(Unilock photo)

How to Spruce Up Your Backyard

Is your backyard in need of a little TLC? If so, help is not far away. There are experts in our area who can help turn your backyard into a private oasis.

(Unilock photo)
(Unilock photo)

The cold and brutal winter is behind us, so fire up the grill, run around with the kids and enjoy the sounds of nature. What better place to do all that than in your backyard?

If your backyard needs some love, but you don’t know where to start, we recommend seeking help from a local professional who can soften your landscape, create the perfect lawn, or build a stunning outdoor living space.

An Outdoor Living Room

These days, when you ask a homeowner about the favorite room in their house, they may direct you to their backyard.

“The backyard outdoor space has become almost as important or more important than the indoor space,” says Kevin Obee, general manager at Benson Stone Company, 1100 11th St. “It used to be you’d have an average size house with a small patio, a grill and some lawn furniture and now, people with any size home are changing their backyard space into an outdoor paradise.”

Since people have been cooped inside their homes all winter, they’re ready to spend more time outside, Obee says. With that in mind, homeowners are decking out their spaces with firepits, pergolas and outdoor fireplaces and kitchens, which creates the perfect space for parties, family gatherings or a place to relax after work. Some people are even installing televisions right in their backyard.

“We can do as little or as much as someone wants to do,” Obee says.

Putting together an outdoor living arrangement is similar to creating something indoors. A homeowner just has to know the desired look and the amenities they want.

For those cooler summer nights, Benson Stone has a variety of firepits and fireplaces ranging in sizes, shapes, designs and colors, or they can build one from a custom design.

“We can do gas or wood-burning fireplaces in single-sided or see-through,” he says. “Some of the fireplaces can be turned on with a remote control.” Homes these days can also be equipped with kitchens in the backyard. These may come with a refrigerator, granite countertops and, of course, a grill.

“This is one of the more popular trends we’ve been seeing,” Obee says. “Instead of just having a stand-alone grill, more people are also opting for grill islands for the additional counter and entertaining space.”

Water features are another popular element of outdoor rooms, Obee adds. From fountains to waterfalls, water features add a calming element to a backyard oasis.

“You can sit outside and listen to the soothing sounds of a water feature right in your backyard,” Obee says. “That’s also another popular trend that we’re seeing.”

A Touch of Beauty

You could have the most expensive and lavish house on your block, but if you don’t have any landscaping or greenery, your home won’t look complete, says Jon Carlson, owner of J. Carlson Growers, 8938 Newburg Road, Rockford.

“You want to use landscaping to soften your home, so you want to frame it with plants and color,” Carlson says. “People just want to make their homes look nice.”

One popular plant that people are trying to get their hands on is the hydrangea, a shrub that flowers from June until the first frost in the fall.

“That’s a popular plant because they’re a leafy shrub and they come in white, pink or lime color and bloom all summer,” Carlson says. “If you put them in the ground in mid-June, they’ll start to flower and they’ll flower all summer long, so it gives you a lot of color in your garden.”

At this time of year, people are also coming to see Carlson to update their plants that have been damaged over the harsh winter.

“The boxwood evergreen were hurt severely this winter, so people are trying to replace them,” Carlson says.

In the landscape industry, it’s common to plant your evergreens using odd numbers to fill a space.

“It’s always better to use odd numbers and multiples of odd numbers because nothing you plant is ever really balanced,” Carlson adds.

And, once you plant your boxwood evergreen, it’s important avoid overwatering it.

“People think they have to water their plants everyday, but once it’s in the ground, typically, you only have to water the plant once or twice a week,” he says. “With evergreens, if they’re thirsty, they may wilt a little bit, but if you overwater them, they’ll turn yellow and almost die. You can easily mistake them for being thirsty.”

However, just because it rains doesn’t mean a plant has received enough water.

“People think they don’t have to water their plants because it rained, and that’s not always the case,” Carlson says. “For bigger plants, you have to monitor them and use moderation.”

He thinks planting shrubbery is an art form. Plants look better and more uniformed if a bunch of them are planted in the same space, he adds.

“Instead of having a mixture of 10 things planted together, have them all looking the same,” he says. “It’s bolder and it makes a statement and from a professional standpoint, we’re looking for some kind of continuity when we plant.”

Creating a Flawless Lawn

It’s normal to want a well-manicured lawn that perhaps makes your neighbors jealous.

In order to create that lawn, Mark Walter, owner of LawnCare by Walter, 4235 S. Perryville Road, Cherry Valley, says your grass needs to be watered properly and cut at the right height.

One way to maintain a flawless lawn is to cut your grass three inches high during the summer months.

“Mowing your grass too short is a common problem with homeowners,” he says. “If you cut your grass too short, you’ll end up stressing the grass and you’ll allow more sunlight to get to the soil. When you mow, you shouldn’t be cutting off more than one-third of the grass blade at a time.”

If you’re grass gets too long, Walter says you may have to cut it more than once.

“Raise the wheels of the mower all the way to the top, if you have to,” he says. “Then, drop it down to your desired height and mow it a second time. It’s more difficult, but it’ll leave your lawn looking a lot better and it’s a lot better for the grass.”

When it comes to watering your lawn, Walter says a common benchmark is to give your grass an inch of water a week.

“It’s better to water your grass heavily once a week than all these shallow waterings, which creates a shallower root growth,” he says. “If you have deep watering, you’ll have deeper roots.”

The deeper roots will help create a thick, healthier looking lawn, which looks great and helps keep weeds out of your lawn.

“The healthier you keep your turf grass, the thicker your lawn will be and it’ll crowd out the weeds, because not a lot of sunlight is getting down to the soil to germinate those weed seeds.”

Though maintaining grass is a specialty, it’s not the only service that LawnCare by Walter provides. They can also help homeowners spruce up their backyard in other areas.

“People are installing brick paver patios, and seat walls have gotten really popular,” Walter says. “People can take their turf a step further.”

Walter also says more people are installing firepits in their backyard, since its calming presence can accompany any sort of backyard revival.

“You can pull up a lawn chair and sit in the backyard and watch your grass grow, or you can sit on a nice patio in your backyard and watch the fire.”

If you want to keep things easy, Walter says simple and shorter garden walls with raised beds can soften your landscape.

“A lot of homes that were built in the 1960s and 1970s didn’t have a lot of pizazz in the landscaping,” Walter says. “A lot of the landscaping is getting older and it’s not looking like it once did, so people are coming in and taking out the old stuff and replanting with a new theme.”