Turn backyard into garden


Start Your Own Simple, Super-Productive Backyard Farm

Grow the produce that makes sense for you. Consider what you buy and eat most, and plan your garden accordingly. If you make smoothies for breakfast, you might want to grow strawberries or kale for a ready source of ingredients. Perhaps your kids favor broccoli and peas, or you use a lot of fresh spinach and lettuce for salads. If you’re into beer making, you might consider growing your own hops. If you love to cook, you might grow hard-to-find gourmet foods such as haricots verts or French fingerling potatoes.

Periodically review your garden’s output from a financial perspective and calculate the cost of purchasing produce versus growing your own. If you love golden raspberries, which can be expensive and scarce at the store, you might save money by cultivating a few canes. On the other hand, if local sweet corn is three ears for a dollar in your area, it might make more sense to invest your time, money and garden space to grow another crop.

Re-evaluate your efforts at the end of the season, too. Were the beets a bust? Did you end up with a plethora of zucchini and not as many tomatoes as you’d have liked? Make adjustments to next year’s garden plan so you’re investing time and resources growing the things you will most eagerly eat and use.

Grow up. No matter what size yard you have, you can grow more food in less space by planting some crops vertically. Grow vining plants such as pole beans, peas and cucumbers straight up, supported by posts, teepees or cages. Vines can be coaxed to trail up a downspout, and trellises, wires or netting can also be attached to fences. Sprawling plants such as tomatoes, melons and squash can be trained to grow upright on heavy cages or trellises.

While they may need a little more attention to be sure they get plenty of water, vegetables grown vertically are less likely to be attacked by ground-dwelling slugs and snails, and they’re less susceptible to fungal diseases because of improved air circulation.

Use your rainwater. If you install rain barrels under your downspouts, you can collect and use the water that accumulates after a storm to irrigate parts of your garden. Commercially made rain barrels are available in many sizes and materials, and typically range in size from 50 to 80 gallons. Look for a model that has an overflow valve that kicks in and directs water away from your home when the barrel reaches capacity, a fine-mesh screen to keep insects out, and a spigot valve at the bottom to connect to a garden hose. You can also make your own; find instructions in How to Make a Rain Barrel. As a simpler alternative, you can simply place large stockpots outside when it rains and use the water for irrigating small spaces.

Not all states allow rainwater collection, so be sure to check regulations in your area. Even if you can’t install a rain barrel, you can still benefit from thundershowers by planting moisture-loving plants such as watercress, chervil or sorrel near areas where your gutter downspouts drain, or, if you live in a rainy area, creating a rain garden (get instructions in Reduce Stormwater Runoff with a Rain Garden). Also, enriching your soil will increase its ability to absorb and hold moisture—and reduce the amount of water that flows away from your property and down the storm drain.

Raise small farm animals or bees. Do you have a yard with a sturdy fence and space for a hive, coop or shed? Honeybees, fowl and small animals are increasingly being permitted on residential properties in many places; check your local zoning ordinances and research licensing or permit requirements. A modest flock of laying hens can supply your family with eggs, and the birds’ droppings provide excellent fertilizer. For milk, you might consider Nigerian Dwarf goats, which grow to about 70 pounds and can produce up to three quarts of milk a day. Honeybees are rarely aggressive and can often be kept in urban areas; in addition to providing honey and beeswax, they’ll help pollinate your garden. You can read much more about all of these possibilities.


Make your own soil enhancements. A compost heap or bin will complete the circle of life in your backyard, turning garden trimmings and food scraps into rich humus. Digging in compost improves garden soil by adding nutrients and organic matter, and it helps plants grow because the roots can reach deep in soils that aren’t compacted. Best of all, everything you need to make compost is usually readily available in the yard: grass cuttings; leaves and leaf mold; clay soil clumps; garden debris; and plant waste (just don’t add diseased plants or invasive weed plants that are in seed). You can find instructions to make a compost bin out of reclaimed shipping pallets (often available for free from area stores) in DIY Shipping Pallet Compost Bin.

Spreading a protective layer of mulch on top of soil and around plants reduces water usage and combats weeds. Organic mulch will also improve soil as it decomposes, and many yards already have materials that are perfect for the task—from grass clippings and leaves to pine needles and compost. If you need more mulch than your yard provides, you can always offer to clean up your neighbor’s yard in exchange for autumn leaves. Read more about compost and natural fertilizers in All About Organic Garden Fertilizers.

Harness the Sun

Dry your clothes for free. Electric clothes dryers are among the most expensive home appliances to operate, costing the average family $100 in annual utility costs. Hang damp laundry on a clothesline instead and take advantage of free sunshine and breezes to dry your clothes. The savings don’t stop there: Your dryer should last longer with less use so you’ll save on repair costs; during warmer months you’ll avoid adding heat to the air in your house; and line-dried clothes often last longer because the fibers aren’t worn from the movement in the dryer.

A few municipalities have banned clotheslines for aesthetic reasons, but a retractable clothesline, a collapsible model or a small standing rack may work for you. For stiff clothes such as cotton towels and blue jeans, a five-minute final tumble in the dryer after drying on the line will generally soften the fabric. Of course the biggest reason of all to hang laundry outside may be the fresh, clean aroma of sheets dried in the sunshine.

Power lights and small electronics. Even if you’re not ready to invest in rooftop solar panels, you can still channel your yard’s sunbeams into a free energy source. Consider solar-powered lights for nighttime illumination around your yard. The panels absorb sun power during the day and gradually release the light in the darkness. If you invest in portable accent lights (some look like candles or Mason jars), you can also bring them inside to cast a warm glow at your dinner table.

If you’re tired of replacing the batteries on your electric toothbrush, you can capture the sun via small solar chargers that will power rechargeable AA and AAA batteries as well as USB-compatible cell phones and GPS units. (Read more in Energizer Rechargeable Solar Charger.) Other easy-to-use solar gadgets include sun-powered radios, calculators and flashlights.

Try solar cooking. If you live in a dry climate where the days are typically sunny and hot during harvest time, you can preserve a variety of fruits and vegetables by dehydrating them in the sun. Dry the beans you pick from your garden, preserve your tomatoes by sun-drying them, and make your own fruit leathers and dried fruits such as plums and peaches—free of the preservatives and additives sometimes found in commercially dried foods. You can purchase a solar food dehydrator or make your own; for complete instructions read “Build a Solar Food Dehydrator.”

For even greater versatility, you can harness sunbeams to power a solar oven. On a sunny day, you can cook rice, eggs, chicken or fish in an hour or two, and if you have three to four hours you can cook vegetables such as potatoes, carrots and beans or even bread and muffins. Read more at “Making a Solar Cooker for Free.”

Healthy Enhancements

Our yards can also be places where we can enhance our health. Consider these ways your yard might become your at-home health ally.

1. Create a relaxing retreat. We become calm in the presence of breezes, birdsong and the gentle sounds of moving water. Consider creating a relaxation oasis in your yard by sectioning off a portion, planting wonderful-smelling plants all around (try lavender, lilac or lemon balm) and installing a fountain or other water feature. Add a comfortable chair and go to your private oasis whenever you need a moment of pure serenity.

2. Build an outdoor yoga studio. Exercising outdoors is one of the best things we can do for ourselves. Cordon off a section of your yard with an outdoor privacy screen or a trellis planted with vining plants. Make sure it’s somewhere where the ground is flat. If you need a hard surface, LifeBoard is a portable hard floor designed for yoga practice on carpet or outdoors. It’s made out of 50 percent recycled and 100 percent recyclable materials and available from Amazon for about $100.

3. Grow your own medicine. Medicinal herbs—including chamomile, lemon balm, calendula, echinacea, yarrow and more—are easy to grow and transform into homemade medicinal products such as tinctures, teas and skin balms. Read about our 10 favorite, easy-to-grow medicinal herbs at The Medicinal Herb Garden: 10 Best Herbs to Grow.

Backyard Farm Bloggers

Visit these websites for ideas and inspiration from real-life people who are making the most of their urban and suburban gardens, and sharing their photos and experiences online:

Tenth Acre Farm
Amy Stross and her family tore out their lawn and planted an edible landscape in their suburban lot in Cincinnati.

Battery Rooftop Garden Blog
Gardening 35 stories above Manhattan, a team of intrepid growers raises everything from peaches to potatoes in a lush rooftop garden.

Urban Homestead
The original urban homesteaders, the Dervaes family farmers harvest 3 tons of organic food each year from a 1⁄10-acre garden on a city lot in Pasadena, California.

Eliza Cross is the author of seven books, including her most recent cookbook, 101 Things To Do With a Pickle. She blogs about sustainable living, organic gardening, good food, simplifying and saving money at Happy Simple Living.

From Bare Yard to Flowery Garden

A Lush Landscape

Photo by Linda Oyama Bryan

You’ve probably read that a well-designed garden starts with an overall plan. And that having one can save you a lot of grief. Susan Martin agrees—though she transformed her own acre of scrubby trees and lawn into a colorful garden without ever putting pencil to paper. Instead of following a paint-by-numbers planting scheme, Susan simply experimented and watched to see what worked and what didn’t.

In the process, she discovered tricks that can help gardeners who don’t think in terms of grid lines and circles on paper. They’re also good for homeowners like herself who start out just wanting a few flowers but discover how much they enjoy the process and wind up tackling the whole yard. Here, the trial-and-error lessons she learned in creating her stunning landscape.

Shown: The trumpet vine on the entry arbor is ”a hummingbird magnet,” Susan says.

Before: Blank-Slate Backyard

Photo by Linda Oyama Bryan

Susan didn’t grow up gardening, and when her two children were young she had no time to do much outside the home her husband, Dave, built 38 years ago. Their suburban Illinois yard was mostly lawn. But when the kids outgrew an aboveground pool, Susan decided to replace it with a patio.

Instead of hiring a stonemason or a landscaping crew or even consulting a how-to book, she just ordered up a load of brown flagstones and moved them one by one in her wheelbarrow, setting them down on the well-packed sand base on which the pool had stood. Some of the slabs were really heavy—she guesses 50 to 70 pounds—but with her teenage daughter working alongside, Susan was able to create a level surface by scooping out sand where needed to accommodate the different thicknesses. “It was amazing to me,” she says. “When you looked at that pile of flagstones, you’d think they’d never fit together. But they did, like a jigsaw puzzle. We just scooched them in.” She didn’t have to make a single cut.

Shown: Susan Martin laid a do-it-yourself stone patio where her children’s aboveground pool once stood.

It Grows On You

Photo by Linda Oyama Bryan

Flushed with that success, Susan decided to surround the patio with a flower bed 3 feet wide. “Oh, my gosh!” she recalls thinking as she watched the blooming coneflowers grow. Gardening was so satisfying that she decided to convert another patch of lawn into a flower bed. Then another patch, and another, adding decorative flea-market finds as she collected them.

Shown: Sun-loving perennials surround the flagstone patio; a remaining patch of lawn in back is ringed with shrubs and trees. Creating different garden areas makes the 1-acre yard seem even larger than it is.

Add Privacy with Plantings

Photo by Linda Oyama Bryan

While Susan had no plan at the start, one did emerge, though she never formalized it. She had two key goals: in the front, to screen out the view of the street from the kitchen and dining room windows, as well as the sunny spot directly outside where she had a table and chairs; in back, to block views of neighboring houses completely so that the yard would be a private retreat.

Shown: An old outhouse, bought at a fair flea market, serves as both a storage shed and a decorative object in the yard.

Taming the Trees

Photo by Linda Oyama Bryan

Accomplishing her goal for the front took a little trial and error. She first put in a flower bed as a screen, but it wasn’t enough. So she planted three Austrian pines. “They were only 4 feet tall, just perfect,” Susan says. “It didn’t dawn on me how quickly 10 years would pass.” Over time, the trees grew into a wall looming over the house. So a little over a year ago, she took out two and pruned the remaining one, which has a crooked trunk, to look like a bonsai. “It still shelters the patio, but only a little.”

Shown: On the south-facing side of the house, the single Austrian pine stands like an overgrown bonsai, and a large rectangular arch connects the front deck to the driveway.

Salvage Garden Art

Photo by Linda Oyama Bryan

In the backyard, creating privacy was easy. Along the edges she planted shrubs, which have filled in nicely. At some point during all this work, Susan recalls her husband asking, “What are you doing here?” The answer is now clear: Bit by bit, she was transforming the lawn into a mere backdrop for an exuberant mix of flowers and garden art.

Shown: Susan collected old metal wheels at flea markets for years and finally had enough to wire together as edging to set off planting beds. She used rebar stakes behind the wheels to keep the assembly from tipping.

Not Just For the Birds

Photo by Linda Oyama Bryan

Today, she walks through her wildlife-friendly wonderland delighting in the birds and butterflies it draws. From the first spring bulbs to the roses of June and through the cascade of daylilies and coneflowers in summer, a rolling display unfolds every season.

Shown: Jenny wrens nest each year in the birdhouse above this bed of coneflowers and black-eyed Susans.

Four-Season Garden

Photo by Linda Oyama Bryan

The growers continue to put on a show, even when the growing season ends. Susan resists the urge to whisk away the remains. “The dried flower heads and tall grasses look so pretty in fall,” she says. “And in winter, the dried hydrangeas are lovely in the snow.”

Her learn-as-you-go, no-plan approach has yielded what all gardeners aim for: a four-season garden full of color and texture.

Shown: On the east side of the house, stone steps climb from the walk-out basement and backyard up to the front of the house.

Time-Tested Tips From Susan’s Garden

Photo by Linda Oyama Bryan

Here are some lessons Susan Martin learned as she grew her garden. What worked for her can work for you, too.

Move Plants at Will

Instead of trying to work out every detail on paper before you plant, you can use actual blooms as your way of seeing color combinations that dazzle. Susan discovered that she can move plants even while they are blooming, provided she’s willing to let that season’s blossoms droop. “Gardening books say not to move plants during the summer,” she says. “But if you really water them the day before, you can do it quite successfully.” She takes care to keep as much dirt as possible around the roots, and to move plants via her wheelbarrow to their new home right away. Even if flowers fall off, the plants do fine the next season. And there’s no risk you’ll forget what you wanted to switch.

Shown: Gus, a 5-foot-tall salvaged metal rooster, presides over part of the backyard.

Time-Tested Tips: Consolidate Beds

Photo by Linda Oyama Bryan

If you start small and add new beds each year, you can wind up with a garden that looks a bit scattered. Susan discovered this after she put in several flower beds along the front of her property, each separated by about 8 feet of lawn. An easy fix: Join them together. “One big bed looks better than three small ones,” Susan says. “It creates more of a flowing look.”

Shown: Purple coleus leaves and coneflowers flank the entry to a beautiful outdoor seating area.

Time-Tested Tips: Use Art, But Edit It

Photo by Linda Oyama Bryan

Sculptures, antique farm implements, and other art elements add pizzazz and

a personal touch to a garden. But if you want them to work as accents, not background noise, you have to choose carefully. Susan used to display everything she received as gifts or found at flea markets. Then a visitor to her garden made a remark about “tchotchkes,” and she realized her garden had become too cluttered. She edited down her display and now features a single large piece in each bed. A tall metal rooster presides over one area. An outhouse storage shed serves as a focal point for another. She turned rusty metal wheels into edging for flower beds around the patio. Pots are displayed in an old goat cart and a wood wheelbarrow elsewhere on the property.

Shown: Susan used salvaged metal wheels to build this stunning garden edging.

Time-Tested Tips: Bed Perennials, Pot Annuals

Photo by Linda Oyama Bryan

You can have lots of flowers by growing annuals. But then you have to replant each year, and you have to battle more weeds, since all that digging exposes weed seeds to sunlight. Susan used to go heavy on annuals but learned that perennials require a lot less work. So now she devotes most of her garden beds to plants that come back year after year and just need tidying up once in a while. She still shops for annuals, but mostly to put into pots.

Shown: A centerpiece of dragonwing begonias draws attention on the back deck’s dining table. Overhead, hanging pots overflow with angel-wing begonias, a favorite for their showy flowers, rapid growth, and ability to thrive in shade or partial sun.

Time-Tested Tips: Savor the Last Morsels

Photo by Linda Oyama Bryan

Don’t rush to cut back late-season blooms. “Dried flower heads and tall ornamental grasses look so lovely in the fall and winter,” Susan says—and it’s fun to watch birds flit from flower head to flower head as they harvest seeds.

Shown: Brugmansia, or angel trumpet, is the showstopper by

the front deck. Because it isn’t cold-hardy where she lives, in the fall Susan wheels the potted tree into the garage, where it overwinters.


I have really enjoyed sharing my landscaping makeovers and hearing all of the awesome feedback. It was a lot of hard work that is really paying off. I love my outdoor space. I have been asked several questions about my makeovers with the most frequent one being, “How did I know what plants to buy?”

First I am going to share with you how I came up with my landscape plan and the work that went into creating my planting beds. After all, you can’t plant anything until the beds are ready, right?

I could easily break this into several posts about each and every step, but I know if I were planning an outdoor redo, I wouldn’t want to have to wait around for post after post. So here we go! Let me start by saying, I am in no way an expert! My suggestions are based solely on my experience and what I have learned along the way. Before we get started, if you haven’t seen any of my landscaping makeovers, here are the most recent updates.

Back Yard Makeover (One Year Later)

Front Yard Makeover (One Year Later)

Visit the original Back Yard Makeover reveal here.

Visit the original Front Yard Makeover here.

Visit the Side Yard transformation and granite block patio reveal here.

How do I know where to even begin changing my landscape?

The best way to create a plan for your landscape is to draw it out on graph paper. Draw the outline of your home. This will require some measuring. Each square on your paper = one square foot of space. Then draw the outline of your outdoor space. You may want to make copies now so you’ll have a clean sketch to go back to.

It is important to get your drawing as close to scale as possible because you will use this drawing to determine spacing for your plants later.

Add any bushes or trees that will be staying as well as any hard surfaces such as paths, driveway, etc. Now play with it. Pencil in different ideas. Don’t like it? Erase it and start again. I changed my mind several times on paper before I came up with a layout I liked. Even if you are redoing a small area. Draw it out. This will help you visualize the finished space. Here is the front border garden as I drew it out on paper: Don’t be afraid to go big! No area should be less than four feet in diameter. I am barely pushing it along the property line there. I would have made that wider if I could, but I have such a small patch of grass as it is. If it’s too narrow, your garden won’t have any depth. If you are planning on adding any hard scape, pathways, etc such as our flagstone pathway below, that should be done first!

What is the best way to create my planting beds?

Once I determined how I was going to lay out my new landscape, I used flour to mark where my planting beds would go. This made it easy to change it if needed. *Don’t forget to call the underground utility company(s) to come out and mark their lines before you dig! (Thanks, Jackie!) Then I used a flat shovel and created a trench all around the outside edge. In this picture, you can see the initial cuts. I actually went back a second time to make them twice as wide as you see here. You can see I followed my original drawing, but I went back later and enlarged the area by the street to balance it better with the rest of the layout.

I turned each piece of sod face down towards the middle of the new planting bed. I did this around the entire perimeter of every area. I had a lot of flowers-gone-wild and weedy areas in my existing flower beds.

When I was researching the best way to create a new planting bed, I came across a seemingly unconventional method. If it worked…boy would that be awesome.

Instead of tearing out every shred of existing grass, weeds, etc. (I would suggest cutting everything on the lowest setting before getting started.) I used a technique that uses newspaper. After creating about a one foot trench around the perimeter of my new beds, I covered the entire area with newspapers 8-10 pages thick (you can also use cardboard). Then I wet down the newspapers to keep them in place and covered them with 10-12 inches of new topsoil. (My honey helped, too!)

We kept adding soil until we had about 10-12 inches in depth. Then we added a layer of compost. All of our new plants were planted in the new soil. This eliminated the frustration of trying to amend our existing soil. I didn’t test or amend a thing and everything except a couple of coral bells thrived.

This also provides perfect drainage. That’s a big deal in my area which is mostly clay!

Some shrubs and larger plants may need to be planted a bit deeper. Just cut a hole big enough to plant through the paper. The newspaper will last long enough as a barrier to kill anything below it which will decompose along with the newspaper adding more nutrients to the soil. It took over thirty cubic yards of soil and compost to complete our entire project. Our pick-up could only hold one yard of topsoil at a time because it is so heavy. That is a lot of trips to the nursery!! You can also have it delivered, at an increased cost. I used this method in my entire landscape and I had fantastic results! I love the look of a raised bed:

My beds were a breeze to take care of with very minimal weed growth. So now the burning questions…

How do I know what plants to keep and what to pull out?

I think most people lean towards pulling everything out and starting fresh. There are advantages to this. However, working with a few things you already have will give your landscape a more established feel. (But only keep them if they work in your new landscape.) I have found that most healthy shrubs have very well established root systems and can take a severe cut pretty well. Consider cutting them way back. They might be mostly sticks for a while, but they will likely come back lusher than before and sooner than you think, depending on the time of year. If they don’t, what have you lost? I kept my holly bushes, but pulled out everything else:

When it comes to smaller plants, try to use them elsewhere in your landscape. I moved several to an area I wasn’t working on to save them for when I was ready to replant them. (By the way, my husband used a big pick axe to remove the larger shrubs and trees.)

How do I know what plants to buy?

This is the hardest part, but also the most fun! Don’t make the mistake of going online and finding things you like and then going to search for them locally. Its much easier to see what’s available in your area first and use what you know is already available to you. I am in Zone 7b, which means plants in this area can survive safely down to temperatures of 5º-10º. To find out what zone you live in, click here.

Visit all the nurseries and big box stores in your area to see what is available in your zone.

Take pictures of anything that catches your eye. Then go home and look them up. Find out how tall and wide they will grow, whether they like sun, shade, partial, etc, and what their watering needs will be. I printed pictures of all of the plants I liked, with space to write beside each one. I wrote all of this info as well as prices beside each one and kept it as a guide. Below is one of the many pages from my project.

Then look at your drawing and see where you might be able to use some of the plants you liked. Be sure to visualize their mature size. (***This is very important unless you plan on doing a lot of pruning , which you can do of course to keep things small, but that can be a lot of work.)

Doing your homework ahead of time will save you from buying on impulse and possibly choosing plants that won’t work where you need them to.

Keep in mind that your garden is always evolving. You can easily move most things around within the first year. Here are more thoughts to keep in mind:

  • What will give my landscape structure all year long?

Space evergreen shrubs/plants evenly throughout to give your landscape structure after perennials have said good bye for winter. Deciduous shrubs although bare, also provide structure in the colder months. Keep in mind, most perennials will leave a bare spot behind.

  • Do I have a color pattern?

Limiting flowering plants to three complimentary colors is a good idea. Too many colors doesn’t give the eyes a place to land. I chose purples, yellows, and whites. **It’s also very important to consider WHEN everything will bloom. You don’t want to put all your spring bloomers in one corner.

  • Is it a good idea to purchase everything at once?

Not necessarily. Your garden centers will change their inventory as the seasons change. Spring blooms will be the focus in March and April, but will soon make way for summer blooms and so forth. So leave room to make some additions as more becomes available. This mostly applies to perennials. A good variety of shrubs and trees should be available throughout the season.

  • Should I buy bigger plants with a couple of years growth or smaller, younger versions?

I have found that larger, older plants are a bit more temperamental and require more TLC when planting because they have become comfortable in their current environment. Younger versions not only cost less, they are more adaptable to their new surroundings. If you want instant growth, and have the money to spend you may want the larger version. But if you are a patient gardener, this is one way to save some money and the little ones will catch up in no time!

  • Where should I purchase my plants?

Of course this will be specific to where you live. However in terms of big box verses local nursery? It depends. This is what I’ve found in my area: Local nurseries:

  • Have a larger variety of plants to choose from
  • Generally more expensive, but often have good sales
  • More knowledgeable staff in most cases
  • I tend to find larger, more healthy specimens because they fertilize their plants
  • Plants are very well cared for
  • Can be intimidating, even overwhelming (but the staff are there to help you, use them!)

Big box garden centers:

  • Stock the basics (although some still have quite a nice variety)
  • Usually less expensive
  • Staff is not always knowledgeable
  • Plants are usually healthy at the start of the season but begin to look a bit neglected as the season wears on
  • You may have a better comfort level here because its familiar territory

Online Retailers: I have only had experience with purchasing veggies online. They arrived in a very pathetic state, but ended up strong and healthy! Here are some thoughts to consider:

  • Prices are generally very good, but be mindful of shipping costs.
  • You can find just about any specimen online, but will it thrive in your area?
  • Will your garden be ready for planting as soon as it arrives? It will need to be planted right away.

These are just my opinions. I have purchased plants from all three sources with generally good results.

  • What if I am working with a limited budget?

There are several ways to acquire plants on a limited budget.

  • Many plants spread like crazy and those babies are dug up and tossed to keep a neat garden. Ask friends, neighbors, family if they have any plants they can give you. I acquired a lot of my plants for my garden at my old house that way. Most gardeners are happy to share. To keep some plants healthy, they need to be divided every few years, so you may just luck out!
  • At your garden center, look for plants that are big enough at the base that you can split it into two when planting. I did this with daylilies and hostas.
  • If you are a patient gardener, you will be able to split what you have growing in your garden into more plants; some after the first year, but many after two or three years.
  • As I mentioned above, buy the smallest version available. It will cost much less, but in a couple of years it will be strong and beautiful.
  • Look on craig’s list. Many times people will advertise free or cheap plants if you are willing to dig them up.
  • You don’t have to buy an entire landscape’s worth of plants at once. Buy a few each payday.
  • Stick with perennials for color and seasonal interest vs. annuals. You will see a return on your investment for years to come. (I still like to use annuals for my window boxes and patio containers.)

Okay, Christy. I’ve read all your jibber jabber, but how do I know what will look good together??!

You will have to use your imagination a bit here to be able to visualize what will look great with what. But I do have a few tips:

  • You can’t go wrong when planting in groups of three or more; in a row or staggered. Single specimens are okay too, just try to avoid even numbers.
  • I used a lot of single specimens, but repeated them throughout. I wanted more of a garden feel than a low maintenance landscape.
  • Repeat plants in your landscape to take your eyes all the way through.
  • Play up textures. Large leafed varieties look great next to smaller leafed plants or spiky plants.
  • Don’t be afraid to lay plants out at your garden center to get a feel for how they will look together.

I worked in sections. Because I was undertaking such a large project at once, this made it easier to keep my focus.

I laid out all of my photos of the plants I liked and just started plugging them into my drawing (using their estimated mature size).

I eventually came up with a game plan. I was purchasing a large quantity of plants, so I made a list of exactly what I needed to buy for each trip. I knew exactly where each plant would go before it ever even made it into my cart.

Any suggestions for planting?

Oh this part is the absolute best!! You really get see your landscape come together.

  • Lay out your new plant babies to get an idea of how they will look when planted. Move them around until you are happy.
  • Plant according to the instructions.
  • ***Be careful not to plant too deep or you will smother the roots!
  • I like to fill each hole with water as I am planting to give them a nice big drink.

When all of your plants are planted, you will need to cover with 3-4 inches of mulch (any deeper may promote mold growth.) The mulch will do three things:

  • Inhibit weed growth
  • Help to retain moisture
  • Keep the soil cool

Be careful that the mulch doesn’t touch the stems of your plants as most will not like it. I like to create a “well’ around the base of my plants. Now you can stand back and admire all of your hard work!

Don’t let the fear of not knowing what to do, keep you from creating an outdoor space you can be proud of. Just get out there and go for it! You will learn so much along the way.

I hope I was able to answer most of your questions. If you have any thoughts or suggestions to add, I would love to hear them! I can’t wait to get outside and get my hands in the soil!! If you want to learn about the easiest method I’ve found to water my garden, click here. Good Luck!


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Tailoring the look of your home’s exterior is one way to create a space that reflects your personality. There are many cheap landscaping ideas you can tackle on your own that are high impact without a high price tag.

Creating a modern, beautiful yard doesn’t have to cost a lot. In fact, the gorgeous, million dollar contemporary gardens in the magazines are possible today thanks to creative designers with a desire to use materials and plants that were easily sourced and more environmentally sensitive. Landscapers and architects wanted to re-use creative materials that were low-maintenance, cheap or free and plants that required little care or water.

Get creative to come up with your own cheap landscaping ideas.

First, consider the space you have and what you will use it for. Do you have a large backyard that you like to spend time in? Does your front yard lack curb appeal? Determining what you want from your yard and what functions you’d like it to have will help guide your landscaping decisions. We’ve assembled a few cheap landscaping ideas to help you create a yard you’ll enjoy.

Make Geometric Patterns With Pavers and Ground Cover

A cheap landscaping idea that creates great visual impact is the use of pavers and ground cover. If you have unused ground space in your yard or bare earth you’d like to cover up, use recycled or broken pavers in a mosaic pattern of your choice. Plant moss or creeping sedum between the seams for contrast. The combination of the two materials means you need less of each, saving you money.

Creeping sedum is a light green perennial with yellow flowers that spreads on its own, thrives in full sunshine, and doesn’t need much water or maintenance to survive. Another great option for creating a fragrant path is the use of the herb lemon thyme in your mosaic pattern. It grows slowly, requiring minimal maintenance, is edible and releases a nice aroma when stepped on.

If you need to create a pathway through your yard, this also works as one of the best cheap landscaping ideas. While laying the stones on top of grass or the ground is an option, you can also dig shallow holes in the shape of the stones in order to ensure that they are flush with the ground.

Ask Friends for Cuttings

There are many flowers and plants that can grow from a small cutting of another plant. Before you head to the nursery to buy plants, seedlings or bulbs (which can be expensive), ask friends who have foliage that you admire for several small cuttings of their plants. Some beautiful flowers and plants like succulents and butterfly bush grow very well from clippings and will spruce up the look of your home’s exterior.

Add Planters to Your Cheap Landscape Ideas

You probably already have what you need in your home to grow flowers or vegetables, so you don’t have to buy raised beds or planters from a gardening store. Some great ideas for planters that you might already have on hand include wine crates or barrels, tires, or old pallets. Cluster repurposed planters at different heights to add depth and dimension, and give a visual focal point to your garden.

Another inexpensive but contemparary way to upcycle your planters is by painting them in a bold color. If you’re using terracotta pots, soak them in water for an hour before painting with water based paint.

Plant With Perennials

Perennials are plants that return year after year, while annuals are planted and live for only one season. For a budget-friendly flower choice, fill your garden with perennials. Great, modern perennials for your yard include:

–Allium (purple ball-shaped flowers shown in image above)
–Kangaroo Paw
–Veronica (spiked purple flowers in image above)

Decide on one of two different design approaches when landscaping with flowers — a one-color floral garden or a combination of colorful perennials.

Buying perennials might cost you a little more in the beginning, but it will be a one-time expense that will pay off in your garden — both financially and visually — year after year.

Use Ornamental Grasses For A Cheap but Contemporary Garden

A combination of grasses add texture, color and a modern look to your garden. While they can be a great, low-maintenance addition to your yard without breaking your budget, grasses help your landscape look high-design and expensive. Some grasses worth adding to your yard include:

–Blue Oatgrass
–Feather Reedgrass
–Flax (colorful)
–Little Bluestem (colorful)
–Zoysia (low and perfect for a soft ground cover)

Plant the grasses in clusters and add some perennials for an easy, year-round garden.

Use Gravel as a Cheap and Chic Garden Accent

Gravel is low-maintenance, durable and relatively inexpensive. Use gravel in spots where plants don’t thrive, there’s heavy foot traffic, drainage problems or an area where an architectural, modern look is needed.

Add Unexpected Materials to Your Garden

Corrugated steel, wood scraps, found objects and old copper can be artfully recycled into a unique feature in your yard. One of the easiest places to start is by adding unexpected materials to your fence or patio wall.

Get creative and add some of these cheap landscaping ideas to beautify your yard.

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