How to Win the Lawn Wars: The Ultimate Guide to Landscaping like a Pro for Beginners

Quietly, all winter long, your neighbors have made a brilliant list of landscaping ideas in preparation for the big event.

And, every season, with the first sounds of small engines firing up across the United States, it begins anew.

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It’s the one great American pastime that almost no one talks about out loud: lawn wars.

We all know what it’s like — every season there’s that one guy that has the best lawn on the block.

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Now, whether we want to admit it or not, deep down inside, many of us want to unseat the current champion, we just don’t know where to start.

“The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.” — Henry Miller

So, to help you unseat the current champion in your neighborhood and take the lawn wars crown for yourself, we made you the ultimate guide to landscaping for beginners.

Landscaping Ideas: Tools to Get the Job Done

Before you begin, you’re going to need to stock up on a few essential tools to get the job done.

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“All times are good time for those who know how to work and have the tools to do so.” — Carlos Slim

Safety first

First, let’s talk about how you can keep yourself safe when you’re working in your lawn.

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To garden safely, you will need: 

  • Gloves
  • Knee pads
  • Stool (optional)
  • Sunblock
  • Hat

Short-handled tools

Second, before you really get started on that amazing lawn, you may need the following short-handled tools:

Hand Tool For Beginner

Of course, depending on the size of your lawn, you may also need slightly larger tools, as well.

Long-handled tools

If you have a large yard with trees and shrubs, you’re going to need some larger tools as well as the ones in the previous section.

Long Handled Tools for Beginners

Now, to knock out that growing list of landscaping ideas, you’re probably going to need a few more items.

Other Equipment You’re Going to Need

Depending on where you live, there’s a decent chance you have grass in your lawn.

So, you’re going to need some way to mow that grass.

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Here’s how you figure out what kind of grass cutting equipment you’re going to need:

What’s the terrain like?

Lawn Size:

.25 acres or less (10,890 square feet)

.50 acres or less (21,780 square feet)

.75 acres or more (32,670)

1 acre or more (43.560 square feet)

Grass thickness and terrain:
grass

level ground, clear

grass

some hills, moderately thick grass

grass

rough with hills

grass

very rough terrain with many hills

Type:

Manual Push Mowers

Self-propelled Mowers

Riding Mowers

Zero Turn Mowers

Fuel types:

none, gas, electric

gas and electric

gas

gas

Top speed:

as fast as you can walk

5 miles per hour

8 to 10 miles per hour

13 miles per hour

Deck width:

14​​​​ to 22 inches

21 to 61 inches

26 to 54 inches

32 to 72 inches

Don’t worry if you don’t know how large your lawn is; we can help you figure that out.

How to measure your lawn

Measuring your lawn now will help you in all sorts of ways down the road to knock out the items on your list of landscaping ideas.

Before you measure your lawn you will need:

  • Measuring tape
  • A rough drawing of your lawn, including flower beds and other areas that don’t have grass
  • String
  • Something to use as a marker like small wooden stakes

Check out this video for great instructions on how to do the math:

As you can see, it’s as simple as breaking your lawn up into small parts, measuring them, and then adding the total together.

Let’s Talk About String Trimmers aka Weed Whackers

Next, we are going to talk about to select the perfect string trimmer, aka weed whacker, for your needs.

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A weed whacker uses a plastic string to trim those hard to get to areas like corners — they are also great for edging around the sidewalk and driveway.

Weed whackers come in two general varieties:

gas

Gas Powered

Heavier, more difficult to carry, loud, perfect for difficult terrain.

flash

Electric Powered

Lightweight, quiet, easier to use, ideal for simpler lawns.

So, overall, the weed whacker you choose depends mainly on what you’re capable of carrying around and how gnarly your weeds happen to be.

How to Cut Your Grass like the Pros

While it doesn’t take a super-genius to go outside the chop down some grass — doing it the right way is the key to having the best looking lawn on the block.

Pro tip:

The best time of day to mow your lawn is mid-morning after the dew dries up or late afternoon/early evening.

Check out this video from a pro:

Check out this video on how to make those cool stripes:

The experts recommend:

  • Never cut the grass too short
  • Keep your mower blades sharp
  • Try to mow in the shade
  • The ideal time to mow is when the grass is dry
  • Switch up your mowing pattern

Expert Advice on How to Choose the Perfect Design for Your Lawn

Now, if you’re going to have the prettiest lawn in your neighborhood, you’re going to need to do more than merely mow your grass.

Pro tip:

Once you settle on a design, make sure you do any hardscaping like walkways, water features, and driveways before you start planting trees, veggies, or plants.

So, to help you out, we checked in with the experts on how to create the perfect design for implementing all those landscaping ideas you have.

1

Determine what it is that you want.

Make a list of everything you need and want in your yard.

As yourself the following questions:

  • Do you need room for kids to play?
  • Will you want to grow vegetables?
  • What about flower beds?
  • Do you want to build a patio?
  • What about an area for seating?

beautiful backyards

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Then, sit down and start to create a quick sketch of where you want to put everything.

2

Think about location.

Next, before you settle on where you want to put everything on your list, pay attention to the sun and wind patterns in your yard.

For example, if you are planning a garden, you’re going to want to know how the sun hits that part of your lawn.

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Image via Instagram

Secondly, if you want to put in a feature like a fire pit, you’re going to need to make sure it’s not in a part of your lawn where the wind whips through regularly.

Experts recommend that you spend plenty of time outside to get the best idea of what’s happening out there.

Focus on size, scale, and cohesion

This next part is one of the trickiest things about landscape design — you have to think about the scale and pacing of everything you’re putting in your lawn.

For example, you aren’t going to want everything to be the same size, shape, and color.

Pro tip:

When choosing your design features, you want to select elements of the design that you can repeat. For example, choose a color, plant, or shape and place it throughout the plan to create cohesion.

Nor do you want just to throw some random stuff around out there and expect to have a decent design.

Instead, you are going to want to choose things in a variety of heights, shapes, colors, and materials.

Pro tip:

The best time to water your lawn and plants is first thing in the morning.

And you’re going to want the objects you choose to have a common theme.

Check out the following video:

There are several places online where you can get a free software program to help you draw out those landscape ideas.

Check out this video packed full of good ideas:

Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed — just take it slow and break the project down into smaller parts.

Draw the eye with a focal point

An essential factor in any design is a focal point.

Insofar as landscape design goes, finding a sculpture, structure, water feature, fountain, or another focal point that will draw the eye is crucial.

Check out this video to see what we mean:

“The point is to draw your eye and move it through the landscape.” —  Marianne Lipanovich

Start small

Remember, just because on HGTV you see a team of people complete an entire lawn in a weekend, that’s not a realistic goal for the average human.

So, for your upcoming projects, break them down into smaller parts.

sarrayandow beautiful backyards

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“Give yourself some time to see how things develop. Plants grow and things fill in, and people forget that. The point is to take time and do it in pieces so you are happy with the final results.” — Marianne Lipanovich, author of the Big Book of Garden Designs

Gardens or Grass?

In recent years there has been a push around the United States:

Instead of sprawling lawns, people are planting gardens instead, specifically vegetables.

“Vegetable gardens require less water than turf-grass lawns,” said Mark Cassalia, conservation specialist for Denver Water. “They also are a fantastic addition to a homeowner’s landscape — reaping the benefits of fresh produce and saving water.”

organic garden

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Check out this video explaining how to make a gorgeous raised garden bed:

Growing your own veggies will save you money at the store, obviously, but, as you can see, a raised bed can be a beautiful focal point in your lawn, as well.

Now Let’s Get Dirty

Of course, you can put the best plants, trees, and shrubs on the market in your lawn, but if you don’t have the right dirt, you’re not going to like the outcome.

Good soil is the one thing every winner of lawn wars has in common.

Soil health

For optimal health, plants grow best when there are certain nutrients available in the soil.

The three main nutrients:

N

Nitrogen (N)

P

Phosphorous (P)

K

Potassium (K)

You will often see those nutrients listed as “NPK.”

Though, the NPK trio is only a small part of what you need.

Check out this video for more information:

If you aren’t sure about your soil, you can always buy a test kit like this one so you can check it.

How to improve your soil

Now, if you already know that you need help in the soil department, don’t panic — it’s entirely possible to make it better.

Every magical garden with great soil has one thing in common:

Organisms like worms, helpful insects, small animals, and microbes flourish because all the soil elements are in balance.

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The key, however, is to get that soil balanced.

Whether your soil is sandy, silty, or full of clay, you want to work organic matter into the top 2 to 4 inches of your dirt.

Check out the video below:

You should continue to add at least one or two inches of organic matter to your gardens each season.

Let’s Talk About Much

Next, even when the soil is perfectly balanced, adding mulch on top is still highly beneficial to plants.

By itself, mulch will help improve the quality of your soil.

Mulch has many other benefits including:

  • Insulates soil from extreme temperatures
  • Locks in moisture
  • Prevents the soil from becoming compacted
  • Protects sensitive plants from damage by weed whackers and mowers
  • Looks gorgeous
  • Helps prevent weeds from growing
  • Adds color and texture to any landscape design

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There are two main types of mulch: organic and inorganic.

Organic mulch:

  • Wood chips
  • Bark
  • Compost
  • Evergreen needles
  • Looks gorgeous
  • Newspaper

Organic mulch will break down over time, so they must be replenished and replaced.

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However, if you have problem soil, using an organic mulch is the best way to improve soil health.

Inorganic mulch:

  • Materials that do not decompose
  • Stones
  • Lava rocks
  • Crusher dust
  • Landscape fabrics
  • Pulverized rubber

Using one of these as mulch won’t help improve your soil health, but there’s no better way to prevent weeds from growing.

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Check out this video for more information about mulch:

Not only will a good mulch help improve your soil, picking the proper color and texture can pull your entire landscape design together.

Let’s Talk About the Perfect Time to Plant

Now, when it comes to putting trees, shrubs, grass, and veggies in the ground, there is a right way and a wrong way to do so.

foreverlawn falls

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It’s not just about how you plant each of those things, either, you also have to think about a few other factors.

Let’s dig in:

Trees and shrubs

The ideal time to plant trees and shrubs is during their dormant season which is the fall or the spring.

Check out this video:

Follow these steps to plant your new tree or shrub:

  1. Locate underground utilities to make sure you are planting in a safe area
  2. Make sure the tree or shrub will have the room it needs to grow
  3. Find the trunk flare: this is where the trunk expands at the base of the tree (should be placed above the soil)
  4. Dig the hole: use the root ball to know how large (should be 2 to three times as wide and exactly as deep)
  5. Loosen the soil in the bottom of the hole
  6. Remove the container around the root ball
  7. Place the tree at the proper height
  8. Walk around what you planted before you fill in the dirt to make sure that it is straight
  9. Fill in the hole with dirt: water frequently as you fill in the dirt and pack it down
  10. Stake the tree if needed
  11. Add mulch around the base of your new tree
  12. Make sure your new tree gets plenty of water during the dry/hot season

Flowers

Flowers are beautiful and there are hundreds of different varieties available.

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Let’s clear up a few basic things about flowers: 

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Generally, when you buy a new plant or flower, there’s a tag inserted in the dirt with some information on it.

Understanding the information on those tags

nursery plant tags

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Don’t throw that tag away without reading it first because it has some essential knowledge on there about your new plant.

Here what you need to know:

One of the first things you will notice on that tag is that it says the flower is annual or perennial.

  • An annual plant means that after you use it that season and it finishes blooming, it will not come back next year.
  • perennial plant is one that will come back season after season provided you care for it properly.

Name

Nearly every plant tag will include both the common name and the botanical name for each plant.

The botanical names follow a system that uses Latin to define the plants.

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Here’s what you need to know about botanical names:

  • The first word in the name of the plant is the genus (the general name that describes all flowers in that family)
  • The second word in the botanical plant name is the which species that flower is

Light requirements

Then, each tag will also include information about how much light that plant needs to thrive.

Sun Exposure

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Water requirements

Next, each tag will have water requirements.

Sometimes, the water requirements are very clearly laid out like, “water twice a week.”

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However, at other times the tag has merely water drops on it.

Water Requirements

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Shape and size

Most plant tags will also include information about how that particular plant will grow.

Additionally, the tag will tell you how far apart you need to plant the flower from the others, so the roots have plenty of room.

Generally, the tags will categorize plants into three shapes:

tunnel-mound

Mounding

small-zigzag-arrow-upward

Trailing

up

Straight Up

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Pay close attention to these notations when you plan where to place your new flowers or plants:

You don’t want something too tall blocking a shorter plant once everything takes off.

When to Put Your Flowers in the Ground

Unfortunately, knowing when to plant your flowers isn’t quite as simple as it is for trees.

For example, many flowers start from bulbs and some bulbs should go into the ground in the fall and others can wait until spring or summer.

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Overall, you want to read the instructions provided with whatever you’re trying to plant, but we did locate some general guidelines.

Autumn

First, if you want to plant spring-flowering bulbs, you want to do that in the fall.

Pro tip:

For most bulbs, you want the hole for planting it to be at least three times as deep as the bulb itself.

Spring flowering bulbs include:

  • Daffodils
  • Crocus
  • Alliums
  • Snowdrops
  • Tulips (wait until late autumn)
  • Hyacinth

Now, we already know that Autumn is the ideal time for planting trees.

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However, while you can still work the ground, you want to get those shrubs, climbers, and roses planted as well.

Winter

Depending on where you live, planting things during the winter months can be problematic.

However, if you neglected to get those roses or other shrubs in the ground before the end of fall, you can still safely plant them in early winter.

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Well, you can plant them provided, of course, that the ground isn’t waterlogged or frozen.

Then, in late winter you can start your spring and summer seedlings in a greenhouse or a windowsill to get a jump on the growing season.

Check out this video on starting seeds:

Then, it’s time to get ready for your busy season.

Spring

For implementing all your landscaping ideas, spring will most certainly be your busy season.

You can plant your summer-flowering bulbs in the spring.

Check out this video:

Summer-flowering bulbs include:

  • Dahlias
  • Cannas
  • Lillies (plant in early spring, so the bulbs don’t dry out)
  • Begonias

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Overall, once the danger of frost is gone, it’s game on for planting most everything in the spring.

Summer

Finally, let’s talk about planting during the summer months.

Summer is when the magic happens:

The last of your annuals can come outside; and you can do hanging baskets.

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And, if you put a vegetable garden in the ground, it should be well under way.

Vegetables

Obviously, depending on where you live, the growing season for vegetables varies widely.

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However, on every seed packet or informational tag, it tells you when you should plant that particular veggie.

Overall, what zone you live in determines when you should put everything outside.

USDA Hardiness zone for landscaping ideas

Image Henry M. Cathey while Director, U.S. National Arboretum, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, DC 20002Edited, formatted and prepared for the US National Arboretum web site by Ramon Jordan, March 1998 & Revised March 2001Special thanks to Jody Shuart and Scott Bauer, ARS Information Staff [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Check out this video:

Remember, there are some veggies that need to go in the ground earlier than others like onions and peas.

it’s vital that you read the instruction on your seed packets and plant inserts.

Let’s Talk About Pests and Weeds

Even the houses on the block that are winning lawn wars with their landscaping ideas have issues with pests, wildlife, and weeds.

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Don’t worry, most of the time it’s simple to deal with these things you just need to know how.

Weeds

Obviously, the best way to get rid of weeds in your flower beds will be to roll up your sleeves and pull those suckers out by the root.

Check out this video:

However, getting rid of troublesome weeds in your lawn is another story.

Check out this video:

As you can see, with the right tools, you can grass up that lawn in no time.

Bugs

Now, while we can’t possibly cover all the problem bugs that exist all across this beautiful country, we can give you a general idea about a few.

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First, like weeds, you will get different types of bothersome insects in your flower beds, vegetable gardens, and lawn.

Check out this video on one way to deal with bugs in your garden:

Check out this video about treating pests in your lawn:

There are even certain plants that repel pesky insects.

Check out the video below:

However, it’s important to remember that not all bugs are bad bugs.

Check out the video below for a list of good bugs:

Wildlife

Again, depending on where you live, you’re probably dealing with some wild animals getting into your gardens and lawn as well.

Sometimes, depending on the size of the wildlife, your only option is going to be some sort of fence.

However, there are steps you can take if you can’t put up a fence.

Check out this video:

Another great way to keep smaller animals and insects out of your garden is to sprinkle cayenne pepper around the perimeter.

If you use the pepper method, you have to reapply once a week.

How to Prune like a Pro

Next, if you have shrubs, bushes, and trees, you’re going to need to know how to prune them up to keep them looking their best.

Check out this video on how to prune trees and shrubs:

You should prune your trees in the spring.

Pro tip:

You should never prune in the fall unless you have a branch you think may come down. If you prune a tree in the fall, it won’t be able to recover properly.

When you prune, follow these general guidelines:

  • Never prune when it’s wet outside: moisture can encourage bacteria to grow
  • Make sure that you cut between the body of the tree and sickly branches
  • Keep your tools clean so that you don’t spread any diseases

Different plants and shrubs have different requirements when you prune them.

We can’t possibly include all of those in this article — but make sure your research the individual plant before you start chopping.

Are You Thinking About Starting Your Own Business?

Now that you’re feeling up to speed, perhaps you are thinking about starting a landscaping business of your own.

You see, not everyone has the time and the desire to work in their lawn.

Check out the expert advice in this video:

We can certainly think of worse ways to earn money than spending time outside.

Now You’re Ready to Show Your Neighbors How It’s Done

Congratulations!

Now you are 100 percent ready to go out there and unseat the current reigning champion of lawn wars in your neighborhood.

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Image via Instagram

With everything you just learned — you have gained the building blocks you need to go from beginner to expert in no time.

Remember, enjoy yourself and take your list of landscaping ideas one small project at a time.

Featured Image: CC0 via Pixabay

About the Author Emily Taylor

My name is Emily Taylor, gardening is my passion and I’m looking forward to sharing it with everyone. I know that there are millions of people out there want their backyard and garden be attractive just like their front yard, so I am here to help you create your own backyard paradise.

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