What’s Your Backyarding Personality?
by Laurel-Ann Dooley
Spring is here! And with it comes warmer temperatures, beautiful blooms and the opportunity to enjoy your outside space. If your backyard is a little lackluster, you might find yourself wanting to do something to spice it up and make it perfect for you.
But where to begin on your backyarding journey? You’ll need a plan, and that means figuring out what your wants and needs are and how best you’ll use your outdoor space. Is it more important to you to use your space for outdoor entertaining or as a gardening oasis?
If you need help figuring out your exact outdoor living personality, read on to uncover which of the five descriptions fits you best. Then check out our tips for creating a space that fits your style.
1. The Future Master Gardener
Have you ever headed out, planning to just prune a few shrubs, only to continue to weed the flowerbed, transplant a Japanese maple, make a Home Depot plant run and stop only because it’s getting dark? If the answer is yes, you fit the Master Gardener mold.
The keys to perfecting your garden
Consider the big two. According to Bryce Lane, the Emmy-winning host of the half-hour horticulture show “In the Garden,” the key to a great garden is understanding two basic principles: soil composition and light exposure. “The two main reasons plants die is that they’re not planted in the right light or in soil that supports them,” he says. Do your research to determine what plants are best suited to your yard.
Get tough. Eric King, the owner of King Landscaping in Marietta, recommends circumspection in plant selection. “Choose adaptable plants rather than reacting to weather conditions for any given year,” he says. “When we have dry years, everyone wants to plant cactus, and then in wet years, people want water-loving plants. We are going to have more extremes of everything, so pick plants that will survive in a wide range of conditions, wet/dry and hot/cold.”
Size matters. Plan for the future when it comes to growth. “Select plants that mature to the size you ultimately want them to be so you don’t have to continually prune them to keep them from taking over,” says King.
2. The Casual Container Creator
What if you don’t have the time, or interest, to go full-on Farmer Brown? You’re someone who likes to frequently change things up and favors fast results. Your characteristics make you the ideal Casual Container Creator.
Top tips for a successful container garden
Let your imagination go. When container gardening, you’re less restricted when it comes to light, size or water requirements. Just remember the potting design formula: thriller, filler and spiller. You need a tall, splashy focal point, rounded plants to fill in around it, and trailing plants to tumble down the sides.
All the world’s a container. Deciding what to use as your container is as much a part of the process as picking your plants. Go classic with clay pots, use a window box, buy a raised bed or re-purpose an old wheelbarrow—anything goes. Just be sure there are holes in your container to allow for drainage.
Bring in the experts. Talk to the trained staff at your local garden store about the soil and drainage needs of the plants you’re considering. They can advise you if your plan contains incompatible components and then steer you in the right direction.
3. The Laid-Back Landscaper
Does your job or your family keep you so busy you never get to outdoor chores? If so, you, my friend, might be a Laid-Back Landscaper.
Three ideas for a low-maintenance landscape
Play hard. The easiest way to avoid messy maintenance and never-ending mowing is to simply cut down your green space. Take advantage of the latest trends in hardscaping to create an exciting multi-purpose space that is just as artful and elegant as natural blooms.
Fake it till you make it. Astroturf or faux-sod is gaining increasing popularity for its ability to mimic the real thing without all the hassle of watering, weeding and mowing. With various color options, blade lengths and textures, you can roll out the green carpet for your guests all year long.
Go native. For greenery that requires the least amount of work, select plants and trees native to your area and soil. Georgia’s low-maintenance favorites include crepe myrtles, hydrangeas, witch hazel and Japanese maples.
4. The Eco-Friendly Family
Do you recycle religiously and believe everyone shares responsibility for global well-being? If you keep thinking you need to apply your earth-friendly philosophy to your outdoor property, you might be an Eco-Friendly Family.
Get started with these eco-friendly efforts
Consider composting and rain collection. Feed your garden top-notch nutrients and reduce landfill waste. Simply get a bin and add your cooking throwaways, grass clippings and weeds. These green organic elements should comprise 25% to 50% of your compost mixture. The rest should be brown organic matter like dead leaves and paper. You can also use rain barrels to collect highly oxygenated rainwater to reduce the amount of city water you use when watering your plants.
Create a pollinator habitat. When you include native plants that butterflies, birds and bees are attracted to, you help maintain the ecosystem by encouraging pollination of plants that humans and animals eat. Plus, you provide a friendly habitat for threatened pollinator populations.
Use eco-safe pest control. Heavy-duty pesticides kill more than just mosquitos, for example, pollinator bees, leaving homeowners in a quandary. Several pest control companies offer organic options, some more environmentally friendly than others. Ask about their methods, learn about which ingredients are both effective and safe, and make your decision.
Looking for more information about eco-friendly gardening? Check out the Georgia Green Landscape Stewards Program, created by the University of Georgia Extension (https://site.extension.uga.edu/georgiagreen).
5. The Outdoor Entertainer
Do you enjoy time outside with friends and family but aren’t particularly keen on getting down in the dirt? If so, you might fit the profile of the Outdoor Entertainer, one who enjoys their backyard space like they do their inside space: for social interaction and personal relaxation.
Things to consider for entertaining alfresco
Make it homey. Use your indoor decorating experience outdoors. “The easiest thing a homeowner can do is accessorize,” says King. “An outdoor room is just another room, so furnish it the same way you would inside with great lighting, comfortable furniture, art and sound.”
Take it to the next level. When what you envision involves significant hardscaping, you can’t go it alone. Build a folder of photos to show landscape designers when you meet with them. See a koi pond you like? Take a picture of it. Be prepared and know what you want before you get into those first meetings.
Aim to self-sustain. Since your focus is on the living sections of your backyard, make the natural portion as hands-off as possible. “Let nature do the heavy lifting by creating or maintaining natural areas in your yard,” says King. “Those are places with a mix of native trees and plants that create a self-sustaining habitat.”
Patience, Young Grasshopper
If you’ve been having trouble finding a landscaper who has time to meet with you, much less take on your project, you’re not alone. Interest in outdoor living spaces had already been on the rise over the past 5 to 10 years, says Mary Kay Woodworth, executive director of the Georgia Urban Agriculture Council, “but with the pandemic, it’s like it’s on steroids. Landscapers had an incredible 2020 and 2021, and they’re not anticipating any slowdown.”
Her advice is simple: Be patient. “We’re all used to immediate gratification,” says Woodworth, “and it’s just not realistic right now.” The problems parallel everything the construction industry is facing: high demand, supply chain issues and labor shortages.
After speaking at a recent landscaping convention, Bryce Lane, host of horticulture show “In the Garden,” commented that customer backlog is currently universal and long wait times unavoidable. “From what I heard, 18 month lead times are not uncommon,” he recounts.
In addition to shoring up your reserves of patience, Lane recommends ongoing communication. “My advice to homeowners who are working with landscapers is to not badger them but to open a line of communication.”
Consider taking small steps yourself while you wait. You can’t install a pool, but you can add a planter and some comfortable seating. You’ll be surprised at how just those initial touches can make a difference.
Bringing the Outside In
While creating outdoor living areas has become a top homeowner trend, do not for a minute think that that interior space has been forgotten in the surge of leafy love. According to the National Gardening Association, houseplant sales in the U.S. increased 50% to $1.7 billion from 2016 to 2019, an amount attributed to nesting millennials. Then the pandemic hit, and indoor gardening spiked an additional 18%.
The reasons are numerous. Studies show that indoor plants increase concentration and productivity, lower stress and improve mood.
Interior designers have embraced houseplant popularity as well. “We love to use plants in projects,” said Stephanie Andrews, founder of the interior design firm Balance Design. “Plants add life energy to a room. We need that in our homes. Bringing the outdoors in, whether it be plants, a water feature or lots of sunlight, will make all the difference in your mood.”
And as a matter of pure science, plants release oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide and other harmful toxins from the indoor atmosphere. Consider these top 10 air purifiers: areca palm, lady palm, bamboo palm, rubber plant, dracaena, English ivy, dwarf date palm, ficus, Boston fern and peace lily.