Make plans for a better back yard

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By The Staff

Is your yard brand new? Or perhaps it is old and overgrown? Are you tired of maintaining a lawn? Any of the above can give you the incentive to get going with back yard improvements.

Unless your kids spend a lot of time in the back yard playing, you might be thinking, “What can I do to get some enjoyment out of this yard?” You might be thinking a few citrus trees would be nice. Sitting under a shade tree would be relaxing, perhaps a meandering path, a bench, or a little pond.

Start your planning with a pencil and paper. Draw a plan leaving at least 15 feet of turf between the house and garden (fire wall). Draw in the trees you want. Citrus trees require full sun (ornamental trees are less fussy).

Two or three citrus are plenty for a small family. Choose an early, middle and late variety so you can harvest citrus the whole winter.

Now, draw a crooked path, with splits, stopovers, a bench, and perhaps a big boulder or a small water garden. Next, draw in some ornamental trees (magnolia, red maple, live oak, cherry laurel, East Palatka holly, etc.). Shrubs can be decided on later.

Begin by removing the turf. If you do not want the labor intensive work of digging it up, consider a grass killing herbicide such as Roundup. If you have many weeds, I recommend tilling and cleaning out the weed roots. Amending the soil is not necessary unless you are planning on a vegetable garden.

Build the path first. It does not have to be defined, but it will help to keep weeds down if you line it with heavy black plastic. Plant trees first. Then line both sides of the walkway with a row of low growing plantings such as mondo grass, liriope, peacock ginger, or bromeliads, always taking into consideration your shady and sunny areas.

Next, plant shade loving shrubs, such as azaleas, camellias and gardenias; and sun lovers, such as Texas sage, bougainvillea, hibiscus, hollies, pittosporum, and ligustrum in appropriate sites.

Leaves and pine needles can be used to mulch and will keep the need for weeding to a minimum. This will also conserve and hold moisture.

If possible, find room for a small composter. It can be hidden behind a circle of shrubs.

A barrel made of tough plastic with a cover and trap where the finished compost can be taken out is best suited for small properties. Kitchen waste, except fish, meat and bones, can be recycled and made into fine soil in about three months.

A close water source is important. An electric outlet is nice to have for that fish pond and lighting. A small patio with benches or a bistro set, some arbors, trellises, gazing balls, statuary all enhance the enjoyment of your newly created hideaway.

If gardening is your hobby, you will, of course, never finish this project. You will always find something else to add and to enhance your little paradise. Like an artist, you will always find another picture to paint.

Provide a birdbath and a feeder and soon dozens of birds and butterflies will be your guests.

For more information about gardening practices in Central Florida, call Marion County Master Gardeners at 671-8400, or visit their office in the Cooperative Extension Center, 2232 N. E. Jacksonville Rd.