Backyard Landscaping

We don't know what to do with out backyard landscaping.

The pad on which our house sits was cut out of a hillside which is now exposed granite. It is a huge "wall" of granite and we have no idea what to do with it. We can't plant anything on it because it is to hard. Do you have any landscaping ideas? Thank You.

You might consider working with what you have, rather than fighting it. Have you thought about working with lots and lots of potted plants? I don't know how large of an area it is. If it's not that big, you could create a large patio look with beautiful potted plants. You could add a trellis and have the plant growing up it live in a pot. You could do long planters. You could actually have a lot of fun.

If it's a large area, perhaps different types of hardscape materials could be used. For example, create a path out of one material and have the patio area in another. This would add different textures and interest along with the plants for a nice backyard landscaping design...without actually planting in the ground.


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Yard too tailored!

by Joan
(Herriman, UT (USA))

Partial view of backyard

Partial view of backyard

We need a back yard design.
We are moving into a new home soon. The backyard, while enticing, is too tailored. We have a gorgeous view from the deck to the west, north, and east and do not want to obstruct the view. But we would like some trees - somewhere. We love Quaking Aspens which usually grow well in our area.

Below the deck is a wonderful square patio with a walk-way into a circular patio. (You can see it in the attached photo, although that is the neighbor's. Ours is just like that.)

There are two round-ish flower beds (sans flowers right now) surrounded by interesting rocks with cement borders. (One shows in the photo.)

It is quite a large yard with lots of lawn around the flower beds and patio. There is also a white vinyl fence on two sides and we may continue that on the 3rd side, but we don't necessarily want to see all of it - it's so stark.

Here's what we would like to have:
- a few trees not blocking anyone's view;
- flowering or red stem bushes, i.e. red-stem dogwood;
- less lawn;
- a more garden, woodland, or rustic look;
- low maintenance perennials;
- I love roses and any kind of flowers!
- I also like evergreen shrubs that have leaves rather than needles, i.e. photinia fraser (sp??), for color in the winter.

I went to a local nursery yesterday. There are SO MANY plants that I just don't know where to begin or how to make it look good.

Thanks for any suggestions you have on our back yard landscaping. I probably need to engage your services for a complete landscaping plan.

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Landscape Trees & Other Design Thoughts
by: Susan

What a nice view you have! I completely understand your not wanting to block it.

I would try to plant trees towards the property edges or else possibly plant one about a third of the way in, leaving the rest of the view open. By standing in different parts of your yard, such as on the deck, beneath the deck, at windows inside the house that look out upon the view, you should be able to determine what locations would work.

One thing to think about is shade near the patio, so consider that too. One nice shade tree can be wonderful, both for aesthetics and function (shade).

I am not sure of your budget, but a thought I had was….what a great water feature the rocks would make. It could be very dramatic if done correctly. If that is not an option, perhaps a rock garden, with all kinds of drought tolerant plants mixed in. I love Nepeta “Walker’s Low’. It was a little difficult to see the exact details of the formation though.

I would suggest planting in front of the fence. It is rather stark, and plants will soften it and also enhance your view of it. Climbing or shrub roses?

I think the red stemmed shrubs you were referring to were probably Red Twig Dogwood. I love them. In the winter when their leaves are gone, all you see are the red branches. They look particularly striking in front of evergreens.

If you love roses and flowers and want less lawn, consider a rose garden, a perennial garden, or a mixture of both. It could be informal and naturalistic, to go with the curvilinear patio and the beautiful mountain view. A naturalistic shape with a meandering path through it would be very nice. Try to tie it in with some other landscape feature, such as the patio or rocks, so that it looks like it belongs.

Some evergreen shrubs you might include in your design could be Boxwood or Blue Hollies (not really blue!), although the Hollies are less formal. In addition, they produce great red berries in the Fall and Winter. Plant all females, but include one male for pollination.

I do provide designs and can work by email.

Good luck!

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Backyard Nightmare

by Phil
(Montreal, Quebec)

For 15 years I have fought with my small inner city backyard in Montreal. It is very shady (huge trees in neighbor's yard),and about 25 ft wide x 60 ft deep.

A number of years ago I had a large deck built to take over about half of it and have built beds around that to take up a bit more. In the remaining area I have turned the earth (twice), sodded (twice), planted resistant shade grass (twice), planted vinca and another time white clover everywhere. There is always a bit of hope ........ and that would be just before the whole business DIES!

I also have a dog (Golden Retreiver)...who sometimes, but not often, digs, but who does pee with some regularity.

I would like to do something to clean up the look that lasts longer than a few weeks. Yes, I have considered astroturf! Tree bark is out (dog would eat it), paving stone feels too much like a parking lot, volcanic rock is too hard on the dog's feet. Any suggestions (getting rid of my dog is not an acceptable one) will be most welcome. Thanks - Phil


Hi Phil,
I understand your problem, but I agree...let's keep the dog.I have a Golden too.

I am surprised that the Vinca did not work. I know you said you turned over the soil, but have you added fresh topsoil? Maybe your soil is just very poor. Also, it's probable that your neighbor's tree roots are grabbing the nutrients and moisture from the soil.

So that would be the first thing I would add new topsoil possibly mixed with compost. Once you have some good soil, the plants get enough moisture (even though it is shady), and you choose the right plants, you should have success.

Ivy and Pachysandra would be two good alternatives to Vinca. Although it would be more intricate, you could consider adding large planting beds to the area, along with the groundcover. Use shade tolerant plants, combining both shrubs and perennials.

If you like this idea, let me know, and I will give you some recommendations.


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Shade Plants
by: Susan

Hi Cathrin,
Here are some to get you started:

Mountain Laurel
Oregon Grapeholly
Blue Muffin Virburnum


Bleeding Heart

You can also visit my page on Shade Perennials where I have a lot more listed. Just check the plant zones. (The plants mentioned above are ok.) I believe you are in what would be Zone 5.


Another Montreal Dog Owner in Same Shady Situation
by: Anonymous


Myself being a Montrealer in a similar situation,
I would be VERY interested in your suggestions for other plants that will tolerate Montreal weather: groundcover, shrubs, perennials, etc. I, too, am working with an EXTREMELY shady strip in my extremely small backyard.

Many thanks in advance,

by: Susan

Going under the premise that your soil is poor, I would amend the soil going 6 to 12 inches deep. Two inches won't do a thing!

Containers sound like a lot of work. Why don't you try the soil suggestion for a small area, as a test, and see how you make out.


Some possibilities here.
by: Phil

Hi Susan: Thanks for these suggestions. I knew that there weas something that I forgot to add to the list. Yes, topsoil and compost added - twice.....but I wonder if we did it in sufficient quantity (probably only about 2" deep)....and I can't recall if it was done at the same time as the vinca. I have large beds as well and they do somewhat better.

I like the idea of the shade resistant plants that you are suggesting but wonder about putting them in many and large self watering containers and then some kind of "already dead" ground cover..... but not bark or volcanic stone. Since you have a Golden you know that I want him to be comfortable. Have you found any material that might fit this bill.

Thanks for any other ideas that you might have


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Backyard Help

by Starla

Well, I have let my backyard go. Not some but totally let it go. I feel awful about it but what is done is done. Where grass once was is now nothing but mud and holes. Dead hedges align the fence. There are no flowers anywhere to be seen. I have no extra money put aside for anything but hard work, which is not a problem. Any ideas for low cost landscaping?

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Inexpensive Backyard Ideas
by: Susan

Hi Starla,
Here are a few ways to get started on revamping your yard. You will need to invest some money though.

Grade out the yard so that it is smooth and free of any holes or dips. With some hard work (which you said you were not afraid of!) you can do this with a rake.

If your topsoil is good, that's great. If it is clay-like, where water just sits there, you will have to invest in some topsoil to that a nice lawn can be achieved. Let's hope your soil is acceptable.

Get some grass seed and spread it over the entire area to get a lawn going.

Remove the dead hedges. When the time is right, weather-wise, get lots of packets of annuals and perennial seeds. These will be inexpensive. You can plant these along your fence to create a colorful flower garden.

You can do the same thing around your house, or in any areas that you would like landscaping and color.

A garden does not have to be made up of shrubs to be successful. You can create lots and lots of interest and color with flowers. It negates winter interest, but sometimes that is much less important.

If you can invest at some point in a few ornamental and/or shade trees, this will add additional interest to the landscape.


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Landscaping in Front of Woods

by Teri
(Houston, Texas)

I have two very long beds which back up to the woods. One bed is on the right side of the pool and the other is on the left. I need ideas on what and how to landscape these beds.

Should I do both sides the same? I do like more formal beds with Boxwoods, Native Rhododendrens, etc.

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Backyard Landscaping Help

by Jason

Hi Susan,
I'll try to make this as short as possible but I need backyard landscaping help! I live in Ohio and have a yard that is in desperate need of work. Besides wanting to save some money (since I'm paying for a wedding this year!) I am looking to do the work by myself for the sense of accomplishment. The only problem: I'm a landscape idiot! I have a small lot as the property is just under an acre. Anyway, the back yard has a large pine tree (not sure what kind) with shallow roots and it provides shade over about half the backyard, a dilapidated fence line around the entire yard (not our fence though), and more weeds and other unrecognizable weedy, plant material. I would like to create a welcoming, healthy-looking yard. I know I have to clean out the brush along the fence line and trim back some of the branches on the pine. Other than that I'm just not sure what to do.

I would really like to add a flower garden to make
it look nicer. Something that can both provide some privacy so we don't have to look at the unattractive fence, will go well in the yard with all the pine roots, and will work in an area that doesn't get sun all day long. I have all kinds of ideas but no clue if they will work or where to go to ask for help. Seems any time I ask someone for advice they just want to charge me for a planning session. Anything you can offer me is greatly appreciated. Let me know if you need more information.

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How to landscape a back yard that butts up against trees

by Cheryl
(Spokane Washington, USA)

Hi, I would like to plant a few plant beds in a back yard that buttes up against about 5 acres of pine trees that have been limbed pretty far up (like at a park). I don't want to do the entire border as it is odd shaped but am afraid my planters or mounds will look like aliens flew over and dropped them down. I am considering a large tree with grouping of shrubs and grasses and perennials. I am afraid it will look odd with the tall trees in the back and won't seem to flow but age and health don't allow much more. I can't think of what to border them with or how to place it. Is there somewhere to see ideas about this kind of situation? It is not a fenced in yard or forest, just kind of flows. I am presently limited by where the septic system is placed as well.

Thank You,



Hi Cheryl,
Without seeing any photos of your back yard and the trees, I am at a disadvantage. Also, I don't know how much canopy is on the trees and therefore if the area is sunny or shady. However, based on how you explained your yard, here are some suggestions.

Your goal should be to make these backyard plantings as natural as possible. I would recommend adding groups of shrubs and repeat them here and there. For example, you could plant 3 to 5 Rhododendron (likes some shade) in one area, then add a group of another variety, and then repeat the Rhododendron. If you want to make the bed design curved, you might consider bringing it out a fair amount, and placing an ornamental tree. If you do this, place the tree close to one of the ends of the bed. Then add another tree, or even a group of very tall shrubs such as Lilacs, at the other end for balance.

You could also mix some perennials in or even do all perennials for a pretty, colorful garden. See my page on Landscape Plants. There are lots of links to the right, such as Perennial Flowers (this has great pictures of low maintenance perennials). I think my preference would be a mix of evergreen shrubs for some winter color and then lots of perennials. Group the perennials too.

There are so many ways that this could be designed. The key is to add shrubs and/or perennials in masses for the greatest impact. I like the trees or tall shrubs to vary the heights.

You can also add in an eye-catching focal point, such as a sculpture, birdbath or fountain!

If you need further help, just let me know.

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Grouping Flowering Trees

by janice
(birmingham, alabama)

River Birch Tree

River Birch Tree

I have a capped off well in my back yard. At present I have a corkscrew willow and a bird bath in that spot. I would like to plant a grouping of small trees; a crabapple and a purple plum in the vicinity of the well and a yoshina cherry about 20 feet from there and closer to my deck. Good idea or bad?

Will the crabapple, purple plum and yoshina cherry look nice together? If so, how far apart should they be?


I think 20 feet should be ok, but I would try to not go too much closer. As long as the trees looking nice together, if you are going with different types of trees, I prefer different forms. The Purple Plum and The Yoshino Cherry are similar in shape. I see you are going for flowers and color, but perhaps you might consider substituting either the Plum or the Cherry for a multi-stemmed tree, such as a clump River Birch.

Then you will have the Crabapple, which has a wide form, the Plum or Cherry with more of an upright shape, and the Birch with multiple stems. Also the Birch leaves are different than the others, which will provide further interest. It also has great, rust and beige colored peeling bark.

To tie everything together, you might plant each tree in its own bed of about 4 to 5 feet in diameter. then you can plant a groundcover in the bed. By using the same groundcover, everything will be united. IF you have a little shade, you could use Pachysandra or Myrtle. Otherwise, some shade loving low perennials would also look nice.

Another tree to consider if you don't want the Birch would be Southern Magnolia which will stay evergreen. It gets huge white flowers in the summer.

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