Planning a beautiful, healthy, trouble-free yard begins with asking three basic questions:

  •   What kinds of grasses, trees, and other plants will thrive in my region?
  •   How many of each kind of plant do I want?
  •   How should they be placed and arranged in my yard?

The following strategies will boost the health of your yard and garden, and they will minimize pests, water and chemical usage, soil erosion, runoff, and pollution.

1. Start with a Plan

Begin with a well-planned design. Sketch your yard showing the location of existing structures, trees, shrubs, and grass. Graph paper will help you estimate your needs more accurately. As you plan, consider budget, appearance, function, maintenance, and water requirements. Test your soil and correct any deficiencies.

2. Reduce Thirsty Turf Grass Area

In most landscaped areas, turf grasses have the highest water demand and the highest maintenance requirements of all plants. Alternative plant areas and other forms of ground cover can reduce your ongoing expenditures of time, energy, and money. Group plants that have similar watering needs to prevent overwatering and excessive plant growth; and mulch around trees and bedded plants to discourage weeds, retain soil moisture, and insulate and protect plant root systems.

3. Grow Native Landscape Plants

Native plants are the best choice for trouble-free gardening. They need less water and fertilizer, and have fewer pest problems than plants imported from other areas.

4. Practice Diversity

Incorporate a variety of plants. Diverse plantings provide food and cover for a variety of living things. Diversity minimizes damage from pests because many attack only one plant species. A mix of compatible ground cover, low-growing, and medium-to-tall plants also enhances visual appeal.

5. Install Low-Maintenance Design Features

Lawn edging and hard surfaces between turf and other landscape features reduce weeds, trimming, and use of herbicides. Dense plantings provide shade that keeps out invading weeds. Avoid narrow strips or odd shapes of turf grass that will be difficult to irrigate without wasting water.

6. Minimize Soil Disturbance

Avoid frequent, deep cultivation, which can damage plant roots, dry out the soil, disturb healthy soil organisms, and bring weed seeds to the surface where they will germinate.

7. Design Your Landscape to Minimize Runoff Pollution

Take note of slopes, and consider including buffer zones of turf grass or other thick vegetation to absorb runoff from buildings and patios, and to reduce runoff into driveways and streets. Place plants with higher water requirements on the lower end of slopes.

8. Put Trees to Work Reducing Your Energy Costs

Trees not only increase residential property value, they attract songbirds and other entertaining wildlife. In addition, deciduous trees planted appropriately along the south and west sides of buildings can reduce summer air conditioning costs by up to 20 percent. In winter they lose their leaves, allowing the sun’s rays to shine through and warm your house.

Additional Resources:

For more information

Regarding the design and planning of your yard, see Local Resources for contacts your county extension office, city environmental office, local garden center, and other organizations in your area. These sources can help you design a yard that is appropriate to your climate, soil, and other local features.