A Guide to Creating an Award-Winning Yard — Even When You're Busy

Summer is looking good! Fireflies flash morse code in the gloaming, and all’s right with the world. However, if your yard looks more like an unkempt grassy bed than a welcoming oasis, fear not! It’s possible to create an award-winning yard fit for royalty without spending a king’s ransom or all your free time on its maintenance.

DIY Gardening

Try these suggestions to elevate your yard.

Fill your yard with life.

Browse through catalogs or Pinterest — or visit your local gardening center for inspiration. Choose perennials which return each year and require little upkeep. Plant bushes and shrubs to add height, and use them to frame doors and windows. Add flowers for pops of color; roses, daylilies, and irises grow more full and lush with each season.

Add mulch and stones.

Once you’ve planted, put down a nice, thick mulch layer. Mulch makes it harder for weeds to grow, protects roots from summer scorching, and holds water to keep roots hydrated. Also, choreograph paths throughout your yard with stepping stones. These fun paths need minimal maintenance, cost less than a solid walkway, and add whimsy and the perfect finishing touch.

Remember to trim and remove weeds.

Hedge trimmers cost less than $100 — a worthy value for saving you time. Untrimmed bushes and plants can turn a backyard into a jungle, so spend an hour every few weeks to cut back branches too close to the house or hedges encroaching on the sidewalks.

The bane of every gardener, weeds are scraggly, unwanted plants that crop up all too often. They’re easily distinguished from other plants and flowers, so train your family to help control them. Weeding in the early morning or at dusk keeps the task a bit cooler.

Don’t neglect the lawn.

In the fall, use a thatching rake to remove dead grass, then lay down some seed and water it well. In the springtime, add fertilizer to feed the lawn, and grow a lush blanket of soft green.

Hate to mow? Pull out the regular short grass and replace with a combination of mulch and tall grasses that you’ll never need to mow. Group grasses along fence lines or in geometric patterns. Plant them more randomly to create a more natural look. In the late fall, cut them back, and that’s it! They’ll return again in the spring.

Make your yard enjoyable.

Think about where you and your family will spend your time outside. Invest in movable seating or create different spaces throughout the yard that provide shade, privacy, and openness. Also, consider adding some lights. A little glow creates a festive atmosphere with twinkling LED strands woven through bushes, trees, or fencing.

Pay attention to your landscaping.

Polish flower beds with borders. Create interesting spaces and lines with crushed stone, rocks, peat, wood shavings, and mulch. Build a rock garden or xeriscape. If you’re really short on maintenance time, a rock garden makes the perfect statement piece for yards of any size. Go big or small with these low-maintenance formations that help control mud and water, too.

Use objects —not flowers— to bring in color. Add brightly colored chairs, tables, bird baths, and pots. Pinterest’s “yard art” pages yield plenty of inspiration!

Deck it out!

An enjoyable back deck or front porch can make summer nights relaxing and enjoyable. Especially with friends. String up lights for a calming evening. During the day hang a canvas shade or consider a pergola. Arrange seating in a way that promotes conversation and togetherness.

Decks are a wonderful extension of your home to the outdoors but they do require annual care and maintenance. Stains, in addition to beautifying, add a layer of protection against the elements in order to help preserve your wood.  As they weather and ware, make sure to power wash annually and touch up areas where there may be flaking. Wood expands and contracts over the course of the year letting moisture into the cracks. As that moisture releases it can sometimes cause the coating to flake. A good quality stain is breathable and flexible which helps fight against this moisture breach but it is the first line of defense, not the last. Consider recoating horizontal surfaces every 4-5 years and vertical surfaces every 6-7 years.

When to Hire Professionals

Even if you’re a DIY gardener, there are a few yard items you should leave to the professionals, like tree-trimming. If grand oaks or tall red maples tower high above your house, it’s best to hire an arborist who’s an expert on avoiding the risk of injury and damage to your home if your trees need tending. The average national cost to remove/trim trees ranges between $422 and $707.

Lawn treatments used to eliminate weeds are usually best handled by a licensed professional and while an inground feature like a fire pit or water feature could be a DIY project, it’s important to call the gas company to come out and mark where any underground gas lines may be so you don’t dig into them. Other more heavy duty projects like building a deck and staining may also get you the best results by calling in a professional, unless you’re really handy and have the patience of Mother Teresa.

A winning yard just needs some creativity to encourage Mother Nature to work with, not against, you. Whether you incorporate more outdoor living spaces, favor mulch and stone, xeriscape with pea or crushed stone, or cultivate mow-free fescue and ryegrass, it’s worth it to create a welcoming space that invites you to relax — not think about yard work.