Author Topic: Doing a major backyard landscape renovation: advice on power tools?  (Read 522 times)

Healthie

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Hi Everyone,

I'm going to be ripping up my entire backyard (about 50' x 50'). It's a bit hilly in the back, and there many overgrown weeds throughout. I'd like to know what my best course of action is to rip up the ground where all the weeds are. In my planning so far, I'm thinking I'll rent a sod remover for the portions of the lawn that can be removed that way, and maybe a rototiller for the area with all the weeds. I'm going to do garden beds down the sides, and I'm unsure what I'll do in the center portion.

I'll also be extending my driveway and adding more parking.

My questions:

1. for laying down gravel, how deep do I go? I know to use landscaping fabric.
2. What tool should I use to dig up the earth around where all the weeds are?
3. I don't want to do a lot of lawn maintenance in the future: what can I lay down in large sections of the yard that will still make it look nice?

Pictures to come. Any landscaping ideas are welcome.

Healthie

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Re: Doing a major backyard landscape renovation: advice on power tools?
« Reply #1 on: June 16, 2020, 10:48:05 PM »
These are the backyard; gives you an idea of what I'm working with.

Healthie

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Re: Doing a major backyard landscape renovation: advice on power tools?
« Reply #2 on: June 16, 2020, 10:48:33 PM »
and the front yard, where I'll be expanding my parking:

nereo

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Re: Doing a major backyard landscape renovation: advice on power tools?
« Reply #3 on: June 16, 2020, 11:05:27 PM »
What do you envision changing the space to be?
What is your budget?
Do you have a landscaping plan?
What is the underlying soil and drainage now?

The answers to those questions determines how you might proceed.  In broad strokes, removing weeds is the relatively easy part.  I’d do most of it with clippers, a string trimmer and some rakes.  After cutting back all the weeds and getting to “ground zero” you can do earthworks, hardscaping, re-sodding or building raised beds.

I also caution against using landscaping fabric anywhere except on permanent paths.  It can cause far more problems than it solves, and within a season whatever soil you put on top will have weeds in it,  Heavy seasonal mulching is typically the better answer.  Depending on what you plan on doing you can control existing vegetation by laying down a layer of cardboard, and/or tarping it with plastic for several weeks before replanting, and/or overlying it with a thick layer of mulch/dirt.  Part of that depends on what’s there to begin with and what you are trying to remove.

Final thoughts: envision what you want it to look like and make some sketches.  Plenty of books to help you filter through ideas.  Then post them here for feedback.

former player

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Re: Doing a major backyard landscape renovation: advice on power tools?
« Reply #4 on: June 17, 2020, 03:41:42 AM »
If you are doing a sizeable landscaping job on a sloping site the hardest part will be the earth-moving, for which you will want a mini-digger, hired either with an operator or for you to work yourself - this is more fun but less efficient.

As to what to plant, the easiest thing to do for minimal management is to replicate whatever naturally grows in your locality.  Have a good look at what nature wants to do where you are and see how close you can get to that while providing the effect you want.

To be honest, possibly the easiest thing to do with it could be to just cut everything down and then keep mowing: it won't be a perfect bowling green lawn but it will look managed and stay under control. A variation on that, if it will work in your area, is to sow a wildflower meadow that you only need to cut a few times a year - although you do need a scythe or heavy-duty strimmer for the longest grass.

AlanStache

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Re: Doing a major backyard landscape renovation: advice on power tools?
« Reply #5 on: June 17, 2020, 08:08:09 AM »
If you want low maintenance you have it right now.  Personally I am liking ivy more and more for ground cover, but it does take some work to keep contained and may not work in your area. 

Healthie

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Re: Doing a major backyard landscape renovation: advice on power tools?
« Reply #6 on: June 17, 2020, 09:54:19 AM »
Thanks for the responses guys - I'm a bit overwhelmed with the whole thing and it's nice to get feedback.

Some answers to your questions Nereo:
1. My plan for each area:
-Down the sides of the yard: mulch with perennials with bricks or treated wood separating it from the lawn.
-Rear of the backyard (about 20' deep by 50' wide): a short fence with a pergola leading into this area; covered in mulch with perennial and bushes.
- backyard area close to the house (30' by 50') - I'm not sure what I'd put here. I like the idea of ripping this up; as it's covered in weeds, and re-sodding. any suggestions?
-Around the House foundation: crushed gravel , about 3-4 feed wide.
-Side entrance of the house: crush gravel.
2. I would be comfortable spending around $3,000, but I can go a bit higher. My mom is coming up and I have some friends I can pay or trade favours to do labour.
3. I have a rough landscaping plan.
4. I believe it's Clay. I'm not sure what is meant by drainage?

Former Player:
I'm not drastically moving earth around; just getting rid of weeds and putting 'lipstick' on the yard (mulch, gravel, perennials, etc)

AlanStache:
It's pretty unpleasant back there right now - part of it is I've been using the yard as a woodworking area and thus have lots of lumber/old fencing/winter tires/etc; and the other unpleasantness is having an overgrown, thick with weeds lawn. I'd like to put in a sitting area to entertain.


Fishindude

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Re: Doing a major backyard landscape renovation: advice on power tools?
« Reply #7 on: June 17, 2020, 11:32:07 AM »
Looks to me like you need to start with a mower and weed whacker, get that stuff all knocked down so you can see what's there.

affordablehousing

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Re: Doing a major backyard landscape renovation: advice on power tools?
« Reply #8 on: June 17, 2020, 12:58:46 PM »
I would cut everything to the ground with a good mower, then go from there. A sod cutter isn't super fun or easy to use and I've found doesn't work that well with clay soil. Think a big planer and you want it to peel up big "shavings" rather than just make a lot of "dust". I would probably douse everything with roundup and rototill it. You can do some leveling with the rototiller too and a good wide rake. With your budget, I don't think you're going to get too far beyond plantings, bulk materials, and your own two hands for that big a space. I would start scavenging now for materials like brick, benderboard for borders, stone, maybe there's a free mulch program by you? see if anyone is taking a chimney down, etc.

GoCubsGo

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Re: Doing a major backyard landscape renovation: advice on power tools?
« Reply #9 on: June 22, 2020, 02:24:13 PM »
Weed wack/mow the whole thing.  Take it down to grass level.  Assess if there is any actual grass.  I used a lawn service that basically killed all the weeds which left me with about 30% grass.  Then I had it powerseeded (much cheaper and easier than sod).  Within a few months I took a neglected lawn and made it 85% better for cheap with little labor on my part. Next spring they aerated and did a full season of lawn treatments (like $275 for 6 treatments) and I had a thick luxurious lawn. I've kept it up since then.

I would use steel or aluminum edging to separate lawn from planting beds.  Much less work than brick and no need to weed wack bricks as the grass grow over the top. That's what they use in professional landscaping jobs and it's worked great for me.  If you do lay bricks as edging make sure you do it correctly so they stay in place flat and level forever. 

For any areas you don't want grass and want to start over, I'd just rototill the whole area.  Did that for a playground then mulched (no weed barrier) and it worked out great.  One thing with mulch.  It can be a big pain every year if you have a lot of mulched areas and you have to pay for mulch.  I mulch 7 cubic yards per spring. It's a pile as big as a car that I have to wheelbarrow and spread.  Looks great but you have to do it EVERY year.

If hostas work in your climate, use them. They fill space well, have many variations and you can split them and put them in different shady spots around the yard.  Keep us updated.

nereo

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Re: Doing a major backyard landscape renovation: advice on power tools?
« Reply #10 on: June 22, 2020, 06:07:33 PM »
Looks to me like you need to start with a mower and weed whacker, get that stuff all knocked down so you can see what's there.

Pretty much my conclusion as well. 

Also, as much as you probably want to get this yard looking better ASAP and quickly move towards putting in beds and plants and whatnot, it will pay off in the long term to take a season or two to really observe your space and think about what will work, what won’t, and what you can do (and what effort you WANT to put in).

Regarding drainage: basically how fast does the soil drain after a heavy rain.  Are there spots which stay swampy even hours after the rain has stopped?  One method to check drainage is to dig some holes in various spots, each about a foot deep.  Do this at least a day after the last rain. Then fill the hole with water from either a hose or a 5-gallon bucket.  How fast does the water take to disappear?  Ideally it should take somewhere between 20 minutes and a couple of hours to fully drain.  If it takes less your soil drains extremely fast and most plants will die except succulents and others adapted for sandy soil (this is rare, and I doubt it given your pictures).  If there’s still water in the hole after several hours you’ve got poorly draining soil, and you should either improve the drainage or focus on plants which can survive swampy conditions.

For determining soil type - the quickest, cheapest method is the “jar test”: Fill a jar half full with dirt and then add clear tap water.  Shake vigorously and set on the counter.  With a sharpie mark the level that settles within 30 seconds (that’s the % of sand).  Then mark what settles After 1 hour (that’s silt).  Let the jar sit overnight - the top layer is clay.  Google “soil triangle” and see where your soil falls.... **most** plants want to be somewhere near loam, which is 40-50% sand, 40-50% silt, and less than 20% clay.  If you’ve got a ton of clay your choices are to add some clay and organic (likely over the course of several years), or just choose plants that deal well with the soil you have.  Observing what grows there now is a great start if you don’t want to change your underlying soil.

Other things to consider - how much sunlight each section of your lawn gets, and how that changes with the seasons.  What plants are there now?  This can be huge, as the plants which survived severe neglect are ones that grow well in that particular location.  Obviously do this before you weedwack/mow the whole damn thing.  Once you do, pay attention to what pops up - chances are there are some plantings in there you never knew about and might want to save/transplant/replicate.

formerlydivorcedmom

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Re: Doing a major backyard landscape renovation: advice on power tools?
« Reply #11 on: June 23, 2020, 01:54:58 PM »
It's unclear if you want advice on plants.  If so, we'd need to know what zone you live in.

We just put in a big flower garden (300 sq ft) in an area that was previously a weed jungle.   We have paths, a handmade swing with a pergola roof, and four separate sections of plants (orange tree area, butterfly garden, fountain + shrubs, and swing area with shrubs, vines, and annuals).  This is phase 1 of the backyard renovation.  Either this fall or next spring we'll double the size of the flower garden and add a water feature.  My advice:

1) The most important thing to do is identify the weeds that you have and how they spread.  For some, weedkiller might work to kill them; for others, maybe not.

2) Do the weeds reseed themselves, vine, or spread by rhizomes?  We learned that the weeds with rhizomes needed to be dug up as much as possible; in the areas where my husband decided I had done enough and tilled, the weeds are coming back because enough of the rhizome survived.

3) We had previously used landscaping fabric, when that area was a vegetable garden.  This worked well in certain areas and was a nightmare in others.  As someone else said, if you put dirt on top of the fabric, the weeds will grow in that.  Also, for me some of the weeds with rhizomes would grow under the fabric and actually manage to shoot up suckers through it.

4) We stripped the entire area to soil, with a mixture of mowing, weedkiller, raking, and digging up roots.  So. Much. Digging.

5) After the weeds were vanquished, we spent time on grading the area appropriately, to make sure we had decent drainage.  We didn't want water to pool in certain areas, especially against the house.  Our area wasn't as huge as yours, and we did this ourselves with a few bags of dirt and a rake.

6) I spent more money to buy larger plants instead of seedlings.  It looks nicer to start with, plus it helps keep the weeds down, because there isn't as much open space for them to grow in.

7) Lots of mulch.  Lots and lots.

8) I don't have the time to babysit plants, so I chose primarily native plants or those that are well-adapted to the area.  I chose perennials in all but a small area.

It took us about 2-3x as long as we estimated to put our flower garden in, and we did a lot smaller area than you are planning.  Be cautious about buying all your plants upfront if it might take a while to get to planting them.