In need of some landscaping advice

shades9323May 10, 2013

We don't even know where to begin with our landscaping. One thing that I know I want is some kind of border around the tree lines since nothing will grow around them. I was thinking landscape timbers there. As for the rest of the front and back, I am clueless. I was hoping for some advice. Here are some pictures of my property. The birdseye view from google was really outdated, so I added some commentary on what is there now.


I'll try to get a pic up of the back from inside the house.

This post was edited by shades9323 on Fri, May 10, 13 at 8:32

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With all that space you probably need a long term plan, and with a bare slate, perhaps you might get a professional to draw a plan and you can fill it in year by year. If that is not possible, then what I would do is look around at the neighbors and see what they do that is successful in your area. In MA the nurseries will give you a deal on designing and buying a whole row of shrubs and trees, especially in spring. They sometimes refund the price of the design with discounts on the plants.

For immediate gratification, focus on your little patio and/or the front steps/curb appeal? You need to give a few more details here so people will know what you want to focus on. Go to a nursery and ask about the costs of the kind of plants you are interested in and what screening plants are used in your area. Envision a budget. I leave gaping holes in my landscape for structure plants, and put them in when I can pay for them and have someone available for the heavy lifting. Also, you want to think about who owns the big field and what is going there, more houses? something less nice?
So presuming I lived there, and you are asking for DIY on a budget, I would make the patio area less parched by the sun, and put plants there to enjoy, including maybe a small specimen tree that will flower in a season that you are there to enjoy it, and plant along the path a person walks along the back of the house from the deck to the patio/and around the patio. There are no plants to enjoy behind the house!That's my preference because I like to sit outdoors at home, but maybe YOU would like to do the curb appeal and sell the house in five years? Or you could start by defining each of the boundaries or beds in the four corners of your yard. But you need long term plans for structure plants and what you want the whole thing to end up like, if you live there 20 years. So think up the right questions: What is possible this summer? What can you plan for in the future? Which things will you do, and which things will you save for professional's with big trucks? Good luck getting started.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2013 at 11:08AM
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I am not sure what we want. Like you said, blank slate. It is a bit overwhelming. We do spend a lot of time in the backyard as that is where my son generally plays. I will be doing a lawn renovation back there this fall. Always want to update the curb appeal. We will do most of the work ourselves unless it is a very difficult task.

The field behind my house is a park owned by our subdivision so no worries there.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2013 at 12:56PM
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gyr_falcon(Sunset 23 USDA 9)

Step one is always figuring out how you want to use the area, not necessarily where the elements are going to be placed. Sit down, not even looking at the area, and write what the family wants, plus general considerations. For example: 1. Grass area for my son to play. It needs to be roughly 60' by 75', and be visible from the house and patio. 2. Vegetable garden Fenced, 10' x 15', screened from view by plants. 3. Storage shed 15' x 15' with a cement landing and access path that runs to the side of the house. 4. Quiet table A small, private area to drink coffee and read magazines. Must be shaded. 5. Grass area with enough space for a possible swimming pool in the future. 6. Barbeque/ entertainment area that can accommodate 65 guests.

Go ahead and list problems that need a fix, too. The tree lines you mentioned falls into this category. Sometimes, one of the items on the want list would also fix the problem; say, a patio or shed placed where nothing will grow anyway.

Once you have written down all of the things you would like, then the planning as to how they will fit into the area you have comes into play. Sometimes you may have to change the size of something, or move it to the side yard instead, for example. Even if you decide to go with a professional at this point, to draw up the plan, you have a much greater chance of getting a useful back yard if the designer understands what you need it to accomplish.

After determining where the elements are going to be placed, you may choose which order you will complete the projects. Keep in mind access, and that generally hardscape or large specimen plants that requires heavy equipment etc. is usually best done first. As is planning for sleeves under walkways, power, irrigation and other useful things that will be completed later.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2013 at 5:16PM
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That's a lot of good, detailed advice offered so far and I "second" it. It seems to me when the inexperienced-at-landscape-design get to the point of committing graphics to paper, that's where they really need help in order to create objects that are shaped and sized correctly and have a pleasing flow. You might consider getting help from a professional designer, or at least, getting feedback on your proposal here if you undertake it yourself.

Early on, you said, "One thing that I know I want is some kind of border around the tree lines since nothing will grow around them." What do you mean by "border"? And are you speaking of the windbreak trees? What kind of landscape timbers? Arranged how? If you intend what I suspect, you should know that a very high percentage of landscape timber borders look very junky in a relatively short period of time. Their quality depends a great deal on the details.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2013 at 1:12AM
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What kind of plants would you suggest around the patio? We are kind of undecided on shade on the patio. Not sure if we want an umbrella, awning, or pergola. We spend most of our time in the back yard, but I want the front to look nice. We are going to paint that front door some shade of red.


By border I mean something going all the way around those windbreak trees. Something that will look nice and hold mulch in place. I was going to use treated timbers(maybe cherry colored ones). I was going to try to do only 1 level of timbers, but there is a slope involved that would probably turn that into 2. I am thinking about timbers because I just don't like my choices for stone and am not a fan of black contractor edging. The grass tends to grow over that and I can't ever seem to put them in straight. What other ideas should I look into for that?

    Bookmark   May 11, 2013 at 3:46PM
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Here is a more updated pic with elements. I added the raised bed that is there. We are also adding a shed that will be facing the house more than in the picture. We also want to build a fire pit somewhere between the patio and the shed.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2013 at 4:27PM
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"By border I mean something going all the way around those windbreak trees."

I understand what the word border means. My question was about what, exactly, you were attempting to accomplish and what you are using to accomplish it. A border could be plants ... or a trench ... or umpteen other things. It could be raised or flush with grade. Now that I see that one thing you are trying to do is contain mulch it helps to understand what you mean. But is THAT it? If so, this is one of those instances where I think you are either creating a bigger problem, or performing futile work. First off, landscape timbers, cherry-colored or not, are going to weather, split, curl, crack, warp and twist over time, unless your material is of top grade, heavy duty quality and your installation workmanship and construction scheme is impeccable .... and very heavy duty. What a lot of bother and expense to go through for something that doesn't really need it. Raised edgings tend to add a junky looking appearance to a property. I'm having a hard time figuring out why you think you need it. I see foliage that goes all the way to the ground, which does not look bad. If you place a timber edging around the trees now, the trees will outgrow and cover it at some date, probably not all that far down the road. You'd need portable edging on wheels in order to keep up with the changing foliage. It seems like if all you're after is mulch containment, a trench edge (which can easily be changed in the future) with the grade reduced and inch within the bed (near the bed edge) in order to accommodate the mulch thickness is a better, far cheaper solution. If you use those cheap landscape timbers and install them cheaply, it won't be long before you regret that effort.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2013 at 8:11PM
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It sounds like you could use a few books from the bookstore or library to start learning about this if you are going to do it yourself.

The pergola sounds great. You should look at pictures with your family and see what kind of plants you want around your deck or your patio, there are so many, and someone here has mentioned HOUZZ the website, has lot of pix. I don't know your climate so I don't know what to say and would make your patio look like New England. I really think the nurseries will help you, or will do small area plans for you. You probably just want to start out planting conventional shrubs and the kinds of flowers your family likes. Bring home a few plants and move them around? Boring, but, you cannot go wrong starting with evergreens that stay the same all year to give yourself some definition. Get some books and start looking.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2013 at 8:28PM
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littlebug5(z5 MO)

I very much agree with Yaardvark on the landscape timber borders. Don't do it. Unnecessary and they will soon look very bad.

Mulch if you feel you must, but don't build log borders to hold it in.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2013 at 10:52PM
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Ok, so the landscape timbers are out. I will probably just leave that area as is. Although, it looks alright from the pic posted, the whole southside of the southside trees is just bare soil/weeds and it seems to be creeping into my neighbors yard. My irrigation system does not feed that side of the trees.

Moving on, I think we would like to spruce up the curb appeal/front a bit. We will be painting the front door red very soon. What might you do in the areas below? I want to get rid of the pavers and red lava rock and want to wrap that bed around the side of they house. I'll keep it shallow on the side. Do you think we should extend the bed? Perhaps include the pine in the extension? Would you leave it as is? What would you use as the border?


    Bookmark   May 13, 2013 at 10:17AM
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"Although, it looks alright from the pic posted, the whole southside of the southside trees is just bare soil/weeds and it seems to be creeping into my neighbors yard." The only thing we can see is what you show. If you think something needs help, you should show that thing.

From the street view photo, it looks like the "pine" (not sure that's what it is) is part of the foundation bed, so you might look for a way to incorporate it into the bed. I would definitely extend the bed out from the house as right now it looks too pinched for plants and nearly all of it stuck below the overhang. Good plants and a trench edge will look better than any edging you can install. If you want it super crisp, install metal edging flush with lawn. A mowing strip (such as brick or pavers flush) would make a dressy edge division from the lawn if you must have more than a trench edge. Avoid covering windows and porch railing with plants... and why not some seasonal color near the entrance area?

    Bookmark   May 13, 2013 at 9:29PM
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We worked on the front area this week and this is the end result:

    Bookmark   May 18, 2013 at 10:21PM
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