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How to Prepare Your Yard for Landscaping Design in 7 Steps

Landscaping design is a constructive art that allows you to change the entire shape and topography of your yard. You can create islands, paths, arboreal escapes, and sun-warmed patios. Laying a pebble creek with a little bridge or creating a tiered space for easy-to-reach planters is doable. You can hang swings, plant new shrubbery, or even plant trees that will grow with your growing family.

Whether you are DIY or you’re ready to hire landscapers to see your vision realized, the first step is to prepare your yard. As professional landscapers, we know that many garden-positive homeowners like to do a little yard work before the landscapers arrive. Prep also helps to save time (and money) because your yard is ready for the work to begin.

Our team at Quality Accents is glad to share the eight essential steps to preparing your yard to be landscaped.

1. Determine Your Permanent Landmarks

The first step is to determine your permanent landscaping landmarks. Start with your trees. Most neighborhood homes have at least one tree that has been growing since the house was built. Your home might have anywhere from two to two-dozen old growth trees that you want to keep. These will form the foundation of your landscaping design and provide permanent landmarks for whatever changes you choose to make.

Other permanent landmarks might be a desirable line of privacy shrubs or a particularly large landscaping rock. While anything can be removed (even trees), most families prefer to keep these permanent landmarks when re-landscaping.

2. Remove Lawn Furniture and Decor

Next, remove anything that isn’t a plant from your lawn area. This includes garden decorations that may have been in place for years. Bring your patio furniture into the garage and pull out any staked-in lawn decor. If you have an arbor or arch, remove them and put them into temporary storage. Benches, swings, hammocks, and children’s play equipment: everything must go. Otherwise, your landscapers (or your DIY) will be unable to fully change the topography of your yard.

If there is an ancient bench swing or pergola that cannot be safely removed, mark it as a permanent feature and build your landscaping design around it.

3. Clean Away Organic Debris

The next step is to clear away all organic debris: anything that doesn’t have roots should be removed. Rake up all the leaves. Gather every stick and rock in your yard. Anything that the lawnmower might catch on or could be tripped on should be removed and turned into mulch or compost. You will also probably find plenty of non-organic debris to remove, as well. Plastic bags, paper packaging, and even lost toys often blow in the wind from yard to yard, and clearing your yard all the way to the fenceline of small sticks and stones will often reveal just how much non-organic debris can become half-buried in soil and sod.

You might even find some lost treasure.

If you haven’t already, now is the right time to pick up your stepping stones and flower bed borders. Any hard features that could not be tilled as the soil should be removed. Check for small and low-to-the-ground hard features that may need to be picked up.

Shot of a professional landscaper cutting the unwanted grass.
Professional Gardener

4. Remove Soft-Scape Features You Don’t Want

Consider the plant life you want in your new landscaping design compared to what is growing now. Soft-scape features are those living things that can be removed with the help of a trowel or shovel. If you don’t plan on keeping a certain flower bed or bush location, now is a good time to remove everything that won’t be staying for the new design. Depending on your preference, you can carefully scoop each flower and rooted plant into a pot with soil to give away or sell, or you can have fun tearing up your old flower beds with joyful abandon.

5. Prune and Tidy Permanent Plants

Now you should be left with a yard clear of anything except permanently growing plants. It’s time to get those down to the ideal size and shape. Grab your pruning shears to trim all remaining trees and bushes of excess branches and leaves. If your bushes have become wily with reaching tendrils or intrusive spread, trimming them back right before landscaping will allow you to gain the most access to the space around each permanent plant. It’s also important to trim your trees every few years, and now is a good time to take care of this task.

Everything that falls can easily be picked up and added to your compost or mulch pile to leave your yard clear and ready to landscape.

6. Cut the Sod, If Desired

If you are planning to completely reimagine your yard, you might even want to tear up the sod. Sod is the green blanket of grass over a typical lawn. But unlike individual flowers and shrubs, the grass really is like a blanket. You will need a sod cutter to slice through the woven fiber of shallow but sturdy grassroots and/or dig beneath the grass in order to remove it.

sod cutter tool does both, slicing your sod into strips and then using a flat metal blade to peel up the top layer of grass, revealing a layer of soil below. You can cut and dig sod without a sod cutter using a sharp shovel or combining a cutting tool (box cutter, trashed kitchen knife, or any serrated blade; take your pick) and a flat square shovel.

7. Visualize Landscape Features

The near-final step is to visualize your new landscaping features. Look up your cleared garden space and its permanent features to imagine what you could do with it. You can take a photo to edit with digital tools or use just your mind’s eye to see where you might lay new flower beds or reshape the space with raised beds and new decorative installations.

Whether you are planning to DIY  or hire landscapers, this visualization phase is very helpful. Don’t be afraid to look for inspiration in gardening blogs and Pinterest boards; it is so much you can do with soil and retaining walls to completely transform a flat yard into an arboreal paradise, a children’s playground, or a private escape.

8. Drainage and Soil Testing

Before finalizing your landscaping plans, the last consideration is property testing. If you are concerned about the health (or toxicity) of your soil, you can get a soil test before the new landscaping project. Soil testing can not only tell you if the soil is safe but also what kinds of plants will grow best in your soil’s natural mineral balance – and how to treat your soil to grow more exotic plants. If your home and yard have had flooding problems in the past, test the grade of your yard and plan to improve the drainage patterns with your new grading and landscaping features.

Planning a New Landscaping Design with Quality Accents

Here at Quality Accents, we love every landscaping project. Whether you are planning to tackle your garden with DIY energy or have a vision that pros can bring to life, it all starts with preparing your yard for the landscaping to come. Contact us today to learn more about landscaping steps or to explore design ideas with our pro landscaping team.

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