Festive evergreen boughs are the foundation of so many gorgeous holiday arrangements. They show up everywhere in your seasonal decor—from bouquets to wreaths, planters to garlands. Not only are evergreen cuttings beautiful, but their scents are hallmarks of the season. The only downside is they tend to dry out extremely fast and start dropping needles all over your floor.
So, how can you keep your beautiful natural Iowa evergreens vibrant and crisp all season?
Here are a few quick tips:
Buy them fresh. The sooner you can purchase greenery after it has been cut, the better. The longer boughs sit in the open air without water, the faster they dry out.
Choose boughs from evergreens that grow easily in Iowa. Try Eastern White Pine, Red Cedar, Balsam Fir, Common Juniper, and Yew.
Keep them outside as long as possible. The cold weather will help maintain their dormancy and keep sap moving through them as slowly as possible, helping your greenery to stay greener!
Soak cuttings in water before you create your arrangement. If you’re going to create an arrangement with fresh boughs, give them a good soak first. Cut evergreen stems like you would fresh flowers, then let them sit in a bucket of water for 24 hours so they can soak up as much water as possible. Even wreaths should be soaked. If you can, lay your wreath flat in a few inches of water overnight.
Spray greenery with an anti-desiccant. Anti-desiccant spray, also known as anti-transpirant, helps to lock moisture into needles and branches. You can pick up an anti-desiccant at our garden center. Giving your greens a good spray before you start arranging will help them retain moisture as long as possible.
Keep arrangements in water. If you’re creating an arrangement in a container, make sure the stems of the evergreens are submerged in water. Keep them in a vase or a bucket of some sort inside your planter. Check the water level daily; evergreens are thirsty things.
Mist evergreen cuttings daily. Especially indoors, evergreens will dry out much faster than outside. Give them a good spray over every day so they can soak in a little extra moisture.
Keep your finished arrangements in the shade, away from heat and direct sun. Direct sunlight will cause them to dry out faster. Being too warm, or located too close to a heat source, will also accelerate dehydration.
If you’re using lights in your arrangement, use LEDs. LED lights don’t produce heat, whereas incandescent lights get very warm and dry out your evergreen needles.
Consider adding non-traditional greenery. Rosemary, boxwood, and potted ferns can add a touch of brilliant greenery to your winter decor, and they last quite a bit longer than traditional evergreens. You could also use potted evergreen trees and shrubs in your decor, which could then be potted out into your yard in the spring.
If you’re not quite sure how to get started making an evergreen holiday arrangement, join us for one of our upcoming classes! You’ll learn from the pros how to make a variety of different Christmas-themed arrangements. You won’t believe how easy it is to create a stunning holiday arrangement for your home!
It’s no accident that many of us wistfully imagine a shady sanctuary, relaxing under the leafy boughs of a tree. The image of a perfect afternoon spent under the cool shadow of a tree has been romanticized by poets and painters for centuries. We can’t deny that there’s something nostalgic about letting our minds drift off underneath a beautiful shady tree – and what better location than from the convenient security of your own backyard?
When you think of creating your own backyard oasis, you aren’t limited to giant trees with decades of growth. There are some fantastic options that provide the shade and elegance that you want, some of which can fit into the corners of even the smallest suburban lots. Here are some of our favorites that you might have seen in your neighbors’ yards:
Best Large Shade Trees for Iowa (over 30 ft tall and wide)
Ted’s Pick: Swamp White Oak
Tall, mature trees are destined to become landmarks in the neighborhood. Thanks to its faster rate of growth (compared to other oaks), Swamp White Oak reaches its mature height sooner, bathing everything around it in cool shade.
Swamp White Oak is also well-suited to the landscape because of its high tolerance for urban soils. It’s tough, and yet also ruggedly handsome. The thick, straight trunk has attractive peeling, flat-ridged bark. Its leaves spend the spring and summer with dark green surfaces and white, fuzzy undersides. In the fall, the color matures into lovely shades of yellow and golden brown.
It’s hard to beat a maple when it comes to fall color. What sets Hot Wings apart is the presence of red tones before the fall begins. During the summer, the branches bear clusters of bright red samaras that look almost like fruit or flowers against the brilliant green foliage. In the fall, the leaves take on a gorgeous display of red, orange, and yellow tones.
A fast-growing specimen, Hot Wings Tartarian Maple grows “out” as much as it grows tall, which gives it an attractive rounded habit at maturity. On top of offering plenty of shade and color, this maple is also very cold-hardy and has no trouble surviving a Des Moines winter.
Best Compact Shade Trees for Patio Areas or Corners of Home (under 30 ft)
Ted’s Pick: Serviceberry
There’s so much to love about serviceberry trees. Not only are they wonderful choices for adding three-season interest, they produce delicious edible berries similar in color and flavor to blueberries. The Autumn Brilliance cultivar is especially beautiful, with its intense orange-red fall foliage.
In the early spring, the serviceberry blooms profusely with crisp white flowers. As spring fades into summer and the flowers are replaced with berries, you’ll notice your yard becoming a lot more popular with the local birds!
Serviceberries are medium growers, which allows them to look well-established after a few years while remaining compact.
These trees are great options for people looking to create shade in their backyard landscape. They provide a relaxing respite for you and your plants, soaking up the sun in any area where you’d rather not. Provided a little bit of space, some good soil, and simple regular upkeep, even a modest tree can be a practical addition to your backyard that gives back year after year.
With a camera in everyone’s pocket, social media within our fingertip’s reach, and a world of people a click away, it can feel a lot more difficult to live a private life. We’re so plugged into our lives around us and surrounded by technology and media that the only place we can actually relax is in our homes. While a little peace and quiet is wonderful to enjoy in our fast-paced lives, nobody wants to live their life indoors. Having a private escape on your property can be the perfect way to enjoy what your yard has to offer, without worrying about prying eyes. Below are some ideas on how to create your own private sanctuary in your backyard.
Hedges and Privacy Screens: Planting hedges and privacy screens are a beautiful and all-natural way to add a little bit of functional privacy to your home. Their dense growth creates a lush curtain of green that shields your yard while allowing you to enjoy the outdoors. You’ll get all the function of a fence or barrier, but with a much more aesthetically pleasing shade of green.
Hedges don’t just screen your home from the outside giving privacy, but they can also act as a stylish, multi-purpose feature by providing a sound barrier from the hustle and bustle of the outside world, allowing you to create an atmosphere of peace and quiet right outside your door. Not to mention, they also work great as a buffer from winds and snow, which can not only be a benefit for those of us who like to spend more time outside, but it can also help to lower heating costs when the weather cools.
Growing Your Own Hedges: While there are many different styles and types of hedges that you can grow, planning the best fit for you is important. The first step toward starting your own hedge at home actually begins with planning, so that you can choose the look and function that works for your backyard oasis. Working with one of our expert designers, we’ll find the most tailored look for your style, home, and interests. Here’s what to consider when planning:
What space do you have? Start off by planning where you want your hedge to go. You might want to have a hedge capture your whole yard, but some yard layouts might call for a partial hedge instead. Measure the total length and consider how wide you’d like your hedge to be to have the numbers you need to get started.
What do these measurements mean? How many plants you use and how close you plant them depends on both the plant’s growth habits and the density of a hedge that you want. For some plants you could need up to 3 layers, planted only 1’-2’ apart to create a dense look. Other plants may only need to be planted in one layer and require spacing 6 ft apart. Often a combination of plants is best, for a unique look and more color and texture through the year. Our designers are familiar with all of the most popular varieties and which species is the best choice for the look that you want.
Which plant to choose? The first decision is between deciduous and evergreen shrubs. While there are tons of exciting types of deciduous plants to choose from that offer a stunning array of seasonal colors, they do lose their leaves – and therefore some of their density – in the winter. Evergreens offer an identical look no matter the season, and won’t sacrifice density at any time of year.
Hedge How-To: For a professional and polished final look, our landscaping experts are a fantastic resource to make sure that your project looks as good as you imagined. If you’re a bit handier, though, it can be easy to plant your own hedge. For homeowners looking for a stress-free experience, hiring the pros is a great solution, and for those that like to be hands-on throughout their projects, we’re happy to help you make your hedge happen. Here’s how to plant them yourself:
1. For a manicured look, mark your hedge line. Use a stake at each end of the line and tie a string between them to mark a straight line. To keep each plant placed precisely, measure and mark your string with the distances that you want to place plants at.
2.Dig your holes as deep as the plant’s root balls.Take the plants out of the containers or casing you purchased them in the holes for planting. If they look root-bound, gently work the roots to loosen them. Fill in the holes and water your new hedge plants to help them to settle in and start growing.
3. Adding mulch around your plants will help them to thrive. Mulch is temperature regulating and helps to keep moisture levels more consistent for a healthier plant, but also helps to make your hedge look more polished.
4. You can “train” your hedge into the right shape with some careful pruning once they are growing well. Simply trim down the tops and sides a few times annually to keep your plants healthy and in line.
Favorite Hedge Plants: There really is a wealth of different options to choose from when picking your hedge plant. Shrubs exist in nearly every shape and size, so there’s a plant for nearly every style. These are some of our favorite hedge plants that you’re bound to see thriving in Iowa neighborhoods:
Boxwoods These evergreens are known for being dense-growing and very low maintenance. You can find them in many sizes ranging from 3’ to 9’ tall, and you can trim them into different shapes to suit your style. These shrubs boast bright green foliage that darkens slightly in the winter months. While they are known to attract useful bees to your yard, they also keep out other wildlife like deer, keeping your whole garden protected from other kinds of prying eyes.
Arborvitae Known for their elegant looks, these hedges are a perfect option for hedges that highlight each individual plant with more generous spacing. These tall and narrow cone-shaped trees come in a wide assortment of varieties, some of which can grow up to 30’ tall. The local favorites are the Emerald Green Arborvitae and the Holmstrup Arborvitae – both favored for their beautiful foliage that is both hardy and disease resistant. The name “Arborvitae” actually translates from Latin to mean “tree of life,” and these plants prove it with a long life of up to 50 years, even in our sometimes harsh conditions. Pictured Above Right: North Pole Arborvitae Via Plant Finder
Korean Lilac & Common Lilac Lilacs are a great choice for adding a floral touch to your hedging needs, covered in clusters of small flowers, usually in shades of white or purple, or variegations of both. Not only beautiful, they’re also wonderfully fragrant and add a delightful, relaxing note to the atmosphere of the backyard. Plus, those same gorgeous and fragrant blooms are favorites of hummingbirds and butterflies alike! Pictured Above Left: Korean Lilac Via Plant Finder
Dwarf Burning Bush For truly captivating color, look no further than a dwarf burning bush for your hedge. The gorgeous, green summer foliage transforms to radiant red for the fall, truly setting the season in your landscape. They also look particularly fantastic when paired with evergreens for a cool contrast with the appeal of year-round coverage. Pictured Above Right: Dwarf Burning Bush Via Monrovia
Privacy Planting Screens: Although a hedge is a nice place to start when adding privacy to your backyard, a more beautiful and complex solution is a privacy planting screen that has several varieties of plants. The combination of plants will create a more diverse mix that provides more color, height variations, and seasonal interest.
Most planting screens would incorporate multiple trees, shrubs, and perhaps ornamental grasses and perennial flowers. Below are some images of planting arrangements we have done in the past. One of our friendly designers can help design and install a more complex project for you, such as this.
Berming: Another way to create privacy is to change the elevation of the land. Given enough space on your property, you can add black dirt and re-shape the land to increase the height of your yard, allowing for more privacy. Typically we would then plant a privacy screen on top of the rolling berms to create an immediate planting screen. If you have an expansive area, these berms also have a lot of visual interest by themselves, giving you the feel of a rolling manicured golf course.
Getting a moment to ourselves shouldn’t be that difficult, so it’s wonderful to have a little spot of quiet solitude right in our own yards. Whether you want to plant your own or need help from our landscape and design experts to create some much-needed privacy, come in today to ask how you can turn your backyard into a private getaway.
If hardscapes are the bones of a landscape, plants are the heart. Filling our yards with greenery, blooms, trees, and shrubs allow us to give life to our homes and customize the colors and textures of our design. For novice gardeners, there can be a lot to think about – from methods of planting to soil testing to USDA hardiness zones. That’s why we put together our guide to planting in Central Iowa. It’s full of advice for planting and maintaining vibrant, healthy plant life, leaving you with a garden that you don’t just love looking at, but that you love working in, too!
Determine the Conditions of Your Planting Area
When it comes to your garden, your property is a canvas. Even if your home came with a garden, it’s always possible to restore and re-imagine an outdoor space. When re-planting a garden from scratch, every garden project always turns out looking more true-to-vision if there’s a plan for the layout of the area before we break ground.
Before creating a garden layout, it’s important to assess the conditions of your desired planting space. You can start with a spiral notebook and a pencil and begin to take note of the different aspects of your yard. As you work through these components of the property, you can begin to form priorities about which aspects you want to remain the same, which you want to change, and which elements you’d like to move before you consult with a Ted Lare Design Build specialist. Take note of the following:
Shade – The shade areas of a property can be difficult to change, and unless you have a strong desire to remove a tree, it’s often best to work with the existing gradations of shade and sun when creating your layout. To help visualize the area, use your pencil to sketch a rough layout of the property and shade in areas with different darknesses to denote areas of full sun, part sun, dappled shade, part shade, and deep shade. Later on, this will help you to choose plants suited to the shady areas you have.
Soil – Soil is an amazingly complex component to every garden and so much of our planting success depends on our ability to match plants to the soils they’ll thrive in or amend the soil to suit the needs of our plants. A few things to consider when getting to know your soil:
Soil Types – From clay to peat to loam, the quality and structure of the soil dictates important features like moisture retention, drainage, and organic matter content. Soil amendments and mulch can help with correcting problem soil.
Soil Temperatures – Iowa occupies USDA zones 4 to 7, which is a pretty broad variation! In Central Iowa, we sit in zone 5, but we typically recommend using zone 4 plants.
Iowa Soils – Typically you will find your yard consists of black soil form the original farmland, or compacted dense clay from the development of your neighborhood. Digging several holes in your yard 12 inches deep will tell you what you have to work with. If it is rich black soil, you are lucky and do not have to do anything to your soil before planting. If it is dense clay, we recommend amending your soil with black dirt and compost.
If you’re just establishing your garden for the first time, you have a big job ahead of you. Once you’ve completed your assessment of the area and decided how much of your space you want to develop into a garden, it’s time to make some decisions. This is a good time to get a Ted Lare Design Build landscape designer involved. Our experts can handle this part of the project to make sure your garden layout reflects the result you want. This will involve:
Removal and Soil Prep – Before you can create planting beds, you need to remove the old soil, sod, and debris in the way. Our team will clear out the material you don’t need and prepare the soil for planting.
Hardscape Design – You’ll want to discuss all the hardscapes you hope to incorporate, whether now or in the future, with your designer. That includes patios, pathways, retaining walls, water features, fire pits, decks, and pergolas. Our team has a lot of experience building each of these fixtures, and our designers can help you prioritize which hardscapes will have the biggest impact within your budget.
Locate All Trees – Well-maintained, mature trees enhance the appearance of all landscapes. Your professional will design your garden strategically around your trees so the final look works with them.
Fill Planting Beds – When it’s time to fill the planting beds, our experts take a strategic approach. We want to create structure in our design by planting shrubs, then create attractive green spaces with our choice of grasses. After that, we’ll plant perennial flowers that will become the foundations of our color palette, and then accentuate with annual flowers.
While flowers and cover crops provide most of the fine details of our garden designs, larger plants also establish structure and framing of the overall space.
Ornamental trees create framing for the area, and can have extra benefits like shade, edible fruit, and added privacy. Shrubs and trees both have excellent potential for attracting wildlife, like our many beautiful native birds!
Planting trees and shrubs may seem daunting, but the process is generally not as involved as you might think and our garden professionals are more than equipped to assist you. Simply select a tree that works with your design, and before you know it, our team will have it planted and staked for you, ready to grow big and tall.
When choosing perennials, USDA zone is the most important factor to make decisions by. While our region of Central Iowa is considered zone 5, zone 4 plants have a much better shot at surviving our winters, especially if you live out of town where there’s less wind protection. We have tested a lot of these plants, so consult our Garden Center staff for more information on plants that work in Central Iowa.
Working with Wide Open Spaces – While urbanites with fenced properties may be happy with a few shrubs and trees to liven up small to medium properties, those in rural locations may be working with much larger territory to cover. Planting a forest in our backyards could be cumbersome, to say the least, so how do you fill in those acres best?
We’re big believers in the beauty of our native prairies. Prairies teem with important wildlife, and we love a field of wildflowers in the summertime. Consider establishing a prairie on larger properties to bring eco-friendly, rustic beauty to your acreage.
Low Maintenance Gardening and Planting
Planting a garden is a big job, and if you’re planting annuals, it’s a job that will need to be done every year. The key to consistency is enjoying the work. We’ve found the best way to take pleasure in gardening is to work with plants that work with, not against, the specifications of our properties.
Time-Saving Plants – Especially with larger properties, caring for many plants at once can quickly become overwhelming. Including a significant population of low-maintenance plants that require little upkeep can free up an enormous amount of time, allowing you to focus more time on the more demanding plants you can’t live without. Planting shrubs, perennial flowers, and annual flowers from potted containers, rather than growing plants from seeds, will also save time and allow you to enjoy some color during the planting season right away.
Effort-Saving Plants – Even if a plant variety requires very little upkeep on paper, a variety that isn’t naturally adapted to the Central Iowa climate or your soil conditions will end up demanding a great deal of effort once planted. Choosing native plants that thrive in our state will save you from taking on an exhausting uphill battle.
Maintaining Your Garden’s Beauty
Once your dream garden has been planted, the maintenance begins. Keeping notes on the needs of each of your plants can do wonders for simplifying the care schedule for your garden. Give some thought to these major maintenance areas when developing a care strategy:
Watering – All plants will require varying degrees of moisture to thrive. Manage thirstier plants with a quality natural wood mulch, and consider irrigation systems for gardens with large populations of delicate flowers. Your plants will need the most watering care the first year and then will need less time the following years, except in drought conditions.
Drainage – Sometimes the problem isn’t getting enough water, but having too much of it. If your downspouts don’t have proper drainage, you run the risk of flooding your garden during downpours. Consider installing a drainage system for your downspouts to route your rainwater where you want it to go.
Weeds – While there are ways to plant strategically to fight weed competition, it’s nearly impossible to eliminate weeds altogether. Using new, sterile garden soil at the time of planting will allow a head start on weeds by reducing the population of weeds in the seedbed, however, it is ideal to keep a weed pulling schedule and scout for new weeds every few days. Pulling a newly sprouted weed is always easier than dislodging an established one. They also have a much lower probability of growing back. After watering, weed management is the most important part of landscaping maintenance. If you let them go, your hard work and investment will be slowly destroyed.
Pest Management – When thinking about pest control, don’t just think small. While it’s always a good idea to have horticultural soaps and other natural solutions on hand for invasive insects, the pests that can do the most damage in the least amount of time are much larger. Deer-proofing your yard can save you from the devastation of waking up to a completely destroyed garden. Inspect fencing for small gateways, which can allow rabbits to come in and feast on your precious flowers and edibles, as well.
Patios are so much more than another entry into our homes. A well-loved patio becomes an extension of the home, and for many of us, our favorite part. Patios can be an urban retreat into nature, a refuge for winged wildlife, a gourmet dining experience, and a place where childhoods are made – all in one day. In many ways, how we build our patios dictate a lot about how we’ll build our memories with family and friends. By building our dream patio layout, we can enjoy the absolute best moments that homeownership has to offer.
Our backyards are the setting of some of our fondest memories, serving many purposes. They are a place to gather, a place to relax, and a place to enjoy our own personal piece of nature. Landscaping sets the scene for your outdoor lifestyle, customizing your space for the way your family lives, dines, and plays, and it’s amazing how a fresh change in your backyard layout and materials can make your entire property feel brand new.
Outdoor Dining on the Patio
On those perfect summer days, we all love to take our meals outside and dine al fresco. Creating an outdoor space for enjoying meals with family and friends is one of the best investments you can make. Whether you’re clinking glasses with friends on the Fourth of July, hosting a barbeque birthday party for the little ones, or just enjoying a glass of wine and a bowl of cherries with your sweetheart, it’s always better on the patio.
Outdoor Dining on a Budget
While it’s a wonderful thing for your outdoor dining area to be all decked out, you can achieve a similar mood on a budget with a few small changes. A bistro set with an elegant table and chairs adds character and charm to small patios. For larger spaces, an outdoor dining set with an umbrella gives your patio a restaurant feel and some shade when needed. Hang overhead string lights for enchanting evening parties. Plant flowering shrubs around your patio border and install standing planters of annuals to surround your guests with color.
For the outdoor dining enthusiast, an outdoor kitchen is a must-have feature. Today’s outdoor kitchens are available in materials that can be matched to the style of your home and patio, with high-end features like pizza ovens and wine fridges. Complete your outdoor kitchen with an outdoor dining room to complete the experience. Warning: your friends may never stop asking when you can host them next!
For some of us, our backyards are sacred places. They’re a hideaway from our busy lives and a place to sit peacefully, meditate or read a good book. They are a relaxing location to reconnect with nature and enjoy the sights, smells, and sounds of the outdoors. Even a yard that’s little more than a fenced-in patch of lawn can be transformed into a natural paradise with a few the right design and installation team.
Adding a water feature to your backyard truly adds a new element to your outdoor living space. A water feature can be purely decorative, like a natural stone fountain, or a ready-made habitat for frogs and fish, like a pond or waterfall. The sound of softly babbling water is nature’s background music for a relaxing day in the backyard.
Garden Paths & Seating
There’s something whimsical about a cobblestone path to lead you through a garden. Stone strikes a balance between the visually appealing and the practical, and can be used in so many ways. Stone steppers organize spaces while keeping the natural aesthetic of your garden, while larger vertical stones and boulders provide endless options for outcropping, seating, and decoration. Wherever your garden path leads, a garden bench, swing, or conversation set is the final touch to give you a cozy little spot to enjoy your backyard oasis.
Over 429 bird species call Iowa home, and your backyard is a convenient spot to observe them in action. If you’re a natural birdwatcher, a few changes in your backyard environment can bring more feathered friends into view and keep you comfortable for hours of observation.
Attracting Birds to Your Backyard
For some of us, outdoor time is for the birds! Coax them in by creating a bird-friendly environment. Plant different varieties of ornamental trees around the yard, which will appeal to a broader range of bird species, or native plants to attract familiar faces. Some birds get territorial over their preferred birdfeeders, so it’s a good idea to spread out several feeders with assorted seed to reduce competition. If you don’t have a water feature, a simple pump fountain or birdbath offers birds a place to refresh themselves – a delightful sight to watch!
Birdwatching from the Patio
Birdwatching is a waiting game, so your ability to birdwatch goes only as far as your ability to sit comfortably. A place to relax in the shade will allow you to stay vigilant without getting too much sun in your eyes, or your skin! Make sure your backyard’s best viewing spot is complete with comfortable outdoor furniture, an outdoor-friendly coffee table for beverages, and a good pair of binoculars.
Family Leisure on the Patio
Childhood should take place outdoors as much as possible. Spending time out in nature and away from technology gives you and your children or grandchildren a space to unplug, bond, and make new memories. Many of your favorite summer vacation activities can be recreated right on your property without losing any of the magic.
Backyard Activities for Kids
Kids love the outdoors as much as adults do, but they need a stimulating environment to let their imaginations run wild. Within safe view of the patio, installing an outdoor play structure or swing set gives them a chance to interact, pretend, and get some exercise in the fresh air. An in-ground pool makes for a whole new level of fun for all ages, and secures your home as the place to be on hot summer days. Encourage a love for nature by letting kids paint birdhouses or make DIY birdfeeders to incorporate in the backyard environment.
Backyard Activities for Families
The moments we spend with many generations of family at once are the ones we remember our whole lives. Kids, parents, and grandparents may not have the same taste in movies, beverages, or music, but the natural setting of your backyard is a place where none of that has to matter. While roasting hot dogs and marshmallows around the fire, we can put the focus on storytelling and togetherness. A round of board games on the patio table opens the air for laughter. The patio also makes a great referee stand for a pickup game of badminton or soccer.
Building a Family-Friendly Deck or Patio
When there are active kids in the picture, the less time we have for for deck and patio maintenance. Using low-maintenance materials and furniture makes messy activities, like tie-dying and foam fights, a stress-free affair to clean up. To create an atmosphere of warmth in the evening, try adding string lights or an LED lighting system around your patio seating. Cap things off with beautiful flower planters with colorful annuals and a porch swing or hammock to add a fun, whimsical feature for relaxing and chatting for everyone in the family.
Patios are so much more than another entry into our homes. A well-loved patio becomes an extension of the home, and for many of us, our favorite part. Patios can be an urban retreat into nature, a refuge for winged wildlife, a gourmet dining experience, and a place where childhoods are made – all in one day. In many ways, how we build our patios dictate a lot about how we’ll build our memories with family and friends. By building our dream patio layout, we can enjoy the absolute best moments that homeownership has to offer.
The best things in life are worth working for, and we don’t hesitate to make sure we have the perfect outdoor spaces to enjoy that are tailored to our exact needs. We pour lots of work into the design and aesthetic of our homes and gardens, and a lot of our energy is focused on creating a lush and thriving garden space to enjoy. We all want our yards to be an outdoor escape within the comfort of our own fence, a gorgeous living sanctuary to enjoy those precious moments when life slows down.
While it makes sense to focus on vegetation, hardscape – the non-living elements of your backyard design – contribute almost as much as our favorite plants. Rock and stone are the perfect contrasting element to vegetation that make our gardens look truly unique, adding both aesthetic appeal and function.
Specimen Boulders and Rock Gardens: The best designs use elements of contrast and space to make the stars of the piece really stand out. Using hardscaping is a great way to incorporate different shapes, textures, and colors that plants can’t offer. By adding these additional elements to your garden, you can elevate the appearance of your whole yard.
Hardscaping is just as flexible as your favorite plants, and you can use it in a variety of ways that perfectly suit the style and function of your outdoor space. Rocks can be big statement centerpieces, functional structure elements, or even add reliable intrigue to areas that your plants might struggle to flourish in. The possibilities are nearly endless and entirely customizable to your exact needs. Here are some of the most popular design elements in hardscaping:
Large boulders that offer unique shapes can add character to your garden while anchoring your outdoor design with a central focal point. A large specimen boulder provides natural structure for the rest of the garden to follow. Complement boulders by surrounding them with a rock or flower garden.
Smaller rocks make the perfect fillers to make the most of every square inch of your landscaping. Have fun piling them around other objects, making a fire pit, or fitting them directly into your garden plan. As smaller items, you even have the flexibility to revise your garden style and move them around year to year for a refreshed design. You can even experiment with matching your stones to the accent colors of your house for a coordinated look.
Outcropping Stones and Retaining Walls: Sturdiness and stability are some of the first things that come to mind when we think of stone in our garden landscape. As the anchors in our yard, it makes sense to use stone as foundational elements in your landscape design.
Outcropping stones are large, rugged stones that are designed perfectly for stacking. They’re best used to create beautiful retaining walls and stone steps that are the perfect marriage of stunning style and fabulous function. Use them as a unique way to line your landscape, or mark the boundaries of your property with them – their natural beauty is the perfect way to achieve manicured lines in your landscape design without sacrificing the look of organic materials.
Retaining walls are not only about creating clean lines and style on your property, but they help to prevent erosion and sliding soil, which can drastically change the structure of your home and yard. Retaining walls are ideal for people in hilly areas who are fighting gravity to keep their landscape designs together, but are also useful as borders on vegetable gardens and flower beds. Try pairing pale stones with dark foliage and mulch, to catch the eye and highlight your favorite plants.
Rock Mulch: The perfect thing about using rock in the garden is how useful stone can be in addition to all of the aesthetic benefits. One of the best examples of this is using rock mulch, in which attractive stones provide exceptional drainage for arid-climate plants such as cacti, succulents. Rock mulch is also the cure for rock gardens struggling with water diversion and drainage.
While organic mulch needs to be replaced with each season to keep your garden in top condition, rock mulch doesn’t decompose and won’t require the seasonal chore of changing it. Use a weed barrier under your mulch to suppress unwanted plants to keep your stonework looking clean and polished all year, every year.
Filling your entire yard with plants can sound exciting, but the maintenance can be absolutely overwhelming. For those that prefer to focus their efforts towards making their favorite plants look stellar, or even those with an eye for design that want to add some texture to their landscaping, rocks can be a great choice. Attractive stones and boulders not only require less maintenance, but they’re a stunning and ruggedly beautiful addition to any home.
Pathways are a beautiful and practical addition to your yard. Creating a pathway can impact everything from the overall look of your yard – think rustic cobblestone versus manicured concrete pavers – to the way the eyes (and the feet) move through the space. They provide a base to build an entire landscape around, leading guests past your prized flower beds and into an inviting seating area. We have installed hundreds, if not thousands of stone and paver pathways in Central Iowa. Below are some material options to consider.
Pathway Materials: A new pathway can be beautiful and functional for your front or back yard. We have installed a large variety of pathway materials, starting in 1982 when Ted started the business. All the material choices below should last for decades with little maintenance needed along the way.
Natural Stone – Natural stone has a beautiful, appealing quality that attracts a lot of attention. This timeless material is still our number one seller with pathway installations. Our teams have worked with natural stone for decades, so we can install it relatively quickly in a variety of colors and sizes to fit the surroundings. Natural stone lasts a long time, so you will not have to worry about changing it for years.
Man-Made Pavers – Concrete can be poured in place, or added with concrete pavers to keep the same style without compromising durability. Solid and strong, concrete pavers are nice and easy to shovel on snowy days, making it a low-maintenance and convenient option for our Iowa landscapes. There are many paver choices to choose from when installing new pavers. Our design team can help you choose the right fit for your home.
Gravel – Gravel is a budget-friendly option that is available in a range of colors and shades to match your vision. It may need to be maintained and topped up from time to time, especially after the winter melt, but a gravel path is a great place to start for landscapes on a budget. It installs quickly, making for a less costly option in the backyard.
Clay-Fired Brick – This classic masonry look is timeless, warm, and charming, but while this option still exists, we seldom use it anymore. We can now achieve the same look with updated man-made concrete pavers!
Pathway Design: While a narrow path makes a lovely accent for a garden, we encourage our clients to consider functionality first. We recommend a width of about 48” and no narrower than 36” for front entry paths. Wide landings are needed where the pathway meets a doorway, fence, or seating area. A nice, wide path will allow couples to walk abreast, or a wheelchair to pass through with ease, and a nicely-sized landing provides an attractive foundation for porch pots or other decor.
If the path is expected to be a high-traffic area, a straight line is the most efficient option. However, for residential design, we typically let the overall design of the space dictate the shape and flow of the pathways. Modern designs are more likely to be linear and classical designs are more likely to be curved.Either way, we put a lot of thought into the function and visual appeal of pathways. The correct design should accommodate foot traffic, while also allowing enough space inside the pathway for planting and other design features, such as fountains or stone accents.
Informal paths in the backyard or other low traffic areas only need to be 24” wide, unless they are accommodating lawn mowers or other maintenance uses.
Decorative Accents: Once the shape and layout of the path has been designed, it’s time to customize the look. No matter what aesthetic you’re going for, it can be enhanced with the addition of landscape lighting, arbors, trellises, retaining walls, and just about anything else you can imagine. When we design a pathway, we think about everything else that surround it, to make sure your front or backyard looks amazing.
Gardens are exceptional companions to pathways, as well, and offer a fantastic contrast of hard and soft elements in your landscape. When considering placement and design for your pathway, we think about your garden and how best to make it fit into your aesthetic for a complimentary piece that works together in the space.
If you’re brand new to the world of landscaping, a pathway project is a fantastic first step for transforming your yard. Once the pathway is installed, you’ll begin to view your entire outdoor space in a new light. Then, with a little added structure underfoot, the landscaping potential of your property can begin to take shape.
The best gardens are more than just beautiful. Some of our favorite outdoor designs are where function meets beauty. Outdoor spaces that have been transformed into someplace unique to the homeowner and their tastes, while offering an oasis for them to enjoy their time at home. While the visual appeal is an important element, what you leave up to the other senses is what completes the experience.
From fragrant flowers to delightful textured plants, your personal outdoor space can be full of everything you want to experience. And what better place to relax and enjoy time with family, friends, and loved ones than a calming garden getaway that provides a platform for entertaining? The easiest way to add sound and tranquility to your yard is with a water feature. Not only are they incredibly personalized and customizable, they are simpler to install than most people think – especially with the assistance of our team of landscape and design experts to guide the way.
Why We Love Water Features: The benefits of adding the sound of trickling water to your garden are clear as soon as you step into a garden that has a water feature. They also pack a ton of other benefits by boosting ambient humidity for your garden to enjoy, and providing shelter and water for your favorite wildlife and beneficial insects.
In terms of design, there are many reasons why people fall in love with the idea of having a water feature in their backyard. While they are certainly more than achievable for nearly anyone’s garden today, we can’t help but associate fountains and ponds with luxury. In ancient Babylon, Kings used water (along with feats of engineering and lots of manpower) to create lush tropical oases in the middle of the desert. More recently, in France, the royal family created impressive fountains and gardens for their opulent palace in Versailles.
These days there are so many customizable options that anyone can have all the luxury of the royal water features of the past in their own backyard. You’ll appreciate the benefits of having a place to go home and relax, even if you don’t rule a kingdom.
The Benefits of Water Features: Our gardens are our own sanctuary, so it makes sense that we optimize the space for sharing with loved ones and for relaxing. With the sound of water dripping and flowing, your whole yard is filled with ambient noise that promotes relaxation. The constantly moving water will also help to boost your garden’s health by increasing humidity, which your tropical plants will enjoy, and by attracting the right type of natural visitors to your backyard space.
Water features themselves offer a host of benefits to the overall experience in your yard, but they are visually stunning as well. There are so many options for types and styles of water installations, your options are endless for designing a beautiful water feature that perfectly compliments your existing outdoor aesthetic.
Water Feature Options: There are a few basic types of water features to choose from. Depending on your ambition, you can opt for a pre-made feature, or something completely one-of-a-kind.
The simpler method of starting a water feature is with a fountain. These are easy to source and come in all shapes, sizes, materials, and prices. Fountains add a certain elegance to your garden – we can’t help but associate them with formal French gardens. This elegant solution comes with relatively simple upkeep and maintenance. They’re easy to install, are affordable, and often offer a simple enclosed system of circulating water that is easy to manage. While you can always scale your project to be bigger and more elaborate, the simplest of fountains are easy to add to an existing landscape design without much extra work.
Ponds are popular options for people that are willing to put in a bit more work and regular maintenance for a stunning centerpiece that really ties the whole landscape together. Instead of a feature in your design, ponds tend to be a commanding central point that focuses the entire look of your yard. These features add a naturalistic beauty to your yard that’s perfect for relaxing conversation spaces.
Waterfalls and water walls can either be incorporated into a pond or built to be free-standing. Waterfalls and water walls can be sculpted with concrete, granite or natural stone to create a dramatically beautiful focal point. Our experts are a great starting point for an ambitious project like installing a waterfall. With help from the Ted Lare design team, you can create a water feature that works well with your home and lifestyle, with the confidence that it will be done right.
However you decide to incorporate your water feature, you’ll be rewarded with an outdoor experience that rewards all your senses. Installing a new feature is an investment in your property as well as an investment in your time spent outside – for you and everyone you welcome into your home each year.
When the weather is beautiful, we all love to gather on the deck or patio to soak up the sunshine and enjoy the fresh air. But when the fun is over and it’s time to go inside, our decks and patios stay behind – through rain, sleet, snow, and anything else our Iowa climate decides to throw at it. A deck made from weaker materials will need consistent maintenance to look its best. That’s why, when building a deck, we recommend using high-performance materials that will end up saving tons of time and money down the road.
How “Maintenance-Free” is a Maintenance-Free Deck?
A maintenance-free deck isn’t going to clean up the dishes and lawn toys for us, but it will serve us well by standing up to the elements. Unlike treated lumber or cedar lumber, which is susceptible to mold and insects, and requires frequent re-staining, “maintenance free” decking requires very little upkeep in comparison. Maintenance-free decking options should all stand up to inclement weather, need no staining, and should be easy to clean with a pressure washer or hose on those days when the dog or kids cross paths with a mud puddle.
Maintenance-Free Deck Materials:
There are lots of decking materials out there, and while many have lots of low-maintenance perks, there are a few drawbacks to consider when choosing the material for our outdoor spaces.
Composite Decking is a lower-maintenance material than treated wood, but it’s certainly not maintenance-free. Composite is a blend of wood fiber and plastic, which reinforces the wood to stand up to the elements for longer. However, because the material still contains natural fibers, it will eventually show its age and begin to crack, cup, and develop mold issues. We should always go with high-quality composite decking if we take this route, as we truly get what we pay for in terms of color, appearance, and durability.
PVC Decking is another option that has gained enormous popularity recently as more and more folks have taken interest in vinyl plank flooring. Vinyl has a lot of benefits; it requires no staining or painting, it’s durable for high-traffic areas, and it’s very water-resistant. However, vinyl decking is a much better choice for covered decks than open patios, as it can be temperamental in extreme temperatures! Because vinyl is made from polyvinyl chloride, which is a plastic, it can warp and melt in extreme heat and can burn bare feet on hot days, so keeping it out of the sun is best.
IPE or Teak Wood is a high-end natural wood product. This material is ultra-dense and can last for 25 years, but looks just like regular treated wood. This option is perfect for those who like the look of natural wood decking and don’t mind investing in high-quality, durable materials.
If you have an outside space that does not need to be elevated with a deck, building a low-maintenance patio is a great way to use your outdoor space. The new paver and natural stone options available today are virtually maintenance-free. Many of our material providers offer lifetime warranties on the pavers themselves, which allows you to invest in your outdoor space with peace of mind. From time to time, the joints between the stones will need to be re-sanded to look their best. Generally, the smaller the paver joint, the less the joint will need to be re-sanded. Joints can now last over 10 years when properly installed by our experienced landscaping teams.
Maintenance-Free Deck Design Tips:
Once your custom deck or patio is built and looking great, a truly maintenance-free deck will need some maintenance-free finishing touches to make it look its best.
Try outdoor furniture made from recycled plastics. These environmentally-friendly materials are easy-to-clean and are available in finishes that mimic the look of wood.
Add tall planters in coordinating colors to bring life to your deck design.
Complete the design with outdoor cushions and lighting. Bistro string lights offer beautiful, warm light to evening soirees and outdoor cushions make the space feel comfortable and inviting.
If completing your design is fuelled more by stress than inspiration, never hesitate to ask your landscape designers. As experts in our fields, we pride ourselves on creating cohesive looks for your design, start to finish, and we’d be happy to help you select winning options to tie everything together.
Designing and building a patio or deck is a big step, but the result is an outdoor space to enjoy for years to come. For those of us with busy lives and big families, a low-maintenance deck or patio guarantees all the pleasures of outdoor living without the hassles. That means less stress, and more time to focus on making memories together.
Homes are where we let dreams happen. A new home comes with a new start, and a new chance for your surroundings to reflect your family’s style. Home is the place we go back to every day, where we build our futures, and where we feel safest – it makes sense that we’d want to shape them to fit us and our needs.
New homes can also be overwhelming. With so much hope and expectation, it can be tough to know where to start. It’s important to keep in mind that there’s no rush. There’s a lot to be enjoyed about moving into your new home, and you don’t want to rush through the milestones. You don’t need to go from bare dirt to a prize winning garden in one month. Setting goals is important, but so is the process.
Getting Started with New Landscaping:
As you make plans for the construction of your new home, it is important to also think about the outdoor spaces as well. As you select the size and layout of your home, think about how much space is left on the lot and how you want to shape the outdoors of your home. Think about the activities you want enjoy and how your new yard is going to accommodate them. If you like to play sports in the backyard or are entertaining the idea of a pool area, then you want to create or preserve a large level lawn area for these activities.
Here are some general questions you can think about as you plan the build of your new home:
What direction do I want the backyard and frontyard to face? Think about shade and sun, wind direction, and the existing views at different lots you may be looking at.
Do I want the backyard to be shady or sunny?
Will there be enough room on the sides of the home for lawn equipment to access the backyard?
Will we want a privacy fence in the backyard?
Are there views from the home you want to preserve?
Are there other views you want to hide or screen with plantings?
What size of patio or deck do you need? Consider everyday activities with family and other occasions where you might want more space?
What outdoor functional features do you want to include or plan for in the future? (firepit, outdoor kitchen, pool areas, shade structures, additional patio space)
Spend a little time with your family talking about all of your wants and dreams for your new outdoor spaces included with your new home. Then spend a little time prioritizing these different items on your list. Similar to the indoors of your home, you may need to trim some items off the list as budgets are developed for your new landscape construction.
As you get started building your new home, you will want to get a reputable Landscape Designer involved during the building process. Our design team is the perfect resource for any new homeowner looking to get started. We’ll help you navigate the planning, design, and execution stages to guide you towards your dream yard. If you are looking for a truly unique design, try to get a designer involved early in the building process as you are budgeting for all of your expenses. We can help with generating ideas for your outdoor spaces and shaping your own ideas into conceptual designs for construction.
Steps to Landscaping your New Home:
It can be overwhelming to landscape your entire home. Here are the steps we recommend to prioritize your new home landscaping.
Budget for Sod and Irrigation
Assess how much you want to spend on the new landscaping for your home.
Pick a Landscape Designer to work with and obtain Estimates for Hardscapes (pool, patios, retaining walls, paths, etc.), Tree Plantings, and Planting Beds.
Review estimates for proposed work to see what fits your budget.
Revise hardscape and planting designs to fit your initial install budget.
Continue to refine the design and material choices as construction approaches
We recommend trying to get as much of the heavy construction installed upfront, such as patios and retaining walls, during the initial home construction. These items are much easier and less costly to install before your lot is sodded.
Tree plantings are also nice to get started early as well, as they will take a while to grow into large shade trees. Other than that, the front planting will most likely be required by your development. Hardscapes, Front landscaping, and Tree plantings are the areas to focus on first. Other items are easy to take care of down the road.
Preparing for New Plantings & Sod:
A vibrant and beautiful garden is impossible without good soil, and setting a good foundation is a great investment in making your gardening and yard maintenance easier for years to come. With a new home you’ve got a great opportunity to set this foundation – without any landscaping in place you can address your soil before you get started with anything else.
Some developers try to cut corners by leaving you with very little black soil, scraping it off and leaving a frustrating and unworkable amount for you by the time you move in. As you sign contracts with your home builder, ask questions about black soil depths in the lot and what is expected after the final build. The deeper the black soil the better, as you will have to water your lawn less and any new plants will thrive in black soil, compared to compacted clay. Four inches of black soil is the absolute minimum you’ll need for a healthy lawn, but of course more is better and even required for things like gardens and flower beds.
Even if you’re confident you’ve received the promised top soil, it can be a good idea to supplement additional black soil while everything is exposed, especially for areas you plan to plant during construction or later down the road. A full dump truck of black dirt spread across your front foundation will make a big difference to your future plantings installed with your new landscaping. We recommend having 12” of black soil for planting bed areas if possible.
Landscaping Design for your New Home:
The toughest exercise in self-restraint can be planning your hardscaping and waiting until you have a confident idea of what you’d like your yard to look like before you start laying down permanent fixtures.
Our landscape experts are the best source of knowledge to help set your plans and designs in stone. We can help you through the entire process, from preliminary planning and conceptual design all the way through final construction. All of our designers have years of experience and the creative vision to help you build the new home of your dreams. Our detailed plans will let us help you do it right the first time. By taking the time to do it right, you can make the most of your opportunity to design a perfectly-customized outdoor space. When you are ready to start planning the backyard of your dreams, get in touch with your design team to get started.
Ted Lare Design Build specializes in Des Moines Landscaping Design and Installation.
We cover a wide range of Central Iowa. We have installed landscapes for many years in all areas of the Des Moines metro, including West Des Moines, Des Moines, Waukee, Clive, Urbandale, Johnston, Ankeny, Altoona, Indianola, and Norwalk.