Desperate Backyard!

sah54November 2, 2010

My backyard is mostly weeds. I have been embarrassed by it for years, so I want to do something. I don't have a lot of money, so I don't think I can re-sod the entire yard. I was thinking of having areas of plants that have no grass...maybe a butterfly or hummingbird garden that takes up some of the yard.

I have pictures to post, but I am not sure how to do that since I am new to this forum.

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Maybe you send me your pics by email,some help.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2010 at 8:33PM
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Easiest thing would be to open a free Photobucket account - not having all the computer bells & whistles I, sadly, don't pay great heed to the apparently very easy instructions. Someone will respond with instructions because we love visuals in threads.

Do not email our Chinese friend unless you want a photoshopped trip through a fantasy land that not even Timothy Leary on his worst (or maybe best?) LSD trip could have imagined.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2010 at 10:47AM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

I don't have the computer bells and whistles either, but retirement hasn't stopped all my librarian-providing-information instincts, so here are some explanations:

The first paragraph in karinl's Oct. 7 post here:
And I'll just add that if you don't see your photos after clicking "Preview Message," you need to try again. (Similarly, when posting links, always test the links in "Preview Message" to make sure they work.)

Here's an old thread which discusses some details which may or may not help:

A late GW poster wrote up these instructions, and they are still available on his Photobucket account:

Here's the site's info:

Good luck!

    Bookmark   November 3, 2010 at 11:34AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Yes, do not email your photos to Ideasshare, who is our Chinese friend. That person has some strange ideas of how people live in America.

We can work here without visuals, too, and to some extent it is almost better that way as we shouldn't be telling you what to do, but rather telling you how to figure out what to do yourself.

People always start landscaping with plants, and that's really backward. Start with people - what are people going to do or look for in this space? You don't need much money to address that.

My own first step would be to identify how you want to move through the yard and make pathways; the second to identify where you might like to be (or invite other people to be) in the yard, and make seating. This can be done in very rudimentary ways - just mow a path through the weeds and put cardboard or old carpet down for starters, and get some stumps off craigslist or some give-away patio chairs. You can obviously upgrade this as budget allows. This will give you a sense of where you want to see plants growing or where you want privacy screening or view blocking, and thus an idea of where your beds should be, if you need any.

If you want grass, then look to seed, not sod, for an affordable way to make it happen. You may have to smother the entire weed layer with cardboard and soil first, but it can be done.

One of the cheapest and most significant things you can do is edging your beds nicely. Shaped and edged nicely, a bed doesn't even need plants in it to be an amenity to a yard.

Butterfly or hummingbird plants are often not that attractive to the human eye, plus a flowerbed in a weed-ful yard will end up being weedy. So the assumption that a flower bed of the sort you describe will solve your problem is not correct: it is more likely to aggravate it. However, if making it will get you out there working and planning, it may be a good first step.


    Bookmark   November 3, 2010 at 1:47PM
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sah54: KarinL's suggestions are a great start. Is that enough to get you started? You didn't indicate a zone or location. In my area of western WA fall has been the best time to start gardens. Our soil is rocky, clay & areas of pit-run, so over the years we've just layered on top to build our soil expanding little by little except for the big expansion this past year. I studied the various sun patterns for some time before planting out.

Here's an example of our large, but low cost expansion as DIY hobby gardeners along the east side of the house part sun location due to nearby forest. July, 2010 mid-day lighting.
From 2010 flower garden

July 2010 Entrance to the front yard from driveway expanded gardens to connect front, go around corner & length of home. Garden to left side previously had fruit trees with some ground covers surrounding. Right corner had eastern snowball trees added spring 2009 along with mulching materials surrounding. Middle right side was an existing bed of natives (salal & service berry), shasta daisy, Serbian bellflower (campanula), & forget-me-nots. Enough grassy area remains to the left of the path for kids and yard games.

Most plants were free plant swaps or divisions from other gardens here and planted after March, 2010. Some plants (shrubs, daylilies, astilbe) purchased at discounted prices fall, 2009. The key to our success was building the soil first before planting using organic matter from a variety of free sources. We used our existing rocky, clay soil dug from the path & a backyard patio project. The riverbed path lined with landscape cloth & mounded beds on top of grass were our solution to a drainage problem.

From middle of path back to driveway July 2010 shows the broken brick edging as well as old Darlow's Enigma rose bush transplanted in spring free off Craigslist tightly planted in that location to provide privacy screening from window on left side of picture toward neighbor's cars, etc. The old cherry tree might need to be removed in the future, but for now provides shade & protection to plants. When the free bareroot fruit trees were planted 15 years ago we had more sunshine than now.
From 2010 flower garden

If you want more specifics on how we did it email me. I wasn't sure if this was appropriate for this landscaping design forum. I'd be glad to share how we did it for little cost and lack of experience.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2010 at 4:18PM
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Let's see if this works.
This is looking to the south.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2010 at 7:27AM
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I think I've got the picture thing figured out.

A bit more information. I like in northeast Florida and have two beagle-sized dogs (35 pounds). One loves to run after squirrels and birds. So, I have to keep them in mind as they will go everywhere I do not want to have to do yard work. I am recently divorced and the ex-husband was the one who mowed and trimmed. So this past year is the first time I have ever mowed a yard.

I want a very easy to take care of yard, but one that would look nice. I have sago palms in the two corners at the sides. The backyard is on the east side of the house and doesn't get much sun due to trees. Some areas do get the morning sun.

This picture is looking at the northeast corner. You can see I put down newspaper along the back of the yard to try to kill weeds so I could put a planting bed along the back. I truly have no idea what I'm doing. There are three crape myrtles along the back fence that I don't really want anymore.

This is the south side of the yard.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2010 at 8:05AM
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The wood posts in the previous picture were from a former swing set that the previous owners had. I suppose I could get rid of them. I've been hanging wind chimes from them.

This is looking back towards the house.

Below is looking towards the south side of yard at the gate. On the right are Mexican petunias (I think that's what they are called.) and behind them are three rose bushes (you cannot see them in this picture. I planted the Mexican petunias to try to get some privacy when I am on the porch.

This is looking towards the north side of the yard at the other gate. The tree in the foreground is a bottle brush and the smaller tree in the background is a meyer lemon tree, but the graft froze last winter, so this is growth from the trunk below the graft. I suppose that means it will never produce fruit, so I can get rid of it. The bottle brush was a gift from my students when my dad passed away. They said every time it bloomed, I could remember my dad. So, I definitely want to keep it.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2010 at 8:29AM
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One more thing to add. I don't really want to use my yard as the mosquitos are pretty bad. Behind the back fence is a protected wetland (man-made). I also have seen snakes in my backyard. They were coming in the screened-in porch through the dog door until I cover that up with a sheet of metal. I believe they are water moccasin snakes.
Anyway, I only interested in making my yard look attractive when I look at it. But, who knows? Maybe I'll actually spend some time out there (when the mosquitos are not out) if it looks nice.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2010 at 10:01AM
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Well let me see if I can make a couple suggestions. It seems you have several different trees and shrubs but there is no cohesiveness to sort of connect them. Any yard will have some maintenance but once shrub borders are established, there is really very little maintenance. There's always mowing unless you remove all the grass and put in beds/borders and some sort of concrete paving or pavers or stepping stones or something to make a patio or seating area. What I would suggest is to take a look at the yard from your screened porch. Becoz you said you really don't want to use the yard but do sit on the porch, you would like a nice view and the mosquitoes wouldn't get to you. So I would see where a large bed/border(s) would go, it is better to make them large and you'll have less grass to mow. Experts sometimes say to map out how you want the grass (lawn) to be first instead of mapping out the beds. Then I would look for just a few easy care-free shrubs that give you several season interest. Off the top I am thinking nandina (the full size ones), tea olive, mahonia, viburnum. YOu will have to do alittle homework to see what tolerates part sun/shade, but the ones I just mentioned should do fine. Put several of one kind together and around your existing "specimen" shrubs. Then the whole landscape will be tied together if you use just a few shrubs. Put your feeders and birdbath within the beds (I would remove those posts). Do a little thinking about what you want and reading online about tough southern plants that fit your conditions. Then I would highly recommend the lasagna garden method which involves laying newspaper or cardboard to kill the grass and begin creating the beds. It won't be instantaneous but it will not take super long either. Then you will have to mulch everything and that will be the major upkeep, just watering as needed and keeping all the beds mulched year round. Good luck.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2010 at 8:46PM
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Thanks for the ideas. This is helping. I guess I have several months to think about this before I have to take action.
If you look at the picture of the south side, looking at the gate you'll see what I'm up against on upkeep. I made that little planting bed along side the screened-in porch last March. I put in the little concrete scalloped edging, hoping that the grass wouldn't grow in there. As you can see, the grass and weeds have taken over the area. I just do not want to spend time constantly cleaning that out. Would putting down mulch smother the grass and weeds?

    Bookmark   November 6, 2010 at 7:23AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

The short answer to your last question is "no." A flowerbed is something that requires regular maintenance, so is not going to work with your plan to have a yard mostly to look at.

Look at another thread that is current, linked below, to get an idea of how you can reduce the workload, but if you don't plan to be out there much, the main thing is not to leave any bare ground. Grass creeps, and soil is full of weed seeds that will sprout any time they get sunlight. Thus, when a bed is new, it needs the most maintenance of all. And every year in spring, the battle starts again as the weeds emerge before the plants do.

But in the situation you have, your best bet is to cover the ground with a combination of spreading shrubs such as junipers or microbiota and low rhodos, and large-leaved perennials such as hostas. And in the open spaces you have left, you can do some form of inexpensive hard surface, perhaps using recycled concrete if you're very enterprising, or finding 2nd hand material off craigslist if you'd rather use stone or bricks.


Here is a link that might be useful: tightly spaced perennials

    Bookmark   November 6, 2010 at 1:11PM
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So, would there be no mowing if there is ground cover? Could the dogs walk on it?
I feel pretty much defeated and don't think I have the resources nor time to change anything. :-(

    Bookmark   November 6, 2010 at 1:41PM
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Yes, it is easy to feel defeated when you have the work ahead of you, and until you make a decision about what you want. Really, if I were in your situation, I would not plant anything right up against the screen porch. (I had a screenporch very much like yours in extreme southern La). I might put some cheap stepping stones as a border around the screen porch so the grass doesn't grow right up to it. Then I would make some large sweeping beds using the lasagna method and with any free or low cost mulches I could get (some cities have free compost/mulch and some tree trimming companies will give you chipped bark. You can also order mulch and pine straw in bulk which is cheaper than buying bags or bales at the store. Then I would select a few easy shrubs, I still like the ones I suggested earlier and another one that I love is cleyera. It is also evergreen, and very low maintenance. I have it here in north MS and I had in La too. If you can hire some teens or a yard guy to help with some of this. You can make a paver or step. stone patio which will remove some of the grass you have to mow. I don't like or find that edging works very well, everyone has their opinion about edging and what kinds, but I just make a trench around my borders/beds. Make it several inches wide and you (or a lawn service) will have to shovel it a couple times a year becoz the grass will want to grow into it. I suggest you do it in the fall and spring, becoz you don't want to schedule any major work in the summer months in Florida. If you really don't have the resources nor time right now, I would suggest you just keep everything mowed. It is very hard to mow or weedeat around many 'here and there' trees and shrubs, so you might consider moving some of those into a consolidated area, and at least have that area mulched. By the way, grass clippings work great as a mulch and they smother the grass very well. In La I used quite a bit of grass clippings and just spread it around areas (like around trees) where I didn't want to have to mow. We had alot of grassclippings and could get more from the neighbors, as I suspect you would have alot in your location too.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2010 at 2:20PM
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I'm in the Northeast, so I'm not that familiar with plants that grow well in NE Florida. But since you mentioned butterfly or hummingbird garden, take a look at the list of plants that an amateur developed for your area: and also at the link below that allows you to choose your specific area of FL and garden conditions, and recommends plant types.

You do not have to mow a ground cover, but you do need to plant them and weed them until they are established - it's definitely some work. I've read that buffalo grass is a great alternative to other grasses, and needs to be mowed only a couple of times a year. Maybe someone familiar with the region could comment on whether that is an option for you. It sounds as though you may be a teacher, so possibly you could barter tutoring for garden work.

I would agree with others that maintaining a plant-free area around the perimeter of your house will help reduce maintenance problems with the house itself. When you relax on your screened porch, notice where your gaze goes, and just concentrate your efforts on that one small area to start -- perhaps the area where your bird feeders are. Since birds appreciate some cover, I'd add some loose, airy shrubs for them behind the feeders. Depending on your soil, it may be easier to use several large pots near the feeder, rather than plant in the ground.

Good luck with it! Gardening can be very restorative (at least when bugs and snakes behave themselves.)

Here is a link that might be useful: plants for your area

    Bookmark   November 7, 2010 at 8:43PM
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Map your dogs' running paths - don't plant anything tender in their way! Conifers can get damaged by dog pee. Use a variety of deciduous shrubs - and these shrub borders can be big, since you don't need a lot of space. Spice that up with tall ornamental grasses. Put vines on the fence. Raised beds, containers, and strategically placed rocks are a few options to protect plants from dogs. If your budget allows, replace lawn with paved surface.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2010 at 5:50AM
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I am in the process of gathering estimates for a new fence. I would really like to go with vinyl, so I hope the estimates are not out of my price range.
I spent the weekend sawing off tree limbs from my neighbors tree that is hanging over into my yard. Also, I remove the wood posts that were sticking up (they were leftover from an old swing set). And, I had the tree next to my fence at the back of my yard. I'm having the tree man come back and clear out all of the overgrown vines that are behind my fence. Also, I dug up the old crepe myrtles that I have hated for the past 15 years.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2011 at 7:38PM
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This is a picture of my updated backyard (before the new fence):

    Bookmark   January 30, 2011 at 8:18PM
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My number 1 priority would be to screen lines of sight between the covered porch and adjacent properties. I take it that this is something of a problem along the south side yard, and perhaps elsewhere. It is a narrow area, but you just might be able to work in a tall, narrow hedge against the fence. My second priority would be to soften the monotonous lengths of privacy fence, particularly in the back. Actually, I would want to blot it from view altogether with a tall, low-maintenance hedge. This would greatly reduce the area you want to make more interesting. If you take your photos to one of the larger nurseries, they can probably offer some useful advice for adding low-maintenance color and texture.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2011 at 8:44AM
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The new fence is installed. I am please with it, and it brightens up the yard considerably. My concern is the dogs will make a dog run along the fence. I want to make it dog friendly, but they have pretty much destroyed it with their running and playing.
This is the northwest corner. I am thinking of planting roses (climbing?) on either side if the sago palm.

And this is the northeast corner. I've pulled the fence in so that it is next to the edge of the house.

This is facing south. You can see on the right that I've been putting cement stepping stones/pavers (that I had to keep the dogs from digging out under the wood fence) on the dirt/sand area where the dogs have worn out the grass with their playing. I would eventually like to have a concrete patio poured here, but after the cost of the fence, I'm a bit "house-poor." I'm trying to do things as economically as possible, but I can't do this sort of work myself, so I'll have to hire someone. I especially cannot prepare the base so that it is level.

This on the south side of the house, facing east, towards a gate. As you can see, the dogs have worn down the area to dirt/sand. Eventually (when I get more money), I'm thinking of having a concrete walkway poured and then fill in the area next to the fence with some sort of ground cover (juniper?). But, I don't know what I'm doing ,and I don't want it to look haphazard.

Here is the gate that the view below is behind;

And this is what's behind my property, behind the back fence.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2011 at 8:39PM
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I have added a third dog. I didn't want to, but I have "rescued" this dog. My son rescued her from a former roommate who graduated from college and moved away, leaving the dog. After nine months, he realized that he cannot keep her in his efficiency apartment, so he brought her to my house at Christmas and asked if I could keep her.

So, I have her until he graduates and moves out on his own.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2011 at 9:21PM
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Before doing any planing/planting you need to do an important research project. Hopefully you live near a Florida Extension office which can do a soil test for you. Go around your yard and dig down into the sand collecting soil samples, placing them together in a plastic bag. Take this to the Extension Service requesting a soil sample test and a test for root-knot nematodes. The latter is a problem common to Florida, very difficult to control. Do a search on the subject (root-knot nematodes + Florida) for a complete understanding. I have a hunch that this may be a part of your problem and if the test shows a high nematode count this will influence your landscaping plans. Please do not spend any money on your project until you know the results of these tests. Post them here when you have them and then we can go from there.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2011 at 11:30AM
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I have since had a concrete patio and sidewalk installed. The dogs have moved their sandlot to another area of my yard, so I imagine I will have to live with it. I put some solar lights around the patio, but would like to have a bit more lights. I am having an electrician come out April 22 to give me an estimate for work. I know I want to have some outlets available at the patio. (I was thinking of having white Christmas lights in the bushes between the patio and screened-in porch. I would like to have more lights to light up the patio if I chose to do so. I was wondering if I should have a light installed on the house, and if so, what kind.
I am going to have a motion light installed at the north corner of my house to light up that part of the yard.
Any input is appreciated. Here are some pictures of what I've done since I last posted. This is a picture I took when I just finished putting together the furniture. You can see the box in the background. I have since added plants around the patio.

This is the corner where I want to have the motion security light installed by the electrician. This part of the yard is so dark.

Plants I planted once the sidewalk was poured.

You can see my attempts (added bricks, pots, and concrete stepping stones up against the fence) to keep the dogs from digging under the fence. They have gotten out a few times from digging under this portion of the fence. I planted this aztec grass and added mulch. This bed is always in the shade of the fence. Because of this, I cannot add solar lights along the sidewalk. That's OK because I have a motion security light installed that shines on this part of the backyard.

I put some solar spot lights on this sago palm, but they are not very bright. I was wondering if the electrician could run some wire so I could have electric spot lights (which would be brighter) to illuminate this corner of the yard. This area would be hit by the security lights I would install on the corner of the house.

This is the area where the dogs play. It used to be where the concrete patio is now, and the dogs just moved their play area to another part of the yard. You can see the southeast corner with two sago palms. I have a motion security light on this side of the house, so this area is lit when the dogs set off the lights.

This is the view I have when sitting on the screened-in porch.

And this is where I grade my students' papers (which I don't seem to mind anymore now that it's a nice place to do so).

I know I still have to install some sort of planting beds around the patio and along the back side of the fence, but I am going to do that next year, when I have some more money. I also want to have some sort of winding walkway on the other side of the patio (see the picture that shows where I want to install the motion security light on the corner of the house) to the gate. I will probably hire someone to do that because the work I do looks bad. See the next picture of the stepping stones I did from the screened-in porch to the gate in the back of the yard.

I am just trying to get the St. Augustine grass to spread, but I have so many weeds back here. I cannot afford to re-sod the backyard this year, so I'll just live with whatever can grow back here. For 12-15 years, I never went out in the backyard, and ever since I had the patio poured, I come out here several times each week. I wish I could have afforded to hire a professional landscaper, but I cannot, so I'll just have to be satisfied with the work I did.
Any other input is appreciated.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2011 at 5:38PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Well if someone were grading what you've done, an A would be merited! You've come up with quite an original and thoughful layout that seems to meet your needs and the dogs' needs very well, and has turned a truly sad yard into a real asset. I'm impressed, and tickled pink that you've shared the process with us. And it seems as if you have changed as much as the yard has, going from feeling pretty helpless and uncertain to being quite decisive!

On garden lighting I can't help much except to say I like that you are lighting up the corners and not just the patio itself. I'm wondering if that might be a particularly advantageous approach if you have a mosquito problem, as they might go more where the light is, and if that's not the patio you can sit there in more comfort, should you have evening guests for instance. Outlets are a particularly good idea - I wish I'd thought of them!



    Bookmark   April 21, 2011 at 2:04AM
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Thanks for the help you have provided and the kind words, Karin. I believe you're correct: I have changed to feeling like I can get this yard whipped into shape. I did have some help with a friend who has a yard that I admire. She hires people to do all of her landscaping work, but she came over several times to give me input.

It definitely is a work in progress, and one that I will not complete this year. I will have to do it in stages. I am really so happy that I actually use my backyard almost daily now.

The electrician suggest I do not install motion lights, but a security light with two bulbs that will be aimed at the back corner and at the back gate. I am concerned about someone getting in the back yard and being hid by the cover of darkness. The light will be controlled by a switch from inside the house. He told me to wait to install other lighting outside to see how much light the security light will offer. He's going to install three outlets so I can have some white Christmas type lights in the bushes next to the screened-in porch. He is going to move a light fixture that is in the screened-in porch to one that has two bulb sockets so I can aim the light at the door of the porch. (That light can only be accessed by plugging in the wiring at an outlet, so he will install a switch for that light.)
He's coming tomorrow to do the work, so I can't wait to see what it looks like when the sun sets.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2011 at 3:50PM
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