I mentioned last week that I’ve had the opportunity to landscape two yards from the beginning—actually, we didn’t finish the first yard before we moved, but I had my plans.
Whether you’re starting a new yard from dirt and rocks (or rocks, rocks, more rocks, and a little dirt in the cracks as my current yard is made of), or you want to make some changes to only a small section of your property, it’s important to start with an all-over plan.
For me that meant spending half of my life on the computer researching different options after we moved in. Since we took possession of this property in December, and it snowed the next week—and didn’t melt for months—I had plenty of time to research all of the options..

The first thing you need to consider is how you want to use the space. Do you want to have friends over to barbecue? Do you want flowers or trees? Fruits or vegetables? Do you have kids who will need a sandbox and swing set? Do you want animals (of any kind since the preparation for chickens is significantly different from dogs, and different kinds of dogs may require different landscaping changes)? How about a water feature or patio?

Then you also have to consider your climate and what you are starting with—obviously there are lots of plants I can’t have in my area because they don’t winter over, require too much humidity and/or watering, or maybe they’ll hate the extremely alkali soil. For example: If I want to have a blueberry bush, I need to build up a special bed with bagged soil that is more acidic or work bags and bags of high-acid amendments into the bed. Blueberries prefer acidic soil, and if I put a few drops of vinegar in a tablespoon of my dirt, it fizzes like mad.

Then you have to figure what you have to start with. I mentioned my yard was mostly rocks. Actually, the previous owner of the property used it as a dumping ground for the fill dirt when he built a fast-food place on the edge of town. The back half of the property is several feet lower than the front half, because he didn’t dump that far back, and the dirt is beautiful. It may have a few rocks in it—egg sized or smaller—but it’s good, rich top soil.

An over-all garden plan is important to start out with, so don’t rush through it or decide you’ll figure out the rest later. Mine evolved over several months, and I’m still making small changes to it as I have to adjust for things I hadn’t expected—like the irrigation company putting my water on the wrong side of the yard—right where I intended to bring heavy equipment through to take care of the big projects out back.

And let’s not forget my learning that the sewer line runs right through the area where I had intended to plant my orchard—a recipe for disaster as the trees grow and their roots spread. The chickens and other birds now have their home in that area, which is probably just as well anyway as the fruit trees will like the soil in the low lands better.