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Landscaping For Beginners

By Andrew Caxton

Think of your house as a jewel. If the setting in which it stands isn't right, it spoils the effect of the house itself. The setting, in this case, is your front and back yards. Most people, of course, will only see your front yard - casual passers-by or the casual visitor. Your backyard, however, can be your own inner sanctum, the place where you go to retreat and reflect on life, the universe, and everything. So your landscaping can consist of an integrated design for both front and back yards, or two distinctively different designs, depending on what you want to accomplish.

It's important to remember that your yards - the trees, the grass, the plants and flowers - are living things - and that you can bend them to your will in many ways, but if they do not have the right kind of soil and are not properly cared for, they will die.

So before you actually dig your hands into the rich earth and start planting anything, make sure that you have a detailed plan of what you want to do - and that you follow that plan.

Before you decide which flowers, grasses and plants your going to use in your landscaping, you must pay attention to the ground in which you're going to put them. Spend a week or so tracking the sunlight and shade and how it plays across every square inch of your yard. The amount of sunlight an area receives will determine what types of flowers or plants you want to place there.

But don't forget to track the ground's reaction to rain, either. Are there any areas that remain soft for a long time after a rain? Are there any areas where the water has pooled? Again this will effect what you do with those areas of ground.

What about trees? Are there currently any trees in your yard and if so, do you plan to keep them all? After a couple of years spent raking leaves during the fall you might consider getting rid of those trees and replacing them with evergreens. Evergreens present their own challenges, of course, as its sometimes difficult for grass to grow right up amongst the roots of the tree.

Do some soil tests, as well. These are done easily with a kit you can buy from any local garden store, or even the bigger supermarkets. You need to check for the pH balance of your soil. If it is too alkaline or too acidic, plants won't grow properly, and you'll have to add fertilizer to help put the pH balance back to even.

Make a physical plan

Get yourself some graph paper, and some tracing paper to put over it. Draw a scale-model drawing of each yard on a piece of graph paper, blocking out all important areas such trees and other features that are to remain, and features that will be removed. Then use the tracing paper to sketch in various ideas for flower beds and ornamental design. If you want to get fancy, you can also buy software which will enable you to make these plans in three dimensions.

Where to get ideas

While you're tracking the private life of the ground, you can also be on the lookout for ideas you'd like to implement. There are dozens of magazines on landscaping and gardening, and innumerable books available from your local library or bookstore. The Home and Gardening Channel will be a fount of ideas as well.

The right equipment

Depending on the size of your yards, you might not want to buy all the equipment you'll need to do your landscaping, as you'll probably only need garden rollers and aerators once a year. This equipment can usually be rented from your local garden store.

The right crew

Depending on what you're going to be putting into your landscape - fountains, ponds, heavy statuary, make sure you have the right crew for the job. Don't try to move a heavy statue yourself, for example, and if you have absolutely no technical experience, it's always best to hire a professional to install a pond or fountain.

With all the right stuff, your home will shine like a jewel in its proper setting.

Andrew Caxton is a journalist who has written more articles and newsletters on this subject for . A website with tips on landscaping.

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