How to do your own landscaping

How to do your own landscaping

When to Call a Landscaping Professional

Without proper planning, DIY projects may lead to costly mistakes, resulting in more money spent than had you hired a professional. Many landscaping professionals market themselves as budget-friendly and are happy to help you not break the bank.

Call a landscaping professional near you if you’re interested in knowing all your options and possibly further design ideas. You may find that working with a professional landscaper makes your landscaping project stress-free and leaves you with a result you couldn’t have made yourself.

Main image credit: coneflowers / Joseph Yu / Pexels

Jane Purnell is a freelance writer and actor in New York City. She earned her B.A. from the University of Virginia and enjoys a warm cup of French press coffee.

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Easy Front Yard Landscaping Ideas

Whereas your backyard is dedicated to fun for you, your friends and your family, your front yard is what you show off to neighbors and passers-by. A well-designed, well-maintained front yard will create a great first impression for all who enter your home — including potential buyers. Here are a few simple ways to make this important outdoor space stand out:

1. A Post and Rail Fence

While you may associate fences with keeping out prying eyes, post and rail fences are meant to attract passers-by. They do so by defining the borders of your property. Generally speaking, a defined area —whether it be defined by fences, hedges or stone walls — is more attractive than an open-ended space.

2. Driveway Design

If you’ve defined your front yard with a fence, hedge or wall, chances are it is breached by your driveway. At the entrance to the driveway, you can choose to frame it with a driveway gate. Make sure to keep the landscaping around your driveway’s entrance well maintained, as this area greatly impacts a passer-by’s first impression of the property.

Using Form and Texture

Maria Pia De Stefani / EyeEm / Getty Images

Flowers are great but don’t forget the characteristics of a plant’s branching pattern and foliage. In landscape design, varying form and texture is one way to spice up a yard with diversity. Evergreen conifers, while lacking flowers altogether, nonetheless have foliage that offers a myriad of different forms and textures. While browsing these do-it-yourself landscaping tips, you’ll discover many ways to enhance the beauty of your yard.

3- Create a scale plan (drawing) of your landscape

The next thing that you want to do after you curate some photos and determine your garden style is to actually measure your yard and draw it out. It’s called drawing a scale plan.

And I know this is daunting. Most people don’t want to do this. And, that’s why they can’t have the garden they’ve always dreamed of. Believe me when I tell you that this step is a non-negotiable when creating a landscape from scratch.

To properly plan out your garden, you need to know the size of your garden and what else may play a part in the plants and materials you choose. A lot of times people think they have a rectangular square yard. But then if you look at the actual scale plan, you’ll realize that it’s longer on one side than the other… or there’s a corner of your lot that juts out a bit that you never noticed before doing this. Some of these things are not easy to see without the drawing.

In order to create a scale plan drawing of your la
In order to create a scale plan drawing of your landscape, you’ll first need to take measurements. I just jot the numbers down on a piece of paper attached to a clipboard as I measure the perimeter and other objects in the yard.

How to measure and draw your yard to scale

Start your scale plan by measuring the perimeter of your property and marking the distances on a sheet of paper. You can use a fiber tape reel which is just a large, flexible tape measure that can measure long distances. Here’s the Amazon link for the one I use by Komelon. It comes in 100′, 200′ and 330′ lengths.

Using graph paper, you’ll be able to scale down that size based on the squares in the paper. For example, maybe one square on the paper is one foot in your garden. So if your yard is 40 feet long, you will draw a line that’s 40 squares of the grid paper in length.

Alternative to hand-drawing a scale plan

If this is sounding way too complex for you, another great option is to find your house on Google Maps. When you type in your address on Google Maps, you’ll get an overhead view of your property so you can see your whole property at one glance! Even better yet, switch to the “Satellite mode” so you can see a real photo of your house, trees and other elements of your property. Right-click on the map to print out the picture of your property and you’re off to the races.

You can watch this video for more information: How to use Google Maps to create a Landscape Base Map.

Lastly, you can also hire a site surveyor in order to do this work for you. Here’s some more information about boundary surveys and what you’ll need to know before you hire a professional.

Don’t forget to make a few copies of it so you can use them in the next few steps.

Hardscape with Permeable Materials

Inexpensive patio pavers set in a grid and surrounded by trap rock make an elegant, simple and environmentally friendly courtyard. Patios, walkways, courtyards and other hardscape elements add a bit of magic to any yard and reduce landscaping chores. Choose materials and designs that allow rainwater to permeate the soil to irrigate plantings, minimize erosion and prevent runoff. These include organic mulches, gravel, stone and permeable pavers.

2. Decide whether to DIY or hire a garden landscaper

The key here is to know your limits and your budget. Planting, installing off-the-peg water features, adding a new gravel path or lawn, laying decking and garden fencing are within the scope of the keen amateur; however, walling, laying expensive stone pavers, concrete rendering and electrical work should be carried out by professionals for a quality, safe finish, even if you do have a small plot. Contractors that are affiliated to either the British Association of Landscape Industries (BALI) or the Association of Professional Landscapers (APL) should be your first choice, Checktrade is also a good place to find reputed garden landscapers that are UK-based.

(Image credit: Joe Wainwright)

9. Add the planting

(Image credit: Future / Mark Bolton)

Introducing patio planting ideas is the highlight of the landscaping process for many. First, the beds will need to be outlined and mulch or compost used to improve the soil. For the lawn areas, lawn topsoil should be added first and then the sod or turf, or grass seed.

The mixture of plants, trees and shrubs will be determined by a whole host of factors including the local climate, the type of soil in your backyard, and its size. 

‘The two things which are least considered and most significant are the details of the so-called aspect and drainage,’ says Barry Chambers MSGD.

‘Aspect is not simply the points of the compass. It is whether there is a tree or even shrub casting shade on a part of the border, or perhaps it is a large herbaceous plant so it will be casting a lot of shade in summer but none at all when dormant in winter. 

‘Drainage is very important because what kills the most plants in winter here in the UK is not the cold as such, it is the cold and wet. So plants are hardier in a well drained environment in general. 

If wet can’t be avoided, even with a raised surface, then marginals or so called bi-modal plants (plants which can manage in flood or drought) are the only reliable options.’

7. Put in hard landscaping

(Image credit: Future / Brent Darby)

Hard landscaping takes in the structural features of a backyard such as paths, patios, decks, walls, garden fence ideas, edging, raised beds and more. Each landscaping element can be designed in a variety of materials.

The materials for a backyard landscaping project will often be suggested by the style of the outdoor space you’re planning, whether that’s more traditional or tends to the contemporary. 

But as well as the style, think, too, about the durability and maintenance requirements of each to ensure they’re suitable for the time you can dedicate to tending your backyard, and the budget available in the long term.

For patios and garden path ideas, choose between pavers with more rustic style like those that resemble cobblestone or old brick, or opt for choices such as flagstones, natural stones that are suitable for outdoor use, and porcelain pavers. 

For deck ideas, composite and PVC boards can all be considered, and the best option will likely depend on funds available for landscaping. 

Be mindful, though, that initial landscaping cost should not be the only consideration as, depending on the wood, regular maintenance can be required, bringing extra costs over the lifetime of the deck.

Gravel may suit a country-style backyard or a contemporary design, and is suitable for paths as well as larger areas. 

While you’ll want to select a range of materials for the various hard landscaping elements of the backyard, bear the overall color palette in mind. You might want to combine browns and brick red shades for example, or choose a paler selection of materials. 

‘Bright light colors are the contemporary way to go when considering flooring in a modern design,’ says Jack Dunckley. ‘Creams and whites offer the perfect backdrop for features such as potted plants and luxury furniture. 

Lighter colors also give the illusion of a bigger space and contrast beautifully with the rich red and browns of any brickwork used in a house or wall.’

Easy Mulch Spreading

Getting mulch up close to flowers and bushes is easier if the mulch is in a small container. So I place buckets and pails in my wheelbarrow and fill them up with mulch. It doesn’t matter much if the mulch misses the bucket and lands in the wheelbarrow. Once you’re done dumping the buckets, dump what’s left in the wheelbarrow in an open area and spread it out. — Eric Swartz

4. Start Small

Sure, complete outdoor makeovers can happen in just three days on your favorite home and garden show, but they have a huge crew to handle the heavy lifting, which is not a situation enjoyed by most beginner home gardeners. Part of creating a landscape you'll love is slowly developing a plan and enjoying the process. From your master plan, start with a small flower bed. Go out and work on it for an hour or two when you have the time, and worry less about filling everything up right away. Lipanovich notes that when you take your time with your DIY landscape design, you're less likely to get sloppy or resort to shortcuts you'll regret later.

garden firepit outside backyard irrigation Credit: Marion Brenner

2. Who will be using your yard?

Think about who will be using your yard and how they will use it. Will children be using your yard? Do you have pets? Are you hoping to use your yard for outdoor entertaining? Remember you can create different spaces for different uses in your landscape using strategic plantings and hardscapes. Walkways can be used to move people from one area to another.

Since you will be using and maintaining your yard (or hiring someone to maintain it) consider what your maintenance style and budget are. Be as realistic as you can. How much time will you truly have to put into your landscape? Or if you won’t have the time will you have the money to pay someone else to put in the time? How much do you have to invest in your landscape? Determining the answer to these questions will help to ensure the success of your landscape for years to come.

10. Tidy up

(Image credit: Garden pond)

Or rather trim up, as once your grass has established you can mow it to your desired shape and make a start on your lawn edges. If you don’t have a lawn then move onto the decorative aspects of your garden design to fulfil all of your outdoor space needs.

When choosing materials, rustic timber complement both contemporary and period houses. Decking is a good choice where there is wooden flooring inside. Blogger Dear Designer has created this wonderful shaded space with decking and a pergola

(Image credit: Carole King)

6. Focus on Scale and Pacing

It's the trickiest principle in landscape design for beginners, but scale and pacing give your yard a pulled-together look. There will be variations in size, shape, and color, with tall plants against a building or in the back of a flowerbed, and paths that lead people through the space. Lipanovich emphasizes the importance of finding a good balance between repetition and new elements. Repetition gives a sense of cohesion, but you also don't want it to be monotonous. An occasional new element is better than having all different elements throughout.

7 Research plants and features that fit your garden style

So after you are settled (or almost settled) on a drawing, you will have a pretty good idea of where you’ll place things in your landscape. That means you’re ready to start choosing your hardscape materials and plants.

Choosing hardscape materials

Hardscape materials are the materials you’ll use for hard surfaces in the garden like patios, walkways and other structures. I wrote an article on different Garden Styles that gives some material examples for each style. This is really helpful in deciding what types of hardscape materials you should use in your landscape.

For example, materials that are very rustic and bumpy lean towards cottage style and the more smooth and sleek they get, the more modern/contemporary the landscape becomes. From my experience, most people will fall somewhere in between the two.

When choosing hardscape materials, keep in mind th
When choosing hardscape materials, keep in mind the style you want for your garden. More rustic, distressed and bumpy materials make a natural or cottage style, whereas more refined materials will learn toward traditional and modern.

Layer Your Flower Beds

Andrea Dixon / EyeEm / Getty Images

Layer your flower borders in three rows: a back row (facing north, preferably) with the tallest plants, a middle row with the next tallest, and a front row composed of your shortest plants. Use repetition, both in the planting bed and elsewhere in your yard, to provide unity.

10. Protect your resources

By choosing resource-efficient plants, consciously managing water, and choosing environmentally sound hardscapes, you can help protect and preserve your environment.

Before removing plants from your landscape, determine whether these plants truly need to be removed, or if they could be relocated to another area of your yard. When selecting new plants, look for resource-efficient plants, ones that will require less water, fertilizers, and pesticides.

When planning the changes to your landscape, consider installing a rainwater catchment system which will provide you with an environmentally sustainable source of irrigation water. With careful planning such a system can even be incorporated as an aesthetic design element.

Using environmentally friendly hardscapes, non-toxic preservatives, stains, paints, and cleaners is another way you can protect your natural resources. Also, consider reusing construction materials; before demolition starts consider what materials you might be able to reuse, repurpose, or incorporate into your new landscape design.

Landscape Design: Ten Important Things to Consider (ENH 112)

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