Know Your Soil
The soil under your grass will help you figure out what you can and can't do with your yard. If you have perfect black soil, you're one of the lucky few. Almost anything will grow for you.
If you have predominantly sandy soil, you'll have to work a little harder. Sandy soil allows water to drain quickly which most plants like. But it also means that your soil won't retain any water for very long. You'll either need to water a lot or buy drought tolerant plants.
If you have clay....then I'm sorry. Clay is tough to work with. Roots have a hard time growing through it and it tends to keep roots soggy for far too long which makes the plant weaker and susceptible to diseases. Your best bet with clay is to amend all your soil and then add at least 6 inches of good soil on top of your entire yard.
But you probably have a combination of all of these. You can even have clay in one area, perfect loamy soil in another and a sand/clay mix elsewhere.
Know your soil, and you can get a better idea of how much work you'll need to put into your yard.
Know Your Zone
Plant Hardiness Zones tell us how well a plant survives based on the coldest temperatures that region reaches in the winter months. In Minnesota, we operate in Zone 4 (-20 to -30 degrees in winter) in the southern half of the state and Zone 3 (-30 to -40 degrees in winter) in the northern parts.
When you're ready to plant trees, shrubs and perennials in your yard, you'll want to be very aware of what zone you live in. And beware, local big box stores and garden centers will sell plants that won't do well in your zone, so you have to read the labels carefully.
That being said, your yard may have some micro zones in them that you will only become aware of as you live there for a while. For instance, a very sheltered, south facing garden that abuts your house may be able to take plants in a warmer zone. But it's always a risk. If you want to take the risk, then plant just one of the varieties suited for the warmer zone and keep a close eye on it after the first winter. If it does well, particularly if it was a very cold and not snowy winter, you can probably consider that area a warmer micro-zone than the rest of your yard.
Have A Plan
A yard that has plants placed randomly throughout it, will not lend a pleasing look. Make a sketch of your yard, including what's already there like your house, any other buildings, trees and current garden beds.
Then place in structures you think you may want in the future like a patio, a swimming pool or a vegetable garden. You'll want to save these spaces and not plant a tree in one of these spots that you'll have to remove a few years down the road.
After you know where everything will go, then you can get creative about where to put garden beds. Divide the areas you want to establish into zones and attach a schedule and a budget to each zone. Maybe you want to tackle a garden by your front walkway first and then the next year, tackle a garden around the back deck.
Don't worry about knowing what specific trees and plants you want. Just indicate what type of plant you want, like a medium sized flowering shrub, or a large shade tree. You can then take your plan to your local garden center and they will show you what plants will meet your specifications for that area.
Nestle Your House
Whatever plan you come up with, we highly suggest planting all your trees first. Full grown trees help shade your house, block wind, add value, and give it a sense of being nestled in it's spot. If you've just built or moved into a house with an empty yard, it is wise to first invest your landscape money in some trees. Since they take a long time to mature, you'll want to get them in before anything else. Trees will also determine where your shaded and sunny spots will be so that you can make wiser choices about the rest of your spaces.
Do Some Research
Now you're ready to plant the showstoppers. Those perennials that come up year after year and bloom with gorgeous flowers or have striking foliage. Go to your library or order some books online to do a little research about the plants and flowers that grow in your area. You'll want to have a mixture of shrubs, flowering plants and non-flowering plants. You'll also want to have varying heights of plants throughout your yard so research how big each plant will get.
If you love flowers, you'll want them to bloom throughout the entire spring, summer, and fall seasons. You can do research on this as well, or you can just plan to hit your garden center every few weeks and purchase whatever is blooming when you go. Once planted, they will bloom in your yard the next year and you'll have blooms all year long.
Finally, strive for a unified and balanced approach to your yard. Choose a few colors that that you love an that go well together and scatter them throughout your entire yard. As you meander through your yard, your eye will pick up on the repeated colors and give it a sense of all working together as one beautiful unit.
Plan For The Future
Do you hate mowing? Do you hate weeding? Do you love spending hours planting and caring for your space? All these questions and more will lead you to the kind of yard you want to have. If you hate mowing, you'll want to take up a lot of your lawn with hardscaping like decks and patios as well as plants or garden beds. If you hate weeding, then you'll want to limit your gardens, and be sure to put down the best weed barriers before you plant. If you're planning to retire soon and love putzing in the garden, then go for lots of gardening spaces. Your yard should suit who you are and what you like to do.
Now that you've had some pointers, you're ready to get going on the yard of your dreams.
Source: Michelle Schwake for Stafford Family Realtors