Back yard progress report #2

It’s late July. We’ve installed the edging around our lawn oval, taken up about half of the sod outside the oval, and cut down the Amur maple in front of the fence.

Back yard progress report

Looks kind of awful right now, but there is a plan, really!

1. The yard waste bin is a permanent feature for now. Oh, well.

2a. The freshly cut Amur maple snag sticks out like a sore thumb, but it will blend in once it weathers a little and is surrounded by plantings.

2b. The dead Amur maple branches will go away soon.

Back yard progress report with labels

3. The pile of buckthorn should be going away soon, although there’s lots more to cut behind the fence.

4. Need to do some lawn re-seeding this fall. (It was patchy before we started trampling all over it to cut down trees and lay edgers.)

5a, 5b, and 5c. The main issue right now is that cutting down the Amur maple in front of the fence revealed just how bare our evergreen trunks are (two white spruces and a white pine). There’s also another Amur behind the fence (5d) that should go. I’ve asked a couple of tree services to come out and give us their advice.

Seems we’ve also got weedy white mulberry, Siberian elm, and an ash. We’ll have the ash taken down this fall while it’s still healthy. (Apparently it costs a lot more to have one taken down once it’s been hit by emerald ash borer, which is, apparently, inevitable.) We might take down the elm, which is leaning quite a bit, and the second Amur maple. One of the arborists thought there was a good chance the pine trees would fill in, at least a little, now that some sun can reach the trunks. Here’s hoping!

 

Back yard progress report #1

When we moved into our house in 1998, there was an old metal swing set in the back yard that was too rickety and dangerous to keep. The sandbox, however, got lots of use.

Linus and friend in the old sandbox

By the time this picture was taken (around 2008), we had put up the fence and installed planting beds all along the east side of the property.

Now that the kids are older, we took out the sandbox and expanded the planting bed along the back property line. Unfortunately, this is what it looks like right now.

Back yard bleah

It’s nicely filled in over to the left, although the whole yard is in need of more shrubs and structure in general. I scattered some wildflower seeds last fall in the section from the middle to the right, but not much has come up (yet). The tree on the right side of the picture is an Amur maple, an ecological threat according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR – Amur maple). Ours had been dying out in the middle for a while, so cutting it down is an easy choice. We plan to leave about 10 feet as a snag.

We cut off only a few branches with the pole saw, then made more progress with a reciprocating saw with a 12″ pruning blade. We’ll be borrowing a chain saw for the rest. It’s a bigger tree than I thought when we started! (There’s another one behind the fence, too. Yippee.)

Trying out the pole saw

We had installed part of a planned mowing strip by the raised beds on the east side of the yard last summer. This summer we’re planning to finish an oval to contain what will remain of the lawn in the back yard.

Back yard oval lawn in progress

Trenching and lopping …

Trenching and lopping

Eventually the west side of the back yard will contain paths and plantings instead of turfgrass and bare dirt. (There used to be a swing hanging from the locust.)

Back yard dirt patch

I’m not sure exactly what’s going to happen back here, but I’m thinking of native shrubs (nannyberry, chokeberry, pagoda dogwood, etc.) and lots of woodland/savanna plants. I’ll let you know how things are coming along in a future post!

 

 

Shrink the lawn?

The picture below shows the view from our front porch. The whole neighborhood is pretty much the same. The predominant vegetation is lawn. It’s very park-like and certainly not unattractive.

Our parklike neighborhood

As a family with four kids, our front and back lawns have gotten a lot of use:

There’s football.

Lawn football

Handstands are popular.

Handstands on the lawn

And then there’s the rare but always exciting worm contest …

So why get rid of any of the grass?

1. All that lawn is a hassle to mow.

Lawnmowing fun

2. A big chunk of the lawn never gets used.

3. Turfgrass doesn’t attract butterflies or birds (beyond robins hunting for worms and flocks of grackles in the fall).

Reducing water consumption and use of chemicals are additional reasons often given for shrinking a lawn. These reasons aren’t as relevant for us. We have a well for our outside water and aren’t very vigilant about watering the lawn anyway. We’ve applied weed-n-feed perhaps 6 or 8 times in the 19 years we’ve lived here, and I’ve managed to get a handle on the dandelions by using the Weed Hound consistently for the past 3 or 4 years.

Shrinking the lawn also supposedly saves time and energy because less mowing and raking is needed, but the lawn has to be replaced with something. Unless it’s being swapped out for paving, my guess is that at least as much time and energy is required to maintain the new plantings as were needed to maintain the lawn. Establishing the new plantings is a big job, too, calling for planning and hard work, so it isn’t surprising that many people (myself included) just keep on a-mowin’.

Let’s go back to reason #3 above. This is the big one for me. Over time, I plan both to switch out non-native plants for natives and to increase the amount of the yard given over to plantings. This is the current (fairly nebulous) plan for the front yard:

Front yard plan

How long will this take? Good question. We’re currently working on projects in the back and side yards, so I see the bed nearer to the house as Phase 2  or 3 and the bed by the street as Phase 3 or 4, which could take … No, I won’t even speculate how many years might pass before the areas marked in orange are replanted. There’s sod to remove, research to do, plants to propagate or buy, current beds to maintain and improve, and long winters to wait through. I’ll keep you posted!