Overwhelmed by overgrown backyard

by N'neka
I have a shaded backyard that up until last year was completely wooded. We had a few trees hit by lightening so we had them cut down and the guys thinned it out a lot. Before the trees were cut you could barely see the fence. It's still too much shade for much grass so now weeds and brush have filled in where trees once were and it's an eyesore. I have no idea what to do with it. The shade, the slope and my 2 large dogs makes my yard a good challenge for a landscaper but that's probably not something we can do for at least 1-2 years. So my questions are:
1) What can we do in the meantime to at least make it pleasant to sit out on the patio?
2) How much should one spend on pro landscaping in comparison to the value of the home? I view home improvements as something for my personal enjoyment and not as an investment. However I wouldn't want to waste too much money on inappropriate landscaping for the area?
3) I want to get some quotes now so I can have a goal to save for this project. I have no idea if I should be looking at $2000 or $20,000. But I don't want to waste anyone's time since I can't start soon. When is a good time to contact companies for estimates?
  60 answers
  • Donna McCrummen Donna McCrummen on Mar 26, 2012
    I'd like to see the answers as I have a very similar situation.
  • Erica Glasener Erica Glasener on Mar 26, 2012
    You could start by getting Southern Trillium (regular contributors to Hometalk) to give you an estimate for a design. They are from the Stone Mountain area and do beautiful work.
  • Susan B Susan B on Mar 26, 2012
    I agree with soldiers.I like to do a section of my yard and later I will do another section.keep doing that and you will have yourself a nice back yard in no time.Plan out what you like to see out there and just start and add as you can afford it.I did that and now I have walkways,patio with a pergola,Garden pond,sitting areas all over the yard and garden.I think it is a lot more fun to do it this way.This way it won't sting the pocket book.
  • Douglas Hunt Douglas Hunt on Mar 27, 2012
    I would certainly seek the advice of a professional now. They can help you plan the work for stages that you can afford, and you will avoid making mistakes now that ultimately make the job more expensive.
  • Mindi B Mindi B on Mar 27, 2012
    I think I would try and keep the weeds down as much as possible, plant some bulbs, add some bird feeders and enjoy the wildlife while you wait to save the money to landscape it -- :)
  • Beatrice Abfalter Beatrice Abfalter on Mar 27, 2012
    I have a patch of small woods close to my house, this summer I'm going to run a couple of pigs in them, hopefully they will help clear the small brushes out of it.
  • Greedith B Greedith B on Mar 27, 2012
    I'm a do it yourselfer, I would start out spraying and getting rid of the poison ivy. Cut out the small brushy stuff and saplings that you don't want. Then you can at least see what you have and where to begin. And my beginning, would be with what is closest to the house. then when your way out. But most of all enjoy yourself while you are out there...
  • John J John J on Mar 27, 2012
    it really don't look that bad, get yourself a crappy used push mower,and set it to cut fairly high, and mow it.. the more you mow, the better it will look, make sure you pick up all the big sticks first..and i highly suggest eye protection, and boots and jeans..
  • John J John J on Mar 27, 2012
    i would like to add, a shade mix of grass seed works wonders, and it can all be done fairly cheaply.
  • Steph M Steph M on Mar 27, 2012
    I wouldn't get pigs, but my goats sure did a good job on our ravine. I think pigs would tear up the soil too much.
  • Lois N Lois N on Mar 27, 2012
    I could see daffodils and crocus being planted in strategic places to give a splash of color, then the layered (terraced) look being made with local stones would give a rustic look to your yard. Then add in the critter protected bird feeders, and you will have entertainment for the rest of the summer. But don't forget to feed them all winter long!! Good luck and have fun!
  • Donna Marie P Donna Marie P on Mar 27, 2012
    I think if you can't afford to have help then mow it down and seed it with wildflowers so that until you can afford to do something with it it will have color and beauty.
  • Steph M Steph M on Mar 27, 2012
    I've gone with the natural look for most of my 11 acres simply because of cost. Bulbs are an awesome way to help with the spring color and keeping the growth down in the summer/fall helps with the mosquitos. I did spread forget-me-not seeds the first year we lived here and it was a beautiful blue carpet in the spring. But that might be very invasive where you are.
  • KMS Woodworks KMS Woodworks on Mar 27, 2012
    It looks like a fine "natural" landscape to me. Just like my entire yard. Though out here in the west, we lack the hardwoods and the diverse understory plants. The fact that you have now lost those trees means more sunlight will reach the forest floor...the nest line of growth will be more woody shrubs and some forbs. These will be very low maintenance as any native forest would got through the same form of succession. If there are species that are undesirable you could selectively remove them or "weed them out" leaving behind a managed spread.
  • Jeanne D Jeanne D on Mar 27, 2012
    Similar situation here. Fianlly put in a large stone koi/wildlife pond with waterfall (maintenance required due to other trees). Large mulch beds around the pond, terraced with rocks as suggested by others. Left half the yard natural. Still don't know what to do with lawn where dogs run. Sod estimate was $4,000 in part because of slope - needs pins. Costco has artificial turf that drains but I'd need it installed and would only use it in areas with no large trees. The risk isn't worth it. Lois has a good idea, feed and enjoy the birds. Careful for the ivy - I've got it bad already.
  • Dawn N Dawn N on Mar 27, 2012
    The first question to ask yourselves is: how do we want to use this area? Just to look at? To walk through? To sit/dine/play in? The answers will help guide you as you think about whether you will do some things yourself or use a landscaper or a combination.
  • Mary T Mary T on Mar 27, 2012
    Start close to the house, borders , bushes, plants etc....and let the rest go...very peaceful lookiing....
  • Diy Design Fanatic Diy Design Fanatic on Mar 27, 2012
    My next door neighbor and I have similar wooded yards to yours. He spent well over $20,000 about 10 yrs ago on his landscaping because he had it professionally done. We did our yard ourselves over a period of several years and our cost was about 5 or $6,000. I designed a plan and we'd do a section at a time. You can see our yard here: http://diydesignfanatic.blogspot.com/2012/03/making-yard-work-easier.html and here: http://diydesignfanatic.blogspot.com/2010/04/my-garden-ii.html Hope that helps.
  • KMS Woodworks KMS Woodworks on Mar 27, 2012
    @ Pam...you did a fine job there...
  • Diy Design Fanatic Diy Design Fanatic on Mar 27, 2012
    My next door neighbor and I have very similar wooded lots to yours. My neighbor hired a professional landscaper (about 10 years ago) and spent $18,000 on the first part, then more later putting in a patio and fireplace. We spent 5- $6,000 and did our landscaping ourselves over a period of several years. I designed a plan and we did a section at a time. You can see our garden here:http://diydesignfanatic.blogspot.com/2012/03/making-yard-work-easier.html and here: http://diydesignfanatic.blogspot.com/2010/04/my-garden-ii.html . Hope that helps.
  • Mary E Mary E on Mar 27, 2012
    pam r, it's gorgeous. great idea.
  • Diy Design Fanatic Diy Design Fanatic on Mar 27, 2012
    Thanks! Didn't mean to post twice...sorry about that. Had to sign in and thought my comment was lost.
  • Diy Design Fanatic Diy Design Fanatic on Mar 27, 2012
    My other neighbor just hired someone to come in and clear their brush and some trees. The guys came in with a machine like a Bobcat that had a front attachment that looked like a big roller/grinder that ground up anything in it's path. Had never seen anything like it. We are going to hire them to do some clearing in our woods past our mulch line to clean things up a bit. Will probably post about it after we get it done.
  • Crystal N Crystal N on Mar 27, 2012
    All great ideas - lots of wild and domestic shade plants would naturalize very well in that area. I made a nature walk path through my woodland with pinned down landscape fabric with rocks and filled in the path with cedar chips. Then along path I added in some more top soil here and there and planted white and light colored impatients to give me a splash and color as I stroll the pathway. Bleeding hearts also add nice color in the spring and lovey greenery during the summer.
  • Melissa G Melissa G on Mar 27, 2012
    N'neka, based on my experience, just go ahead and get some estimates now. It will give you an idea of things that can be done with your yard and help you decide whether to hire a professional or do it yourself. As others recommend, start with the area closest to your house and move on from there, maybe tackling a corner here or there as time and budget allow.
  • Keith B Keith B on Mar 27, 2012
    I would create a path winding through it then go hosta crazy
  • Douglas Hunt Douglas Hunt on Mar 28, 2012
    Whether you do the work yourself or hire a professional, the key is having a plan. If you're comfortable doing that yourself, go for it. You may end up with a space as great-looking as Pam's above. if that is not something you're into, you'll should hire someone. Even a good local nursery should be willing to come out for an initial consultation at a modest cost.
  • N'neka N'neka on Mar 28, 2012
    Thanks everyone for your suggestions and ideas. I definetely need a pro to create a vision but it didn't occur to me that I could just get a plan for now. I was thinking landscape designers would only do a full installation. Pam your yard is beautiful and has given me lots of good ideas and hope for my yard.
  • KMS Woodworks KMS Woodworks on Mar 28, 2012
    Be careful around those tree roots...any aggressive tilling can mess things up. Check out this post. http://www.hometalk.com/diy/outdoor/garden/great-way-to-kill-a-tree-148052
  • Wendy B Wendy B on Mar 28, 2012
    Pam your yard is perfection. I work every day trying to keep mine a quarter as nice! How do you keep it so weed free...I too live in N.C. up in the mountains and def. can't afford thousands in mulch. Trying to eliminate weeds feels hopeless!
  • PFG PFG on Mar 28, 2012
    Honestly, it looks like there is no plan for your yard & not a bad thing, but who's going to be doing the work is key? If it's you, do u have help or if it's u alone, it will be a slower pace, not as much fun, but will eventually u will get done. Section ur yard into sections I'm thinking 5 will do. With having an assundry of yards to be dealt with over the years...try this approach for focus of where u want to go with it. There's millions of things that can be done, but what are u willing & can afford to do? It might take budgeting & do u expect to accomplish all of it prior to 2012 summer or by doing the work over a specified period of time of several years? (summer is no good here with planting trees & shrubs generally) If u have a spouse, talk it over, your likes & dislikes together to be able to manifest an action plan with what's priority & harmony together w/yardworks. Look at many approaches online to create ideas, know $ material costs, with what your capable, willing & can afford to do? Consider developments when an great sale is going for certain features to be done? With family & friends, with having assistance with necessary actions by using the positive approaches work great & with working out compromises more easily, if it's necessary. What is it u or both of u want to achieve? I'm in GA myself, u might consider hitting it hard presently, while trees are more dormant & not full of Spring growth yet, but it's changing everyday here presently. Leave have sprung on many types now. I personally would remove all the sporadic placed trees that are less than approx 6" to 8" in girth so that space can be useable spaces. I'd also walk the yard, look at it closely from all angles, & know it well. Learn the pitfalls & what the actually grounds composition? LIke anything that might be harmful, a hinderance, & maybe a thing to be removed. Access the flow & walkpaths you have or want to create with the development of your 5 sectioned areas I recommended to you. Which area has priority being done over others? Also, know the flow of water off your house, hillside & off your concrete deck? Start small & work the priorities & work the sectioned areas. It looks like in one of your pictures you have hefty good drip from the upper eave of your roof so probably no gutter exists above. This pic has plastic edging up close to the house forming mini planter space. Do u have plants, bulbs or what in this space? 12"X12" step pavers, modest in price can alleviate this action here. What else do you want to be done, Is this where the outside faucet is? What plant can or cannot block your windows or do you want this & what can tolerate water falling great distance on them like this? Arborvitae, evergreen, holly, hawthornes, maybe azalea's, u can consider? It appears in need of small, simple terracing in thruout your yard would be most beneficial. You could develop sever planters this way as u accomplish this task & amending the soil as u go along creating them. For me, I'd leave the large bushes in the yard alone at present & let that be a section all to itself until ur ready to tackle that one. Take it one section at a time, surf online all the many possibilities & your mastery will improve as u go along.
  • Diy Design Fanatic Diy Design Fanatic on Mar 28, 2012
    @Wendy, we put down mulch about every year and a half and do it ourselves. This keeps the weeds down. We just finished up last weekend and put down 23 yards of mulch. We have a trailer and pick up 4 yards at a time at a nearby landscape supply. Our total cost was about $$600. We get a coarser mulch than what you get at the big box store in bags. It looks good and lasts a whole lot longer, plus it costs less per yard.
  • Donna A Donna A on Mar 28, 2012
    I have the same situation and what I would do is naturalize the area by 1st.spraying down with a strong weed killer and kill all the vegetation and trim off limbs on trees. Put some different varietys of azealas and grown covers. Cover with pine straw to keep the weeds down. Make some walking trails using stepping stones and maybe even a small bridge end results...low maintenance and eco friendly.
  • Greedith B Greedith B on Mar 29, 2012
    Pam R your yard is Beautiful. How inspiring...I would love to do some of these things to my back yard..
  • Wendy B Wendy B on Mar 29, 2012
    I can't wait for my husband to get back from his out of state work and help me get moving. I think I will take Donna A's advice and spray off the weeds. I've been out daily trying to pull them and it is most discouraging. I have a ton of plants out and about and I love what we have planted it's just that they really need heavy mulching around them for the long term...what lasts longer pine straw or mulch? We also have a serious leaf issue in the Fall so have to blow the leaves, I think pine straw would stay packed down better for blowing but I'm not sure...thanks for all your responses!
  • Evelyn R Evelyn R on Mar 30, 2012
    Some plants to consider - spreading, shade loving: Lily of the Valley, Bishop Weed, Pachysandra and, of course, Hosta. The good thing is that just a couple of pots of these will cover a large area. Do you know "freecycle"? Often gardeners will post free plants, I do, every Spring.
  • Marylee Marylee on Mar 30, 2012
    I had an overgrown lot as well with lots of shade and it seemed overwhelming! I started with paper and pencil, and trips to the garden centers to see what others were planting. To enjoy your view immediately you may want to break your yard into different areas(Garden Rooms) and work one at a time.Start with some large shrubs to act as a screen so you beautify your view between the shrubs and the porch. You don't have to cut out your view of the yard completely just one little spot where your eyes will be drawn too. Naturalizing is nice too. Plant bulbs all in the area not being worked on and they will add color when they pop up.
  • Diy Design Fanatic Diy Design Fanatic on Mar 30, 2012
    Wendy, Hardwood mulch that is coarser(not the kind you get in bags at the big box stores), lasts longer than pine straw. You can get it delivered in bulk or go pick up a yard at a time from your local landscape supply. Companies will usually have double hammered mulch which is a very fine "grind" like the kind you get in bags at the store. Don't get double hammered. Ask for single hammered or a coarser mulch than double hammered. There's a huge difference. Another reason why I don't like pine straw is that it's difficult to see snakes in it and it seemed like there were more of them. With mulch, snakes have to slide on top of the mulch or go into a hole, they can't hide in it.
  • Donna A Donna A on Mar 30, 2012
    Wendy as fas as I know pine straw is a natural weed killer.
  • Evelyn R Evelyn R on Mar 30, 2012
    Meant to include FERNS, of course!
  • I would plan a strolling path first. Then pick a couple of small areas visible when you are sitting outside and add some swoops of plant material using both native plants and tried and true perennials, and a few annuals like impatiens for months of color. Ferns are always great. When I design woodland settings, I love using Lady In Red fern, among others. You can also plant native azaleas, pink and white dogwood trees, hydrangeas... Do it in stages, starting where you will enjoy the view the most. Many landscape designers like me offer full service from simple beds or mulching to total yard makeovers.
  • Wendy B Wendy B on Apr 03, 2012
    Thanks, Pam, for the pictures and advice. With a 4 year old out and about in the yard I know anything to discourage snakes or at least make them less likely to hide and hang about is good. I will start calling around tomorrow and see what I can find. Wedding planned out there in October! I have a lot of work ahead!
  • N'neka N'neka on Apr 03, 2012
    So far we've cut the grass, removed the bushes and filled up the flower beds. Already it looks much better and we haven't touched the wooded area yet. Next step is to re-establish the paths that my dogs originally made.
  • Erica Glasener Erica Glasener on Apr 04, 2012
    great progress!
  • Douglas Hunt Douglas Hunt on Apr 04, 2012
    You're on the way, N'neka!
  • Donna A Donna A on Apr 04, 2012
    Very nice.
  • Way to go. Looks like you are in control now!
  • Evelyn R Evelyn R on Apr 08, 2012
    Already looking great; good job.
  • Wendy B Wendy B on Apr 11, 2012
    I've been inspired. We found a place to buy the coarse mulch and are about to order it. We are paying them the 100 for delivery, 2 massive truck loads full. We decided with gas what it is, the multiple back and forth would not be far off anyway. I can't wait. Went out pulled weeds, bought spray to kill poison ivy and weeds and will go ahead and spray where they were before using paper/cardboard and then mulch. I'm super excited! I am posting a question on here for Pam R if she happens to still be reading. I noticed in pictures of your yard you have a nice trail leading to your circle with chairs sitting on top. Is that gravel on the walking trail or a different type of wood chips? Thanks N'neka for starting the post that got me moving forward!
  • Wendy B Wendy B on Apr 11, 2012
    I think we are actually getting pine mulch that is coarse...it was a lot less in cost and we have to buy so much. We discussed the need to just get it all covered now, then when we add to it each year we will not need the total thickness we need now so will add hardwood. I really hope we don't regret our logic. We are having a wedding this October, in that yard though and it has to look great! We are also putting in a dry creek bed for the water that rushes through our yard every rain and a small pond with a bridge over it. I'll shoot some pictures of the mess it is now, later on today...and then happily post the improvements as they come. I have a beautiful picture in my mind so I hope I can come close to creating it with my hard working husband!
  • Diy Design Fanatic Diy Design Fanatic on Apr 11, 2012
    Hey Wendy, The path is cypress chips. Not sure if you saw my blog, but there are more photos of my garden there. On the sidebar, go to the label section, then click on Outdoor Spaces. Has all of my outdoor projects. Here's the main blog link.diydesignfanatic.blogspot.com. You can always email directly from the blog or leave a comment on a specific post.
  • Donna A Donna A on Jun 18, 2012
    I can't wait to see your picture's Wendy.
  • Wendy B Wendy B on Jun 19, 2012
    It has been going slowly, Donna. Money, always money! I have quite a bit done but it always seems I am so far away from what I want. I will put some pics up very soon though.
  • Donna A Donna A on Jun 29, 2012
    I agree with you Wendy on the pine mulch its cheaper and its a natural weed killer. It also seems to stay drier. After you get the weeds under control and put your paths, stepping stones etc you could add some rocks and mulch. The stepping stones you can even make yourslef out of concerte cheap. I made some some square blocks and used as steps on a steep slope into my backyard. I then covered with pine mulch that we had from tree limbs off my pines trees. It was cheaper to have the large limbs trimmed off then to cut the tree down, a quick fix for some needed sunshine. They left the limbs and we rented a chipper and ended up with a nice pile of pine mulch.
  • Wendy B Wendy B on Jul 02, 2012
    Oh very soon on the pictures...just need a couple more days of under 100 degrees and I can begin to feel enough pride in the boring, but very needed clean up work I've done. Still no pond/waterfall, that is on my hubby's back, but I keep praying soon! I've weeded until my hands are swollen though, ended up with pine large chunk mulch around gazebo and on trails...finished with pine straw everywhere else for 2 reasons. The pine straw has shown to keep the weeds down better than the mulch and in the end it IS cheaper...there is actually another reason, it actually looked better. The wood chip mulch was getting to be toooooo much. The pine brought it back to looking more natural, less landscaped. It divided it into a woodland look vs the garden area.
  • Victoria S Victoria S on Jul 10, 2012
    Good ideas...just take each area a bit at a time...you'll get there sooner than you think. I am in the same boat myself after moving into a new home this year. Had living in my old home for 10 years and it was almost there. Oh well... Good luck!
  • TateTwo TateTwo on Jun 07, 2015
    Wendy, I feel you. I lived in Marietta for 20 years and never really got a handle on the yard. I think the first thing to do is think about getting estimates from reputable contractors. Cobb County puts out a free book every year that has consumer ratings and reviews in it on local contractors (see http://www.bestpickreports.com/) or you can research them on Yelp. Once you get an idea of the $$, then you can start a plan. It doesn't have to be on a grand scale - just something to easily control. Cutting down some of the smaller trees might be a start. Good luck!
  • Elizabeth Sagarminaga Elizabeth Sagarminaga on Sep 04, 2015
    Really, this is an awesome idea. I would love to try it out soon. Thanks for sharing the idea for making the backyard in such easy steps that can enhance the mood you are setting in you yard. I visited the link that you shared, it was a nice read.
  • Chris Chris on May 19, 2016
    for a new home it was considered that you should spend 10% of the cost of the home on its landscaping. So $200,000 house would be $20,000 in landscaping (but would also include professional designs)---but that always seemed too high to a DIYer. There are some native shrubs like ninebark and virburnums that grow fast for the fence. Around the house, yews are cheap for year around green, many type of daylilies and colors you might like. See if your city has a garden club with a plant sale-inexpensive perennials--and for advice. Just keeping it mowed would look neater after you identify the native wildflowers-usually bloom in the spring. Go to the library and get some books and read about deer resistant plants for your area. Mulch of any kind is like jewelry-really finishes the display. Even if you don't plant yet, use mulch over newspaper/paper bags for weed control around the house. Be careful of poison ivy, and pull that ivy off the tree and use it as a ground cover. Like they said, start with one section--(around the house for this year?), while you investigate what to do in the woods. Gardening is not like house decorating--plants grow & die, mulch decays, weeds happen. Enjoy the journey.
  • Carey Carey on Sep 11, 2016
    Wow, I never dreamed having a landscaper do my yard would be so very expensive!! Scary thought, though my son insists that that is what I need to do when I move to my new home. We moved here 26 years ago after moving before I saw the fruits of my labors for years before that. So I was delighted with my new yard that I got to landscape myself. Communicating my plans with my hubby and then bringing them to fruition was a journey in itself and took me years. Then family issues took president and I had to go care for them for 4 1/2 years. When I came home, my yard was a wreck and I spent the next years just trying to get caught up on it and was just to tired to keep up with the rapid weed growth-my yard had now become to big, but I had lovely flowers that I didn't want to walk away from. Then again, family needed care and now my yard is a complete wreck after 4 1/2 yrs away again. I then lost my husband of 53 years and I am so looking forward to moving to a new home, a new yard and help getting it looking good without 10 years of struggle and barely seeing the result before it was gone again. This time, the yard must be smaller, but I still want easy care flowers, and to take some of the sentimental flowers that I have enjoyed from family no longer here. I so understand your dilemma when you say you look at it and are just overwhelmed!!! Consider checking to see if there are some programs with kids at nearby schools that could be a resource to help design, and execute a portion of your project as an educational project. I hope that might work here where I currently live.