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help needed - want to simply landscape yard from scratch

help needed - want to simply landscape yard from scratch


Old 09-25-07, 07:27 PM
Thread Starter
Join Date: Jun 2007
Posts: 4
help needed - want to simply landscape yard from scratch

Hi everyone,

My wife and I recently moved into a newly-built house. The HOA insist we have the backyard landscaped by the end of this year. The area to be landscaped is about 49' by 50'. There is a photo here:


We have no landscaping experience but can't afford to get it done professionally and would like to attempt it ourselves. We want a small patio immediately next to the house, covered with a pergola, and the rest of the area to be grass - ideally a type resistant to dog urine. The sloped areas next to the fence can be bare for now. (Our dogs like to run up and down next to the fence as our neighbors also have dogs and I think if we tried to put plants there they'd just get trampled on.) The yard extends down the sides of the house and ultimately I'd like to pave those with whatever we use for the patio, if this is compatible with the drainage situation.

I am concerned about irrigation/drainage and would like to do this properly - not really sure how but I'd definitely like some sort of sprinkler system.

I'm not really sure where to start so any advice would be welcome!


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Old 09-27-07, 11:45 PM
Join Date: May 2002
Location: Maryland zone 7
Posts: 1,716
Hi Richard,

Sorry you've had to wait so long for an answer. I am working on a long one for you with loads of info. It's going to take me another day or two, but I will get back to you with ideas. In the meantime, it would be most helpful to know your state and hardiness zone so I can make some plant recommendations. If you are unsure of your hardiness zone you can use this zip code zone finder.

Old 09-28-07, 12:13 AM
Thread Starter
Join Date: Jun 2007
Posts: 4
Thank you very much for your reply, and for taking the time to prepare a long reply for me! I have visited the link and the house is in hardiness zone 9. We live in south California (just west of Palm Springs) but at an altitude of roughly 2,500 feet.


Old 09-28-07, 06:15 AM
Group Moderator
Join Date: Oct 2004
Location: WI/MN
Posts: 18,836
I know of no grass resistant to dog traffic and urine. Zoysia would probably be the best choice based on what I know, but I live in the land of cool season grasses.
Old 09-28-07, 06:45 PM
Thread Starter
Join Date: Jun 2007
Posts: 4
Well, the most dog-resistant (if not dog-proof) would be best. Actually I've noticed that they normally go to the bathroom very close to the fence, which won't be covered in grass (we have to leave a 3' boundary). So hopefully whatever grass we pick will be ok.

Mostly I'm concerned about the drainage. I can imagine digging pipes for sprinklers is hard work but straight-forward, but I don't know anything about drainage!


Old 09-28-07, 08:44 PM
Join Date: May 2002
Location: Maryland zone 7
Posts: 1,716
My first suggestion is that you consider contacting a landscape designer. A landscape designer can draw up a plan that you can install. They can give you suggestions for the size and design of a patio that won't overwhelm your yard or be too small to entertain the way you would like, they can make a list of recommended plants, trees or shrubs. It would be helpful if you are prepared before you see them. Have pictures of what you like cut out of magazines. Make a list of everything you would like to see in the garden from a water feature to a place for kids or pets to play or dogs to run, to a place for entertaining or a quite shady corner for reading or sipping a drink. If there is a particular view you would like to see from a certain window include that too. Consider your level of commitment to maintaining a garden and how much 'garden' you desire. You don't want to plant flowers that will attract bees if you are allergic to bees. Lots of color and texture can be had from leaves and there are plants that are pollinated by wind and still offer color and texture in their leaves. Ornamental grasses don't flower and attract lots of bugs. They only need to be cut down in the spring and divided every 3 to 5 years. In the end you'll save money by not planting things you'll need to rip out later.

The proper approach to installing a new landscape is to first do the hardscape. That would be things such as sidewalks, patio, pergola and buildings. Then you plant trees and shrubs, then the sprinkler system and then the lawn and flowers. Sprinklers should not be used to water trees. If you are going to wait to do trees and shrubs, do the lawn after the hardscape and then the trees, shrubs and flowers. You will need to decide the type of patio you want and if the pergola posts will sit on the patio (example would be a poured concrete patio) or be in the ground with pavers, brick, etc around them. You may need to contact your local planning and zoning office for a permit for the pergola and any codes for building the pergola. There are probably earth quake considerations for the construction. Once you know the type of patio we can find you sites on how to build it.

The best thing you can do to prepare your soil for planting grass, shrubs, flowers, bulbs and veggies is to add lots of organic matter. Compost is excellent for that. It adds good microbes, nutrients, improves the tilth (texture) of the soil and improves drainage and moisture retention. I would think that all the good topsoil was stripped off when the homes were built. You will probably need to add 3" or 4" of compost to the soil and till it in. For your lawn and planting beds you should get a soil test done. You can send soil samples to your local extension service and they can tell you the pH of your soil and what nutrients are missing that you need to add. You can add organic amendments as per their recommendations along with the compost. You can purchase compost in bulk and have it delivered or in bags at any garden center. Generally adding a 3" or 4" layer and mixing it into the entire yard that will be planted is the way to go. Here's a compost calculator.

These sites help to explain about the nutrients in the soil. At the second site you can click on the categories under 'soil' on the left and it will explain what the different nutrients are all about.

This site will help you to design an irrigation system and answer your questions on which type to install.

Here's some links on landscape design and planting a new garden.

Here's some plans and ideas for a pergola. The second site is from Australia so the measurements are in cm., but it's a different take with a different roof line.

Planting, including how to deal with rootbound potted plants and trees and a calculator for mulch.

If you decide to order anything mail order you can check references here. You can even search by state or plant material.

I forgot to ask if your dogs are male or female or both. I have both and find different plant problems from the different sexes. Males tend to lift the leg so I put in plant material that sort or renews where he does his bathroom activity. Ornamental grass or liriope gets cut down in early spring and then sprouts new. Most grow in clumps so they stay manageable. They often look good between a fence and dog run where the dogs travel, as they hide the doggie path and can still be a 'renewable' target for his bathroom activities.

Not sure how detailed a list you might want for trees, shrubs and plants but I would suggest one small to medium sized tree in a corner for shade for the dogs. Do your research or ask here as some trees can produce alot of litter with seed pods and/or fruit. Some get large surface roots over time and you won't be able to grow grass under it. The roots could lift your fence or patio.

Females tend to burn lawns with their bathroom watering and there really isn't a doggie proof grass as Mitch mentioned. You will probably find sod easier to establish with dogs, but the prep for sod or seed is the same and fall is the best time to install a new lawn. Here's how, along with a rake you can make for leveling large areas and some info on how to select a grass. The first is from the California Extension service and has everything including how to slope the yard for drainage. I did notice the high area by the fence and I was wondering what you plan on putting in the gully below it.

How to maintain your lawn organically. It will be safer for you and your pets and is less expensive.

I know I threw alot at you, but take your time and save the sites you feel comfortable with. Don't hesitate to ask more questions.

Old 10-02-07, 12:20 AM
Thread Starter
Join Date: Jun 2007
Posts: 4
Thank you very much for the reply, including the useful links!! Our dogs are females. You recommend doing hardscape first and then landscape. We were actually planning to do the opposite (i.e. grass first) as the HOA really want the ground covered (presumably to mitigate the dust problem) and I think it will be easier to negotiate a time extension to get the pergola/patio done if the grass is in than the other way around. We aren't going to worry about shrubs etc. for now as our stupid dogs will probably eat anything we plant!

I ordered a book about irrigation systems from Amazon. It's pretty good ("Sprinklers and watering systems"). This week I will call the developer to find about how we should connect our drainage system to that of the property.

Anyway, thanks again for your help! I will post again when i have a progress report.
Old 10-02-07, 08:29 AM
Join Date: May 2002
Location: Maryland zone 7
Posts: 1,716
You are so very welcome! I wanted to address the gully in your yard near the fence and I mentioned it but forgot to make a suggestion. I think a rain garden would work for that situation. At this first site you can click on the pictures.

You can also search google for more ideas.


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