How to landscape your yard.

Updated

You want a beautiful yard. But right now it’s a dark, muddy patch covered in last year’s leaves. Here’s what a pro would do. 



The best garden design tips.

Tip #1: Where to look for landscape design inspiration.   

landscaping yard

You didn’t know you were a garden party person until you saw your coworker’s backyard. Now you’re obsessed. Don’t run out and buy everything they had — start researching on Pinterest first. You can pull together all of your favorite HGTV and Western Sun yard looks in one place, and you’ll figure out your own unique taste in all things garden: sheds, grasses, bird baths.

Once you’re sick of pinning, make your way to your local garden center to browse. Don’t rush through the shopping, though. Choosing plants on that first trip can land you with an array of exotic and expensive plants that you’ll probably end up killing.

Tip #2: Check out your neighbor's yard to see what grows.

The person across the street just xeriscaped their front yard — and now you’re the only house on the block that doesn’t look like the front cover of a seed catalog. Why not steal their ideas? According to Thumbtack Top Pro Dan Enright, owner of San Francisco Urban Gardening, the plants that bloom in their yard are pretty likely to bloom in yours.

“The plant has already decided it loves your neighborhood, so then you don’t have to worry about whether or not it’s going to grow," he said. "It takes the guesswork out of choosing your plants.”

Basically, they’ve made increasing your curb appeal that much easier for you.   

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Tip #3: Pick the right ground cover for your yard. 

Just because you love long grass doesn’t mean your soil will. To figure out what’s going to work well in your yard, Dan suggests running an experiment.

“Dig around a foot down into your soil and fill a mason jar halfway with dirt," he said. "Then, take ¼ to ½ teaspoon of dishwashing soap and mix it with a cup of warm water. Pour the mixture into the soil jar and shake it really well so it’s nice and agitated. After a day or two, everything will settle into neat and even layers so you can see exactly what you’ve got in your soil."

Once you can see what you’ve got, look it up to see what will grow in it. If you really want a vegetable garden but your ground doesn’t want to give you one, consider bringing in new soil to create an above ground garden bed.    

Tip #4: Bring on the compost (or make your own).

If you don’t mind having a container of decomposing organic matter on your sink, collecting kitchen compost is a no-brainer. Eventually that mush will turn into your backyard’s favorite food. If the idea makes your stomach turn, you can buy compost at the local garden center.

Most common landscaping mistakes to avoid. 

flowers and trees in yardMistake #1: You landscaped your small yard like a big yard (they’re different). 

Your brother-in-law has a yard twice the size of his home, a sun deck and an outdoor kitchen — and he shows you pictures of it literally all the time. You tried to recreate his yard look on the concrete patio behind your apartment. It didn’t work. The size of your yard, existing plants, natural boundaries and the amount of light you get all factor into the kind of landscape design that will and won’t work in your yard.

If you think your space isn’t usable, hire a pro. They work wonders in even the smallest spaces. 

Mistake #2: You weren’t thinking about water use. 

The range of water features you can get at the garden store is intense. They bubble, they have drawbridges, they create mist you can project entire movies onto. You bought them all — and then you got the water bill.

Even if you aren’t xeriscaping (low-water landscaping) your yard, thinking about water use and costs will help you create a beautiful landscape that you can actually maintain. Here are three water saving tips:

  1. Check your irrigation system to make sure it doesn’t have any cracks or leaks.
  2. Replace your sprinklers if they’re not water efficient.
  3. Choose plants that will work with your soil — when in doubt, lean into your natural landscape.   

Mistake #3: You started planting — and ran into your root system.

Nope, that’s not a drain pipe. That big hard thing you’re clanging your shovel against is a root. And there are bound to be many more where that came from.

Larger plants like trees tend to have thick, deep roots that can wreak havoc on your garden and irrigation system. So check your yard for root systems in advance to avoid being knee-deep in mud when you realize it’s a problem. Then, contact a specialist to help you remove the problems without destroying the plant on top of them. 

Also read: "How much does tree trimming and removal cost?"

How much does outdoor landscaping cost? 

Landscaping costs can start low at a couple hundred dollars or so, but it can also get pricey. Still, experts say it’s key to maintaining your home value.

If you’re new to landscaping, a professional landscape designer can help with the layout for both front and backyard landscaping, which includes lighting design, water features, and plant selection for your yard. Next, a landscaping contractor will actually prep the area, get plants and materials, and install everything (including your water system). Regular weeding and gardening services can keep invasive plants from drowning out your flowers or garden bed. (How often will depend on whether you have a small yard or a large lawn.) 

For more on costs, see “How much does landscaping cost?

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Who to hire to help with outdoor landscaping. 

Hire a pro to turn your mud hole into an outdoor living room:

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