Landscaping 101: How to Create the Perfect Lawn
Ultimate Lawn Care Guide
If you’re a homeowner, you’ve probably dreamt of having the perfect, most beautiful lawn that’s the marvel of the neighborhood. Maybe you’ve put this dream to the side due to a lack of time, talent, or treasure, but I want to encourage you to try again.
We often get this idea that landscaping is a giant project, but what if you broke it out over time? This ultimate lawn care guide is filled with helpful landscaping tips and resources that will teach you how to do lawncare the logical and easy way. There are many components to a beautiful lawn, and education is step one.
A beautiful lawn starts with an idea, a picture in your mind of what you want your front, back, and side yard to look like. Do you want more privacy from peeping neighbors? Are you looking to boost your curb appeal to increase home value? Maybe you just want a natural escape from the stresses of everyday life. Whatever your motivation, it will inform your landscaping idea.
Once you have the idea, you need to research if it’ll actually work by mapping out your property and noting key characteristics.
- Size: How big or small your lawn is will place natural limits on what you can include in your landscaping. For example, you can’t plant five oak trees in a tiny yard.
- Slope: Is your lawn hilly, flat, or low? This can have a huge impact on how you design your landscaping.
- Sun: The direction of sunlight will dictate what you can and cannot plant. Some plants need morning sun, while others can’t handle the intensity of western rays. Note the direction of your lawn.
Size, slope, and sun will set the parameters of your DIY landscaping project. They may force you to change your initial idea and come up with something new. When you’ve developed a plan you like that works, draw it out on paper. Some people spray paint lines on their lawn to visualize where everything will go.
Step 1: Fertilize Your Lawn
Typically, lawns will need a little extra nutrition than what they get from Mother Nature alone. That's where fertilizer comes into play, often in the form of solid pellets that can be applied with a lawn spreader.
The three main nutrients your soil needs to support grass and plant life are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. All fertilizers contain varying proportions of these vital nutrients, depending on what you want to accomplish. Learn all about fertilizing in our Ultimate Fertilizing Guide.
Step 2: Dethatch Your Lawn
You may not have heard of dethatching, but it’s important for allowing water, oxygen, and nutrients into your soil. Thatch is a layer of dead grass, weeds, and other organic material that sits between your lawn and soil. If it gets too thick, it’ll suffocate and starve the soil.
Remove this layer of thatch using a dethatcher, which can be a walk-behind or tow-behind unit. Learn how to dethatch a lawn in our Ultimate Dethatching Guide.
Step 3: Aerate Your Lawn
Dethatching the soil is not enough, especially if it’s hard and compact. If you can’t stick a screwdriver at least three inches into your soil, that means it’s blocking oxygen from reaching your plant roots.
Over time, lack of oxygen will stunt growth and kill your grass and plants. Aerating the soil involves poking holes in it to welcome precious air. You can do this manually with a pitchfork or use mechanized aerators. Learn how to aerate your lawn in our Ultimate Aerating Guide.
Step 4: Plant or Sod Grass
Once you’ve improved your soil health with fertilizer, dethatching, and aeration, it’s time to fill in any bare spots with fresh grass. You can either plant grass seed, or lay pre-grown patches of grass, called sod, in your yard.
Planting grass seed is generally easier work and less expensive, but you need to wait weeks or months for a fully-grown lawn. Laying Sod can be backbreaking work and more expensive, but you’ll have a beautiful new lawn right away. Whichever method you choose, don’t plant grass over the areas where you’ll have mulch beds because you’ll just have to remove it.
Step 5: Hardscape
Hardscaping refers to the installation of any “non-living” parts of your landscape, such as a brick patio, children’s playset, fire pit, etc. Since these are permanent, or semipermanent fixtures, it’s important to get them installed first and then create the “living” portion of your landscaping around them.
Step 6: Create Your Mulch Beds and Beautify Them
Create your mulch beds based on your design. From a landscape aesthetic perspective, you’ll want to avoid any straight or rigid lines as they will look unnatural and forced. Lay your mulch beds out in a zig-zag pattern to achieve a more natural look.
When planting, start with taller plants in the back row, and add shorter plants as you move forward. Again, avoid planting trees and bushes in a straight line. Make them look natural. Add a garden stone or small shrub here and there as a nice complement. Make sure that whatever you plant will receive proper sunlight and will handle your local climate.
If you are landscaping on a slope, consider adding a natural staircase of stones, a mini waterfall, or a retaining wall. These points of interest can transform a hilly landscape into your own peaceful sanctuary.
Once you’re done planting and laying out your mulch beds, it’s time to add the mulch for protection. Read our mulching guide to learn how to do this.
Step 7: Water and Maintenance
Once you’ve finished landscaping, the never-ending road of maintenance begins. Most importantly, keep your landscaping properly watered. Newly planted grass or sod especially needs water, so don’t just rely on rainfall. At the same time, never overwater.
Our lawn watering guide covers the best way to keep your lawn properly hydrated.
Mowing and Trimming
Mowing your grass and trimming around the edges is at the center of a well-maintained lawn. However, it’s not as simple as just going out and cutting. Think of it as a manicure for your lawn—you want to take off enough but not too much. You also need to make sure your equipment is properly maintained. There are even good and bad times of the day to do lawn mowing and/or edging.
Read our lawn mowing guide for the best practices that will make your lawn stand out.
Treating Brown Spots
Despite your best landscaping efforts, you’ll always get occasional brown spots on your lawn, whether due to drought, pet spots, or damaged grass. The main issue you want to avoid is widespread lawn disease caused by grass fungus. There are many different types of fungus out there that can latch onto your lawn if it’s too shaded or damp. When this happens, you need to deal with it right away.
Protecting your beautiful lawn with preventative maintenance will go a long way to stopping fungus. Check out our guide on treating brown spots in grass for more detailed tips.
Beautify Your Lawn Year-Round
Landscaping is not just for spring and summer. During autumn and winter, you need to protect your lawn from the harsh cold and snow. Check out our winter lawn care tips.
I’ll be blunt. Creating and maintaining a DIY landscaping aesthetic is hard work. Maybe you won’t be able to handle all aspects of it, in which case you should hire a professional landscaper. But if you put in the time, effort and, most importantly, passion, your beautiful lawn will bring you amazing joy and truly be the marvel of the neighborhood.
Main | Watering | Aerating | Dethatching | Fertilizing | Mowing | Planting Grass Seed | Laying Sod | Prepping for Winter | Fixing Brown Spots