Home & Garden

Creating the Perfect Outdoor Oasis

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What better way to pass the summer than by spending it in our own backyard oasis? If your space needs a little help becoming the perfect retreat, we’ve found some tips from several local experts.

Sprucing up your backyard may not be as challenging as you think. There are experts right here in our area who understand lawn care, trees, outdoor furniture and various design elements.

Sprucing up your backyard may not be as challenging as you think. There are experts right here in our area who understand lawn care, trees, outdoor furniture and various design elements.

Now that warmer weather is upon us, it’s time to use our backyards for cookouts, playing games and spending time with loved ones.

If your backyard is in need of a little TLC, we’ve enlisted the help of a few area professionals to help you create an oasis that you’ve always imagined.

Whether you’re thinking about what type of shade tree to plant, what kind of furniture to use or how to keep your lawn looking like a pristine golf course, these experts are available to offer ideas and tips to help you bring comfort and tranquility to your backyard.

Furniture That Tells A Story

Each piece of furniture created at Leaf River Woodcrafters, 244 E. Riverside Blvd., Loves Park, is not only unique, but it can help tell a story.

From fireplace mantels to countertops, signs and benches, everything created is made from custom slabs of wood.

Leaf River offers decorative, custom ironwork and wood burning, where a design or name is burned on an item with an electrically heated tool. If you’re looking to recognize a loved one, Leaf River can use these techniques to create wedding and memorial benches. They can also use your photos and ideas to transform your favorite scene or memory into a work of art.

“You can come in and pick your wood, pick your legs, pick the style, pick the finish and pick the size and we can put your family name on it,” says Whitney Fogle, who co-owns the business with partner Gregory O’Neil. “We’ve put people’s horses on the back of a bench. We have a lot of design options.”

No matter what type of furniture you want created, the team at Leaf River can design and build it on-site.

“For example, you can have us make you a swing, and you can do a lot of the design elements yourself, and no one will have a swing like that,” Fogle says. “You can be the first in your neighborhood to have personalized, customized, one-of-a-kind furniture and a lot of people like that.”

Whitney says the wood used at Leaf River is the real deal. The company uses naturally sustainable timber, which is harvested, milled and handcrafted by the team at Leaf River. They carry a large line of building timber such as siding, paneling, rough sawn and dimensional lumber.

The team wants their products to be treasured for years to come.

“We use substantial, heavy, hardwood furniture,” Fogle says. “It won’t blow away and you can’t find furniture like this in a big-box store. This is real wood and it’s some beautiful stuff.”

Made in the Shade

You can have the most beautiful house in your neighborhood, but without any trees or landscaping, Jon Carlson, owner of J. Carlson Growers, 8938 Newburg Road, Rockford, says your property may look unfinished.

Trees not only add beauty and comfort, but they also provide shade and privacy.

“Shade trees provide a cool place to sit in your backyard and also provide a cooling effect on your home,” Carlson says. “They can also break up the noise from the road and provide privacy from your neighbors.”

Carlson says shade trees and flowering ornamental trees are popular purchases at this time of year. Maple, oak, elm, beech and ginkgo trees provide the most shade.

“Shade trees can grow 40 to 80 feet tall and ornamental trees generally grow between 15 to 30 feet,” he says. “When you’re planting a tree, you need to determine the mature height and width before beginning the planting process. Make sure they’re far enough away from your home or other large objects like a power line.”

One problem Carlson sees from people trying to plant a new tree is they’re not properly watering them.

“A new tree needs to be watered every week to 10 days,” he says. “Some people think it needs to be watered every day and some people think that if it rains, you don’t need to water it at all. The rain won’t be enough to take care of a new tree.”

How that tree is grown can determine how much to water it. A tree grown in a container will require more water than a tree grown in the ground. Planting a tree is not one size fits all, Carlson says, so it’s hard to determine how much water is needed for each individual one.

“Common sense goes a long way,” he adds. “Our job as nursery professionals is to educate our customers on how to plant things right, and how to care for them after they’re planted.”

Creating the Perfect Lawn

To create the perfect lawn, Jessie Moyer, office manager at LawnCare by Walter, 4235 S. Perryville Road, Cherry Valley, Ill., says three things need to work in unison. Your grass needs to be cut at just the right height, it has to be watered properly and it needs to have the proper fertilizer and weed control.

“It’s not an overnight process and it takes some patience and some TLC,” she says.

Mowing your lawn may keep your yard tidy, but cutting it too short could create some problems.

“We’ve seen a lot of people that cut their grass too short and when they do that, it strips away the nutrients in the grass,” Moyer says. “We try to educate customers and let them know that if they’re mowing, they want to raise their lawnmower deck really high. We want to see grass at two to three inches after it’s cut, but preferably three inches.”

Watering your lawn is also an important way to keep it maintained, but Moyer sees homeowners either watering their lawn too much or not at all.

“Last year, we had a dry spell and people let their grass get completely brown and they allowed their lawn to go into dormancy,” she says. “That can cause more stress and what happens in the following year is the grass isn’t as thick. That’s because forcing your lawn into dormancy too early can be harmful.”

LawnCare by Walter also offers a lawn care program that uses granular fertilizer and liquid herbicides, similar to what golf courses use, Moyer says. It includes five to six treatments of fertilizer and weed control, including products that can be applied to the lawn for turf-damaging insects.

“We’ll personally go to someone’s home and evaluate their lawn so we’ll know what their needs are,” Moyer says. “We’ll also help educate homeowners and tell them what they’re seeing in their lawn and how to help it.”

Even if you maintain your lawn, it’s going to take some time and patience to get it looking perfect.

“Sometimes, it can take a few years to get your lawn fully established and looking healthy,” she says. “It does take some time, but it does happen.”

A Splash of Color

Vibrant, annual plants found at Gensler Gardens, 102 Orth Road, Loves Park and 8631 11th St., Davis Junction, Ill., can make your backyard look beautiful and colorful.

Scott Gensler, co-owner at Gensler Gardens, says the plants he sells have unique colors, they’re disease resistant and they have the ability to grow and thrive in the hot summer months.

“I look for those things when I’m determining what varieties to grow each year,” Gensler says. “The goal is to give our customers a plant that will work well throughout the entire year, not just in the spring.”

One annual plant growing this year that Gensler is excited about is the fairy dust cuphea, which has been pretty popular this spring.

“It has small, pink flowers, but it has an airy feel, so it’s good to use in combination planters,” Gensler says. “Since it’s in the cuphea family, it’s really good for heat, so it will withstand those 90 degree temperatures.”

People have also been lining up for the coleus plants, more specifically, the ruby road.

“That variety of coleus has pinks, reds and purples in it and it’s very bright and it’ll really go good in any container that people are using,” Gensler says. “This particular variety is a little more compact, so it plays well with others and it won’t grow over the other plants in your container. There are six or eight varieties of main street coleus that we’re growing this year, but that is one of the new varieties that I’m pretty excited about.”

These two plants can be placed in containers or in the ground, Gensler says. In total, Gensler Gardens has 80 new plant varieties this year.

“I just want to make sure my customers are happy long term,” Gensler says. “The whole key to this business is picking out the plants that will perform well for people, so they come back year after year.”

Outdoor Entertaining

Dawn James, project director at Crimson Valley Landscaping, 1541 Westmoreland Ave., Rockford, says more people are using pergolas to help create the perfect backyard gathering place.

“Not as many people are traveling as much, so they’re buying pergolas to create these unique outdoor living spaces in their own yard,” James says. “These outdoor spaces are a great way to unwind at the end of the day.”

Pergolas are overhead structures designed to enhance a deck or patio, and serve as a place to eat and relax with family and friends. They can also serve as an accent to a garden and add shade and unique beauty to a backyard.

“Pergolas are a little more intimate and can provide shade as well as frame out and define the space,” James says. “They’re also strong and they’ll last a long time.”

At Crimson Valley, you can choose from pergolas with aluminum-reinforced frames and vinyl sleeves or a structure made of treated or cedar wood, James says. They can be placed on a patio or deck, and typically, they’re placed in a backyard or sideyard.

These wind-resistant structures also provide shade, which creates cooler, comfortable temperatures that can come in handy over in the summertime.

“You can set them for various shade levels. If you have a southerly facing deck or patio, you’ll want more shade, so you can go with a 90 percent shade level,” James says. “They can also be custom-made depending on the size or shape of your area.”

Pergolas can also help define the space in your backyard, James says. Since these structures are open, pergolas can be added without making your backyard feel smaller.

“You can have it for a comfortable seating or dining area,” James says. “It’s a great way to create a room in your backyard.”

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