Instant landscaping is costly, but many garden improvements are within the reach of a do-it-yourself weekend gardener’s budget. The secret is to expend muscle power instead of money. Here’s a sketch of some manageable landscape projects that you can try when time is on your side. (A prudent reminder: Call your utility locating service and have them mark all underground lines before you do any digging.)
Remove Oversized Shrubs
If you must annually prune your foundation plants to see your house or to see out your windows, it’s time to whack, dig, and replant.
WHAT TO DO: First, severely prune an offending shrub to a one-foot-tall, no shorter, stub. Use a pointed spade to trench vertically around the base of the stub. Expose the roots before cutting them– when an axe may be needed. (Hint: Soaking compacted ground makes digging easier.) Work the spade underneath the stub and lever the roots out by prying with the spade and by rocking the stub. When the roots are freed, knock or wash the soil back into the hole. Bundle the roots and pruned tops for disposal.
Install a Brick Mowing Strip
Few garden features catch the eye like a clearly defined edge. A brick or masonry mowing strip does this and provides a surface for the mower’s wheels when you cut the grass. Use brick pavers to resist weathering and calculate three bricks for each linear foot of edging.
WHAT TO DO: First, dig a trench at least eight inches wide and four inches deep around the bed. Fill the trench with two inches of sand. (100 feet of edging requires approximately 300 bricks and slightly more than 12.5 cubic feet of sand [100 x 0.75 x 0.17 = 12.5 cubic feet (two inches is one-sixth foot or 0.17)].) Set the bricks in the sand bed, making their tops level with the ground. Snug each brick in place and fill firmly and completely to set. Sweep sand between the bricks, fill in around the edges, and tamp again. Annual maintenance may require resetting some bricks after frost heaves. Be vigilant about weed or grass growth between bricks. Tip : If this is around a new planting bed, prepare the soil in the bed before installing the edge.
Easy, Low Retaining Walls
A low retaining wall can help solve the awkward maintenance of sloping ground. There are many precast concrete landscape retaining wall systems that make constructing an 18- to 24-inch high wall a simple, affordable project. These systems use interlocking blocks, friction, or a system of pins to secure the wall. Most of the work needed will be in digging a trench for the base of the wall.
WHAT TO DO: Locate the wall in the slope and choose a height so that the top will be about four to six inches higher than the existing slope. (You will backfill this space with planting soil.) If you have a short slope to a street sidewalk, leave a foot of yard between the front of the wall and the sidewalk, for plantings. Dig a trench deep enough for six inches of a gravel base plus an additional one inch per foot of wall height. Placing part of the first course of blocks below the grade helps support the wall. Leave some room behind the wall for crushed rock backfill. Add crushed stone to the trench, rake it level, then tamp it to six inches to form a solid base. Make sure this base course is level along the length of the wall. Lay the first course of blocks. Check levelness front to back and along the length frequently. Fill in behind the wall with gravel to facilitate groundwater drainage. Stack the next course so that the vertical joints between blocks in the different courses are offset from each other. Backfill behind the top two courses with topsoil ready for planting. Add a top course of capstone block for a finished look!