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5 Patio Essentials When Designing Your Backyard

Designing your backyard patio is a pretty fun project, but there is a lot to consider when you get into the details. There are a few essentials to consider in your design that will make your Des Moines backyard patio into an outdoor escape you’ll never want to leave. 

 

Outdoor Kitchen & Food Prep Space 

One of the most common requests for landscape designs is to incorporate a dedicated area for grilling. Our design pros have a lot of experience, and tons of ideas for how to incorporate an outdoor kitchen space into your yard, even in small spaces. 

Ideally, your outdoor cooking area should be easily accessible from the indoor kitchen, so you can quickly pop in and out for whatever you need. A whole outdoor kitchen might be more than you want or have space for, but you’d be surprised what sort of innovative ideas our designers can come up with to create a super functional and beautiful food prep space near the grill.

 

Living & Seating Spaces

People love to congregate together! Whether it’s just family or the whole neighborhood, you’ll want to make sure you have enough space for everyone. A designer can create a layout for your landscape design that will maximize your seating options while maintaining beautiful design and highlighting the features of your yard. 

Even if you’re working with a smaller yard, a designer can help you create multiple defined outdoor spaces. A dining space with a table and chairs near the grill is a top priority, and a living room or family room space with comfortable seating is ideal for relaxing. It’s always nice to have a lounging space where you can soak up some vitamin D and watch the kids play, or even a private and secluded space where you can sit and meditate or enjoy a quiet cup of tea. 

 

Shelter From the Elements 

We usually get outside to enjoy the natural environment, but sometimes it’s nice to have a little shelter from the elements as well. A landscape designer will work with your yard and consider our climate, prevailing winds, and sun positioning to give you protection from the elements. 

Whether it’s with umbrellas, strategically planted trees for shade, a patio with a full roof, or an elegant gazebo, a designer can create shade and wind protection that blends seamlessly into the overall design of your landscape. With a little something between you and the sky, you can still enjoy your outdoor space when the weather is less than ideal. Watching the rain from a covered gazebo can be a cozy way to spend a Sunday afternoon!

 

Fire

Having a fire feature in the backyard extends the day, making your yard inviting and comfortable, even after the sun goes down. Firepits and outdoor fireplaces are available in endless styles and variations now. 

A landscape designer can show you a variety of ideas and designs that could fit in with your design style. Whether you prefer sleek and ultra-modern gas-powered firepits, a more traditional style wood-burning fire ring, or even an outdoor oven, our designers can work a fire feature into your space. 

Not into a firepit or a fireplace? Torches can give you a similar ambiance and are available in many different styles.

 

Integrated Lighting

Integrating lighting into your landscape is a subtle way to make a huge impact. A landscape designer will work in lighting that matches your style and highlights the assets and focal points of your landscape and home. 

Twinkling string lights make seating areas feel cozy and warm. Decorative overhead fixtures add an element of art to covered patio spaces and are the perfect finishing touch to really anchor a covered space. Discreet path lighting and accent lighting invite you to explore your yard after dark and highlight the best features of your home and landscape. 

Seeing the different elements of your space lit up after dark gives you a whole new perspective on your space, and a new reason to fall in love with your home! 

 

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Keeping these ideas in mind will help you design the patio space of your dreams for your family to enjoy for years to come. If you’re not quite sure how to put your design onto paper, get in touch with one of our professional landscape designers! We can help you nail down a design, and come up with a plan to make it happen.

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The Best Landscape Border Materials for the Long Haul

When you plan your landscaping, you are planning for the long term. You want everything, especially border edging, to last as long as possible—no matter what Mother Nature throws at it. Since landscaping is often one of the most significant investments you’ll make in your property, it can feel like you’ve wasted money if products break down, decay, or start to look dingy after just a few years. 

There’s a wide variety of products you can use for border edging. Here are the pros and cons of a few of the most common edging options available, and what we recommend for the longest-lasting hardscapes in Iowa

Plastic Edging

Plastic edging is a very affordable option, and it comes in a variety of colors and styles. However, plastic edging is a true case of “you get what you pay for.” Plastic edging degrades very quickly when exposed to the elements. Sun fades its color and weakens the material while snow and freezing temperatures make it even more brittle. Then it starts to crack, break, and look bad in just a few seasons. The plastic edging looks cheap, and it only gets worse with time. While plastic edging may seem like a great deal, you’ll be replacing it pretty frequently, and cleaning up all the bits and pieces from your yard can be difficult. We don’t recommend plastic edging to anyone. 

Spade Edging

A clean-cut line of spade edging looks fantastic. It’s minimalist, it’s definitely the most affordable option, and it allows strong landscaping to stand on its own without distraction. However, it is a high-maintenance approach. To keep it looking nice, it needs to be cleaned up at least once per year, and perhaps a second time depending on how crisp you want to keep the edge.  

Metal Edging

Metal edging products are very utilitarian and leave very clean lines. With that said, they’re not particularly attractive or creative, and they don’t bend well. These products are most useful in straight lines for commercial applications and utility areas of your home.

Natural Stone Border

One of the best and longest-lasting options is a natural stone border. Natural stone has a classic, timeless look, and fits into any landscape beautifully. As edging, natural stone is extremely durable, and weather and sunshine won’t drastically affect the look or texture. If you’re going with stone, avoid soft stone, like Iowa Buff, as it will discolor and degrade very quickly. Choose a dense stone that will stand up well to wear and tear over time. 

Stones that are at least 6″ wide and 2-3″ thick are the best for durability. If you have areas that see regular traffic from lawn equipment, like around pathways and patios, choose larger stones. Natural stone can be cut to custom sizes and installed end-to-end for a tighter or looser fit, depending on the look you’re going for.

Paver Stones

Paver stones are also a top option for landscape borders. These days, there are so many varieties, styles, sizes, and colors available to choose from! They’re also very durable and will last for a very long time. Similar to stone, we recommend larger and thicker pavers—at least 6 inches wide—for high-traffic areas.


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If you need help choosing and installing a landscape border, one of our landscaping pros would be happy to give you their opinion and some pricing for your home.  

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Working with a Landscape Pro- Your Questions Answered

When it’s time to consider a new landscaping project, you need to know the basics of how to work with a landscape professional. What is the consultation process? How long will it take? And how much is all of this going to cost? 

Our resident landscape expert Keegan Lare, shares his advice on what to expect when you work with our professional team here at Ted Lare.    

The First Step: The Phone Consultation  

After you call in to start a project, we organize a phone conversation with one of our designers. This typically happens within 24-48 hours of the initial call, depending on what part of the season we’re in. 

During this call, we answer any questions you may have, and we try to get a feel for the projects you’re looking for. If it seems like a solid fit for both sides, then we schedule an on-site consultation at your home or your business if it’s a commercial job. 

 

Next Steps: The On-Site Consultation

We usually meet for up to an hour to check out your residence and discuss our initial thoughts on your project. 

We charge $100 for consultations in the Des Moines Metro area, but this $100 gets credited back to you if we do the work. Depending on the complexity of the job, we may charge up to $200-500 to account for some of our design time. This will all be discussed on-site and agreed upon before we move forward. You will also receive that amount back in credit if you decide to carry out the project.

Most importantly, the on-site consultation is a time for you to ask questions, so don’t be shy!  

 

Common Questions during the Consultation 

Here are some of the questions you can expect us to discuss with you when we visit your property for the first time. 

 

What are your goals? 

In general, we like to ask homeowners what their top 3 goals are for their outdoor spaces. These goals help us focus on what is most important to you and allows us to develop a plan that meets your aspirations.

 
How do you live? 

We’ll also ask for general information about your lifestyle. For example, how big are the gatherings you expect to have on your new patio? What does a typical weekend look like for you? Do you love the sun, or prefer to hang out in the shade?

 

What are your tastes? 

Any images that show your taste in materials (patios, walls, etc.) always help us get an idea of what you like. Providing any previous plans for the property also helps us save time creating a base plan from scratch. 

 

What is your budget? 

Discussing a budget range is very helpful so that we know any limitations on the project. We’ll generally give options with different price points, as clients find it beneficial to have a few choices.  

 

Information Gathered for Design 

When at your site, we capture all the data we need to create an initial design. This includes several photos of the yard and home, critical measurements of the space, and information on accessibility, powerlines, and obstacles. 

This process can be quick or rather extensive, depending on the existing conditions of the location. New homes without a lot of previous installations are easy to measure and capture. Older homes with many existing hardscapes and plantings can take longer to document. 

Design Timeline 

We try to respond with design ideas and a preliminary budget within two weeks of the first meeting, but this time frame depends on the complexity of the project. If there are many construction elements to design and price out, it may take longer.  

 

Moving Forward 

After we provide you with an initial design, the decision is in your hands on how to move forward and set a schedule. Often there are different phases of work to choose from, such as tree removal, garden preparation, installation of hardscapes, etc. We are happy to do it all at one time or phase it in over a few years. Usually, it makes sense to do as much construction as possible in one trip to limit the cleanup expenses involved in multiple trips over several years. 

Once the project scope of work is agreed upon, we work to schedule the project in the near future.  If it is a simple planting, it may only be a few weeks before we can complete the work. If the project involves a lot of construction, it might be a few months before we can start a project. Once we start a job, we see it through to completion.  Our install crews are some of the best around and you will love working with them.


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The landscape consultation process is often that simple. For a small fee and in short order, you can have professional designers guide you towards your ideal renovation. If you have any further questions on the landscaping process, or would like to start a project, please don’t hesitate to contact Ted Lare Design & Build. We would love to hear from you!

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Modern Container Gardens

“My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece.” 
– Claude Monet

Gardening trends are their own little paradox. On the one hand, the essentials of how we take care of our gardens and the joy that comes from nurturing life out of soil remain the same each year. But our gardens themselves get a refreshing lift each season with new trends and fashion. The new “it” trends are as seasonal as our gardens themselves.

Container gardening is the best choice for exploring new trends with each summer. They’re creative, dynamic, but also very non-committal, so you are free to explore new ideas as much as you’d like. A few of this year’s top trends are the perfect fit for your own container garden this spring:

Gardening with Succulents

Succulents continue to have an impressive presence in garden trends and on garden center shelves. These adorable plants have a unique aesthetic and add a certain edge to any indoor or outdoor creation. Succulents are the perfect combination of ease of care and contemporary style.

Succulents are a great choice for a chic container. Choose a shallow container (terra-cotta is a great choice) and hunt for your new favorite succulents at our garden center. The most striking container should have a healthy mix of different shapes and colors. Even if one type of succulent catches your eye more than the others, the mixture will help them all to stand out even more once they are planted.

For the creative, it could be a great DIY project to make your own container. Head to the antique mall and take advantage of any improvised vessels you can find. Bird cages, toys, dishware, and even shoes have been inspirations for many succulent crafts.

Some tips for creating the best statement-making succulent container:

  • Choose a few of your favorite succulents you would like to bring indoors in the fall. By keeping them in their pots when you plant them, you can easily separate them from the container when the weather cools. Give them lots of winter light indoors until next spring and they will eventually become specimen pieces as the seasons go by.
  • If you have the space, you could bring your whole container indoors. Spray it a few times to make sure it is clear of opportunistic pests before taking it inside for the winter.
  • Try blending your succulents with less expensive bedding plants to create a planter full of unique interest. Costly designer annuals will overwhelm and devour your succulents, but sun lovers like marigolds, zinnias, portulaca, and other classics are great choices.
  • Choose soils and containers that have excellent drainage. Try blending a potting mix in a 1:1 ratio with cactus soil for an easy blend that your succulents will thrive in. Consider layering pebbles on the bottom of your container if spacing permits to improve drainage even more.
  • These trends offer a unique take on the normal garden favorites. Choosing any or all of these great seasonal trends offers your backyard and garden a fresh new take on the season that will be catching the eye for the entire summer.

Gardening with Water:

Backyard water features are chic and add a serene calm to your yard, but sometimes you don’t want the full commitment. You can actually take advantage of the backyard water trend without the landscaping hassle. Something as simple as a container can be transformed into a trendy statement for your yard this summer.

Creating a backyard pond only requires a non-permeable container, some water, and a few aquatic plants. Whether you choose to commit to a permanent feature or just retrofit a container, the principle is the same.

To make your own miniature water feature, find a large container without any drainage holes. Add some clay-based soil, some water, and specific water garden plants to complete the look. You may even choose to add fish for an extra aesthetic bonus. Simply provide your miniature garden with 6 or more hours of sunlight a day, and your water garden is ready to impress!

As you build, remember:

  • You can add soothing sound effects with a small pump. The sounds of water will fill your yard, and the ambient humidity will give any surrounding tropicals a healthy boost! As an added bonus, a pump will keep your water moving and help to discourage any mosquitoes from making themselves at home.
  • As beautiful as they are, avoid any repurposed alcohol barrels for your pond, as they could leach harmful chemicals into the water, potentially harming plants (and fish).
  • You’ll need to add water as it evaporates. Water plants and fish are sensitive to chlorine. Let your tap water sit out for a day or two to evaporate some chlorine away before you add it to your container.
  • Maintenance might require cleaning some algae from your container. Once or twice a year is usually enough to keep it at bay unless you have fish in your container.
  • Get creative with this project, and choose a statement container to really make your seasonal water feature pop in your yard.

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Gardening in Ultraviolet:

Pantone is the color authority for all things design. They have an exhaustive library of colors and they are trusted as the leading name in indoor and outdoor decor, as well as fashion and art. Every year they announce which of their colors will be setting the trend for design. After a few years of underwhelming selections, 2018’s choice of Ultra Violet (18-3838) is full of potential.

One of the most complex colors on the spectrum, the intensity of ultraviolet comes down to science. Human eyes can only see some of this color, the rest is filled in as your brain’s best guess. While other creatures like a bee can see the true color with their fuller spectrum of vision, we are treated to the optical illusion of a color that is half real and half imaginary.

Popular ultraviolet blooms take full advantage of this trick for an even more impressive range of beauty. The combination of real and imagined color can make the color of intense violet appear vibrant in full sunlight, but downright brooding in the evening. One set of blooms can transform your outdoor space with color that almost changes to fit the ambient mood of your yard.

Here’s how to make the most out of ultraviolet for the trendiest and most stunning containers this season:

  • Violet contrasts strongly with yellow. Adding a simple and vibrant sunny yellow next to your ultraviolet blooms will spice up your container. The contrast will bring out the best of your violet. You won’t be able to keep your eyes off of this color combination!
  • Violet is so intense that it can be lost in the shade or shadows. Pairing it with a bright companion (like a lighter foliage) will give it the stage that it needs.
  • Purple works extra hard in your containers to keep its appeal even into the fall. The lower angles of sunlight late in the season plays tricks with the light and will bring out yet more dimensions of your ultraviolet flowers.
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Landscape Design Trends: Covered Patio Areas & Pergolas

Covered Patio Areas & Pergolas

“Sometimes you need to step outside, get some air, and remind yourself of who you are and who you want to be.” 
– Gossip Girl

Some people may have a fondness for rainy days, but wet weather can get in the way of enjoying your backyard. A rainy picnic is a classic frustration that has pushed covered areas to be an outdoor patio essential and make them one of the top of current landscaping trends.

This is all about lifestyle. If you find yourself wanting to spend more time enjoying your own backyard, this is how to make it happen. Imagine being able to get outside earlier in the spring, stay later into the fall, and even grill in the rain.

Why a Covered Patio?

A covered patio can be built as an extension of your home, or as a separate structure out in your yard.  As counterintuitive as it may sound, we cover our backyard space because we love to be outdoors. A covered patio opens up so many new opportunities to enjoy your time at home outside more often:

Extend the Year: Iowa isn’t quite a tropical oasis, and our harsher weather leaves us treasuring our fleeting summers. With a covered patio, your year is extended. Early spring and late fall become part of your outdoor living and entertaining season, and your summer can include protection from unpleasant weather and hot afternoon sunshine. 

Amenities: Covered patios spaces are perfect spots for outdoor kitchens, hot tubs, fire places, and outdoor TV setups. 

Protection: We are used to needing to protect ourselves and our outdoor space from rain, snow, and UV rays. With a covered patio, however, you won’t need to run outside to cover the patio furniture at the first sign of rain and you can feel free to leave your books outside without worry. 

Resale: It doesn’t take much to cover a patio, but by essentially adding another room to your house, your resale value will improve dramatically.

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Pergolas

A covered patio is an extension of your indoor space, usually sharing at least one wall with your house. A pergola is a structure that shades the seating area below it, but does not provide shelter from rain. The most common type of pergola is constructed from cedar wood. Alternative and more modern materials may include steel or aluminum.  

Typically, a pergola will have a sturdy post and beam wood frame that is covered with additional wood rafters for shade. Recently, more material options have been introduced, such as fabric shade sails or adjustable aluminum louvers. The end result is a shaded and protected area that still remains open to the rest of your yard. It’s the perfect spot for picnics, reading, or entertaining. Imagine your own personalized version with flowering vines, or maybe with a hot tub for entertaining. If you’re a romantic, imagine a freestanding pergola for a secluded corner of the yard, perfect for quiet time at home. If you are an entertainer, imagine a modern gazebo, complete with an outdoor kitchen and big screen TV for weekend parties. A pergola or covered patio is all about taking the outdoor lifestyle of your dreams and making it your reality.

You can do almost anything with a covered outdoor patio or pergola. We can customize any space to suit your family and lifestyle. When we are done with your backyard, you will not believe you lived without it for so long. 

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Landscape Design Trends: Fire Pits & Outdoor Fireplaces

Fire Pits and Fire Places Outdoor Landscaping Design Ideas Trends

“Screw your nightclub. I want to be with outdoorsy people who drink by the fire pits.” 
– Unknown

Why an Outdoor Fire Pit?

It’s human nature to look for the centerpiece of a space, a hub to organize ourselves around. It’s no coincidence, then, that this makes centerpieces so important in design. Outdoors, the most compelling centerpiece is a fire. 

While outdoor fireplaces come in a myriad of forms and designs, they all have the same function. They bring people together, whether for an afternoon roast or a late-night chat across the coals. 

The first step toward creating that experience is to take a look at how you already use the space in your yard. A fire pit will become the center of gravity in your backyard, and will affect the space around it, so place it somewhere that you want people to go, sit, and relax. 

Natural Gas, Propane, or Wood?

This is one of your first design questions. Do you want a campfire, the country vibe of a wood fireplace, or the clean convenience of gas? What could be a drawback for one person, could easily be a benefit for another. It’s largely a decision about what kind of fireplace experience and lifestyle you’re after. There are pros and cons to both:

Cleanliness: Wood may be a renewable resource, but gas burns cleaner. The smoke carries far less odor, and it produces less floating embers. Gas fires tend to give the fire experience without too many of the uncomfortable side effects. Particularly for those with family members with asthma or scent sensitivity, gas is the preferred choice. 

Ease: Gas is so popular because it’s convenient. It’s a lot faster to flip a switch than to start a fire from scratch, and it’s a relief  to know your fuel is always at hand, rather than chopping logs when you’re running low. 

Safety: Gas fireplaces should be installed by professionals. Wood has its own safety concerns, including chopping wood, and installation location.  Wood-burning fire pits and fireplaces should be located farther away from the home.

Cost: Wood-burning is cheaper in both installation and fuel, if you have it readily available. The cost of installing gas varies, depending on whether you have a propane or natural gas source  nearby.  If you have to run a new line from a long distance, it will cost a little more. The level of automation you choose will also influence the cost of a gas fire pit.  If you are OK lighting a match to start the gas fire, it will cost you a lot less than the convenience of flipping a switch.

Luckily, the decision doesn’t have to be final. You can convert a wood fireplace or fire pit into a gas burner by installing an insert. It is always cheaper to do this upfront with the initial project, but these changes can always be implemented. The cost of an insert can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand, depending on the size and automation level you desire.

Fire Pit or Fire Place?

Outdoor fire comes in 2 basic styles: fire pit or fireplace. 

A fire pit is cheaper, and allows people to sit all around it. Fire pits are made for roasting marshmallows, drinking some beer, and relaxing into the late hours of the night over crackling embers. They are more difficult to incorporate into a covered outdoor room and are more vulnerable to wind, but tend to invite a more outdoorsy feeling. The height of the actual fire pit can be customized for your specific needs.  It can be sunken in the ground 12” for a more primal feel, or raised 12” with a finished stone cap for a more contemporary feel.See our portfolio of our backyard fire pit designs

A fireplace is where the fire burns above ground, typically with a chimney above. They are more expensive but can provide a larger focal point, creating an outdoor living room wherever it goes. Fireplaces are perfect for sipping wine and putting your feet up under a blanket in a cozy patio chairSee our portfolio of our backyard fire place designs

Material Options:

Fire pits and fireplaces can be created out of a variety of materials.  We use a lot of natural stone for fire pits, although there are some nice manufactured stone options available as well.  Both last a long time and costs are similar, so the main factor driving the decision is purely visual. You can see some of our installed fire pits and places on our Landscaping Materials page.

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Design Ideas:

Your ambition can go as far as your imagination and budget allow! You’ll need a stone or non-flammable base to build on, but after that, the world of design choices are entirely up to you. The easiest solutions include buying a portable metal or stone firepit to give some fire and warmth. It may not be a signature centerpiece, but it’s an easy way to get started.

On the other side of the spectrum, makeover your entire backyard living space to include a patio area with a firepit in the center to anchor your backyard. Transforming a patch of grass into a stone oasis will change the atmosphere of your yard as a whole and create the perfect space for comfort and socializing.

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Landscape Design Trends: Low Maintenance Planting

Low Maintenance Planting Prairie Gardening Iowa Native Planting Native Plants

2018’s landscaping trends are all about lifestyle and enjoying more time outside with friends and family. When we finally do get some extra time to spend outside, most of us don’t want to spend it maintaining picky plants, laboring away at watering and weeding. The Low-Maintenance Planting trend is all about freeing up more time to actually enjoy our backyard lifestyle.

“Native plants give us a sense of where we are in that great land of ours. I want to look at Texas like Texas and Vermont like Vermont.” 
– Lady Bird Johnson

Let Go of the Lawn:

Where does most of your yard maintenance time go? Chances are you’ve spent too many hours mowing, watering, and fertilizing to keep a beautiful lawn. At some points in our lives, we might need a lawn. Young kids can certainly demand a very different use of your backyard space. Once you can, though, exchange maintenance work for time to relax in your yard.  Ditch the lawn and install beds of native, low-maintenance plants.

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Using Native Plants:

Native plants are a gardener’s dream. They’ve evolved perfectly for standard rainfalls, so in an average season, you might not need to water your plants at all. They have also had the chance to develop natural resistance against local pests and diseases, as well as being the most attractive to local pollinators. Native plants require less pesticides, less fertilizer, and less watering than tropicals or hybrid perennials. They drastically decrease the labor needed to maintain your backyard, stay healthy, and bring an assortment of helpful and beautiful pollinators to boost the health and appeal of the rest of your yard. 

Natural Wood Mulch:

Wood mulch is also an important part of a low maintenance garden. It is easy to install, aesthetically pleasing, cost effective, and brings all of these benefits with it:

Watering Help: Mulch will help to prevent soil evaporation, keeping water at the roots of your plants. Not only does this dramatically cut the excess time put into watering your plants, it also keeps them healthier between waterings.

Weed Cotrol: Mulch will smother weeds, only allowing the plants you want to grow to flourish. With less work, your plants will look better and cleaner than ever.

Biodiversity: Usually overlooked, healthy yards have a host of resident predators that keep pests under control. Mulch will give ladybugs, ground beetles, and other tiny mercenaries, ideal spots to hide so they can keep your plants healthy for you.

We recommend using a natural, double shredded, undyed mulch, such as Cedar or Hardwood. Dyed mulch is usually very “chippy” and does not stay in place well or provide much water buffering. You can find both hardwood and cedar mulch at Ted Lare Garden Center for your projects at home.

Design Ideas:

The most popular application of native planting here in Iowa are prairie installations.  As you drive down the interstate or highway, you will find many prairie restorations that limit the amount of maintenance for the Iowa DOT. This same prairie restoration is perfect for larger home properties, as it only needs mowing a few times annually and provides color and texture throughout the year.

On a smaller scale, native prairie flowers and grasses can still be used for an awesome display of color, all while keeping maintenance low.  By planting these native grasses and perennial flowers in groups of 3-7 plants, you can create high-contrast plantings with dramatic effects. The texture of native grass also provides a cool effect in the winter landscape, providing texture and form for tufts of snow to land.

Both wild and elegant, they’re designed to take care of themselves. Using some native and low-maintenance plants, grow your own little natural ecosystem and actually enjoy sitting back and relaxing outdoors in the rugged, natural beauty of your own home. For a list of native prairie plants that grow in your Iowa County, check out this inclusive list of prairie plants from the University of Iowa. We also offer a nice selection of prairie grasses and prairie flowers at Ted Lare Garden Center. Come visit us for ideas and inspiration for your garden.