Planters, pots, tubs and hanging baskets are an easy way to add color and interest to your yard. Omitting them if you already have a bare and uninteresting yard can make that yard look even more bleak. And adding to a chaotically-planted or overgrown yard can take the yard from messy to cosy.
It’s easy to let shrubs get out of hand. However, not pruning them or not pruning them at the right time of year can be very bad news for the overall appearance of your yard. Overgrown shrubs and bushes cast shadows where they’re not wanted, make paths impassable and give the whole place an uncared-for look.
Just as with overgrown shrubs, uncut grass suggests that this yard is unloved or, at least, not properly looked after. Letting the grass grow to encourage wildlife is a different matter but, if you do this, it’s worth remembering that you’ll probably need to replace or supplement your lawn with native grasses.
Of course, kids need to be allowed to enjoy their yard! However, one that’s littered with trikes, balls, Barbies and a slip’n’slide is inevitably going to look more like a small day camp than a pleasant yard. Try to keep big toys to one area of the yard, make sure that smaller ones are put away when the kids have finished playing – and watch out for damaged lawns.
You can’t beat sitting on a cozy porch. However, what you sit on matters. Do a couple of wicker chairs that have been ejected from the family room really give the right impression to visitors? And, needless to say, do steer clear of anything that’s losing its stuffing or its springs, or that’s rusted beyond saving.
Not planning ahead
Do you buy plants and shrubs without thinking about how they’ll work in the long term? Always check the projected height and spread of a tree or shrub to make sure it’ll stay where you want it to stay and won’t be difficult to keep in check. Similarly, check when plants flower, whether they’re right for your soil and climate, and whether their leaves, blossom, seeds or sap are known to be messy.
Not labelling plants
No matter how good your memory, if you don’t label plants you won’t remember exactly what is planted where. This makes planning for new plants difficult and caring correctly for existing ones a hit-and-miss exercise. Use metal labels attached with wire loops to small branches or bamboo stakes to keep your yard well-organized.
Over-feeding your lawn
Your lawn is probably the center-piece of your yard. If that’s the case, you’ll want it to look its best. However, don’t be tempted to over-feed it. The result can be the opposite of what you hope for: a patchy, messy-looking piece of grass that looks as if no-one’s ever paid any attention to it.
There’s no getting around the fact that weeds will make your yard look messy. You might tell yourself that you’re leaving them to encourage wildlife but everyone else will just think you can’t be bothered to get busy with the hoe.
It doesn’t have to be jet-washing but muck or moss-covered paths and patios are uninviting and detract from what might otherwise be a lovely yard. Jet-washing can help but so, too, can a session with a stiff broom or tools to remove moss and weeds.
You haven’t planned your ponds
If your yard has ponds or other water features, you’ll need to think carefully about where they sit in relation to trees, bushes and outhouses. If something casts a shadow over a pond, you risk an ongoing battle with algae. Equally, trees that are too close to a pond can shed their leaves over the water’s surface.
Your yard is too big
Yes, the yard came with the house but plot size ought to be a consideration for anyone looking for a new home. Too big and you’ll struggle to maintain the outside space without it looking messy. Conversely, if it’s too small, you may end up feeling frustrated and in need of an allotment!
Bare spots on the grass
Bare spots on a lawn have several possible causes. However, whether your bare spots stem from dog urine, heavy footfall, inappropriate use of chemicals, grub infestation or poor soil, the result is the same: a sad-looking lawn that makes the whole yard seem shabby or messy.
Insects are essential to the life and health of any yard – and this extends beyond bees and butterflies. However, some insects are true pests and will ravage your vegetable garden, coat your roses, or even eat every bit of greenery they can find. Knowing how to deal with pests in a natural way can make the difference between a beautiful yard and a blighted one.
Not everyone is green-fingered. If you’re not a natural with plants and gardening, you may struggle to create and maintain an attractive yard. Buying in professional help is one option to avoid dead plants. However, if this isn’t financially possible, keep things as simple as possible. Find out about hardy plants that need minimal care and opt for them!
Forgetting to dead head
Perhaps you have a beautiful rose bush and you’re expecting to enjoy its blooms all summer long. However, repeat flowerers only do what they’re meant to if you dead head them – and do so correctly. If you don’t, you’ll have the double whammy: dead, decaying blooms on your plants and no fresh blossoms.
Green, scummy pond
Unfortunately, unless it’s a natural pond, any water feature in your yard requires care if it’s not to end up green, scummy and unappealing. Just as you can hire in swimming pool maintenance workers, you can hire in help for your ponds – or you can learn what’s required and look after it yourself.
We’re never as far away from a rat as we might like to imagine. However, that’s not to say that we want to see evidence of them. Yards and gardens are appealing to rats, thanks to our habits of feeding the birds, keeping pets, and producing garbage. Rat droppings indicate an active infestation of the creatures and suggest that it’s time to call in the professionals.
Dirty garden furniture
Tables, loungers, deckchairs, hammocks and so on are a great way to enhance your yard – or, at least, they are if they’re clean and in good repair. The end of the summer is a good time to take stock of your furniture, give it a good clean, oil any wood, and then move it undercover for the colder months.
Perhaps your kids loved their swings and their slide when they were younger. However, now they’re in college, could you consider getting rid of the half-broken swing that won’t even take the weight of next door’s six year old? Nostalgia might have a strong pull but your yard will look much more attractive without it.
If you have fencing to demarcate the edge of your plot and separate it from your neighbor’s, don’t just think about its height and sturdiness. How attractive is it? What color? Could you stain or paint it? And can you use planting to soften the look? A bare fence, especially a panel fence, is unattractive and can make you feel claustrophobic in your own yard.
Whether it’s the lawn or your flower borders, you need to pay attention to their edges. When preparing a flowerbed, stake the edges so the finished result matches the picture in your head. And then look after those edges carefully, using a strimmer. Alternatively, think about using brick or stone edging to give a neater look.
Trash cans are a feature of most standalone properties. Where you store yours really matters – especially when it comes to making the most of your yard. After all, enjoying your morning coffee on the wraparound porch doesn’t sound quite as appealing if you have a view of those cans.
Like trash bins, cars are pretty non-negotiable for most people. If you have a garage, great: use it! If you don’t, try to design your yard so you can use it without making your car the central feature. Clever planting can help, as can thoughtful siting of seating arrangements.
Even if you like the apparently untamed English country cottage garden look, you need to spend some time planning what you’ll plant and where. At its most basic, you might decide to ensure that tall plants go at the back and short ones at the front. You might also want to coordinate colors or ensure you have good seasonal variation.
If not pruning is one sin, over-pruning is another. Too vigorous an approach risks killing your beloved tree, shrub or plant or, at best, severely hampering its ability to bloom or produce new growth. An over-pruned garden might not look messy in the conventional sense of the word but it definitely also doesn’t look cozy.
Cutting the grass too short
If you over-prune, there’s a good chance that you also cut your grass too short. Perhaps you do so to avoid having to get the mower out too often but perhaps you do so because you don’t know any better. As a rule, aim to keep your domestic lawn at between 0.5 and 1 inch in length during the summer. A little longer is acceptable during the rest of the year.
You might think they’re cute but, frankly, a garden gnome or, worse, a gang of garden gnomes won’t add to your yard’s appeal. As well as looking just a little bit messy, they’re also a temptation to light-fingered passers-by, and they’re prone to falling over and smashing in strong winds.
Not cleaning the bird table
Feeding your garden birds is a great thing to do – and quite possibly brings you much joy. However, do make sure you clean the bird table and all feeders regularly using a bird-safe disinfectant. This is partly for aesthetics and partly to safeguard the health of you, your family and your feathered friends.
Most yards have them: a selection of chipped, weathered or outright broken pots. Perhaps you tell yourself you’ll find a use for them one day. Perhaps you just haven’t got around to getting rid of them. Whatever the reason or excuse, bear in mind that they’re clutter – and clutter equals mess.
Dying hanging baskets
A well-tended hanging basket is a beautiful thing. However, these floral displays don’t look after themselves. If you’re not up for twice-daily watering, especially when it’s hot, and regular dead-heading, it’s best not to bother planting them up in the first place. There’s little that looks messier in a yard than a half-dead hanging basket.
Poorly tended window boxes
Not every home will suit window boxes but, if yours does, their absence can look stark. Equally, poorly tended window boxes have the same effect as half-dead hanging baskets and will make your yard look tired and messy. On the other hand, get the planting right and window boxes are a glorious addition to your yard!
You might have had big plans for your greenhouse. Pricking out seeds, bringing on seedlings, growing grapes and tomatoes: all these are great, provided you follow through on those plans. However, whereas a well-used greenhouse helps make a yard seem cozy and welcoming, an empty, unloved one has the opposite effect.
A tumbledown shed really isn’t as quaint and quirky as you might think (or hope). Listen to your inner voice: the shed is an eyesore that makes your whole yard look messy and uncared for. If it’s not fixable, tear it down and make better use of the space.
Broken garden tools
Lots of yards have them: a twisted hoe, a watering can that’s lost its spout, a spade with a handle that’s come away from the shovel. If you recognize any of these implements – or similar ones – don’t dally in repairing or getting rid of them. Leaving them to clutter up your yard can only make the place look messy.
For a while, artificial grass rode a wave of popularity. However, not now. Unless you have a sports pitch in your backyard, you really have no reason to install the stuff. It’s the very opposite of cozy – and it’s bad for the environment, uncomfortably hot to walk on when the sun’s out, and a breeding ground for bacteria.
No master plan
Not many of us plan a yard from scratch. If you do, a master plan is essential to avoid a haphazard result. However, even if you’re remodelling, or adding to, an existing yard, think about drawing up a plan. How do you want the yard to look? Try to separate it into different areas, and decide what goes where.
Trees standing alone
An isolated tree can look like a mistake and even make a yard look strangely sterile. If you have a single tree (especially a small one), try to incorporate it into the planting scheme. For instance, can you plant another tree nearby and “link” them using a curved flower bed? Underplanting with shade-tolerant shrubs is another good option.
Cutting wet grass
Mowing wet grass is always a mistake. The wet clippings will clump together in unattractive heaps on the lawn. They’ll also clog up the blades on your mower and make it more prone to rust. Finally, a wet lawn is also a slippery lawn – making it a more physically risky activity for you.
Not considering sun and shade
Some plants grow best in the full sun. Some like partial sun, and some thrive in the shade. Knowing what works where is essential for a healthy garden. Get in wrong and you risk having a yard with planting that thrives in places but struggles or dies in others. The result can be messy and uncohesive – and the only solution may be to start again.