DIY burnout


I haven’t posted in awhile. I was considering why not, and it occurred to me that a Do-It-Yourself-er saves money by working on projects themselves. But when all the work is done by you, projects compete with your other priorities for your time and just don’t always come in first.

For all you DIY-ers who are going strong this spring, I just added a new page on backyard landscape design ideas. It includes ideas for planning your dream backyard.

This past year I haven’t put yard improvements at the top of my list, but I still have been able to enjoy my landscape. Many of the plants I added when first moving here are reaching mature sizes. I enjoy walking around the yard and seeing the flowers and new growth during spring. This is the part of landscaping that I find rewarding: a beautiful space that complements the surrounding desert and inspires me.

So, when a landscape is in stasis, what do I do to maintain everything? So far this year we’ve harvested citrus fruit, pruned trees and bushes, sprayed pre-emergent on all rocked areas, weeded around plants, planted a small garden, and added a few new plants. Spring is a good time to check that all irrigation emitters are working properly. The seals on the irrigation valve near the house get old and leaky, requiring replacement every few years. A xeriscape landscape is easier to maintain than many others because many of these chores are only done once a year.

This year my garden included lettuce, sunflowers, and zucchini. The lettuce is already bolting in the heat and the zucchini will die off in another month. The birds love the sunflowers.sunflowers_arizona

I added a couple of new native plants this year that I found at the Black Mountain Nursery in Cave Creek. I found Mormon tea, goldeneye, and desert milkweed there. I have better luck finding native plants at independent nurseries than at chain stores.

In the future, I still have plans to do some big projects in the yard. I would like to build a ramada-style porch extension, add crushed granite on all walkways, install flagstone pavers on the back porch and some artificial turf immediately off of that, and finish landscaping one area with some more shrubs.

Whether you’re starting projects or enjoying what you have, hope you enjoy your landscape this spring!

DIY Landscape design

8 Steps to DIY xeriscape landscape design

Design ideas

Creating a landscape design isn’t as hard as it may seem. I did one for a friend last year and want to share the steps I used.

1. Map your yard

My friend owns an acre lot and wanted a landscape design for her front yard that included a circular drive. We used a tape measure to calculate the size of the exterior of her house, the fence line, and distance to the front of her lot. Then I printed out 10 square per inch graph paper and drew these features onto the paper. For her big yard, I glued a few pieces together to get a square big enough.

DIY Landscape design

Here’s the design I drew for my friend with a gravel circular drive.

2. Select theme plants

This is important. A well designed landscape sticks to a theme and uses repetitions of certain theme plants to create uniformity. Unplanned landscapes with one or two of a variety of plants don’t look great. I recommended to my friend to pick a favorite tree, three favorite bushes, and a couple favorite cacti to begin. For example, she already had two mesquite trees, so she chose mesquite for her theme tree.

My preference is obviously for a native desert theme, but you can create a landscape with any theme. The “theme” plants should all contribute to whichever look you’re trying to attain.

Sonoran desert theme plants

Sonoran desert theme plants

3. Add hills, hardscape, and walk ways

The circular drive was already a must. I added a river bed, walkway leading to her side gate, hills, and informal courtyard area around the main entrance.

Driveway idea

Driveway idea

4. Draw plants onto design

Add plants! I like to avoid planting trees in a line. Consider where you want shade, where you don’t want roots, and what looks natural. Cluster bushes in groups of at least three, odd numbers look good. Notice how landscapes that have been professionally designed use a variety of plants but always in multiples that repeat throughout the landscape. Feel free to copy planting ideas you’ve seen elsewhere!  Use bushes to fill in and make a landscape lush. Aim for three times as many bushes as trees, if you have the space. Finally we added cacti. Since they are smaller, we filled them in where they could be seen from the front and along walkways.

5. Plan water system

Either you already have an irrigation system in place or you plan to build one from scratch. Either way, it is important to plan before you plant so you can consider water requirements and your irrigation system’s capabilities. For this yard, we planned the entire front yard on one zone (meaning all plants get watered on the same schedule). So all plants needed similar water requirements. We decided the back yard would have a zone for higher water plants, since they wanted to plant some non-native pine trees along the side of the house in back, and so we planned that one higher water line would come through a hole in the block fence and allow three citrus trees near the fence in the front yard.

6. Build from the bottom up

Irrigation lines first, then hills and hardscape like cement, fences, or crushed granite walkways. For hills of any significance, I’ve seen most yards need a small tractor or bobcat and some extra fill dirt. Plants come next and decorative rock last.

7. Buy plants and plant in stages

If you are doing a large yard yourself, you may want to plant a section at a time to allow yourself to see how the plants do. Especially since in my opinion, a nice landscape has A LOT of plants. You can plant your trees and a section of bushes, then see how they acclimate through the hot or cold season– they may take extra watering through the first summer. If you have a plant that doesn’t seem to do well in your yard, better to lose 3-5 than 10-15 plants due to stress. Cacti can also be finicky when getting established, as I’ve learned watching them sunburn or rot from over-watering.

Landscape in progress

Landscape in progress

8. Add rock and finishing touches

When your plants are in the ground and thriving, then you can add landscape rock, boulders, potted plants, furniture… watch wildlife…

Any beautiful landscape will require ongoing maintenance: checking water lines, some pruning, perhaps replacing or moving a plant. But I love native desert xeriscape because with little water and care the plants can create a lush Sonoran oasis.

Design idea: update your small front yard landscape

Design ideas

Quick front yard redo (small yard)

Thinking about changing your landscape? Summer is a great time to plan a new landscape design. Let’s say you want to redo your front yard landscape by adding a bunch of plants without changing your current drip irrigation system.

Here’s my hypothetical small front yard with one mesquite tree and three Texas sage. I drew my idea on 1/4 inch graph paper. 1/4″ equals 1 foot. The yard area is 30 x 15 feet.

Small Yard original design

First, map existing emitters and a rough idea of where your drip line runs.

Next, add plants. I had three goals in this design: increase color, add plants without adding emitters, and pick plants that are commonly available.

Here are the plants I picked: 4 red fairy duster bushes, 3 Santa Rita prickly pear, 3 green desert spoon, 7 golden torch cacti, 4 fire barrel cacti, and 2 bunny ears prickly pear. The desert spoon are functioning like a grass in the design, but you could substitute Mormon tea or ocotillo.

Here’s the new design, colored so you can imagine the end result.

Small Yard new landscape design

Small Yard new landscape design

Notice I didn’t just space everything evenly around the yard. I also NEVER use just one of a plant, use multiples. Even though space in this yard is very limited, I used small and large plants. A bigger yard would allow more variety and more empty areas or plant groupings. You could also add some hardscape features such as boulders.

The best part of this design is you might not have to add any emitters to your current drip system. If the mesquite has a basin around it that fills up when it is watered, the fairy dusters can share. The golden torch, barrel cacti, and desert spoon should do fine if they are hand watered every 1-2 weeks their first year in the ground. The prickly pears may have to get added to the drip system, depending on how they do. Hand watering them every two weeks in the summer would make it possible to leave them off.