10 Ways to Conquer Your Fear of Gardening

You might not believe it, but you were born with a green thumb. It may have gone untended for a while, but it's there waiting for you to nudge it awake. Put away your theory of being a plant killer, that anything dies under your care. Forget those nagging thoughts of where your garden will live or when you'll find the time, it's there somewhere. It doesn't have to cost a fortune and you'll get more than you give. So, here are 10 tips for conquering your fear of gardening:

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Popular in Gardening

Front Yard Face-Lift

Fresh landscaping can breathe life into the dreariest front yard. That's why the owners of this rambling ranch allowed us to revive their ailing entry. This face-lift included a new brick walkway, generously sized planting beds, and a colorful assortment of trees, shrubs, and flowers.

Before You Start

With careful planning, even the most banal landscape can get a new lease on life. This ranch home featured the usual suspects: a few junipers strung along the front facade. The problem is, how do you come up with a landscape plan? And, once you come up with the plan, how do you actually get the job done? To help answer these questions, we decided to transform this ranch home into the jewel of the neighborhood.

Before you start any landscaping project, take a frank assessment of your yard's good and bad points. A cracked and broken walk, for example, will have to be replaced. But, if your foundation plants are in good shape, it's possible all they'll require is a little fertilizer and some pruning. In our case, this part of the job was easy. The home's front walk was in a bad state of repair, and the junipers growing along the facade were old and pruned so severely they resembled large mushrooms.

Things to Consider

After reviewing your yard, you might want to drive around your neighborhood and get landscaping ideas from other homes. Take note of your favorite landscaping strategies and think about whether they'll work for you. Remember that sometimes the simplest ideas make the biggest changes. Flowers, for example, are a quick, inexpensive way to improve any entry. Masses of bedding plants along a pathway or pots of roses flanking your front door can make a big difference in your home's outlook.

Repainting is another quick and easy way to give your home a face-lift. Once an outdated rust-brown color, this ranch house was painted a more pleasing dark taupe. To add interest, inexpensive plastic shutters were added to the windows and painted a complementary shade of green.

Next, consider hiring a landscape professional to work with you. The time and money you spend working with a landscaper will probably save money in the long run. Some nurseries even offer free or discounted landscape services.

Once your landscape plan is complete, you have two choices. Do the entire project at once, or break it down into more affordable pieces. We chose to do our project in one summer, but had we broken it down, we would have done the grading and path work first, saving the planting beds for another time.

How to Build a Brick Path

Mark the location of your path with white spray paint. Then, remove the turf by hand or with a sod stripper. When you're finished, use a spade to excavate to a depth of 7 inches.

Spread a 4-inch base of aggregate over the surface of the path. Use a plate compactor to level the material. Plate compactors are usually available at rental companies.

After the aggregate is in place, cover it with an inch of coarse sand. Rake the sand level, but don't pack it down at this time. The bricks will be easier to set if the sand is loose.

Edge the brick path with a commercial brick edging. We used a product called Diamond Bloc. It creates a rigid edge that keeps your bricks in position.

Place the bricks on the sand starting along the path edge. Then, put the rest of the bricks in position. Add a layer of sand over the bricks and tamp down with a plate compactor.

The first stages of our path are visible here. In the foreground, the sod is stripped. Further back is an area that's been dug out, and in the background is the aggregate.

How to Build a Wall

Because the front yard sloped down and away from the front door, it was important to create level beds on both sides of the path. Once these areas were level, the house no longer looked like it was sliding downhill.

Adding soil is the easiest way to level out a sloping planting bed. We dumped all the soil from the excavated pathway onto the top of the beds. Then, we dug a low, level trench around the perimeter of each garden bed.

Slabs of 4-inch-thick wallstone limestone were then laid end to end in the trench. After the first layer of stone was set, we continued to add more stone, alternating each row so that the spaces between the stones did not line up.

Once your walls are built, you can backfill with soil. We tilled in several bales of sphagnum peat moss and raked the area level. If your existing soil is poor, you may also want to haul in new topsoil.

How to Add Plants to Your Landscape

When we landscaped the front yard, our goal was to select a variety of shrubs, trees, ground covers, and perennials that would take turns providing color throughout the year. Evergreens are especially valuable because they keep the yard colorful during the winter.

Read the label before buying any new plant. It will tell you the mature size of the species along with the plant's cultural needs. Also make sure that the plant is lush and healthy. Discounted plants are rarely a bargain.

Space shrubs to accommodate their mature size. We planted yews 3 feet away from the house's foundation. When you place shrubs or ground cover near foundations, avoid planting under eaves and gutters.

Dig a hole larger than the root ball of your plant. Then remove the plant from its pot and lower it into the hole. Be sure to set the shrub or tree at the same level it was growing previously. Water thoroughly.

To prevent overcrowding, use a tape measure when you plant shrubs in beds or borders. We spaced our creeping junipers 3 feet apart. Larger, spreading deciduous shrubs should be spaced 4 to 5 feet apart.

Popular Plants

When you select plants for your own front yard, choose a variety of flowers, ground covers, shrubs, and trees that will stay small enough not to overpower your home. These species are both compact and colorful.

Shrubs:

Azalea (shown at right) Barberry (Berberis species) Chinese juniper (Juniperus species) Compact American cranberry bush (Viburnum trilobum compactum) Dense yew (Taxus species) Dwarf burning bush (Euonymus alata compacta) Dwarf Korean lilac (Syringa patula) Flowering almond (Prunus triloba) Spirea (Spiraea species)

Ground Covers:

Lamium (shown at right) Ajuga (Ajuga reptans) Bishop's weed (Aegopodium podagraria) English ivy (Hedera helix) Epimendium (Epimendium grandiflorum) Winter creeper (Euonymus fortunei) Ferns Liriope (Liriope species) Ornamental grasses Pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis) Vinca (Vinca minor)

Perennial Flowers:

Daylily and Hosta (shown at right) Artemisia Astilbe Autumn Joy sedum Basket-of-gold alyssum Candytuft Cerastium Chrysanthemum Moss phlox Potentilla Soapwort

Trees:

Kousa dogwood (shown at right) Amur maple (Acer ginnala) Callery pear (Pyrus calleryana) Flowering cherry (Prunus species) Flowering crab apple (Malus species) Hawthorn (Crataegus species) Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) Magnolia (Magnolia stellata) Redbud (Cercis canadensis) Serviceberry (Amelanchier laevus)

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