Ready for some DIY inspiration? We just did a total backyard makeover, and I am so excited to share these tips with you!
Let me tell you friends, I have been envisioning what it would be like to write this post since we bought our Mid-Century Modern Fixer Upper more than 2 years ago. Seriously, when you DIY things on a budget, things really do take time! ;) But I am so excited to tell you all how we worked together with The Home Depot and Andy tackled the backyard DIY style – mostly a solo one man show. ;) I am not going to lie, I mostly just watched and nodded my head along with Andy’s amazing design ideas with this whole process, and I couldn’t be happier with the outcome! Before our backyard was done, looking out our floor to ceiling windows left me feeling a bit empty. I had NO idea how much grass transforms a yard and gives it more of a cozy, homier feel. I definitely didn’t understand it until Andy had laid all of the sod out in the backyard. We got it delivered bright and early in the morning (my favorite time of the day), and he was literally rolling it out within minutes! The whole process took him a few hours, since he was a totally one-man show, but I am SO excited for Andy to share all of his pro tips for all of you who are willing to get your hands dirty too. Trust me, it will make all the difference!
Before the Makeover
The backyard had seriously been neglected and overgrown for years. Seriously, check out these wild before photos to see more! ;) But we were so focused on redoing the interior of our house like our kitchen, our living room, and our bedroom that we left this project sit for a while. ;) For the yard, we wanted a clean, minimal look. We were so inspired by the Mid-Century Modern landscape for this – think palm springs desert, rock gardens, cactus, and succulents! But before we got to work, Andy planned out every single area from the retaining wall, the rock borders, the lawn placement, and the floating deck area. And before any major projects could get started, he had to break out the weed eater and lawn mower and knocked down a bunch of the overgrowth to see what we were working with underneath. Then it was time to get this backyard party started!
How to Build a Retaining Wall
The earth along the back fence was at a higher level than the rest of the yard, so we had two options. Either we could level out the earth or install a retaining wall to contain the dirt. After we entertained both ideas of wood and concrete for the wall, we ended up going with concrete since it has a much longer lifespan than wood. We don’t want to have to do this all over again, right?! ;)
Andy planned for the wall to be next to the existing patio, then at the end of the patio, the wall would cut in at a 90 degree angle about 3-4 feet and then continue on straight along the back fence line. This allowed us more space for the lawn we planned on putting in, which made me happy!
There was a huge stump in the border that needed to be addressed. We had removed various smaller stumps around the yard with the help of a reciprocating saw, but this stump needed a bigger tool for the job, so we rented a stump grinder from Home Depot’s tool rental program and removed it in no time. It was such an easy process!
Andy had to dig out a good sized footer for the base of the concrete wall, but once that was dug we hired out contractors to build out the wall and pour the concrete. They were so quick and they had it all done in one day
Curing of Concrete
Once the concrete was poured and the contractors left, we had to make sure it cured right.
Pro Tip from Andy: Be sure to periodically wet down new concrete with a hose to help it harden and cure to its maximum hardness. We did this for a week after it was poured.
Concrete Expansion Joints
We already had quite a bit of existing patio and concrete walkways which have held up great over the years, but there was a problem with the wood in between each expansion joint. Over the years, the wood had rotted and there were all sorts of weeds growing out of the joints.
To fix this, Andy used a wrecking bar and hammer to pull out the old wood. It was quite the job as a lot of the wood didn’t come out in one piece but rather in small rotted chunks. Once the wood was removed, we did our best to remove as much of the weeds and roots as possible. The tight space made it hard to get down to the root systems, but we made it work!
Pro Tip from Andy: Once all the weeds were removed we poured coarse salt in between the joints to ensure no more weeds would grow.
To replace the old wood we used pressure treated 2x4s. You can use redwood as well, but pressure treated is a bit cheaper.
Pro Tip from Andy: It’s important to use treated wood or redwood as they hold up to the elements and resist rot for longer periods of time versus other types of woods. We had to custom cut the wood to the correct size for each expansion joint since the joints were not all the same size.
Lawn and Sprinkler System
We decided to install a sod lawn for the kids to play on, and we had the perfect spot for it right off the deck in the center of the yard. The lawn would break up the patio and deck area we planned on building on the opposite side. It was the perfect design!
Our current lawn area was full of weeds and dreaded bermuda grass. The first steps were to destroy all of the bermuda and any existing weeds. This was such an important step as we did not want the weeds and bermuda to overtake our beautiful new lawn. Bermuda grass is really hard to get rid of so we took extra steps to try and remove it.
Pro Tip from Andy: Spray it with Round-Up, but be sure to get a hand pump sprayer to make things easier. We waited a week and then watered the grass once more to green up any weeds that weren’t killed off by the first treatment and then we hit the area again with the Round-Up.
Once all the weeds and bermuda browned out, we dug down a 8-12″ under the root systems and sifted the dirt to remove any root/grass clumps. This is another important step because bermuda grows strong root systems, rhizomes, and runners that can sprout up more grass in the future. You have to get rid of all of it!
Before our makeover, the space was also shaded quite a bit by the oak tree in our yard, so we bought a pole saw attachment for our weed eater and trimmed the tree back to allow more sunlight to come in. We wanted to make sure we had at least 6 hours of sun for our new lawn!
The next step was to have a sprinkler system installed since proper watering coverage is important in keeping a beautiful lawn. Hand watering with a hose sprinkler just wasn’t going to cut it for our yard! We ended up hiring a landscaper to install the system for us. We told him we were working with The Home Depot and he was nice enough to come along with us to their nearest location to purchase everything he needed for the sprinkler system, from the pvc pipes, sprinklers, valves, and timer. We got everything we needed there!
How to Install Sod
Now that the sprinklers were installed, we had to prep the soil for the new sod. First we rototilled to loosen up the existing soil, but we were careful not to disturb the sprinkler pipes. Then we purchased a soil tester to find out the soil’s PH level. The ideal level is between 6-7.5. Our soil PH level was within the recommended range, but it needed to be loosened and lightened up for more drainage.
We bought 10 bags of Kellogg Topper to help amend the current soil and enrich it. Then we spread the topper on the existing soil and mixed it in with the current soil. Once the soil was fixed, we raked it out as smooth as it could possibly be.
Pro Tip from Andy: You will want to use a proper landscaping rake, not just an ordinary rake, and use the straight side to really get the earth a level as possible. This is important because any bumps or dips can prevent the new sod from making proper contact with the soil creating air pockets that can cause the roots to dry out and hinder establishment. Another important step is to give the lawn a good watering to settle the soil, wait a few days and then compact the soil with a lawn roller filled 1/3 of the way with water. You can rent a roller from any Home Depot tool rental location. Another reason to water the soils surface is so that it’s not bone dry when you lay down the sod as the dry soil will leech the sod of essential moisture.
Sod Grass Installation
Before we started this whole thing, we did a little research and decided to go with a Fescue lawn. Fescue can hold up to high foot traffic, and it resist drought and disease. Another huge selling point is that is stays green all year round – major bonus! It’s a super popular choice for a lot of lawns in our area.
We never knew it but The Home Depot will actually deliver sod directly to your doorstep! We searched online and picked out their Harmony Fescue Sod. So easy! It’s sold in 500 square-foot pallets which was perfect for us because we needed just under that amount.
Pro Tip from Andy: Have the sod delivered as early in the morning as possible, while it is still cool and the sun isn’t beating down. We had ours delivered at 6:30 in the morning. Once the sod arrived, we quickly got to work laying it down. It is absolutely crucial to not let the sod dry out, because once it dries it dies. You will want to stagger the joints like brickwork so that the seams don’t all line up with each other. As you lay the sod, make sure to smooth out and disturbances in the soil caused by your feet or knees. After every 10 pieces or so, spray down the sod lightly to keep it moist. After all the sod is in, water it for 10 minutes and roll it with a lawn roller filled 1/3 of the way with water. This helps ensure the new sod makes proper contact with the ground.
Building a Floating Deck
We ended up having an empty space on one side of our yard under an oak tree. We knew we couldn’t leave it that way, so we decided to have a floating deck built. The deck would help complete and balance the yard as a whole. We ended up hiring out contractors to build it for us, but we purchased all the materials they would need from The Home Depot before they arrived.
We wanted to be sure we used something that would hold up to the elements and stand the test of time so we went with the best of the best for the deck planks. We purchased 2x6x16ft redwood deck planks and we also purchased 8 concrete deck blocks for the foundation, along with high quality deck screws to anchor everything down.
Pro Tip from Andy: We wanted to make sure to match the new deck with our old weathered deck, and after a little research we found out that since redwood can stand up to the elements you can leave it unfinished and nature will naturally weather it to a silvery gray color. To speed up this process we used a mixture of vinegar and steel wool to oxidize the wood to match our old deck.
We used two types of rock for various borders throughout the yard. We used Salt&Pepper 1 1/2 rock for the area behind the retaining wall, side yard, and far left side of the yard. For the border in the center of the yard next to the lawn we used 1 1/2 Blue Dalmatian rock. We also used Blue Dalmatian around the perimeter of the deck to contrast and break up the large area of Salt&Pepper along the back retaining wall.
Pro-Tip from Andy: When choosing rock be sure to go with a bigger size. You want to make sure that when you blow leaves and debris out of the rocks that they don’t go everywhere. Small rocks will blow, where larger rocks will stay in place allowing you to blow out leaves much easier.
Before putting down rock, we used high quality commercial grade landscape fabric. In the past, we had used cheaper material and we learned the hard way as weeds broke right through.
We ended up planting a variety of different drought tolerant plant species from The Home Depot in the main border and in the small border along the lawn. We love the clean lines and simplicity of cactus and agave. Plus, they work well with modern architecture! The best part is that they’re low maintenance and drought tolerant once they’re established. We’ve also collected various Yucca plantings over the years that we were able to incorporate into the landscaping. And just like cactus and succulents, these can be propagated either in water or soil!
Pro Tip from Andy: Agave and cactus type plants need good drainage and the right type of soil to flourish. Be sure to dig out holes twice the size of the plant’s container. We mixed in Kellogg Palm, Cactus and Citrus mix to the native soil to improve drainage and enrich the soil. Also, with your hands, loosen the root system of each plant before putting it in the ground, this will promote rooting and make them grow!
Redoing a Backyard
This whole project was SUCH a process, but I am so glad it’s done. I seriously am so impressed with the work Andy did to take this on and make our backyard a fun, beautiful space I want to look at and want to enjoy! I seriously am so excited every time I go out there now! Have you ever taken on a huge project like this? With the right tools, it’s totally possible. I’d love to hear all about it in the comments below!
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Disclosure: This post is sponsored by The Home Depot.