1. Plan and Design
Start with the end in mind. Consider your family's needs and desires when envisioning your perfect yard. Once you have a solid idea of what you want, look critically at what you've got. What are the permanent fixtures or restrictions? What plants do you want to keep? Prioritize your needs and create a plan.
2. Reduce Turf
"Less" means "more." Less turf means more time for you to enjoy your lawn, and more money in your pocket because you won't have to water as much. Add more flower beds with SmartScape plants. Add large, sweeping curves to the landscape to make it visually appealing. Add or widen pathways, and use groundcovers where it makes sense. Groundcovers under trees and on slopes can often give the look of grass, but you don't have to maintain them.
Organic matter is the key to a solid foundation to help your plants thrive. Compost helps to condition the soil, hold moisture, prevent run-off, reduce erosion, and unlocks nutrients in the soil. One way to improve water absorption is to add raised beds. Raised beds will also help improve drainage, reduce soil compaction, and reduce weeds.
The right plant in the right place. Use the SmartScape plant database to find native and adapted plants that are well suited to our environment. By choosing native plants, they are naturally drought tolerantas well as disease and pest resistant. This will reduce your irrigation, fertilizer, and pesticide requirements. When planning your yard or garden, use a wide range of plants and plant with room for their mature size. When planting or transplanting, water the plant, water the hole, water the plant in the hole.
Regularly adding mulch to maintain about a 3-inch blanket is a good for beds and around trees. Mulch helps reduce evaporation and cools soils in the summer by up to 10 degrees. Mulch also helps reduce erosion, diseases, and prevents weeds from getting a foothold. Never pile mulch up around trunks or stems, instead it should be like a shallow bowl around the trunk.
Efficient irrigation will save you money. It is best to water in the early morning when evaporation rates are lowest. Water 5-10 minutes (or until runoff begins), then water that area again 10 minutes later for another 5-10 minutes (or until 1" of water total has been applied to that area). 1" of water a week should be enough for native plants to survive even the hottest summers. Look into using drip irrigation. Also, turn off your sprinklers when it rains, because that is just wasting water and money.
Regularity and moderation should guide your maintenance schedule. Avoid excessive pruning as natural beauty softens the landscape. If you chose well adapted plants for your location, maintenance should be minimal. If you do encounter problems, try cultural, organic, physical, and mechanical means of pest control instead of chemicals.