I once asked a friend who had a beautiful lawn exactly how she kept it looking so fabulous. She said she hired a landscaping crew to create and maintain her lawn, but also walked the perimeter of her property every morning picking up weeds, sticks, and debris. As she walked the grounds she also checked up on the health of flowers, greenery and trees.

What a beautiful, balanced approach to landscaping! She valued the expertise of professionals but retained a sense of vigilance and care. It’s important to remember it’s rare for anyone, even a professional, to love your yard quite like you do.


Where to begin?

It can be overwhelming to think about taking barren or weedy properties and making them into lush, vibrant landscapes. Or maybe you can envision the ultimate potential for your yard, but are struggling with how to get from here to there?

Unlike the instant makeovers we often see in shows or magazines, most homes take several seasons to reach their potential for gorgeous greenery. Nature works on its own timeline and landscaping generally happens in layers.

Set your expectations.

As a homeowner, the first thing on your landscaping list should be expectations-setting. Whether it’s a DIY job, something you outsource, or some combination of the two, landscaping takes patience and flexibility.

Each step of the way, from drawing up plans to growing those plants, it’s a job that requires thoughtfulness, time, attention, and a specific skill set. You can acquire those skills, but it may take some persistence on your part.

Study the site.

How do you want to use the site? Do your goals make sense, given how you’ll use the space? Think about whether kids or pets will be using the site — is this the time and place for a formal garden? How often will you be entertaining — do you need an outdoor dining set? Or is this intended to be a private retreat just for you? The program matters.

Beyond how you want to use the site, what will the site allow? Is it in shade or sun? Does it slope? What is permanent and what can you alter? What will your climate zone and weather conditions allow?

Dream, then budget.

Once you have some idea of how you might want and be able to use your property, begin to collect ideas. This is the fun space where you can create mood boards and collect pinterest ideas.

Next, begin to select the trees, plants, hardscape, and lighting options that could really work in your yard:

  • Choose trees and plants — think about sun, shade, moisture, drainage, inclines, native plants and trees, and climate zone.
  • Choose hardscape – consider retaining walls, walkways, stairs, and dining, fireplaces, water elements (pond, fountain), fences, pergolas.
  • Think about lighting – Consider a plan that will give you visual appeal at night and throughout the various seasons, including winter. You want to create layers. Develop a sense of intrigue.

Once you know what you might like to plant, it’s time to price things out and start to prioritize. AKA the budget or spending plan. While budgeting may sound like a major bummer, it’s actually the key to getting things done. You can plan to develop the yard in phases based on realistic spending. Recall our first tip: patience! You’ve got this.

Develop a plan, then start planting.

As you think about your plan, you might want to think about what you will do by yourself, and what you might want to hire out. It’s nice to get renderings or sketches, especially in 3D, to truly envision the possibilities.

Next, begin preparing. You can look at the most basic hardscaping needs and start preparing to plant the key pieces of your yard, such as trees and shrubs. Or you might begin with a small flower garden or vegetable garden.  Bear in mind that the planting season for most living things is late spring.

Consider where the existing trees are located. If they are healthy and in a spot you like, then keep them. If not, you might want to consider tree removal. However, please know that you may not be able to plant a new tree exactly where the old one was, as the soil and roots need time to replenish nutrients. As with most projects, it’s probably best to do some research before launching into demo mode.

If you are starting with a lackluster, contractor-grade yard, you may be wondering where to begin to plant trees amidst the barren landscape. If the yard is empty, you have lots of options — but there are some general rules. Plant large shade trees away from buildings and power lines. Plant evergreens along the edges of your property. Put ornamental trees a little closer to the home or in strategic spots to frame flower beds and add color. Think about what views you want to keep and what you might like to screen out.

Factors to consider with tree placement: Where is the sunlight coming from? How much wind do you get? How is the moisture and drainage in your soil? Where do you want shade, now and as a tree grows?  Tree placement will likely affect the shade on other plants in your yard, so it’s helpful to think through long-term implications.

Starting out, there will likely be some trial and error as you find what works in your home’s natural habitat. If you work with plants that are native to the area where you live, they are more likely to thrive. Additionally, you will be supporting the natural ecosphere. It helps to cultivate a landscape that appropriately accommodates not only the plants but also considers impact on birds and other forms of wildlife native to the area.

Whatever you decide to do, remember that few landscaping decisions are completely irreversible. Some mistakes are just a little more expensive than others!  Consult local resources such as landscape designers, your local garden center, and your neighbors to learn what is most likely to work for your place.