Love, labor, and landscaping.
When you live in an apartment or a condominium, odds are you never really had to consider landscaping beyond occasionally pruning a small tree or repotting some pretty flowers. When you move into something larger—whether it’s a simple upgrade to a townhome with a small patio, a detached single-family home with a full yard, or a manufactured home sitting on a large plot of land—you’re in for a change.
Change, however, is good. Homeownership comes with all sorts of new projects—landscaping chief among them—but those things ultimately serve the benefit of helping you become closer to your new home. While few of us loved having to mow the lawn as a kid, you may in fact find that landscaping can be a labor of love.
To help you prepare, we assembled eight home landscaping tips for you to check out, and a host of questions to consider before tackling your first landscaping project.
Tip #1: What’s your use case?
Congratulations, you’re a homeowner. Which, unless you’re living in a community that’s run by a strict HOA, means you get to decide how to use your space. You’ll also benefit from the ability to decide how it should look (within local ordinance requirements, of course). Now that you’ve got some amount of outdoor space to play with, you’re going to want to think about how you plan on using it. Consider the following:
- Will there be kids and animals running around, or is this a peaceful, private garden getaway from the day-to-day grind?
- Do you want to rip up all the grass so you can work on vehicle repairs, or do you want something where nature can thrive?
- How much labor are you willing to put into your landscaping over the next several years?
How you want to use your lawn now and how you’ll want to use it in the future are two key considerations to make before starting anything expensive or time-consuming. After all, the last thing you want to do is rip up an entire yard’s worth of grass now, only to realize you don’t like walking on hot gravel two or three summers from now. Likewise, if you’re planning on installing an in-ground pool this year, there’s probably no point in overseeding or paying for sod right now.
How you want to use your lawn now and how you’ll want to use it in the future are two key considerations to make before starting anything expensive or time-consuming.
Beyond that, you’ll also want to consider curb appeal. If you just recently purchased, you’re probably not looking to sell anytime soon. Still, attractive landscaping can boost your property’s value—either perceived or actual, and a house with good landscaping is more likely to sell than a house with bad landscaping.
Tip #2: Grading, irrigation, and drainage.
Grading, irrigation, and drainage are things few new homeowners consider, either through the purchasing process or after the purchase is complete, at which point it’s too late to raise a red flag or negotiate a concession.
Like all things, water is controlled by gravity or the grade of your land. It follows slopes and dips and collects in low points. Without appropriate grading or drainage, that runoff can have disastrous effects on your new home and the landscaping surrounding it. So, how do you fix poor drainage? Re-grading is one (expensive) option, but you’ve got other possibilities:
|French Drains||Channel Drains||Dry Wells|
|Involves digging a trench where water flows and pools, using gravel, corrugated and perforated pipe, and landscape fabric to promote faster drainage from the home to a desired end point.||Where French drains are installed in soil, channel drains are thinner metal “trenches” that are installed directly in concrete, oftentimes near doors or in front of garages.||Dry wells can be attached directly to downspouts. While they may not collect excess rainfall around the home, they will divert collected runoff deep underground into perforated tanks that slowly drain into the surrounding area.|
|Pros: Widely available and affordable materials make this a fairly easy DIY project, especially with the help of friends or family.||Pros: Convenience is key. These slim drains can divert water away from concrete to prevent damage.||Pros: Out of sight, out of mind. Downspout runoff won’t pour out and collect in your yard.|
|Cons: If not installed at the proper slope, water and the soil it carries can collect in the corrugated pipe—ultimately drying and clogging.||Cons: Costly, and unless installed alongside freshly poured concrete, they’ll require demolition of existing slabs.||Cons: In areas with consistently heavy rainfall, they can fill up and become clogged with dirt, leaves, and the like.|
As for irrigation? That’s simple enough, depending on the size of your yard. Larger lawns (both front and back) may call for a zoned sprinkler system, which can use well water or city water and can be operated automatically. They’ll keep your grass and the surrounding plants nice and hydrated without the risk of overwatering. Downside? They tend to come with a hefty price tag and involve digging small (but noticeable) trenches throughout your yard.
Alternatively, if you’ve got a hose and one or two spigots (or hose bibbs, depending on what you call them), you can connect them to all sorts of accessories like oscillating and/or drip sprinklers. The downside to these accessories is that they’re not as comprehensive as built-in irrigation systems, so you’ll have to move them to ensure full coverage depending on the size of your yard.
Tip #3: Know your soil.
Next up in our landscaping 101 lesson: Soil testing!
Getting your soil tested isn’t just super important, it’s super easy. For starters, there are a number of private third-party testing services to choose from. If you’re not into that, here’s a list of state-by-state testing labs to work with. Generally speaking, they’ll all charge a nominal fee to test your soil, but that cost will more than pay off when you’ve got a happy, healthy lawn.
Why is knowing your soil makeup so important? Fertility and growth. Maybe you’re planning on overseeding this fall, maybe you’re in the market for a few new shrubs, or maybe you’re thinking about planting a tree that’ll someday support a whole tree house for your future children (or yourself, no judgments here).
Most soil tests will tell you what nutrients your yard is full of or lacking, as well as the pH balance of your yard. From there, you can purchase soil amendments that will help restore balance to the land, promoting growth for your greenery. Knowing what you’re working with can help you save on costly fertilizer treatments and even some pest control treatments.
Most soil tests will tell you what nutrients your yard is full of or lacking, as well as the pH balance of your yard.
Tip #4: Grass matters.
Tall fescue, bermuda, bluegrass, zoysia, and dichondra are just some of the most common turf options both here in the United States and around the world.
If you’re not sure what type of grass is growing in your lawn, a landscaping professional can usually tell you just by looking at it. If you’re looking to start fresh from bare topsoil (maybe with a few pallets of sod), you’re going to want to get a soil test done and you’re going to want to compare the textures, colors, durability, and seasonality of different turf types.
To help you out, here’s a little cheat sheet:
|Color||Dark green||Deep green||Emerald||Medium green||Bright green|
|Durability||Resistant to foot traffic and drought, remains green through colder months||Resistant to foot traffic and high temperatures||Tolerant to daily wear and tear of high-volume foot traffic (sports, playgrounds, etc.)||Resistant to heat, drought, and foot traffic; Suffers in cold weather||Grows quickly and is soft to walk on, but doesn’t hold up well to high traffic or machinery|
Tip #5: To weed or not to weed, that is the question.
Some weeds, like dandelions, are pretty to look at. Others, like spiny sowthistle, are less pleasant to deal with. Depending on what kind of yard you want, you may decide to keep all, some, or none of the weeds that are encroaching on your freshly mowed grass.
For many homeowners, getting rid of or keeping weeds is strictly an aesthetic choice. They may be unattractive to look at, but bare ground doesn’t always mean healthy ground. To these homeowners, some coverage is better than none—weed or not. On the opposite side, what’s the point in taking painstaking care of your turf if and perfecting those criss-cross mow lines if you’re just going to let weeds take over?
For homeowners that are less anti-weed (we hear you, Colorado), the choice is often environmental. That’s because not all weeds are bad and many attract pollinating insects. Remember, bees are our friends! Letting flowering weeds live to see the light of day isn’t just good for the bees, it’s beneficial for the environment at large.
All that said, the aforementioned soil test can help you regulate what kind of weeds show up in your yard and how often, since weeds are often an indicator of soil quality.
Tip #6: In the zone.
We’re nearing the end of our list of home landscaping tips. Next up? Zone coverage.
Have you ever wondered why some plants thrive better in some environments than in others? Beyond the difference between annuals and perennials, knowing what zone you live in can help determine what kind of flowers, shrubs, and trees will grow best in your climate.
The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is a free resource that allows you to plug in your zip code to find your specific zone, which ranges on a scale from 1a (the frigid tip-top of Alaska) to 13b (the pristine coasts of Puerto Rico). Hardiness zones are “based on the average annual minimum winter temperature, divided into 10-degree zones and further divided into five-degree half-zones.” When you’re shopping for new plants, you can often sort and filter to find plants that grow best in your designated zone. For example, we’re headquartered in zone 8a—a warmer band that stretches across much of the southern United States.
Knowing what zone you live in can help determine what kind of flowers, shrubs, and trees will grow best in your climate.
What zone are you located in?
Tip #7: Native vs. Non
Okay, you’ve gotten your soil tested, your sprinklers are installed, you’ve had your sod laid, and you know your hardiness zone. What’s next? The best part of landscaping, we think: picking out the plants that’ll beautify your new space.
But before you go selecting all sorts of plants and flowers, do some research into what you’re thinking about planting.
Native plants are well-adapted to their surroundings, and familiar to the native wildlife that surrounds us. They often require less care because they’re so well-established to the area.
Non-native plants are things that have been introduced to the area by human hand, and will likely require greater and more frequent care and maintenance to ensure healthy living. Non-native plants aren’t always invasive, but invasive species are always non-native. Executive Order 13112, signed by President Clinton in 1999, designates invasive species as “non-native species whose introduction does, or is likely to cause, economic or environmental harm or harm to human, animal, or plant health.”
So before you go transplanting any random pretty wildflower to your yard, take your time and find out if it’s native to your region. If not, skip it for something that is!
Tip #8: Best the pests.
Our final home landscaping tip deals with the pests that populate your yard. They may not be fun to look at (or have flying around your head), but ants, bees, and spiders are beneficial to your new yard.
In a home, ants can certainly be annoying. Out in the yard? Ants actually help aerate yards, allowing water, oxygen, and other nutrients to reach deep roots. Bees pollinate our plants, and spiders spin webs to collect all sorts of nasty critters. While bee stings can be dangerous to those who are allergic to them, they usually don’t sting people unless they’re confused or threatened. Likewise, spiders are often thought of as dangerous—but of the 50,000+ spider species around the world, just 1% are capable of harming humans.
The same cannot be said for other insects. Mosquitos, for example, are a nuisance that can carry various diseases, as do ticks and fleas. And roaches? We shudder at the thought of seeing one of those things scurry across the floor.
What’s our point here? Not all pests are bad, but if you’re going to tackle pest control as part of your landscaping dream, make sure you target the right pests with eco-friendly (and potentially pet-safe) treatment options.
Love the land you live on.
Now that you’ve been prepped, taught, and trained on home landscaping, we want to know what your first landscaping project will be! It could be something as simple as the season’s first mow, or as complex as a new irrigation installation. Either way, there’s always more to learn and even more to do when you’re a homeowner. Check out our related blogs to help you make the most of your home this summer!