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Side Yard Help

Posted by kglv 7 - Long Island, NY (My Page) on
Tue, May 17, 11 at 9:14

Hi everyone,
I have a "forgotten" side yard on the west side my property, approx. 10' wide x 36' long. My 2 story house is on one side, and a 4' chain link fence is on the other side. The neighbor's house is only about 5' from the chain link fence. The previous owner had the property professionally landscaped, and it's beautiful! The problem is, they didn't do anything with this side yard. It is dirt, weeds, moss and wild onions, the bane of my existence. There is also a bridal wreath spirea (out of control), 3 forsythia (also out of control, although I did a pretty severe prune after they flowered this year), a japanese holly, an azalea, and one other mystery shrub I haven't identified yet - it is very mish-mashy looking. I am really tempted to take out the forsythia, and prune the spirea to make it a more manageable size. Then I'd like to make a curving flagstone path down the middle and plant perennials on either side of it. BUT my husband doesn't see the point, since you don't really see the side yard from the house (there are only 2 windows on that side), and the only time we use it is to go between front and back yards. He is also reluctant to get rid of the forsythia as it does provide a little bit of a screen between our house and the neighbor's house, which you see out the window in our family room.

I guess I'm just having a hard time since the rest of the property is so pretty, to have this ugly, weedy area. Also, my 2 year old is determined to go on that side all the time, and it is pretty muddy and congested with the spirea/forsythia tangle.

What do you think? Is there a compromise? Is there a reasonable, affordable way to deal with this area? We are willing to do the work ourselves, just don't want it to cost thousands.

Any ideas are greatly appreciated! Thanks so much!


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Side Yard Help

Sideyard gardens are important transition spaces in my opinion and definitely should be gardened! Your space is wider than my side yards (mine are ~8'x25' on the south and ~8'x 50' or the north) I prefer a straight path to a curving one - it makes the space look longer and is also more practical for use if you need to move equipment through it.

I'm not a big fan of forsythia but I love bridalwreath spireas - I have 3 of them. They need rejuvenation pruning each year after they finish flowering - take 1/3 of the stems out at ground level (take out the oldest -thickest - each year.) That keeps their size under control but retais their natural shape and screening ability. You should do the same pruning with the forsythia. Both shrubs can be hard pruned after flowering and allowed to regrow - but then you lose the privacy screening for a year or so. Much better to do the 1/3 pruning each year.

It didn't take a lot of work to set up our side gardens and they are now some of our favorite spaces. The link below is of pictures of the North alley garden from its plain grass starting point to its state as of last year. If you click on the 'My page' and follow the link to my garden maintenance manual, looking at the two Transition Spaces posts will show you both sideyards. It's really worth making the sideyards part of the overall garden.

Here is a link that might be useful: creating the North alley garden


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RE: Side Yard Help

I understand your difficulty. I'm trying to work up my neglected side yard also. I would definitely make it look nice, especially since it bugs you the way it is.

How often do you use it? Can you see it from the front yard when you're pulling up to your house? How about from the back?

If you pruned, weeded and mulched, what would the yard look like?


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RE: Side Yard Help

Thanks both for your input!!

@woodyoak, thank you for your photos - how lovely! And what a transformation from before until after. Thanks as well for the pruning advice for the forsythia and spirea - I tried to follow the 1/3 rule for the forsythia (although I think i was so disgusted with them I probably did more like 1/2) and it's good to know it'll work for the spirea as well.

@tanowicki, I agree, that it will continue to bother me and I need to do something about it, I just need to figure out what. As for how often we use it, we do use it but not for anything pleasurable or important (not enough room for that). We use it to get from the front yard to the backyard, although we use the driveway for that as well (runs the full length of the property on the east side of the house). The hose is on the west "forgotten" side, so we're over there when we use the hose, and to take the hose from front to back. I think if I enjoyed that side more I would be more likely to use the west side as a pasageway instead of the driveway. You don't see the west side from the front of the house - it's accessible through a narrow passage between a linden viburnum and some pretty big schip laurel in the front yard. You do see it from the back, but only if you're on the far west side of the yard. As for pruning, weeding, and mulching (mulching what? there is really nothing to mulch right now- no real "beds") - the pruning is helping to make it less of a tangle, but it's also making it look a lot more barren, it's amazing how much larger the 10' width looks once the forsythia was cut back. The weeding is a never-ending battle because the wild onions we have here just don't quit!

So, I'm definitely hoping to put my husband to work, making a path and planting some hostas, at the very least! I love the idea of this side garden, but I don't think it has enough "screen", unless we leave the forsythia. My husband is afraid this would be too expensive for a yard that isn't really used much.

http://www.bhg.com/gardening/plans/special-spots/side-garden-plan/

It's raining here today, but I took a few photos to give you a better idea of what the yard looks like (along with a couple of the mystery shrub ... any idea what it might be? It hasn't flowered yet) and a tree that I'm not sure what it is either, although it was covered in white flowers last month.

Here is a link that might be useful: Side Yard Photos


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RE: Side Yard Help

After you get the side looking nice, you may want to make the entrance from the front a little easier to access.

I was thinking you could just mulch the whole thing. If you have access to it, add a cy or two and just spread it over the whole area. If you pull the biggest weeds, the smallest ones would get smothered with the inch or two of cover.


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RE: Side Yard Help

I think you already have a good plan, and a very low-cost plan too. Even if you decide not to make real beds -- or not yet -- mulch will keep the weeds down.

It's only natural that a small child would be attracted to a wild garden with lots of nooks and hiding places -- not to mention mud. That could be a reason for neatening the garden which your husband would understand.

I struggle with wild onions also. I've read that if the leaves are bruised, they will absorb Roundup -- but I've had no noticeable luck with that! Digging works; whenever I plant something, I try to remove all the wild onions in the immediate vicinity. When the ground is very soft, I have some success pulling up particularly large plants or clumps; even if all I get is the top, I've denied the plant a certain amount of energy for reproduction and kept it smaller.

The most important thing, though, is to patrol all the places they live which aren't regularly mowed every spring. Cut off the flower heads -- also the ends of the tall shoots that are swelling to become flower heads -- so they don't produce seeds or bulbils (the tiny onion plants atop the stalks).


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RE: Side Yard Help

I think just laying down a mulch path (I use 2/3 finely shreded pinebark mulch and 1/3 concrete sand mixed together and compacted with one of those water-filled roller things) and keeping the shrubs pruned enough to make passage along the path easy, will go a long way to making the area look neater and more purposeful. Then you can work on controlling the onions and start planting perennials and groundcovers that are suitable for the area. You'll be surprised at how fast it'll start 'coming together' for you.


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