Plants and Trees

Plants and trees provide beauty and privacy around the backyard. If you grow plants that are tall enough, they will form privacy screens around the backyard. But plants must be chosen wisely. Strive for low-maintenance plants. For instance, you don't want large deciduous trees around backyard enhancements such as swimming pools, as you will end up constantly fishing leaves out of the water. Even needle-bearing evergreen trees can be messy. A good alternative is a broadleaf evergreen such as holly. Avoid fruit trees: not only are they messy, but the fruit attracts bees. And as beautiful as flowers are, be aware that they, too, can be bee-magnets. Even worse, plants with invasive root systems can damage decks and swimming pools over the years.

Remember to also make considerations if you have a saltwater pool. You will need to choose a salt-tolerant plant. A less-messy choice would be either a winterberry or a Bar Harbor juniper. Plant trees on the south side of the pool for added shade and a feeling of lush coolness. Remember to avoid shading the whole pool area so you’ll still have a place to sun yourself on cloudy days.


It is interesting that something as commonplace as grass could have such appeal in landscaping. The green tint of grass is beautiful, and the soft feel of grass brings back memories of childhood. Today, grass is also appealing because it is good for the environment; it absorbs rainfall into the soil and prevents erosion. You may not plan on planting any grass seed. Whether you use grass seed or not, however, you'll have one of two types of grass: warm season or cool season.

Warm season

Warm season grass mostly grows in the southern United States and is at its best during the summer, or, more accurately, from April to October. Bermuda grass and buffalo grass are two popular warm season grasses.

Cool season

Cool season grass grows in the central and northern regions of the United States, and it flourishes during the spring and fall and slows during the summer. Kentucky bluegrass and fescue are well-known cool season grasses.

Grass Considerations

Your home area will determine which category of grass you can support, but within each category, you'll have several options. At this point, personal preferences of grass coarseness, color, and hardiness will govern your decision. You should also consider how much shade and water particular types of grass will require. Of course, an entirely different option is to purchase synthetic grass. Synthetic grass (i.e. Astroturf) looks like grass, but it is made of plastic. It's incredibly easy to clean and you can have it in any part of the country.


Neatly mulched beds improve the appearance of any landscape. Beyond its appearance, a layer of mulch provides many other benefits. Mulch protects the plants' root systems and can add much-needed nutrients to the soil.  Mulch also prevents the erosion of topsoil. Though applying mulch may seem like a chore, it can actually save you effort later in the season. Because mulch helps to prevent weeds and retain moisture, you'll spend less time weeding and watering your garden and more time enjoying it. In order for mulch to work and look its best, you must choose the best material for your garden and apply it properly. Mulch is available in both organic and inorganic material:

Organic Mulches

Compost is one of the best mulches for providing benefits to the soil, but the rich medium also provides a great place for weeds. Some compost is not very attractive.  If appearance is important, use compost as a soil amendment and find a more visually pleasing material to cover it.

Wood Chips or Shavings are visually pleasing and provide all the characteristics of mulch. Like sawdust, it is advisable to use older, decomposed material. Wood mulch that has not been properly aged or turned regularly can contain toxins and acids that are harmful to young plants. Fungal contamination can also occur with unseasoned wood mulch.

Bark is sold as chunks, nuggets, or shredded. Bark is one of the most attractive (and more expensive) mulch materials, so it may be best used in more visible areas. Pine, cedar, and cypress are the most common varieties. In addition to its appearance, bark provides good weed prevention and moisture retention. Also, bark nuggets will last for years.

Straw is the leftover stem portion of harvested grain. It is lightweight and therefore not always easy to apply. It decomposes quickly and therefore needs replacing more often than other mulches. Its appearance may not make it a top choice for the landscape. However, straw does make a good cover for newly seeded lawn areas.

Hay - the stem portion of grasses, is often confused with straw. Hay is likely to contain weed seeds, so use it with caution. Both straw and hay are good plant nutrients and work well in the vegetable garden where weeds can easily be pulled.

Pine Needles are sold in bales like straw which makes them relatively easy to transport and apply. They are long lasting and attractive.

Inorganic Mulches

Plastic warms the soil and blocks air and water. Plant growth is accelerated by the added heat and moisture retained underneath the mulch layer. Since plastic is solid, moisture must be provided by an irrigation system underneath or by careful hand watering. Usually sold in rolls, either black or clear plastic can be used. Black is impervious to light, while clear plastic has been known to let weeds germinate and grow beneath. On the downside, plastic can overheat the plant's roots or retain too much moisture, particularly if the plastic is covered with a layer of organic mulch for appearance sake. Plastic will freeze, so you may need to take it up in the fall. If used on slopes, any material placed on top of plastic will wash away or slide off. Plastic is well suited for use in vegetable gardens.

Brick or Stone is a long-lasting mulch that offers a neat appearance but may not blend with every landscape design. These hardscapes offer some weed control. Brick and stone (especially lighter shades) will reflect heat back up towards plants, which may be harmful. Take caution - if pieces are strewn into the lawn, they can become potential hazards when mowing.

Landscape Fabric is purchased in rolls and provides good weed control. Unlike plastic, the fabric allows air and moisture to penetrate into the soil and plant roots.  Overall, it's the best inorganic mulch for long-term use. Roots can become enmeshed in the fabric, making removal difficult, so be sure to remove weeds as soon as you see them.

When laying mulch, a one - two inch layer of fine mulch should be sufficient, while a coarser material should be three - four inches deep. Too much of either type can suffocate your plants. In areas where you simply want to keep anything from growing, lay it on as thick as you like. Coverage will vary greatly based on what type of mulch you use and how deeply it is layered.

In general, one cubic yard of mulch will roughly cover 100 sq. ft. at a 3 inch depth and 160 sq. ft. at a 2 inch depth.

1 cubic yard of mulch = 27 cubic feet = (9) 3 cu. ft. bags or (13.5) 2 cu. ft. bags.

Use our landscape calculator to determine how much you will need for your specific area.


When landscaping, you want to have a nutrient-rich soil that is ready for planting. However, some soils need some additional help. Adding topsoil helps improve the existing soil in the yard. Topsoil is paramount in helping plants and trees grow because the trees and plants usually "dig" into the topsoil, where the roots become concentrated. The topsoil also is where vegetation gets most of the nutrients it needs to grow. When planting a garden, for example, it's important to rotate the topsoil so that it retains its nutritional value. If it does not get rotated, it will eventually be stripped of any nutrients that it contains. When a soil loses nutrients is known as topsoil erosion.