In a city with more warm weather than cool, having a place to enjoy the outdoors is essential to many people. But outdoor areas that are aesthetically pleasing, comfortable and functional often require planning and maintenance. The following tips will help you create and manage beautiful outdoor spaces you'll want to use over and over regardless of the temperature.
• Create the scene Whether you've got ample room or a very small area to work with, landscape designer Beverly Katz of Exterior Designs advises fashioning an outdoor room that's relaxing and healing to the soul.
"There's something about the New Orleans courtyard," says Katz, whose business encompasses courtyards, lawns, flowerbeds and more. "If it's done right, it's therapeutic."
A former interior designer, Katz applies the same design principles she would use for an interior when transforming an outdoor setting. Textures, colors, layout, flow, organization, furnishings, balance and art all come into play.
In hot climates like New Orleans, Katz emphasizes three key things: shade, drainage and water features. Even the prettiest outdoor area won't beckon you if it doesn't offer respite from the elements.
• Keep your cool Among the most important features to consider are those designed to cool your outdoor living area, such as shade, which can come from natural and manmade sources. Trees provide privacy and shade, but Katz recommends keeping them trimmed for optimum airflow and to minimize shedding. Covered rooms, such as patios, porches and pergolas (Katz custom designs pergolas) will shield you from the sun's rays as well as the rain. In addition to overhead coverage, you may want to consider other types of barriers. Remote-control screens, outdoor draperies made from water-resistant or waterproof fabrics and shutters used on the sides of porches, for example, protect outdoor areas from heat, rain, mosquitos and other pests and offer the flexibility of being opened or closed.
• Add a water feature A pool is the ultimate cooling amenity, but if a full-size pool isn't in your budget, a smaller water feature such as a fountain or pond can provide a cooling sensory experience. A small pool with a ledge for seating is an ideal alternative for those with limited space who want minimal upkeep, while the sight and soothing sounds of a fountain, pond or waterfall are conducive to unwinding and de-stressing.
"I've been in the landscaping business for 25 years and could not imagine living without the sound of water," says Kevin Beltz, owner of Aquascapes by Grandscapes, a full-service landscape business specializing in water features and fountain construction. "Once you have had it, you can't do without it. There's a serious connection there."
Pondless waterfalls that recirculate through hidden, underground containers have become a popular and easy-to-maintain water feature, Beltz says. Unlike traditional ponds, that setup doesn't require a balanced ecosystem with plants and fish, there's no liability associated with an open body of water (they're kid-friendly) and recirculated water makes it a "green" choice.
• Play misty Misters aren't just for outdoor restaurants and Jazz Fest. They're also an effective way to cool outdoor spaces at home. Mist Works, in business for 18 years, specializes in eco-friendly, high-quality, commercial-grade misting systems, which the business custom-designs and installs. The company also sells budget-friendly do-it-yourself kits.
"We build high- and mid-pressure pumps for our systems. Pressure is key in making a superfine mist and keeping surfaces dry," says Gina Salvatore, office manager at Mist Works. "As water is forced through the nozzle, a mist is created, which evaporates almost instantly as it removes heat from the air. When you add fans, the rate of evaporation increases and the cooling effect is greater."
With a breeze, a regular mister can reduce the temperature about four to eight degrees, Salvatore says, while a mist fan can lower it by as much as 10 to 20 degrees. Mist Works has exclusive stainless steel outdoor fans and it services its systems. The company also rents portable misters for events.
Do-it-yourselfers can rely on Mist Works' employees to help them make their own versions. "We are here to help customers select and lay out the right system," Salvatore says. "Systems designed for the West Coast won't work in Louisiana where it's humid."
• Banish bugs Termites, ants, wasps and other insect populations often can be controlled with a little know-how and a few commercially available products — or call a professional exterminator to keep bugs at bay.
Terry Bruno, general manager at Terminix, says it is paramount to keep your yard free of standing water to reduce mosquitos. He also recommends using a DIY product like Yard Guard. Follow directions closely to protect plants, animals and humans, he warns.
Terminix suggests following some basic measures to minimize termites.
"Eighty-nine percent of termite problems are created by homeowners," Bruno says. "There's a litany of do's and don'ts as far as termites are concerned."
Among the most common problems Terminix encounters: slab houses with high soil grades can cause moisture, and wooden decks in direct contact with the ground, providing a bridge for subterranean termites from the ground to the house, and wasps nesting inside barbecue pits and outdoor umbrellas. "Be careful when opening (grills and umbrellas) after they've been closed for winter — and have a can of wasp spray ready," Bruno says.
Terminix's other do-it-yourself recommendations include using granulated products and keeping yards and flower beds free of dead vegetation and debris to control roaches. Also, place mosquito zappers at a distance from occupied areas so they will draw mosquitos away from people.
• Decorate for durability
Keeping outdoor surfaces and furniture dry in a humid climate can be challenging. Outdoor-grade fabrics like Sunbrella and synthetic rugs that can be cleaned with a hose are widely available in a range of colors, patterns and sizes. Heavy-ply, synthetic furniture covers also can be used to protect your decor.
Katz recommends keeping cleaning implements like brooms handy to rid surfaces of water, storing cushions in a dry place or standing them up when not in use so they can dry, and wiping outdoor-grade fabric cushions with diluted bleach to remove mildew.
• Light the site
"People are extending their living space to the outdoor areas with fire pits and outdoor kitchens," says Beltz of Aquascapes, which also installs outdoor lighting. "Lighting enhances the experience."
In addition to increasing the functionality of outdoor spaces, lights can be used to illuminate landscaping that would not be visible at night, establish focal points and create drama. Benefits of today's technology include cellphone-operated automation, LED sources and a variety of color choices.
"If you're going to put the investment into your yard, you need to have an irrigation system, especially June to September," Beltz says. "The height of summer is a brutal time period." Beltz advises using a licensed contractor to avoid future problems and to take advantage of the latest innovations, including automation. Beltz and Katz both recommend installing a quality system, monitoring it regularly and adjusting it as needed.
"If you stay on top of your outdoor areas and do things as they come up, it's not that big a deal," Beltz says.