The right combination of hard assets and amazing foliage can help transform your backyard into the perfect vacation-like hideaway.
This summer, we’re all finding ourselves spending more time at home, and can you think of a better way to keep your distance than in the comforts of your own cozy backyard hangout?
Whether you want to spruce up your backyard or create a vacation-like hideaway, there are many options available – each dependent upon the shape, size and setting of your yard. Going from dream to reality takes the right combination of hard assets and beautiful foliage.
Creating An Outdoor Haven
This time of year, there’s plenty of incentive to spend more time outdoors. So, why not make sure your yard is ready for friendly gatherings or unwinding after work? Transforming an uninspiring setting begins with a bit of vision.
“Some people want to do a whole patio area, with an outdoor kitchen and an outdoor lighting area,” says Alex Rodriguez, sales manager of the NL Group, in Lake Barrington. “Or, they might already have an outdoor kitchen, but they want to add a pergola over the top. We mainly have people coming to us who want an outdoor entertainment area.”
There are many options for creating an ideal entertainment setting. Hardscaping – stone and other hard landscaping materials – can go a long way toward creating the perfect backyard getaway.
Before you begin, know that maximizing your outdoor living space isn’t unlike decorating a room inside your home. You need to know how you want your space to be presented before you fill it up, says Rodriguez.
Are you looking for a luxurious setting where people can cozy up in good company? Amenities like outdoor fireplaces, fire pits and comfortable seating areas might be a good option. They can range in elaborateness, from simple fireplace rings to full-on patios with flagstone, a gas-powered fire pit and retaining wall.
There are some entertainment-driven patios that may incorporate brick pavers with multiple zones for entertaining, including a corner for an outdoor kitchen with pergola.
For yards with a bit of slope, updated hardscapes are in demand. Decorative stone or block retaining walls add some interest, and they may also provide an easier way to get around a sloping yard.
Hardscaping also adds a good decorative touch when pavers replace a drab driveway or walkway.
Class it all up with some fun lighting elements, such as spotlights or floodlights. They’ll add a soft touch of illumination for nighttime gatherings, but they’ll also add a sense of security. Lighting comes in many forms these days, and your choices largely depend upon your overall layout. They can be built into retaining walls, hidden among planting beds, and pointed upward toward features like trees or walls. Good lighting creates a dramatic and warm touch on a cool summer night, says Rodriguez.
The possibilities for your backyard hangout are virtually endless. “Our brochure has lots of ideas to help you dream about your project,” says Rodriguez.
Maintaining Your Perfect Backyard
Spring comes and you spend countless hours planting flowers, pulling weeds, filling all your planters and sowing vegetables between rainstorms – all so you can make your backyard hangout more colorful. This time of year, you may feel as though you’re finished, but now that you have an amazing backyard, it’ll need a little TLC. There are some simple things you can do to keep those beautiful plants healthy all season long.
The most important way to keep your plants thriving is to water them regularly, especially when the dry summer weather and relentless sun put additional stress on your plants.
Lori Harms, greenhouse manager at Countryside Flower Shop, Nursery & Garden Center in Crystal Lake, says there are right and wrong ways to water your plants.
“The biggest mistake most people make is watering their plants too late in the day,” she says. “High moisture and cool night temperatures create the perfect environment for diseases to thrive.”
Instead, try watering in the early morning hours. That way, water will have all day to evaporate from leaves and soil, ensuring they’re dry by nighttime.
Harms suggests avoiding traditional overhead sprinklers, like the ones you let the kids run through. A surprising amount of water evaporates from these sprinklers before it hits the ground, she says. This kind of sprinkler also wets the plant leaves, when it’s the soil and the roots you most want to water. Too much moisture on the leaves can encourage things like mildew, mold or leaf blight to develop.
To get the most out of your watering session, Harms recommends using a soaker hose, which has tiny holes that enable a more consistent and deep watering across your garden.
These hoses use less water than a regular garden hose, because the tiny holes provide more of a constant drip into the soil. Harms advises letting the soaker run for about 4 hours. Of course, you could also reduce the flow rate of your regular hose to just a slow trickle, and let the water soak into your plants for about 30 minutes.
“These techniques allow for a slow, deep watering without wetting the foliage,” Harms says.
As much as plants need water, they also need the occasional serving of food. Once your plants are in full bloom, keep them thoroughly fertilized.
“Think of them like teenagers who can never get enough to eat,” Harms says. “It’s important to give the plants the nutrients they need as they are growing. Like people, plants can survive on water alone, but they’re much healthier when given food.”
She says it’s OK to start applying fertilizer about six weeks after planting, but avoid applying fertilizer in late August, when the plants are no longer growing.
It’s also important to know which plants need more fertilizer and which ones need less.
“Petunias need to be fertilized with every watering throughout the entire growing season,” Harms says.
Plants in hanging baskets need food as much as they need water. Remember that, as you water, valuable nutrients will seep out the bottom of the pot. Replenishing these nutrients is essential.
“We recommend Jack’s Petunia Feed because it has all the micronutrients and acidity needed to produce great-looking hanging baskets,” Harms says. “It can also be used on other annuals, such as geraniums.”
If petunias in your hanging baskets are looking a little shaggy, just give them a slight trim. Cutting a couple of inches around the pot will provide some added growth at the top of the plant, and the basket will grow back more fully in just a few days.
Other plants in your garden need a good dose of organic material each year, especially in areas that have gravel or heavy clay. Mixing in elements like peat moss, fresh compost, lime and bone meal, scratching them into the soil early and late in the season, can help to provide valuable nutrients all season long.
“It improves the condition of the soil and increases the microbiology within the soil, much like yogurt improves the probiotics in your gut,” she says. “Making a healthier soil will, in turn, produce healthier plants.”
Organic compounds can also improve root development, which is the most important thing for newly transplanted plants.
“Bio-Tone or Plant Starter applications are highly recommended to encourage faster root growth,” Harms says.
As you’re sizing up the needs of your backyard landscape, remember that every yard is different. Some yards are, surprisingly, less conducive to gardening.
“Should you have a black walnut tree in your yard or your neighbor’s yard, the roots exude a chemical that is toxic to many plants, especially tomatoes,” Harms says. “The plants will display a distorted leaf growth that resembles weed killer damage.”
There may be other pesky limitations in your yard, including heavy shade, poor soil quality or a lack of space. In that case, container gardening will help to boost the look and color in your yard.
Doing all that dirty work is beneficial in more ways than one.
In addition to raising the overall value of your home, planting fresh flowers, herbs and vegetables gets people away from their screens and into the fresh air, which provides a boost to your immune system.
“Growing your own vegetables and fruits is not only rewarding, but it’s also healthier, as the nutrients are at their peak when harvested and eaten right away,” Harms says. “Teaching your kids where food comes from and how it’s grown is equally important.”
Plants can also provide food for our bird populations, and flowers support our pollinator insects, which are critical for food production.
Besides, what’s not to enjoy about a beautiful, colorful landscape where you can retreat by yourself or with your family and some friends on a nice summer’s day?