The real goal of any landscape project is to help people connect. We live in a world that is disconnected. People drive to work on asphalt, work in a cubicle, and come home to drywall, paint, and nylon carpet. It’s not ideal. People feel disconnected from the world around them. This feeling leads people to feel depressed.
Nature is the antidote. Nature is much more beautiful than man-made products. Nature has much variety and appears random. To connect with nature, our landscape needs to provide privacy, natural products, and a theme.
Do you like your neighbor watching you have a barbeque? It may not bother you a lot, but it’s certainly not ideal. To create the privacy you will need a natural screen. This can be accomplished in several ways.
1- Arborvitae: is an evergreen that grows up to 50 feet tall. They grow up to 3 feet per year. The green giant or Thuja makes the tallest screen. They like full sun and well-drained soil.
2- Lombardy Poplar: is very fast growing at up to six feet per year. It makes a great windbreak and privacy screen. However, due to its high disease rate and small lifespan of 25 years max it isn’t recommended by professionals.
3- Bamboo: Is the fastest growing plant in the world. Some bamboo can grow up to 70 feet tall. The types with runners are more aggressive and grow faster. Most Bamboo you buy at the nursery will generally grow around 10 feet tall.
4- Rose of Sharon: is a Hibiscus plant that grows at least ten feet high. It blooms lots of beautiful flowers in the mid to late summer. It makes an excellent privacy hedge but will require some trimming.
5- Trees: Nearly any tree can be a privacy screen. Many trees will give you added privacy, but not tight privacy. Maple trees grow faster than most other trees and are usually more desirable for screens. Evergreens grow way to slow to be a privacy screen.
High-end landscapes have one thing in common; everything is natural. You won’t find a vinyl fence outside a 20 million dollar home. Part of the reason is that high-end landscapes are professionally designed and designers take pride in things looking right.
I am not saying that you should never use man-made products because they have their place. If however, it’s in your budget natural products will help you connect to nature.
Here is a list of natural products to consider: cedar, redwood, flagstone, boulders, plants, topsoil, compost, mulch, bark, grass, trees, etc. Most of the natural products are plants; of course.
Here are some man-made products to avoid: railroad ties; vinyl, concrete, man-made stones, vinyl or aluminum siding, rubber mulch, artificial turf, artificial plants and trees, and curbing. These items have their place, but in an ideal landscape, these items won’t be required.
Mother Nature has a theme. For example, you don’t find Cattails growing in the middle of the desert with cactus. Nature sticks to themes and so should you.
Possible themes to choose from are desert, tropical, eastern United States, high mountain meadows and, prairies and grasslands of the Midwest. Themes should focus on at least three distinct colors. You should choose which colors you are trying to bring out before you design the project.
Consider carefully the foreground and background. You want lower plants in front and larger plants in the back. You need to account for the view you might have from several different points of your yard.
Themes should include the proper use of texture. Good texture has a combination of hardscape softened by flowers, shrubs, and trees. Consider carefully the hardscape items before you begin your project. In this way, you can build the plants and landscape in a much more focused way. Figure out what items you want to stand out and work on bringing these items out.
The grass is one of the staples of life. It feeds many animals and covers the expanse of the globe. It is beautiful and has a soft cooling texture. It is no wonder that so many of us choose to have grass in our front and back yards.
The grass is grown from a seed blend. In most cases, the blend is about seven seeds. The blend is necessary to make the grass resistant to disease and various environmental conditions. Grass of a singular seed could be wiped out with minor environmental changes.
Seed Blend Colors
Have you ever noticed that your neighbor’s grass is a darker green than your grass and that no matter how much fertilizer or techniques you apply your grass is never as green as the neighbors? Maybe this is where the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence comes from?
The reason your grass may not be as green is because of the starting off seed blend. Some seed blends are darker and greener than others. It’s like having a pink rose and trying to make it turn red with fertilization. The problem is that it’s a different variety.
Sod farms like ryegrass better than bluegrass because it grows much faster. Harvest times are greatly reduced. For this reason, almost any bluegrass you buy has ryegrass mixed with it. If you call the sod farm, they all say that it is 100% bluegrass. However, this is simply not true.
Besides, farms can increase their yield by sowing more ryegrass in the mix. What exactly are you buying? You can’t tell. The best thing to do is to see grass that has been in for a couple of years and see how it looks.
Some ryegrass seeds are great for sod grubs because they have a natural grub toxin built-in.
Don’t get confused about what good grass is. Bluegrass is the best and that’s why every sod farm calls their sod bluegrass. Bluegrass grows slowly and has a finer needle texture. Its root structure has rhizomes that will automatically fill in areas that are dead. Golf courses love bluegrass because it will fill in divots on its own.
Bluegrass is more tolerant of virtually every lawn disease out there. I wonder if it grows slower than ryegrass because quality takes time. Bluegrass takes approximately 20% more water than other grasses and that is one of its downsides for some areas. Bluegrass likes full sun and you should account for the sun requirements before planting.
Fescue grass has a wider needle structure. It is drought tolerant and can appear to be dead, but come back with a little bit of water. Fescue is most often quite a bit more expensive than bluegrass. The main reason is that homeowners typically want bluegrass. Sod farms up-sell the fescue grass as premium because it takes less water. The secret of the sod farm is that it is cheaper and easier for a sod farm to produce fescue than bluegrass.
Fescue grass is so tough that it is classified, by some, as a weed (historically). Other “weed” grasses are starting to gain popularity, like Johnsongrass, because of their superior toughness and drought sustainability.
Fescue roots can grow up to several feet deep. Their root structure is mostly what makes them so drought is tolerant.
Have you ever wondered how the grass on golf greens is so low growing and looks good? You should know that it isn’t the same as your homeowner’s bluegrass. Bentgrass grows low to the ground. It can be cut very short without hurting it.
The other factor is you need a special mower to get it that low. Golf courses have reel mowers that are made just for cutting the grass on the green.
Reel Mowers and Grass
A sharp blade keeps the grass healthy. Blades that are ripped from dull blades are more prone to disease; especially when cutting wet. Reel mowers do a better job of cutting grass blades cleanly and that is why they are the preferred type of mower for golf courses.
If you are a homeowner, it is best to just buy a new lawnmower blade yearly. Old blades can be sharpened, but the edge simply doesn’t last like a newly forged blade. You might pay half as much for sharpening as a new blade, but you will get about 10% of the edge of a new blade. It’s simply more cost-effective to buy a new blade. If you have a shed with a grinder and don’t mind doing the work then sharpening yourself may be a good option.
If you ever see a plant named Miscanthus you are looking at an ornamental grass. Miscanthus is the scientific name for grasses. Some of the most popular ornamental grasses are Zebra Grass, bamboo, Purple Fountain Grass, Karl Foerster, Plume Grass, Reed Grass, and Blue Fescue.
My grandmother didn’t want to put in an irrigation system because she thought it cost too much. She would spend many hours in the yard watering and taking care of plants. Unfortunately, one day she tripped over the hose and broke her hip.
Irrigation systems have many advantages: 1- Safety 2- Convenience 3- Time Saver 4- Quality.
For seniors, especially with osteoporosis, they shouldn’t be out watering the lawn. When one fall can break a bone, it’s much too dangerous to be out working in the yard. Irrigation systems make the home much safer because it removes the temptation to get out the hose and water by hand.
Do you like summer vacations? It’s a lot nicer to have an automatic system to rely on. You can set it and forget it.
It’s also easy to keep track of the time each part of the lawn is watered because the timer does it for you. You can set each zone for precise time and duration.
Irrigation Time Savings
It can take a whole day to water the lawn properly with a hand-operated sprinkler. In today’s world, it’s just not worth wasting all that time. If your time is worth anything at all, you won’t want to spend it watering the lawn.
Many people who think they can’t afford an automatic sprinkler system are often making a poor choice. For example, a few extra hours at work is a lot more economical than spending a lot more hours watering by hand. Automatic sprinklers are very inexpensive when you take into account the alternative time required to do so by hand.
A properly designed sprinkler system will have double coverage. That means the water from one head will shoot out and touch the water of the opposite head. This excellent type of coverage can’t be obtained with hand watering.
A good automatic irrigation system will water in a somewhat even distribution. This allows better saturation in lower watering time. In most cases, you will save water and the plants will look better because they are watered more evenly.
The best systems are put in by professionals. Professional landscapers have access to better parts than most homeowners. Besides, the labor cost is fairly minimal in an installation. It makes the most economic sense to hire a professional to put in your system unless you are making a really low wage at your job.
Irrigation has been around for as long as humans have been cultivating. Fortunately, we no longer must haul buckets of water for irrigation needs.
To get a great lawn, first, you should fall in love with it. People that like the outdoors and their yard naturally have nice lawns. If you are just too busy or have different priorities, you should hire a fertilization service and a gardener (ideally) or just someone to mow the lawn.
Lawns require five fertilizations to look their best. You start in the early spring and fertilize approximately every two months. You should have one application near every spring, summer, and fall holiday. The fertilization is uniquely blended for your lawn needs at each interval.
For example, early spring fertilization puts out pre-emergent to keep weed grasses from growing and the middle of the summer applications have grub control and may help with heat conditions.
If you do it yourself, go to Scotts and sign up for an email to remind you when and what application to apply. If you hire someone, don’t use Chemlawn unless you can handle very aggressive sales techniques.
The fertilizer needs to get to the root of the plants. Aeration should be done in the fall and the spring. It makes it easier for the nutrients and oxygen to get to the plant roots. It also has the benefit of reducing thatch and thatch is where all the lawn diseases start.
Thatch is caused by excessive buildup of old lawn root systems. Your lawn gets a completely new root system every year. The other added benefit is that aeration helps keep your lawn smooth. Earthworms make little hills in the lawn and aeration helps poke them back down
Cutting the Lawn
There are two major sins committed by homeowners. First of all, most of them bag the clippings. The clippings are great and healthy for the lawn. They disintegrate in a few days and they provide nutrients and help hold in moisture.
Many people complain they don’t want grass tracked into the house. However, this is in most cases only a problem when people let the lawn tall to cut properly.
The second major sin committed by homeowners is that they cut the grass too short. You make like the look of a short lawn, or simply be trying to mow it less. However, it’s hard on the grass and can help it get scalped, burned, and diseased.
The best defense against any type of grass problem is to have healthy grass. Healthy grass is tall grass. For your lawnmower, you should put it on the highest setting or maybe one notch down; anything lower than that will mutilate some of your lawn.
How often should you cut your lawn? Once a week is ideal. Many people cut their lawn every two weeks and some cut it every 5 days. If you wait more than two weeks to cut your lawn, you are considered a slacker by your neighbors.
Edging and Trimming the Lawn
When I was a kid most people didn’t trim the lawn. Nowadays people are edging, trimming, and cutting it in patterns for the ultimate look.
Stick edgers are the easiest and best tool for edging. If you do it weekly, it will only take a few minutes.
When trimming your lawn, don’t rev up the engine all the way. The power you have is for the few times when you might cut down swaths of huge weeds. Keep the power to a minimum and it will save your lawn from getting damaged.
Professionals prefer Honda Commercial Lawnmowers and Stihl or Echo edgers and trimmers. Echo isn’t carried by lawn mowing shops much anymore because they now cater to big box stores like Home Depot. If you want any type of service, you will need to purchase Stihl.
In the riding mower category, Walker and John Deere have excellent reputations. Toro also makes a pretty good machine and there are dealers everywhere to service Toro equipment.
Landscaping and Concrete
Concrete can be stamped or colored. Some contractors can put old beer bottles and dishes in the concrete to give it a unique look. For most people, concrete is just a basic gray that isn’t overly exciting to look at. If you are set on concrete, consider stamping and coloring it to make it more attractive.
What should I do? The builder left me with this tiny patio. Some people tear out the small patio and make a new one. However, a good option to consider is to make a colored and stamped concrete edge. You will be surprised how outstanding it can look. Your patio will be larger and you don’t need to spend the extra money ripping out and replacing what is already there.
Slant style curbing is the most popular nowadays. Curbing is mostly popular in the West and Midwest. People from the east coast may never have even seen it. People like it or hate it. Curbing does a really good job of keeping grass from growing in the flower beds. From a design point of view, curbing looks the best if it blends in with the landscape. The plants are the items to showcase, not the concrete.
Concrete Strength and Thickness
Thicker concrete is much stronger than thin concrete. The standard thickness for a slab of concrete is 4 inches. Four inches is definitely enough for a patio, but for a driveway, it depends on what you are driving onto it. If you park heavy vehicles, you may want to ask your contractor for a six-inch thick slab and/or add wire mesh to the concrete. Mesh makes the concrete much less prone to cracking. There is also a fiberglass mesh that works well in concrete that needs to be strong.
For every foot, the concrete needs between 1/8 to ¼ of an inch of the slope. Water that accumulates on the concrete can turn to ice and that is very bad. Who wants puddles on their patio, anyway?
Concrete that dries out quickly is not as strong as concrete that dries slowly. For this reason, you may wish to spray down the concrete as it cures. Some people will put plastic or wet burlap over the concrete to slow down the drying process.
If water goes into the concretes microscopic pores and freezes, it can break up the concrete. Concrete should be sealed with a product that has silanes and siloxanes for best results Silicone sealers leave a messy film on the concrete and should be avoided.
You should always consider natural items like flagstone before installing concrete. Natural items almost always feel better and look better.
This is the area where most households are focus on when they are designing their landscaping. You may read on this post title with Low Maintenance Landscaping Ideas for Front of House to get some ideas for your front yard landscaping.
Great entryways have a few things in common. They must incorporate a hardscaped item with plants to soften it up.
The flower bed will typically offset the entry. Leading up to the home will be a path of some sort. Stone or brick is often the best choice for this. Then you might see a raised flower bed to the right or left. Perennials will fill the flower bed and some should be blooming nearly year-round.
The path and the flower bed set the stage for the entrance. The entrance is often an arbor or trellis-like structure or the front of the home. To stage this all properly the flower beds need to take into account the color of the path, the home, and other elements.
Whatever you do, pick the plants that contrast with everything else for the entry and make sure the blooms last long and are large enough for people to say wow. Hydrangeas or verbena are great shrubs to decorate the entryway.
Nice fragrances will mostly be noticed when walking into your home. For this reason plant Lavender, Korean Spice Verbena, roses, and Chocolate Daisy near the door entrances.
Unique Hardscape Feature
The entryway is where you put the copper wall fountain, stone bench, or small bronze sculpture. The entryway does one very important thing. It conveys a feeling right before entering the house. What do you want that feeling to be? When you can answer the essence of that question, you will produce the perfect entryway for you.
It’s always nice to see some birds in the entryway. Some people put a bird feeder and a birdbath near the entrance. It makes it more fun to walk into the home. One of the most popular entrance features is a simple hummingbird feeder. Having it close to the door makes it much more likely you will see the little birds throughout the year.
You will capture the entryway design by knowing what feeling you want right before entering the home. Save the most interesting hardscape features to make the entryway one of the most special places in the yard or garden.
The backyard is prefaced with the patio. Most of us step out on the patio and gaze across the yard to the far fence. Then we turn right or left to look for flower bed details like blooming flowers.
Imagine an indoor room that you like. What is it about it that you like? Then take your ideas and put them into a patio. For most people, the patio needs to be beautiful and comfortable.
Last year I got a patio chair as a present. It was a cheap Wal-Mart one made of plastic. While sitting in it, it broke and I tumbled to the floor. Besides, the chair wasn’t that comfortable in the first place.
The problem with many patio designs is that the furniture is an afterthought. The landscaping is done and we need a place to sit down. Then, you guessed it, someone thinks “Where is the cheapest place to buy plastic furniture?” This type of thinking is what keeps us from spending a lot of time outdoors. If we don’t make the space attractive, you won’t want to be there.
A patio should have a soft cushiony sofa, some cushiony chairs, a storage chest or storage dresser, and maybe some ottomans. The main thing is to make it comfortable so that you want to spend time outdoors. Lightweight furniture is ideal because you always need to rearrange for large parties. You should also keep some lawn chairs on hand for extra seating of guests.
Nowadays patios are also equipped with television, stereos, fire pits, and even outdoor kitchens.
The Back Fence
Since your eye is immediately drawn to look across the yard, make the backdrop beautiful. I’m sure your fence is lovely, but it’s much nicer to look at a wall of flowers. Consider planting vines and flowering shrubs in front of the fence. Don’t plant them in a straight line; either. The plants should have at least four feet of depth and texture.
The patio should have a pathway that leads right up to it. The path will take you across the yard to a secret grove or hiding place. It might be a secluded spot with an outdoor shower or a garden bench under a patio tree. The important thing is that the path is lined with flowering perennials and that the special place speaks to you individually.
Plants and Flower Beds
Typically there are flower beds across the back and the sides of the yards. They will take some effort to maintain, so plan accordingly. There should be a combination of trees, medium and small shrubs, and perennials.
The flower bed should be raised and the dirt should have two inches of topdressings. Topdressing should be wood chips, mulch, or compost. Topdressings help keep weeds down, help to retain moisture, and add organic matter to the dirt.
The most common mistake is not planting enough plants in the flower beds. Healthy plants are the best way to keep out weeds. A new weed seedling cannot compete with an established perennial, shrub, or tree.
Natural is most often preferred. Select natural flagstone or wood decking is ideal. Cement will ideally be colored and/or stamped for a more natural look.
You can also put patio rugs out. Bamboo throw rugs are a nice option to put under a coffee table. Besides, other outdoor rugs are quite durable. For example, you might like the look of grass and choose Astroturf.
Pond owners prefer the pond to come right up to the patio. They want it close to the home base so they can enjoy it. The pond will bring in an added sense of tranquility and give you something to do. Some people can sit and watch their Koi fish for hours.
The backyard is usually a lot larger than the front yard. The added size makes it more economical to plant a lot of grass. If you have a tight budget, try to at least put in the grass and trees along the back property line.
Read also: Why a Garden Needs Outdoor Lawn Furniture?