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Front Page » March 27, 2014 » Focus » A yard to go with a house
Published 245 days ago

A yard to go with a house


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By RICHARD SHAW
Sun Advocate publisher

A new yard not done, is a thing of beauty

It would be nice if everyone who could afford a new home, could afford to put in a proper and functional yard.

But often people spend all their money (both in terms of total expenditure and monthly payments) on the house and its furnishings. When it comes to the yard, it becomes an after thought. And soon the growth of weeds, mud tracked into the house and dust blowing through the windows makes it a bitter endeavor.

The first step to putting in a yard is the planning. Many people just see what is there, throw in a lawn (literally when they lay sod) and then plant a few juniper plants). The problem with any yard construction is that if you just do it on the fly, it will come back to haunt you. Poor soil (and poor soil preparation) can lead to a very bad outcome when it comes to lawn growth and ease of maintenance. While the cost of a lawn seems almost miniscule to the cost of other things that are done to a house, over the long term you may spend more money on it than many of the things that you put in the house that were considered so carefully (maintenance such as mowing, trimming, fertilizing and watering).

So it is a good idea to have a well thought out plan. That plan should include how much lawn you actually want (remember the maintenance costs) and what kind of grass you will either grow or install. In this day and age of short water almost all the time, some green may need to be sacrificed to save the other green.

While most houses already have a sidewalk or two, planning should also take into consideration any future development one might want to make.

Flower and bush bed locations should be carefully thought out. Again maintenance is a big obstacle here. Few people want to spend beautiful spring days year after year pulling weeds when they could have had beds that were almost self maintaining with the right plants installed initially.

Follow the design

To begin with it is a good thing to follow the architecture of the yard. There are certain things that are usually included outside when a house is built. And unless you want something different and tell the contractor (and pay for it) you will get the standard stuff. These things include the driveway width, angle and slant, the window wells and jogs in the houses footprint.

But even before that, differentiate whether the backyard or front yard is more important to you. Some people feel that the backyard is where a family really lives, so that should be done first. However many also feel that the front yard is the "clothes" of the family and it should look good for appearances sake.

For the function of this article lets talk about the front yard first. If you are concerned about appearances above what is minimum, approach your house on foot from different directions and view what it looks like. Think during this time how it would look to others and if your ideas for front yard appeal work.

At this point do you want something special or do you just want it to blend in with the other houses on the street? If you have next door neighbors already in place, what do their yards look like (if they are finished with theirs).

While planning the house with the building there is a lot you can do here to make the house unique if that is what you want. Look at the plans and see if the entry ways are where you want them, and how they will be accessed from the street. Balance the vertical and horizontal lines of the house. Make sure the driveway that will be put in is wide enough for what you want to use it for. If you are going to store an RV, be sure there is enough cement to do so comfortably. Some people like narrow driveways, but in the winter this can be a problem of getting out of a vehicle because you might have to step in the snow off the pavement. In the summer you might be stepping on grass or plants you have put in. Do you want a straight sidewalk, a curved one or some other kind of design. Look for examples at other houses you see to come up with what you want.

Be sure of one thing when planning walks however. Use natural access patterns. Otherwise that wonderful curved sidewalk might be short cut by everyone who uses it, making it virtually useless and destroying grass or other foliage in the process. In fact in some cases architects of large buildings will put in very minimal sidewalks and then leave planning and money to install the real walkways once people have established them. Here are some pointers.

Use curves, jogs, or steps only where there is a purpose to do so.

Never have deeply sloping walks. The maximum slope should be five percent. If more that is needed resort to steps or ramps.

Let what you plant make the walk more interesting.

Don't close people in with walls, hedges or bushes more than two feet tall along the walks.

If possible just don't use concrete walks; use brick or pavers. There is an advantage here in more than one way. If you decide you don't like the layout, brick is easy to remove and reuse.

To add interest to walks, choose brick patterns or exposed-aggregate textures. If you have plain concrete it can sometimes be fitted with slate or tile to change its appearance.

Plants

If the architecture of the set features is planned correctly planting and putting in grass will be much easier. And of course you want to put in not only what fits, but also that which will have an effect as quickly as possible. Trees, shrubs, and ground covers are permanent features that increase in size quickly. Also if done right the maintenance will be low. In these days of home gardens you can also put edible plants in the mix. That can be an added bonus. Annual flowers can fill large gaps in landscaping for a couple of seasons and are usually reasonable to purchase. These will act as holding places until other more permanent plants can grow in. As any homeowner will tell you, lawns require the most work of any landscape feature (except bush beds that are not planted densely enough). In this region with water seemingly in shorter supply every year, xeriscaping with a small amount of lawn might be the best choice.

Seed or Sod

Basically seed is for the patient (and thrifty) and sod is for the impatient (and non-thrifty).

If one wants "instant lawn" then sod is the answer. Only it isn't instant. Sod when laid and taken care of properly may look very good, but no one should walk on it for at least a month. The appearance is there, but not the strength.

Remember that sod just can't be laid over any kind of soil or ground condition. The ground should be rough graded and the proper soil amendments should be put in the soil. This can be determined by having someone who knows what they are doing test the soil for its fitness. Then it should be graded properly so the sod will lay flat and look even.

In some ways seeding a lawn is not that much different, only the work is not in the laying of the seed, but in the taking care of it while it springs to life. The soil should be prepared much like it is for sod. Then there will be a lot of watering and taking care to see it doesn't dry out. For a lawn to be really established usually takes one good season with proper care. It should be done when the weather is mild and not to hot. In the eastern Utah climate the best time to plant a lawn is probably in the fall. Of course with seeding weeds and diseases can be much more of a problem too, although sod is not impervious to either. A lot also depends on what kind of grass is being planted. Check with a horticulturist for the best times and how to prepare the soil in any given location.

Trees

In eastern Utah one can almost certainly find either a Siberian Elm or Russian Olive growing somewhere either directly on the property or very close to it, which means as some point they will be growing on the property.

While some people consider these trees (or better than nothing) most experts would call them weeds. So what are the best trees to plant in a yard.

Well it depends. Some people want a mix of shade trees, ornamental trees and fruit trees. Others just want two of the three or just one tree that will eventually give them lots of shade.

Trees are like anything else that is grown. All have their own needs, and their own maintenance problems.

In shade trees people usually want something that is full and fast growing. Hybrid Poplars and Weeping Willow trees are common in the local area.

Ornamental trees are a different kind of animal (as it comes to trees that is). They stay much smaller than say a mature 50 foot high poplar and often have flowers or blooms on them. Certain kinds of flowering cherry and crab apple trees are good examples. Remember that some of these kinds of trees produce much more than just leaves in the late summer and fall, so some cleanup maintenance is needed.

Fruit trees are also something many want to have on their property. Usually fruit trees are reserved for backyards. There are many kinds, but remember they must be matched with the area for possible temperature variations and for pollination as well. Check with a horticulturist to select what is best for your tastes and yard.

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