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3 landscaping fixes for a happy yard

Iris Price | Improvement Center Columnist | July 29, 2014

Summer doesn't last long in some parts of the U.S. If you live in one of those places that sees the first snowfall in October and you have been meaning to tackle at least one glaring issue with your yard, you had best get on it so you can enjoy your outdoor space before you have to start pulling in the patio furniture. Here are suggestions for landscaping fixes that address three common wants and needs homeowners like you have when it comes to their yards:

Need no. 1: A backyard retreat

Whether your neighbors are several acres away or just a few feet from your back door, you still want an intimate outdoor area where you can enjoy that first cup of morning java, a Sunday afternoon nap, or a good summer read.

Small to medium-size yards: To create a whole different space, even in a tiny yard, erect a pergola -- a free-standing open structure supported by columns -- or an arched arbor or trellis on which you can grow climbing plants -- as a private hideaway. Not enough room in the back? If you have about 10 or more feet of width on the side of your house, you can divide a long narrow yard using one or more "screens" of plants or sections of trellis that jut into the space a few feet on one side and then the other. Add a bench, bistro table and chairs, or a hammock to one of these outdoor "rooms" for a place to perch, and you're good to go.

Large yards: If you have room for a small gazebo or other large freestanding covered structure in your yard, you can have a place to hang out even during a summer rain shower. Retractable covers are available for pergolas, or grow a green roof of flowering vines. Hang curtains or shades on the open sides to filter the afternoon sun. With the addition of a covered arbor over a path between the house and your gazebo, you'll get into the right frame of mind by the time you reach your retreat.

Pergola

Need no. 2: Adequate drainage

With the increased number of mosquito-borne illnesses in the U.S., the last thing you need around your house is standing water after a summer shower. There are several remedies for poor site drainage that depend on the size of your property, how close the water sits to your foundation, and the type of soil in your area. Sometimes just the type of landscaping you have can be contributing to the problem in addition to issues such as these:

  • improper grading
  • not enough downspouts
  • clogged gutters
  • runoff from neighboring yards

It's always a good idea to consult a landscaping expert for the best drainage solution in your particular circumstances. If you are doing it yourself, make sure your plan is approved by your local municipality, which might have regulations about where you divert the water. Definitely don't antagonize your neighbors by routing it into their yards.

Small to medium-size yards: One of the most common and effective drainage remedies for most small-to-medium size properties is the french drain. A french drain consists of a drain pipe that is perforated on the bottom side. The pipe is laid in a narrow ditch lined with landscape fabric. Then, the pipe is topped with gravel and wrapped in the fabric. As the water table rises to the level of the holes in the drain underground, it fills the drain and runs down the pipe and away from your property before it starts pooling on the surface.

Once the drain is buried, the ditch can be camouflaged with mulch, sod, river rock, pavers, or other landscape elements. Creative landscapers have even used smooth, recycled glass chips to create a ribbon of color in their yards.

Large yards: If you have a larger property, you might already have a swale or deeper drainage ditch to carry water away. If the ditch is generally dry except for occasional storm runoff, and if it is fairly shallow, turn it into a dry creek bed using clusters of small and larger boulders along the walls of the bed, lining it with weed fabric and filling it with a mixture of different sizes of river rocks on the floor of the creek. Indigenous plants on both sides and a focal point, such as a small foot bridge, can turn a weed-clogged drainage ditch into an aesthetically pleasing landscape element.

Need no. 3: Low-maintenance groundcover plants

By this point in the summer you may be thinking every time you leave your lounge chair to mow the grass that lawns are completely overrated. Fortunately, more and more homeowners and communities have been embracing alternative landscaping solutions that provide benefits such as less water consumption and less maintenance. Planting some other type of non-invasive ground cover that thrives easily in your region is one such solution.

Groundcover plants can suit both small yards and large, although the cost for some plants may make covering large expanses with those quite a bit costlier than for smaller yards. Your choices also may depend on factors that include the following:

  • height
  • climate zone
  • full sun or shade
  • drought-resistance
  • foot traffic from children and dogs

There are solutions for all of these requirements and more. You can plant large swaths of groundcover such as clover, which is inexpensive; low-growing thyme to fill the space between large pavers or flagstone; moss; or drought-resistant hens-and-chicks for nearly no-maintenance. Some groundcovers help stop soil erosion. Creeping perennials like Blue Star Creeper take heavy foot traffic. Your local garden store can help you find practical options that can be so much more inviting than a plain grass.

Your landscape wish list might be longer -- or different. Go take a walk through a nursery, botanical garden, or park and get inspired. Browse Pinterest, home and garden websites, and even old magazines at your local library. Then take on your list, and treat yourself to at least one landscape fix this summer. You and your yard deserve to be happy.

About the Author

Iris Price is a single Baby Boomer whose antidote to a lack of retirement funds was to launch a long-delayed career as a writer. While others her age concoct bucket lists and travel the world, she bought a new-construction home and obsessively creates lists of must-have home improvements and personal realization goals. She specializes in writing about home services and self-motivation.