Basic Lawn Care and Yard Maintenance
Our Dream Yardscape
When my husband envisioned the house he might someday own, he pictured a lush, velvety-green lawn. You know the kind. The kind that makes you want to take your shoes off and stroll leisurely through it, lie down in it, do cart-wheels over it, have a picnic under its shade tree. Neighbors rushing through their busy day would slow down just to let their eyes rest a little longer on its unadorned splendor. I wanted more. Flower gardens that let your soul rest. Brightly colored song birds to sing me their morning songs. I didn’t want a backyard, I wanted a quiet retreat filled with flourishing, vibrant plant life—shrubs, grasses, flowers, groundcover. I envisioned sitting outside in the mornings sipping my coffee and drinking in the beautiful serenity that would surround me, the mere thought which makes me sigh with peaceful satisfaction.
We didn’t have much money—a beer sales rep’s income and racked with college debt for degrees that neither of us were using—so our home had to be everything: house and vacation home, good for family life and entertaining. We couldn’t afford a large, newer home and our yard was going to make up for the shortcomings of our humble abode.
The lawn that came with our house had potential—a generous half acre of land (the upside to buying a forty year old house,) established shade trees that dotted the yard, surrounding the house in a mini-forest, and two flower beds that stretched the entire length of the house—but it was a far cry from the beautiful picture we had in mind. The shade trees and hedges, neglected for years, had become overgrown, and the trees' densely packed branches snuffed out the grass below leaving moss to grow in its place. Dandelions, white clover, crab grass, and a host of other weeds that I neither have the ability nor desire to name ran rampant throughout the grass, which was tinged mossy-brown, looked tired and fragile. In the flowerbeds, derisory hostas and daffodils offered feeble blooms, and were quickly ravaged by slugs, which spent their nights feasting on the delicate leaves. The backyard had no flower beds, just weeds and moss and sad, droopy grass.
Then we moved in, and out went our dogs: two sixty-pound mutts who spent their days running the fence line, chasing squirrels, and the occasional digging. By the end of our first winter, the backyard’s perimeter was completely void of grass, except of course for crab grass, which apparently was unharmed by the clop-clopping of our dogs. It seemed that every time we let the dogs outside, more and more grass turned to mud. We had to do something.
Over a year's time span we worked—adding flowerbeds, over-seeding, fertilizing, weed controlling, pruning, and planting—and now we are well on our way to having that beautiful, lush, vibrant landscape we have been dreaming about. It takes time, but anything worthwhile does, and the satisfaction we get from knowing that we created the beauty around us makes our patience and dedication completely worth it. Here's how you can do it too!
How to create your Perfect Landscape on a budet
- Do the research! I bought Indiana Gardener's Guide, The Complete Idiots Guide to Flower Gardening, and Landscaping for Dummies. I bought them online for a fraction of what they would have cost me new. I used them for inspiration, to learn about the plants a had or wanted, and to just plain learn about gardening (I had no experience when I started.)
- Make a plan! I made diagrams of our yard, making notes on what needed improved, what we used different areas for, where I might add flower beds, and what I would want in them based on sun exposure, spacing, water, etc.
- Work on one area at a time! It can be tempting to try to do everything at once, but avoid the temptation! Instead, buy and plant everything you need for one bed.
- Get all the beds dug and ready for planting and make it a work in progress (if you have the stomach for it). We were trying to make do with what we had and what we could get cheap. We found shrubs on sale that would be perfect for the right patio bed. We took the existing Hostas from the front flower bed (I wanted a perennial flower bed) and moved them to other beds to fill in space. Eventually all of your beds will get filled and look beautiful, but be warned: this could take a while.
- Be Flexible and patient! We had ideas of what we wanted, but we also were realistic and realized that we would have to get plants we could afford, even if they weren't our first choice. To save money we bought in the smallest shrubs we could, and filled in the empty space with extra perennials we already had or cheap annuals (buy seed packets and grow your own. It is even cheaper. We will move things around as the shrubs grow)
- Use what you can find for free! We were given a box of peonies from a neighbor and more Hostas and Lilly-of-the-Vally from my Grandmother. I successfully propagated an existing shrub for use in another flower bed and plan on taking cuttings from a friends Hydrangea bush for my next project. Yes it takes time for shrubs to grow to full size, but when money is tight, time is a free commodity.
More Gardening Advice
- How to Propagate Lilac Bush
Learn how to save money by taking root cuttings from existing lilac bushes and creating new bushes in your landscape.
- How to propagate plants
Propagation is a fun and frugal way to fill your yard with as many plants as your heart desires. Learn the basics about the different forms of plant propagation here.
- Garden Planning 101
Planning your garden is an important but often overlooked aspect of raised bed gardening. Learn how to make an exact and to scale garden plan using excel spreadsheet.
- DIY Project: Create an Herb Garden in a Raised Bed
Get inspired! Creating a beautiful herb garden just steps away from your kitchen is a simple and relatively inexpensive project that can be completed in just a few hours.
Yearly Maintenance Schedule
Here is a very basic Maintenance plan for general yard care. You may need to do more or less depending on your specific yard and plants.
- Rake Lawn to control thatch, the build-up of dead grass and leaves and such that hinders new grass growth
- Check for compaction in high-traffic areas (Look for the presence of moss or thinning grass). If you notice signs of compaction you will want to put aeration on your list of fall chores. You can rent an aerator from you local rental shop (around $40-$50)
- Spray pre-emergent herbicide to combat annual weeds and crabgrass.
- If you must overseed in the spring, do so a few weeks after spraying herbicide.
- Fertilize once with either organically with compost or with a high-nitrogen commercial fertilizer.
- Pull any weeds you see several times per week. Dot let those little buggers get established.
- Tune up your mower and mow when the grass is about 3.5-4" tall. you want the grass to be about 2.5" tall once you've cut it.
- Plant new plants or start seeds indoors
- Prune bushes and shrubs after they've flowered (depending on plant. some should be pruned in fall only. check your local plant guide)
- Make sure your grass and plants get 1" of water per week
- Mow less often, and/or keep grass a little taller
- Think about fall transplanting, or planting
- Enjoy your beautiful yard!
- Weed and feed
- Transplant or plant shrubs, bushes and perennials for next spring
- Overseed heavily
- Mulch flower beds
- prune trees, and shrubs (check plant growing guide first)
- prep plants for winter