Take six basic landscaping steps to turn your backyard from barren to beautiful.
We often receive scores of letters and emails from homeowners with common questions:
"I've got a big backyard with nothing in it except for grass and a couple of shrubs."
"I want to add some flower beds, a patio and a play area for the kids. Where do I start? I need help!"
For answers, we've turned to Katie Bloome, a landscape architect with Monrovia, a California-based nursery. Katie offers this six-step approach to designing your landscape.
Step 1—Talk It Out
An important part of the design process is creating a space that's suited to your needs—and those of your family, Katie says.
"Begin by making a list of all the ways you would like to use your backyard," she advises. "Talk with everyone in the family, including the youngest members."
"You may have small children who need a grassy area to play, or you may plan to entertain and need a dining area. This kind of evaluation will help you determine the basic components of your landscape."
Step 2—Look Around
Once you've decided which features you'd like in the backyard, take time to evaluate your current landscape. "Are there existing trees and plants that you want to incorporate into the design?" Katie asks. "Do any hardscape features exist, such as patios or barbeques?"
This is also a good time to make note of any slopes or valleys in the yard and the sun exposure that different areas receive.
Step 3—Put It on Paper
Now you're ready to get out a piece of paper and start planning.
Begin by drawing everything that will remain in the finished yard, such as existing trees, shrubs, decks and walkways. Don't forget to include stationary items that you'd rather conceal, like an LP gas tank.
Then look at your basic wants list and assign a space for each area. This will give you an overall conceptual plan, Katie says.
When doing this, keep in mind the relationship between the yard and your house. For instance, you'll probably want the outdoor living area adjacent to the house for easy access, Katie notes. So start there and work around it.
The child's play area may work best in a spot with both grass and shade, but still within view of the kitchen window or patio. A flower garden would provide a colorful display outside the living room or bedroom windows.
Step 4—Take Time to Dream
Now it's time for the fun part—dreaming!
Katie suggests that you go through books and magazines and clip pictures of yards you like. Look around the neighborhood, go on garden walks or head to the local nursery to find ideas that you want to incorporate into your space.
Do you like formal or informal styles, symmetrical or natural looks? Do you prefer shady yards with a lot of trees, or sunny ones where flowers dominate?
Consider all kinds of plants and structures. A mixture of trees, shrubs, vines, perennials and annuals will produce a beautiful and balanced yard, then include accents like arbors or birdbaths.
Step 5—Pause for a Reality Check
Once you've determined what you like, apply it to your landscape to see if it works. This is where advice from a landscape designer or local nursery might come in handy.
Are the plants you've selected hardy in your area? Is this going to be the easy-care yard you were hoping for, or will it require a little more upkeep? Will the plants work in your soil and sun conditions?
Keep in mind, too, how the plant's future growth will affect your plans. "The sun exposure often changes as plants mature," Katie notes. "You may need sun-loving plants in an area until the tree you've planted grows to offer shade."
Think about how the landscape will work together. Fragrant plants are a wonderful accent around a patio, while litter-free evergreens are appropriate to border a pool or spa, Katie says.
Once you've determined what will really work in your yard, add those plants and features to your diagram.
"I think it's important to put everything down on paper," Katie says. "It will keep the design cohesive."
Step 6—Get Planting
Whew! You've finally reached the installation phase of your backyard landscape.
Although it'd be nice to complete your plans all at once, that's usually not possible. Instead, start with the areas you'll use most—a patio or deck, for instance—and complete your vision as time and money become available.
And since you have the yard planned on paper, it should be easy to work in stages. So dig in and get growing!