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Iowa Planting Guide

Patio path plants


Iowa Planting Guide

The Ted Lare Look

Determine the Conditions of Your Planting Area

Develop your Garden Space

Plant Selection

Low Maintenance Gardening and Planting

Maintaining Your Garden’s Beauty

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!

fiddle-leaf figs placed indoors

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.

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fiddle-leaf fig plant

Develop Your Garden Space

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.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Plant Selection

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.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

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.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

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.

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Backyard Patio Areas

Patios and a pool

A well-loved patio becomes an extension of the home, and formally of us, our favorite part.”

– Robert Frost

Outdoor Dining on the Patio    

Creating a Backyard Utopia

Patio Birdwatching

Family Leisure on the Patio

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.

fiddle-leaf figs placed indoors

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.

Outdoor Kitchens

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!

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Creating a Backyard Utopia

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.

Water Features

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.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

Patio Birdwatching

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.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

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.

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Maintenance-Free Decks & Patios

Maintenance Free Decks and Patios

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.

fiddle-leaf figs placed indoors

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.

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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.

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Maintenance-Free Patios:

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.

fiddle-leaf fig plant

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.