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Here is my top 10 drip irrigation system mistakes based on people not adhering to common practices that good landscape professionals follow. Mistakes are made when a system does not adhere to these practices. Does your drip irrigation system lack any of these guidelines?

drip irrigation system mistakes

A properly installed set of drip valves

Nobody wants to knowingly waste water, but since over half of a typical household water use is outdoors, a poorly designed drip irrigation system is usually the cause.  Wasting water is only one of the top 10 drip irrigation mistakes, but it also stems from planting plants in the wrong locations. Most people don’t really monitor the operation of their drip irrigation system. Most of the time, they base its operation on whether their plants are doing well or not.

Reading through these may reveal some deficiencies with your own existing system. Not following these points can result in more costly repairs, inefficient irrigation, over watering and higher maintenance. Thus, the top 10 drip irrigation system mistakes.

  1. All irrigation systems must be equipped with a vacuum breaker as required by the Uniform Plumbing Code. These could be above ground atmospheric vacuum breakers that are built into the above ground valves, or it could be a pressure vacuum breaker which is installed before the valves which would then be underground located in a valve box. Above ground valves should not be used in climates where freezing is a concern and exposed PVC pipe is not a good idea either.
  2. A shut off valve should be located along your mainline before the vacuum breaker so you can turn off the irrigation line for repairs while maintaining water for the main house.
  3. Drip systems operate under low pressure, usually 20-30 psi. A pressure reducer is installed after the valve so the pressure going through the drip line and out the emitters is low enough so the fittings don’t blow off. Since there is no glue used as in PVC piping, drip fittings are designed for low pressure water delivery.
  4. Lateral driplines should be placed in pipe sleeves when running under driveways, patios or other surfaces to access planting areas separated by hard surfaces or other hardscape like walls, planters, etc. This allows the piping to be installed in the first place without possibility of getting damaged or kinked and allows the piping to be pulled out and replaced later if necessary.
  5. Emitters for each plant should have a separate ¼” tubing connected to the lateral. Do not split off the ¼” tubing to feed more than one shrub since you will be diluting the amount of water than can reach the plant.
  6. Keep the ¼” lines no more than 10 feet long measured from the lateral line. This may require the laterals to be looped or tees inserted to provide relatively close distance to all the shrubs in any particular zone.
  7. Adequately bury the lateral and ¼” tubing. The lateral line should be buried about 6-8”. If it is accidently cut with a pick or shovel later on, it is easy to repair. Further, since the lateral is after the valve, they are not under pressure except for when the valve is running. ¼” tubing is often not buried deep enough often placed just underneath the gravel cover. ¼” tubing should be buried several inches in the soil so the lines will remain in place and not easily get pulled up from a rake and be exposed.
  8. Avoid relying on hose bibs to locate your irrigation valves. Hose bib connections to a drip line may be manually controlled or you can install a battery operated single station valve. This is not a professional installation especially if the planting design requires multiple zones. For isolated areas cut off from connection to the main system, they can be used provided there is a nearby faucet.
  9. Separate tree zones from shrub zones. This is a very common mistake. Trees ideally need water for a deeper watering (longer duration of watering time) and less frequently compared to shrubs which have more shallow roots.
  10.  Make a sketch of the irrigation layout. It is very common to forget where the lateral lines are buried since they are often curved and looped and not always straight. One trick to locate the lateral if say you want to install a new shrub later on is to pull up the ¼” tubing closest to where you want to plant and keeping pulling until it takes you back to the point of connection to the lateral.

You may need to go beyond reading through these common mistakes. You can find out how to set up a garden drip irrigation system on another one of my posts on this topic.


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