20 Secrets to Landscape Success
Create a knockout yard with these simple landscape strategies.
Botanical gardens and arboretums, local garden centers and estate gardens can provide new ideas for your yard, even if the spaces are much larger than your own. What draws your eye? What would you love to see in your own garden? Take photos and make a note about specific plants or designs you'd like.
Start With the Big Stuff
Begin your planning by thinking about focal points. These can include trees, big shrubs and tall ornamental grasses, as well as structures such as a retaining wall, gazebo, archway, or pond. Once these are in place, the rest of your landscaping can fill in around them.
Incorporate Your House
Look at your yard both from outside and inside your house. You want landscaping to frame your home, but you also want to get as much pleasure from your plants when you're in your house as when you're outside.
Related: An Ohio Landscape Designer Transformed His Yard Into an English Garden with a Midwest Twist
Study Your Light and Water
Look at your yard at different times of day, from different angles and in different weather conditions. Learn where the sunlight falls, where the shade pockets are, where the rain pools. Choose plants adapted to your yard's conditions and your area's hardiness Zone. Here, homeowners turned a wet trouble spot into a lush and Earth-friendly oasis by capturing the rain.
Think Way Ahead
It's sunny now, but will it be in a few years? Once the trees get big, the trellis is built, the garden shed goes up, will you still have sunshine where you want it? That sunny wildflower patch you envision won't work if you plant trees there now. You can move some plants later, but your basic layout should incorporate changing shade patterns.
Related: Fast-Growing Trees for Midwest Yards
Landscaping—labor, plants and materials—may be much more expensive than you think. Do some comparison-shopping at local garden centers, and check prices at online nurseries. Create a budget and a priority list if you're not able to afford everything at once.
Almost anything can look good on paper, but a year down the road, cool ideas can become problems. Will you really prune that rose or aggressive vine? Will you keep the fence painted and sealed? Will you clean and maintain your pond or fountain? Plan plants and features you know you can handle.
Light Up Your Yard
Make lighting an integral feature of your deck, patio, paths and other landscape areas. It's not only beautiful; it's important for safety, and it will allow you to use your yard past sundown. There are many types of lighting available, you can find lots of options that meld with your garden's style.
Make an Entrance
The landscape begins at the edge of your property, not the edge of your house. Professionals often use some element—a gate, an arbor, a small fence, a hedge or a border garden—to create a sense of entrance from the front or side yard. Here, roses and honeysuckle drape a backyard gate.
A garden path allows you—and visitors—to enjoy your landscaping. It also creates a convenient route for plant maintenance. If your yard is large, plan paths at least 3 feet wide so people can walk together. Allow extra space for plants to spill over the sides, or for a bench. Read about 9 ways to create a garden path.
Consider Mature Plant Size
Don't worry if the garden bed looks skimpy when you plant it. Consider ultimate sizes before you buy plants. This is especially important with trees and shrubs, which may overgrow windows, power lines or views. A tree will be only a few feet tall when you buy it, but varieties such as the Colorado blue spruce (pictured) typically grow up to 50 feet high and 20 feet wide.
Related: 20 Tough Trees for Midwest Lawns
Throw Some Curves
Curves, angles and free-form, flowing edges add interest to landscape design. Use curves—such as paths, fences and edging—to draw attention to or through a special place, such as this curving path through a shady area at the former home of J.K. Lilly in Indiana.
It's OK to have a separate vegetable garden, but it's not essential. A vegetable garden mingling with flowers or disguised as one more flowing border garden can be just as fruitful and more aesthetic than a rectangular plot plunked in the middle of a lawn. Here, red Crocosmia and orange cosmos spice up a bed around a cucumber vine.
Related: Enjoy a Vegetable Container Garden
Add Small Touches
Focal points in a garden don't have to be big and expensive. A hand-painted birdhouse can find a home among coneflowers and other bright plantings. A small fountain might be just the tonic for a bland patio. Drop some garden art in the middle of a flowerbed.
Mass Colors for Impact
Cluster several of the same plant variety together for more color clout. If nearby plants will bloom at the same time, check plant tags or references to make sure the colors will complement or contrast, rather than clash.
Related: 10 Top Summer Plant Pairs
Fall for Foliage
Include plants with variegated and colorful foliage to give season-long color to your landscape. A burgundy-tinted leaf doesn't fade like a flower blossom; it lingers all season. Some plants, such as ornamental grasses and red-twig dogwood, also provide visual interest even through a long Midwest winter.
Related: How to Layer Textures in a Fall Garden for Maximum Visual Interest
Play up Contrasts
The eye loves contrasts. Texture, color and shape can all provide contrast in a garden. Here, salvias, azaleas, miniature bearded irises and Euonymus shroud retaining walls.
Give Plants the Right TLC
Make sure you understand what kind of care your plants need. Many require special attention in the first couple of years, then can thrive even with some neglect. Avoid overwatering and overfertilizing plants. See our gardening calendars for month-by-month advice.
Diagnose Problems Quickly
If your lawn or plants suddenly develop problems such as spots, holes or discoloration, identify the culprit. Look into soil conditions, sunlight, watering, fertilization, mowing, pests (such as the beetle damage shown) and diseases. If you're unsure of the problem, contact your county extension office or visit a local gardening center for help. Quick identification can save your landscaping.
Create your Own Special Space
Although you can borrow an idea or two from your neighbors' landscapes, don't copy too much. Your soil, site, conditions and taste will differ. A landscape should be personal, and you'll enjoy it more if you do it just for you. Read more about a Japanese meditation garden.