Mini-Projects for Easy Yard Maintenance

While most people associate backyards with high maintenance and heavy labor, I prefer to think of my backyard as a haven to escape the mundane chores of daily life: the shopping, cooking, cleaning, tidying up, congested traffic, multi-tasking and all the other responsibilities that constitute my very existence.

Putting on my overalls and stepping out into my backyard instantly de-clutters my mind as I feel the weight of all that responsibility being lifted from my shoulders. But I know there are many people out there who step out into a wilderness and cringe in dismay at the sight of an overgrown, weed-infested quagmire that lacks harmony, beauty and inspiration. My first bit of advice at this point would be to sit down and let your imagination go to work. And if you don’t have anywhere to sit, make a note to buy a garden bench for yourself—this is an absolute must for any serious gardener!

After making this important purchase, close your eyes, breathe in the tranquility and open your mind to a vision of serenity—picture your ideal home away from home. Think about the end result and what you really want from your backyard, then open your eyes, pick up a pencil and note your needs, wants and must dos. For example, the following are common to most gardeners:

  1. Need to differentiate specific areas of the yard
  2. Want year-round color
  3. Must do something about weeds, especially in the grass

Then divide each of these into three smaller, more manageable projects as follows:

Landscaping (need)

  • Create walkways for heavily traveled areas
  • Keep the lines between lawn and beds crisp and sharp
  • Balance hard structures with softer plantings

Planting (want)

  • Plant a variety of flowers that will provide bloom color throughout the season
  • Plant shrubs and perennials that will provide interesting texture during the off season
  • Mulch flower beds heavily and use fertilizer appropriate to your plants

Weeds (must do)

  • Eliminate weeds in your grass
  • Treat weeds when they are small
  • Fertilize your grass regularly

Walkways

Yard work will always be a work in progress, so even when you think you have the perfect layout from which you gain maximum functional pleasure – you’ll see something that can be improved. Walkways are often added at a later date when you realize the traffic to certain parts of your garden is more than you anticipated. A variety of materials can be used including wood chips, gravel, paving or concrete, depending on the effect you want to create. Walkways take time and effort to create, but are relatively low-maintenance once established and can be a useful addition, especially in areas where there are other obstacles to planting borders.

Tidy Borders

Some folks prefer formal borders and use plastic or wood edging to separate different areas and plantings. I prefer to keep the lines between grass and beds clean naturally by trimming lawn edges and pushing soil and mulch back into the beds; meanwhile, I dead-head flowers regularly and prune over-hanging bushes and shrubs to keep things tidy. I do however, butt heads with the wildlife that visit my garden. As soon as I tidy my borders, the crows or squirrels come along and undo my efforts by digging or clawing at the edges of the landscape fabric to retrieve whatever they think may be underneath!

Choosing the Right Plants

Plant life can help mask some of these wildlife issues as well as serving the functions of structure and color. I use a mixture of low-lying ground-cover plants to keep down weeds and cover puckered fabric edges; I then work from the back to the front of the border planting bigger shrubs and perennials toward the rear to create a texture-rich backdrop for the annuals I plant to fill spaces and provide color throughout the seasons. Check with your local gardening supplier or arboretum to find out what hardiness zone you are in before buying plants and plant shrubs for fall and spring before adding summer color. Remember to pay attention to how much light each part of your yard receives as this will direct your plant choices. You will find the more dense the planting, the fewer the weeds, and where planting is sparse, layering up with wood chip or pine straw mulch will keep weeds down.

Lawn and Garden Weeds

Pulling small weeds from between flowers is a breeze compared with the work required to maintain a beautiful lawn. Other than during the winter, the weeds can proliferate rapidly. If you’re not too fussy, grass can be kept in reasonable shape by cutting regularly, but by not cutting it below three inches. Using fertilizer every couple of months will also help reduce the weed population, but you may find you still have to use selective weed killers as well. If you are environmentally conscious and wish to keep chemicals out of the waterways, then like me, you may find that pulling weeds by hand is the answer. Beware though, unless you have a very small plot, this can be a huge task!

If pulling weeds by hand is not your idea of fun, think about replacing some of your lawn with a low-maintenance alternative. You might be thinking about creating an outdoor living space, or maybe you need to erect a shed for storage or a greenhouse for seed growing. Perhaps you need a play area for your children or an exercise area for pets. You could even just plant trees for more shade and mulch around the base to reduce grass area, or simply expand your borders.

After completing these important mini projects, don’t forget the most important job: Enjoy the fruits of your labors! Maintaining that beautiful backyard can be a very satisfying therapeutic form of exercise. After all, you be in touch with home, nature and self, undisturbed by the rest of the world, while creating a vision of loveliness for you and others to enjoy.

About Stan Horst

Stan Horst is the publisher of the Web site, BetterBenches.com. He formerly built cabinets and furniture, so he has an eye for quality construction. Stan is married to Deb and has two teenage children and a dog; they live in the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. When he’s not busy entertaining folks from across the globe in his vacation rental cabins, Stan loves outdoor activities including camping, hiking and spending time in his garden.

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