First there is this wide expanse of dirt with seemingly endless potential. As you look out your sparkling new windows, you think just how lovely it's all going to look when it's complete. But then nature runs its course and you blink, and your lovely expanse of potential yard turns into this:
A jungle of three feet tall weeds which both obscures your view and yet feeds the imagination of small boys who actually like jungle adventures. Your husband who is wildly optimistic ensures you that with a little work, those weeds can be conquered. Do NOT be fooled. This simply means that you will be required to pick axe those weeds with roots that surely must grow to China out of the hard-packed, cement-like dirt. This is NOT an easy task and will take weeks. And if you're not yet ready to put in your yard, you are guaranteed to do this more than once--maybe several times. And since most cities requires that weeds be maintained, you cannot easily get out of this task. Even though you secretly start thinking the whole "natural" look might be the way to go.
But when it is all cleared of weeds, you remember the yard's potential. And your son discovers the biggest sand pile he's ever had in his entire life. He's the one to go to for support of NOT spending time fixing up the yard. He will understand your contentedness with the dirt. In fact, he will encourage you to keep the dirt. You will feel tempted to give in.
Creating a Plan
The best way to plan out your yard is to hire a professional. In this case, I cheated and called on my Dad who is an interior planner (Interior Designer) but who also has years of experience in the yard department. He drew up a possible plan for us, renewing my faith in my yard potential. We tweaked it several times until it was just right. This was just the first of many plans.
We chose to save money and contract out some of our work to professionals and did other jobs ourselves. For the sprinkling system, we took our final yard plan to a local sprinkling system store. For a fee, they laid out the best sprinkling system plan for our yard. I will warn you that they tend to go overboard in the number of sprinklers they recommend. Being newbies, we simply trusted the plan and added everything they told us; but I recommend doing a little research on your own as we have areas of our yard that currently get more water than they need and we are now making adjustments after the fact.
This is a sample of how a sprinkler plan will look when completed by a professional. (NOTE: this is not our plan).
Source: Superior Sprinklers
If you're like us, you need to mull things over before getting started and we also needed time to save up the cash to put in the yard so we took a year to really watch our yard in action. We watched the way the sun moved through our yard throughout the year, taking into account the summer sun's path and the winter sun's path. We identified problem areas such as the swamp in our back corner, and the dry patches by the house. If you have the time to do this, I highly recommend it as it will help you know where to bring in topsoil, and where to plant your shade plants, and where to plan your garden, and so forth.
After you've tackled the weeds, you will be removing rocks. James was happiest doing this chore. It gives you the opportunity to create rock skeletons like this lovely masterpiece.
We highly suggest that you put in all your hard-scaping first. This means any decks, patios, additional driveways, sheds, etc. before putting in the sprinklers. We chose to put in a large cement patio in the back, which we did BEFORE the sprinklers went in. And then we planned to later enlarge the side yard with an additional drive (as you can see above). If you can't afford to do those projects now, then at least have them included on your landscape plane so you ensure you're only adding sprinklers and grass where it is truly going to be needed.
(James rescued all the bugs he could during our yard efforts.)
If you have a heavily sloped yard, then you will need additional soil. We had both a slope and a swamp so we had to bring in several loads of dirt even for our less than a quarter acre of land. I believe it was three separate truck loads of good top soil. It's amazing how they can squeeze these big trucks into such tight areas. And be glad they can because wherever they can't squeeze, it means you're hauling the dirt by wheelbarrow; or if you're lucky, by Bobcat.
Once all the additional soil has been moved around, it's time to trench for the sprinklers. First have all the proper people come out to look for gas, electrical and cable lines. Do NOT forget this step! It's a big deal if you cut into a cable or gas line. Call Blue Stakes, your cable company, and whatever other company is available in your area to complete this step.
Trenching is one of those jobs that is best done (and most easily completed) by a professional. In just a few hours, they had our yard completely trenched (except for the areas marked for electrical and gas lines, which we had to trench ourselves). It's fairly inexpensive and if you have cement-hard soil like us, it will be worth every penny.
Brett did all the sprinklers himself. This took hours and hours, and I found it best to just stay out of his way while he worked, coming to his aid when he needed me. It's a system we've had to perfect on certain projects. He'd put together most of the pipes in the cool shade of our garage and then place them in the trenches.
Once the sprinklers were in, we covered them with the additional top soil. James and his friends tested the top soil and found it to be perfect for digging and therefore planting. We appreciated his assessment of the soil; although, not the number of baths we had to give him afterwards.
It's a very triumphant day when the sod truck arrives. As we were a new neighborhood, everyone would gather outside to see who was getting that week's delivery of sod. We were happy to see them drive up to our house on this particular day.
Our neighbors came out in droves to help us lay the sod. We have the most amazing neighbors, friends, and family. It was all done within two hours. Talk about "insta-yard." Within just a short while we went from dirt to this:
This is a huge improvement over what it first looked like:
This was pretty much a two year effort just to get to the point of a basic yard installment. It takes some serious cash-ola and a firm plan of how you want your yard to look. Add to that a busy life, and you have to be realistic about what it takes to put in a yard. Plan on several thousand dollars depending upon the size of your yard. If you can add it to your builder's initial offer, do it! Even if they only put in the front yard for you, it will save you months of work, and stress. Brett and I swear we'll never put in a yard again, but if we had to we now know a lot of things we'd do the same and even differently next time.
Here's some things we learned:
* Have a professional draw up a yard plan based on the orientation of your lot, the path of the sun, and any yard issues you are having.
* Have a sprinkling system company draw up your sprinkling plan, but save money by installing the sprinklers yourself.
* Have the yard trenched by a professional. It saves time and isn't expensive.
* Bring in good quality top soil and LOTS of it. You will be able to tell later where you skimped on top soil and where you didn't.
* Level your slope as much as possible. We didn't get it as level as I would have liked, but we did a pretty good job.
* Do some research on the type of grass that grows best in your area.
* Have the sod delivered but invite friends and family to help lay it.
* Follow the sod grower's instructions on how to maintain the sod. It will save you from dandelion infestations and will give you emerald green grass for much of the year.
* Plan on spending more than you think you will for the yard. There are always items that cost more than you think they will.
* Splurge on the things that matter most to you. We didn't want to grow a yard from seed, so we splurged on sod. Our choice to add a large cement patio also pushed back our yard installation a bit, but it was worth it to have a large entertaining spot for family and friends.
* Give yourself permission to mess up. We've had to move a few sprinklers, add additional sod to places, and bring in more top soil. It happens. Just accept you won't achieve perfection right off the bat, but the results will be worth it.
And finally, take a moment to drink it all in. Some tasks are more rewarding than others because you can see the results. Walk through your new grass with bare feet. Take a cool glass of lemonade out to the back patio and absorb all that you've accomplished.
Prepping a yard is one of the hardest tasks we've had so far on our home, but every time I drive up to my home I clap my hands in glee at how much it speaks to my soul. It was worth every back-breaking, sweat-drenched day preparing it for this:
Some books that may help you with your plan (affiliate links have been included):
* Step-by-Step Landscaping (love this one!)
* The Essential Garden Design Workbook
* The Golden Book of Advanced Landscape Design