Top 10 New Year's Resolutions for Your Yard

The Therapeutic Effect of Planning

Water cascades from this clay pot fountain down into a pool below.
Water cascades from this two-tiered clay pot fountain down into a pool below. David Beaulieu

Before presenting the list of my Top Ten New Year's resolutions to improve your yard, let me anticipate an objection. You see, resolutions have acquired something of a bad reputation. How could they not, since making them almost invariably leads to breaking them? So why bother?

But in the case of landscaping and gardening enthusiasts, I believe a judicious leniency needs to be shown toward such backsliding.

For even breaking all of the entries in my list would serve a useful purpose!

How can I possibly make such a claim? Has all that holiday eggnog clouded my judgment? Not at all. Think about it: resolving to undertake improvements to the yard in spring while still in the dead of winter is sufficient, in and of itself, to dispel the winter blues -- regardless of whether or not you follow through on your intentions.

And there's no denying that successfully dispelling the winter blues should be a high priority on the winter agenda of landscaping and gardening enthusiasts. We're not like other people. Holiday parties and looking forward to the Super Bowl may placate some folks until spring returns, but not us. We feel a sense of utter deprivation, because the snow and the cold have robbed us of much that we enjoy about our yards. Short of taking back our yards from Old Man Winter (which we haven't figured out how to do yet), the only way we can dispel the winter blues is to plan for better times to come, as we dream about do-it-yourself landscape design projects for the spring.

That's where New Year's resolutions come in.

Seed companies understand the planning hysteria that grips even lukewarm plant-lovers during winter's icy reign. They send out their enticing seed catalogs precisely when we're so desperate for outdoor vegetation to return that we'll buy seeds for all sorts of plants -- plants for which we perhaps don't even have any growing space to spare.

We may end up never even planting half the seeds we buy. But it doesn't matter: the seeds of hope have been sown in our hearts, hope that spring is on the horizon.

So this is one case in which dreaming is anything but an idle pursuit. Wintertime planning for springtime improvements is good for the psyche; following through is just icing on the cake.

Not that I'm against your keeping them, mind you. As much as the mere making of New Year's resolutions to undertake home landscape design projects helps to get you through the winter, it is in keeping them that you will improve your quality of life over the long haul. In fact, it is my fervent hope that landscaping novices regard my list as a call to action. And to ensure that your action is well-informed, on Pages 2-4 all of the descriptions of my Top Ten New Year's resolutions for your yard contain links to articles that treat the projects and ideas discussed. But without further ado, here are my Top 10 New Year's resolutions for your yard.

Top Ten New Year's Resolutions for Landscaping

  1. I will build a patio or deck (they're easier to build than you think).
  2. I will install a water garden (it can be cheaper than you think).
  3. I will have limbing work done on any trees that present a hazard.
  1. I will define my landscape design tastes and implement them.
  2. I will grow some plants that will enhance my fall landscape design.
  3. I will provide maximum visual interest for the winter landscape.
  4. I will stop complaining about watering and instead work on improving my water conservation.
  5. I will stop complaining about mowing the lawn and instead explore low-maintenance alternatives to lawns.
  6. I will stop complaining about garden pests and take preventive measures against them.
  7. (I've saved the most important New Year's resolution for last:) I will fully enjoy my yard, rather than being a slave to its upkeep. I will "stop to smell the roses."

I elaborate upon these Top Ten New Year's resolutions for landscaping on Page 2. Please follow the links in the text on Page 2 to access articles that treat these projects and ideas in greater detail.

Page 1 listed ten New Year's resolutions for landscaping your yard in the upcoming year. As we probe deeper into these resolutions, note how much more is involved in landscaping your yard intelligently than simply mowing the lawn in a different way or using the latest in landscape edging products. If you truly wish to turn over a new leaf in landscaping your yard, you'll have to do a bit of soul-searching, make some difficult choices and undertake a wheelbarrow-full of planning.

Indeed, planning is the hallmark of landscaping your yard intelligently. So many landscape designs suffer visually from a lack of foresight! Worse still, you, as the one responsible for the ongoing landscaping of your yard (i.e., maintenance), will continue to pay a price for years to come in some cases due to hasty decisions. For instance, selecting the wrong plant for a particular location -- or selecting the wrong location for a particular plant -- can lead to endless maintenance headaches. For large projects, begin your planning by putting something down on paper. It's called a "landscape plan," and you can consult my article on how to draw landscape plans to get you going in the right direction. As you sketch plants into your plans, consult my classification of types of flowers according to growing requirements so you'll know what to grow where.

The first two New Year's resolutions for landscaping the yard share a common theme.

People tend to think of patio or deck construction and the installation of water features as projects that require professional help. I would like to disabuse you of that notion.

Resolution 1: I will build a patio or deck.

You do not have to be a carpenter to build a deck, nor do you have to be a mason to build a patio, be it a brick patio, a flagstone patio or a concrete patio.

Of the two projects, building a patio is perhaps the easier one for the average person. A brick patio or flagstone patio with a base of sand is especially easy to build since, theoretically, you could do a certain amount of work one year, then pick up where you left off during the following year. Decks and patios are must-do practical projects in landscaping your yard, since they provide a transition between indoor living and outdoor living.

Resolution 2: I will install a water feature.

The urge to install water features is less a practical matter than it is an emotion within us that craves the soothing sights and sounds that only water can bring. You can go crazy with a water feature and spend lots of money on highly decorative water garden fountains, or you can install cheap water features that are surprisingly simple for do-it-yourselfers to create. There's a water feature out there to match any budget.

Resolution 3: I will hire a tree service to have limbing work done on any trees that present a hazard.

Landscaping your yard sometimes entails undertaking do-it-yourself projects, as is the case in these first two projects. By contrast, other times you need professional help. In those cases, your challenge is not at all in the doing, but rather in finding information -- information that will help you make a well-informed hiring decision and help you supervise the work.

If a large tree limb looms threateningly over your home, you need to investigate local tree services to find a professional who will do the job to your satisfaction.

In the next three resolutions for landscaping the yard, the focus (at least initially) is very much upon planning. For each of these projects, you may well spend more time on figuring out what you want and how to implement it than on the physical work itself. But, believe me, it will be time well spent.

Resolution 4: I will define my landscape design style and implement it.

Before locking yourself into a particular landscape design style -- and locking yourself into the maintenance work it entails for years to come -- doesn't it make sense to engage in some soul-searching first to figure out what you truly want out of a landscape design?

Unless, of course, you're putting your property on the real estate market, in which case the style of home landscaping you choose has more to do with the general public's tastes than your own.

Even if you're convinced you already know what landscape design style you prefer, it could be that your viewpoint simply derives from what you've been used to all your life. If you grew up with an extensive front lawn and a few evergreen shrubs around the house foundation, such an image from your childhood may be limiting your conception of what a landscape design can be. An examination of the history of landscape design reveals a specific rationale behind landscape design styles. Learning how these styles evolved can help you ask the questions you need to ask to determine the landscape design style right for you.

On Page 3 we'll continue our look at my Top 10 New Year's resolutions for landscaping yards....

As noted on Page 2, planning is essential as the prelude to a beautiful landscape. With wintery weather all around us and autumn a still-recent memory, January is a good month for planning a landscape that will have four-season interest.

Resolution 5: I will grow some plants that will enhance my fall landscape design.

One of the problems with waiting till spring to think about ways to inject color into the landscape is that winter is now behind us, and, with tunnel vision, we can think only of the warm seasons just ahead.

Our tendency is often to focus on spring and summer, at the expense of achieving a yard with four-season interest. Fall seems so far off; besides, we immediately think of large fall foliage trees such as sugar maples when we think of the fall landscape. We are daunted by the number of years it would take for such trees to reach maturity -- and we end up not planting anything at all geared to fall. But fortunately, other options exist for injecting fall color into the landscaping of your yard. There are many colorful shrubs and vines from which to choose, and extending the flower garden into fall can be economical if you're a smart shopper.

Resolution 6: I will provide maximum visual interest for the winter season.

When most people think of landscaping, they think of plants -- and the winter season just isn't the stage on which most plants strut their best stuff. Evergreen trees and shrubs can look terrific against a backdrop of snow; but many plants either lose their leaves in the winter season, die back altogether, or else get covered under a blanket of snow.

But landscaping for the winter season means more than just having evergreen trees and shrubs. For instance, some shrubs, although deciduous, nonetheless offer an interesting branching structure or display colorful berries. Hardscape features such as pergolas and garden arbors can make your landscaping for the winter season more interesting, providing your landscape with a strong backbone that won't tremble in the face of falling snow or bone-chilling gusts.

And growing interesting plants that attract colorful wild birds will bring cheer, as well as nice winter scenery, to the coldest of days. But all of this requires planning. Why not curl up by the fireside this winter season and plan out ways to enhance your landscape for the next winter season?

The next three New Year's resolutions for landscaping continue the theme of planning, but also share another theme: making difficult choices.

Resolution 7: I will stop complaining about watering and do something to reduce water usage.

Watering landscapes can be time-consuming for those who lack lawn irrigation systems. And no matter how advanced an irrigation system you may own, water usage is still an issue. What if there's a drought next summer? Will your town even allow you to water the lawn? The cost of water can also be a problem. Is there a solution? You bet; it's called xeriscaping. For those who love lawns, a xeriscaping project can involve making a difficult choice: namely, whether or not to cut back on the amount of the landscape covered by grass.

Resolution 8: I will stop complaining about mowing the lawn and do something to reduce lawn care needs.

Reducing the extent of lawn grass is an issue that pertains to more than just water usage.

For instance, if you're the type who insists on having a lawn that's nothing less than perfect (always just the right height, no weeds, etc.), consider reducing the extent of your lawn in order to reduce time spent on maintenance. If you live in the country, you may even wish to consider radical alternatives to grass lawns, such as clover lawns. Of course, yard maintenance goes beyond lawn care, and there are many other tips for low-maintenance landscaping to consider.

Resolution 9: I will stop complaining about garden pests and take preventive measures against them.

One way to prevent plant damage caused by deer pests and rodents is to take the path of least resistance and simply grow plants that pests generally don't find appetizing!

Of course, this can mean making difficult choices: perhaps the very specimen plant over which you've been drooling for years is #1 on Bambi's menu.

Or perhaps you'd like to plant some "cover" that will attract wildlife during the winter season, but you're afraid that those same plants will also serve as cover for garden pests once the winter season has yielded to spring. In such cases, you'll either have to make some difficult choices or else simply familiarize yourself with the wide array of strategies for garden pest control.

Last but not least, I present resolution #10 on Page 4. It may be the most important resolution -- and, perhaps, the easiest one to keep....

On Page 3 we considered pest control measures, but the biggest pest you may have to keep under control is your own workaholism. Do you think you can slow down long enough to "stop to smell the roses?" Thus the need for the final resolution:


Resolution 10: I will fully enjoy my yard, rather than being a slave to its upkeep. I will "stop to smell the roses."

If you keep none of the other resolutions, at least keep this one!

For, unless you're actively seeking to sell your home, the main concern behind your landscaping endeavors should be your own enjoyment. "Stop to smell the roses" is sound advice in general, but never more apropos than in the present discussion.

Too many people see landscaping as little more than a collection of chores that they must complete: mow the lawn, trim the hedges, rake the leaves.... As such, landscaping is reduced to being merely an extension of the work week. I suggest you stop to smell the roses and start enjoying some backyard fun!

In order to "stop to smell the roses," you must begin to take an interest in the background information about your plants (begin by learning the names of perennials that you walk by every year at the nursery). That will allow you to take more joy in your landscaping. Some plants have interesting stories behind them: how they’ve been used historically and the significance they’ve had in the cultures of the world.

You can access a lot of this information in minutes by doing a quick Internet search. Once you have this background information on your plants, it will change your perception of them. As you walk by them in your yard every day, they’ll seem more like “friends” who have a story to tell and less like objects upon which chores must be performed.

Perhaps the most precious time to "stop and smell the roses" is spring, when Mother Nature shakes off the gloomy cobwebs of the winter season and runs barefoot through the re-discovered grass. Yes, enjoying the outdoors in spring means taking time away from other plans, so that you can enjoy a "silent spring." You may even have to renege on one of your other landscaping New Year's resolutions in order to remain true to this one, and you may experience some guilt over indulging yourself with such laziness. Dissolution and resolution don't usually coincide; but here, they do. And that's part of the beauty of this final resolution!

For more, see my most recent list of New Year's resolutions.

Of course, if there are no roses to be found, you can't very well stop to smell them, right? So perhaps planting roses -- or some other plant that can provide you with pleasure -- should be one of your New Year's resolutions. We gardeners all think up big plans for our spring gardens as we while away the winter months.