Re-engineering your yard takes planning

Re-engineering is a popular buzzword. Corporations use it to describe changes they are making. Basically, it means reassessing what you can to capitalize on what you have. This also holds true for re-establishing landscapes.

As landscapes mature, things change. Trees get taller and cast deeper shade and bushes outgrow their compactness and of course our lifestyles change. For example a swing set once needed now must go, or mature plantings no longer satisfy you. It’s time to “re-engineer” or redo your landscape.

To start re-engineering your yard, take a hard look at it. Changes happen gradually, such as shade becoming denser or traffic patterns changing and your focal point is now in the wrong place. Let your imagination run wild while surveying your yard to come up with ideas to make the change.

Start with a plan. Depending on the size of your yard and how elaborate you want it, you can plan it or bring in a professional but have something in mind for the architect.

Is there an orderly look to your yard or did it just “happen”? Even “natural” forests have a plan behind them keeping them looking natural.

If money is a factor, focus on one area and develop it and then move on as money becomes available until you finish your design.

If your yard doesn’t “naturally break” into “areas,” think about creating them by varying garden bed sizes, shapes and plant groupings. You may want to add other garden beds or take some out.

Are your trees overgrown or not performing to your standards? Consider moving them or planting shade tolerant plants under them. If you’re unsure how plants will perform, test different kinds. For new plant ideas, visit the different demonstration gardens in the valley.

Trees influence what you’ll grow under them. If there’s too much shade, consider bringing in an arborist to thin them out. If you have too many trees, remove them. If you do it yourself, ask a tree expert about how to do it.

Overgrown shrubs are easy to handle. Trim them back to the ground or remove them entirely. They’ll be unattractive but most shrubs bounce right back.

As new growth comes, control their shaping. Use the “green thumb” approach of constantly nipping at your shrubs to keep them within the size you desire. Your finger and thumb will actually become green but that’s a sign of a good gardener.

Almost every yard has a problem area. It’s usually the north side of the house. Simply cleaning it up will help solve some of this problem. Then lay down some mulch, gravel or stepping-stones to spruce up the area.

Brighten a north wall with containers of shade plants lined along the wall. Alternating tall and short containers, and varying plant types and colors will turn a drab area into a “secret garden.”

All yards need a focal point. It draws the eye to a special feature giving the rest of the yard an orderly look. It can be as simple as one spectacular plant among smaller plants or a gazing globe or sculpture.

If you have a large yard, create focal points in different areas. On a patio, group different sizes of pots around one large pot being the center of attention. Tall plants surrounded by masses of shorter plants also creates a focal point, as can contrasting colors or plant types.

Ornamental features such as large rocks or a gazing ball are natural focal points. Bird feeders and baths are quick and easy features to add. Or an arbor trellising climbing plants such as cat’s claw can be an eye catcher for an entire yard.

A coordinated color scheme can really pull a yard together and refresh one that may have gone stale. Use a combination of three or four colors to create a color theme. For example, consider red, white and blue to make your garden patriotic; pink, white and green to cool and refresh you; or yellow, blue and white for a bright summery combination. You can break the scheme if you find a great plant that doesn’t fit the “rules” for your theme.

Re-engineering needn’t always be a major undertaking. Once you have a plan, small adjustments every year or two will keep you from starting from scratch.

Linn Mills writes a garden column each Sunday. You can reach him at or call him at


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