Idea for backyard

tmal14September 13, 2012

I've attached pictures of my backyard, and my wife and I are stumped on what to do and I'm hoping to get some ideas.

I've attached pictures of our yard as it is now, and you can see about half of it is grass, and the other half is woods/weeds/saplings that bump up against a major road.

We would like to clear up some of the woods, and get more grass for the yard, but are worried about removing to much foliage and see even more of the road then we do already. Plus the ground is fairly wet after it rains and stays that way for s while, so I'm not sure what will grow well. Eventually we will probably put a fence up along the back, but right now we will leave it as is and would like to block the road as much as possible.

Ultimately we would like to clear out and push the woods back so to speak. Other ideas we have thought about is to add a bed to help the yard feel bigger.

If anyone has plant/tree ideas I'm all ears. Right now its an overgrown mess and I'm not sure what should stay or what should go.

Pictures go right to left across my backyard.

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karinl(BC Z8)

You have a clash of objectives there. You want to block the road, a task that is being done admirably by the forest belt you now have, yet you want to get rid of the forest belt for a larger yard.

It doesn't really matter whether your road blockage is done by this batch of trees and shrubbery or a bunch of more cultivated plants that you carefully select and plant after removing these ones. An effective buffer takes space, unless it is merely a fence, but the fence does not provide the zone of both sound and smell buffer that the shrubbery does. Nor does it protect you in the same way if a vehicle goes off the road at speed.

Do you have a clear reason why you want a larger yard? Because if it's just for more lawn to mow or a bigger green carpet to look at, I would counsel keeping this lovely buffer that you have, perhaps only renewing the understory and paying attention to tree succession - taking out the biggest occasionally and planting a new one. And maybe clearing weeds and mulching and maybe even edging to make the whole thing look tidier, so it transitions more smoothly to the lawn.

Karin L

    Bookmark   September 14, 2012 at 10:06AM
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Thanks for the response.

After reading my original post I did have conflicting ideas. That's what I get for posting while half asleep. :)

We are tying to add more grass area to the yard for my kids to play in, and possibly adding a swing set next year. As it is now the yard is very narrow along the back, and we probably only have 1/3 of our backyard to use as a play area. We would like to push the yard into the wooded area some, but to do that we are going to lose a lot of the trees/weeds that block the view of the road.

My original question probably should have been more along the lines of once we remove the under growth and it becomes more open, what would be good to plant (tree/shrub/flowers) in a partially shaded area that will help re grow the density that we have now just further back in the woods, closer to the road. And have more of a planned element to it, where now its a free for all with the tree/weeds.

The area is very wet, and partially shaded. Once we clean up the weeds, we are not sure what would be suitable replacements.

One option I was thinking is to add green giants along the back to help block the view of the road first, and work back with smaller trees/shrubs towards the house. Maybe pussy willows since the area is so wet? I've heard they do a good job with excess water.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2012 at 11:36AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Living as I do on a 25' wide lot, even a third of yours looks huge :-)

As I see it, there are two basic decisions you need to make. One is what kind of blockage you want from the street on a seasonal basis: evergreen vs. deciduous for example. The other is what "look" you want.

What you have now is a pretty casual look, even after weeding. If you put up a row of green giants, that is a much more formal look that may not mesh all that well with the casual scattering of miscellaneous plants there now. I think if you want to do the row, you could ease the transition with the addition of larger-leaved, broadleaf evergreens such as rhododendrons, and add in viburnums, hydrangeas, and others that dress up better than the ones you have. That kind of an arrangement will actually function on its own too, but won't give you quite the closure alone that adding the hedging row will give you.

There may, by the way, be better choices for such a hedge than green giants. I'm no expert on hedging plants, but ask at your nursery, and remember that there are many choices for hedging that are uncommon but might work well - cruise the web for ideas. Options include things like beech and laurel as well as hemlock and the thuja that you have in mind. Your growing conditions will determine the best choice.

The ongoing problem you will face is that as things grow, their canopies will go higher and provide a view underneath. So if you want continuous coverage over the years, a staggered planting schedule and a good book on pruning will serve you well.

Karin L

    Bookmark   September 15, 2012 at 12:28PM
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Do you have some idea why your site stays wet so long after it rains? Do you live close to a stream? Is there a drainage issue that needs to be corrected? Or do you just live in a very rainy state?

    Bookmark   September 15, 2012 at 3:08PM
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rosiew(8 GA)

Feel you should explore the reasons for long term wetness. Everything looks lush. Do your neighbors have similar conditions?

Is there a lot of traffic noise from the street behind you? A large volume of traffic? Tell us why you want more privacy. Sure you'll get some great advice.


    Bookmark   September 15, 2012 at 5:23PM
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I would simply clear out the undergrowth and leave all the larger trees- if you remove one or two to push back the woods that is fine but don't remove too many as their maturity is priceless.
Then visit a local nursery and find out about natives or semi-natives (improved varieties) that can handle the soil conditions and screen the gaps in the larger trees.
I would still opt for an informal design- if you get too formal there will be more maintenance IMO.

I'd do small understory trees and shrubs with a few more structured vignette areas that incorporate a small bench and a spot for a pool of annuals. Just somewhere for an adult to sit and watch the kids or for a kid's tea party.
A small playhouse tucked in there somewhere would be cute.
You needs spots like that for your eyes to land on here and there.

Of course a formal perimeter bed somewhat like the guys in the conifer forums do would be stunning but if the primary use is a kids play area informal would work best. You want them to be able to run around freely without worrying about them trampling things, so keep low plants closer to established trees.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 8:58AM
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I totally agree with cearbhaill. I was thinking some of the same thoughts, as to a tucked in fort, playhouse, or treehouse.
If you plan to stay in that house, the kids will grow out of the swingset and you may want those trees back! Conversely, if you will be selling the house in the future, the privacy scree/noise barrier/beautification function of those trees will be a valuable selling point.
You can remove the weeds and undergrowth and mulch with a shredded bark just like some playgrounds do, and that will add alot of space for kids to play in.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 11:00AM
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IMO your yard is already a child's dream with more then enough grass. The adventures they can have in their own private wooded land is a dream come true.

Our 4 kids friends loved to come over to our yard that was only about 15' before the trunks of trees. There was a retaining wall behind that making a 3' trench between the wall & back fence. They would literally play for hours running through what I had initially thought was wasted space. Your yard is huge and IMO has more then enough grass.

I would ensure there isn't any poison ivy/oak that could be irritating. As others have said if you feel you must, get rid of any "trash" bushes that have little to no aesthetic appeal.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 5:48PM
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Thanks for the great ideas.

We are currently looking into the overly wet areas of the backyard. With the summer being so dry in my area, we haven't had to many rainy days to see where the water collects the most, and how to get rid of it. That will be a work in progress, and are working with the original plans of the house to see if there is a sewer back there somewhere that may be clogged. The house was a foreclosure, and from what the neighbors have said was neglected on the outside and it was always very wet in the backyard. The housing development was built on old marshland, so it may just be what it is.

With some of the planting I was thinking of planting Pussy Willow, I have read they will help with some of the excess water. Does anyone have any experience with them in that capacity?

We are probably going to work on cleaning out some of the undergrowth and re-plant in the spring with some smaller shrubs/trees to help fill in the gaps.

When cleaning up the undergrowth should I wait until spring or is now a good time to apply brush killer to poison ivy (we have some) or will the cold and snow kill it for me?

    Bookmark   September 17, 2012 at 11:13AM
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rosiew(8 GA)

tmal, I recommend brush killer now for the poison ivy. The cold WILL NOT kill it. I cut at ground level, put a drop of brush killer on each cut immediately after cutting, then bag and dispose of each piece. You may get regrowth - you probably will get regrowth! - so check again in the spring.

Things should still be in active growth where you are, but you'll know better. Active growth important for the killer to be taken up. I'd get as much cleared as possible now.

Keep us posted on your progress, please.

Rosie, Sugar Hill, GA

    Bookmark   September 17, 2012 at 12:01PM
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Pussy Willows are great fun. Although they do well in boggy areas, they DO NOT suck up excess water.

Brush killers - the can of any brand will tell you - are effective when temps are between 40 and 85 degrees, give or take. Snow and cold will not kill off poison ivy.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2012 at 12:02PM
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Now is a good time to start cleaning up. Cold and snow does not kill plants that are of that climate. Snow protects them.

Photos can be misleading but it looks as if there's a gentle swale that carries the water off to the right (as facing back line.) It may be that you can improve the condition but one would need to know relative elevations of an area in order to determine the issue and what it would take to fix it. If you want to pursue, you should submit a sketch that explains where it's wet, and diagram drainage... as much as you can. You can obtain grade information over spans of long distances (width of your yard) using an inexpensive line level. If the swale I think I detect exists, you might determine its slope over the course of your yard and make sure that water can drain off of your property at the low end.

It's a tricky bit to get rid of natural weedy growth and replace it with more refined screening. It requires that you raise the 'forest' canopy in order to bring light to new plantings set below.

You'll be juggling needs of new plants vs conditions. Grass will not like shade so you might consider placing childrens' play equipment in a mulched area, rather than grass. It would be easier maintenance-wise to have mulch be what surrounds the plantings, too.

Consider whether you'll need as much screening in winter as in summer. It's much easier to find deciduous plants that would work in this situation and do not become overwhelming in size. I'd like to put in a plug for Winterberry. Especially nice cultivars like 'Winter red'. It produces a heavy crop of long lasting berries that light up in the sunlight and bring cheer to the sometimes bleak zone 5 winter environment. It tolerates some wet and some shade (but not too much as best berry production come from exposure to sunlight.) In the summer it would screen well. In the winter it would heavily filter the view. Where you have more sun (forward and to the sides) you might consider using some of the large ornamental grasses, such as Miscanthus, for long lasting winter interest.

I think it would look best if you implement a plan that is to scale with the property... use few species and large amounts of each... rather than many different type plants sharing the space.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2012 at 12:37PM
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Yardvaark-you are correct there is a swale that runs exactly where you said, pretty much right in front of where the woods start. When I get time later this week I should be able to submit some measurements. water should run left to right in the pictures, but now that's not happening. I'm lucky enough that my dad is doing some consulting work with the city's engineers office so I'm working on procuring the original site plans before making any changes to the grade. I don't want to flood my neighbors backyard. I imagine they wouldn't like that to much.

Thanks also for the winterberry suggestion, however being a berry does it attract deer? The deer have already found out my garden is full of delicious items, I really don't want them hanging out more then they already are.

I will also get to work with the brush killer before winter, we've already had a few encounters with the poison ivy this summer.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2012 at 2:20PM
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rosiew(8 GA)

A couple more thoughts. Sooner will be better than later re brush killer.

Glad your dad is helping you. And beware of doing anything to pour your water onto another property. Your city's planning office can explain that fully.

Sorry to hear you have deer. They've only recently been spotted in my area - I'm braced for unhappy things happening before long. In my previous home, I had excellent results using Milorganite organic fertilizer. If I saw they'd been feeding, tossed some into that area, saw no more damage for a good while. Unfortunately not everyone has the same outcome.........don't know why.....hungrier deer?

Rosie, Sugar Hill, GA

Here is a link that might be useful: Rutger's Deer Resistance chart

    Bookmark   September 17, 2012 at 3:51PM
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If that swale spanned the entire width of your lot, obviously, you would not have the ability to change the elevation at it's entry or exit. Those two points are determined by grade at your neighbors' properties. If the swale itself drains adequately (what I would fist check with a line level) that's a big plus. If not, there may be little (without involving expensive engineering or something equally unpalatable) that you can do. But if water seems to collect on the back side of the swale (between it and the road you are screening) and that's where the ground is staying wet, it looks like you could (within reason) raise the grade and develop more slope from road to swale, since the road is obviously at a higher elevation. "Within reason" pretty much mean the minimum amount that would do the job and no more, as overdoing it means trees may become in jeopardy. changing grade could also occur in smaller amounts over time, if that's necessary, so that trees don't die. They can adjust somewhat if adequate time is given.

Once in February, while everything was bare, I got a horrible case of poison ivy on the face (putting an eye-bolt high up on a tree for a zip-line.) That's when I learned how all parts of the plant are dangerous at all times of the year. The good news is that it's one of the easiest plants to kill, as Round-up without any other additive, is extremely effective on it. One must just be careful while disposing of it. I also learned that if one contacts it, as long as one takes a shower within a short period of time, they will entirely escape its unpleasant effects. I've pushed that time limit to the 30-40 minutes range (to the best of my recollection) but can't say how much farther than that, if any, it could be pushed. (There's a clinical trial that needs to happen!) One should also be careful to drop any contaminated clothing into the washer first so it's not inadvertently handled by an innocent victim (maybe one's self!) later.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2012 at 4:36PM
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Forgot to mention, I don't know how Winterberry is with deer.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2012 at 4:43PM
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Depending on the severity of the winter and availabilty of their natural food there isn't much deer won't decimate. The lists are good - and every state DNR puts one out - as long as one remembers the caveat... nothing is absolutely foolproof.

My spruce (all varieties) are the only things never touched - the short spikey needles I'm guessing.

The deer laughed at Milorganite in my yard.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2012 at 5:57PM
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