Home Garden

10 Reasons to Get a Fire Pit

On the fence about adding one? Find out the benefits and which type is right for you

By Laura Gaskill

Photo by Michael Prokopchak, ASLA – Discover patio design inspiration

1. Fire pits are crowd-pleasers. Lighting up a fire is a natural way to create a focal point at an outdoor gathering. Whether it’s the hypnotic dancing flames or some sort of primal memory, the fact is that people love to gather around fire. And if you’re looking for an excuse to invite people, all you need to say is “We’re lighting up the fire pit tonight. Want to come over?”

 

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2. A fire pit doesn’t have to be wood-burning. Wood fires are glorious, and in the right conditions, a wood-burning fire pit can be the perfect backyard addition. But if you have close neighbors or live in an area with restrictions on wood burning, you’re not out of luck. Just make yours a gas or propane model instead of wood-burning.

 

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Fire Pit Fuel Options

Wood Fire Pit

  • Pros: Wood-burning fire pits are straightforward to build, with many options available at all price points. If you’re DIY-savvy, you can even build your own.
  • Cons: Wood fires contribute to air pollution, and their use is banned or restricted in some areas. Sparks flying out of the pit can also increase fire dangers; using a protective screen can help minimize this risk.

Natural Gas Fire Pit

  • Pros: Lighting the fire in a gas fire pit is as easy as flipping a switch, which may mean you use it more often. Gas fire pits can often be installed where wood fire pits cannot, such as on decks.
  • Cons: Installation is more expensive and is dependent on being able to connect to an underground natural gas line. Once installed, you cannot move the fire pit.

Propane Fire Pit

  • Pros: Like natural gas, a propane-burning fire pit is quick and easy to light. Some propane fire pits are free-standing and can be moved easily.
  • Cons: You will need to monitor propane levels and haul the (heavy) canister back and forth to the store regularly for refills. Some (but certainly not all) propane fire pits look a bit clunky. It’s not easy to hide a bulky propane tank, and some pits do this better than others.

 

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3. A fire pit lights up the night. All the fancy landscape lighting in the world can’t compete with the flickering blaze of a real fire. Use the warm light emanating from your fire pit to light up a far corner of your yard without having to fuss with electricity.

 

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4. A fire pit can work in spaces both large and small. Even a compact urban yard or patio can handle a fire pit. In fact, it’s sure to become the centerpiece of a small yard. In a large yard, sprawl out with a big fire pit surrounded by bench seating for a crowd.

 

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5. A fire pit is an outdoor feature you can use year-round. You would be hard pressed to find a backyard feature as versatile as the fire pit. In the summer, roast s’mores by starlight. In fall and winter, wrap yourself in a thick blanket and sip hot cider or cocoa while gathered with friends and family around the cozy blaze.

 

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6. A fire pit creates a cozy atmosphere for two. Fire pits aren’t just good for parties, they are equally suited to romantic nights for two. You may be tempted to skip the wine bar when you can sip vino beside the fire in your own backyard as stars twinkle overhead.

 

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7. Fire pits are available at all price points. From simple fire bowls and DIY projects to elaborate custom designs with built-in bench seating, there is sure to be a fire pit that fits your budget. Whichever style you choose, don’t skimp on safety, and be sure to place the fire pit on a nonflammable surface.

 

 

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Fire Pit Safety Tips

  • Fire pits should be at least 10 feet from your home or other structures. Some city and county codes may require an even greater distance, so be sure to check before you build.
  • Don’t place a fire pit beneath a tree or overhang.
  • Don’t burn on “spare the air” days if these are used in your area.
  • Don’t put a wood-burning fire pit on a deck. A gas fire pit won’t send out dangerous sparks, making it the safer choice.
  • Educate your kids about fire safety, and always supervise children around an open flame, even when you’re sure they know the rules.
  • Keep a container of water, a hose, a fire extinguisher or all three on hand whenever you light up the fire pit.

 

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8. You can even use a fire pit to make dinner. Make a backyard campout feel even more authentic by cooking dinner over the open flames. Cooking over a gas fire pit is not advised, but if you have a wood fire pit, you’ve got options: Place a grill rack over the fire to cook above the flames, or wrap up foil packets and tuck them among the coals. Then pull up a seat and dig in. Food always tastes better outside!

9. And, of course, a fire pit is perfect for s’mores. Kids (and kids-at-heart) know that making s’mores is one of life’s great pleasures. With a fire pit in your own backyard, why not make every Friday night s’mores night?

 

Photo by Ward-Young Architecture & Planning – Truckee, CA – Browse patio photos

10. A fire pit may help you sell your home. According to a recent Houzz survey, fire pits are among the three most popular backyard additions by renovating homeowners. In other words, fire pits are hot. Having an attractive and well-maintained fire pit in your yard could give your home an edge if you decide to sell. But once you have that cool new fire pit, you probably won’t ever want to leave.

 

 

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10 Easy Yet Beautiful DIY Garden Trellis Projects

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If you have grown some climbing plants and now they are in a need of a trellis then you can easily make one by yourself too. We have collected some DIY and easy versions of garden trellises that you are not only going to admire but would want to try as well. So, take a look at the ideas below:

1. Make a Ladder Like Trellis with Twigs and Rope

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Image via: gardenista

2. Get Thrifty and Recycle Old Garden Tools Like These Shovel, Rake and Spade

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Image via: sadie seasongoods

3. Re-imagine an Old Wagon Wheel into a Trellis

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Image via: life aspire , pinterest

4. For Trying Something New Build an Obelisk Trellis from Wood for Just 10 Bucks

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Image via: momma d and da boyz

5. Another Budget-Friendly Option Could be a Pallet Trellis

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Image via: Sues Country Corner , the garden glove

6. Make a Beauteous Lattice Trellis with Bamboo

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Image via: the owner builder network

7. You Can Make a Wonderful Trellis with Old Bike Wheels

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Image via: suited to the seasons

8. Upcycle Springs of an Old Mattress into a Trellis

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Image via: bonney lassie

9. Make a Hinged Trellis with a Wood Frame and Chicken Wire

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Image via: the home steady

10. Make a Stylish Chevron Trellis from Wood

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Image via: remodelaholic

 

Do’s and Don’ts of Summer Landscaping

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11 tips that will save your garden, lawn, and flowers … not to mention your green thumb rep.

Whether you’re dealing with a California drought, an mid-Atlantic heat wave or Deep South downpours, summer can be a tricky time to garden. Here’s what you need to know before you leave the comfort of the air conditioning for a steamy backyard jungle.

DON’T: Plant cool-season vegetables

Generally speaking, it’s a bad idea to attempt veggies like peas, lettuce, carrots and radishes in summer. They will quickly bolt in the heat, meaning that they’ll devote their energy to blooming and producing seeds, making the edible parts bitter.

DO: Plant hot-season vegetables

Take advantage of summer’s plentiful heat and sunshine by planting these heat-loving edibles: okra, sweet potatoes, chili peppers, cowpeas, yardlong beans and eggplant. Okra produces prolific pods all summer long, and is drought-tolerant as far as vegetables go. Sweet potatoes make an excellent temporary groundcover in veggie gardens and flowerbeds, shading out weeds until the arrival of cold weather, when they can be harvested.

DON’T: Water unless necessary

It’s tempting to set the sprinklers on a timer, kick up your feet and consider it taken care of. But here’s why that’s a problem: First off, do you really want to be the guy or gal who’s caught running sprinklers in a rain storm? Water plants when they are newly planted, or are wilting and/or dropping leaves due to drought.

DO: Use drought-tolerant plants

Drought-tolerant plants are all the rage, and not just because they conserve water. Grow drought-tolerant plants because they’re low-maintenance and because you’re an average person with — you know— a life. That said, ‘drought-tolerant’ does not mean that you can plant it and forget it. Keep the soil moist until the plant takes off on its own.

DON’T: Turn your back on the garden

Because in summer, things can change in a heartbeat. Plants can succumb to pests, drought, wet soil or rot in a matter of days. Pay attention to weather forecasts and be on the lookout for plants that are clearly struggling. Don’t hesitate to use those pruners on any bullies that seem to be taking over less vigorous plants. When in doubt, rip it out.

Smiling young woman working in roses plants at summer garden ; Shutterstock ID 222185932; PO: Cat Overman; Job: blog post

DO: Water deeply

Water like you really mean it — with a deep soak so that the water penetrates the soil without running off or evaporating in the summer heat. Watering deeply will also encourage deeper root growth, which helps plants (especially shrubs and trees) stay healthier and more drought-tolerant in the long run. Water in the root-zone with a high falutin’ garden nozzle, a soaker hose, or nothing more than a hose and a full stream of water.

DON’T: ‘Scalp’ your lawn

If you plan on turning your summer lawn into a practical putting green and you mow your lawn close, you’ll be sorely disappointed by the results. (Unless you’re willing to settle for a putting brown, that is.) Short cuts mean less drought-tolerance, patchier growth, more weeds and shallow roots. When in doubt, cut high.

DO: Fertilize warm-season grasses

Give your lawn a pick-me-up to cope with the summer heat. Your local garden center should have a good selection of fertilizers to suit your region and/or lawn type. Fertilize according to label instructions, using a broadcast, handheld or drop spreader for even coverage. Generally speaking, don’t feed on a hot day with temps above 90 degrees.

DON’T: Water in the afternoon

It’s a myth that sunlight will become magnified by water droplets and burn the plants, but watering in the hottest part of the day is still pretty useless because many plants will go semi-dormant, and water quickly evaporate in summer. Water in the early morning so that the plants’ roots have a chance to absorb moisture.

DON’T: Let weeds go to seed

Procrastinate all you want, but pull those weeds before they have a chance to bloom and go to seed, spreading their progeny all over your garden to proliferate and give you headaches. Don’t settle for hand-pulling everything either: use a hoe or cultivator for new weeds in loose soil, or a heavy-duty weeding tool like a hori-hori knife, hook or mattock for tough, established weeds.

DO: Plant tropical bulbs

Much of your garden will slow down in the heat of summer, but tropical bulbs such as caladiums, elephant ears, cannas and gingers will only grow faster. Create a lush and jungly understory beneath shady trees by planting en masse, or use sparely for architectural interest in container combos and flowerbeds.

8 Easy Ways to Make Money in Your Own Backyard

By: Lisa Johnson Mandell

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Central IT Alliance/iStock

You’re probably not aware of it, but there could be a gold mine in your backyard!

No, we’re not talking about the Eureka-gold-nuggets-whisker-faced-prospectors type of gold mine; we mean more of a take-advantage-of-what-the-land-provides-to-make-a-little-extra-spending-money type. And some of these outdoor projects even hit the home trifecta: easy, fun, and lucrative!

Here are some ways to get started.

Make good with wood

Estimated earnings: Hundreds or thousands of dollars per tree

If you have densely wooded property full of hardwood trees such as birch, oak, or mahogany, there are companies that will come out and thin those trees, harvesting them for timber, and pay you to do something you might have paid someone else thousands of dollars to do instead. A website called SellYourTrees.com makes it all very easy.

Use your yard clippings

Estimated earnings: From about 20 cents an ounce

Yard clippings and kitchen waste can be surprisingly profitable when converted to compost and/or fertilizer. There are plenty of videos and books available that can teach you how to treat your plant-product waste. And yeah, you can even worm your way into some serious coin, as resourceful Princeton classmates Tom Szaky and Jon Beyer did by starting their own worm bin, which produces rich, organic, liquid fertilizer from insect waste.

Their company, TerraCycle, now sells its wares at ubiquitous stores such as Home Depot and Wal-Mart, and has developed numerous recycling products that can help you do the same.

Be a sap

Estimated earnings: Up to $15 per pint of maple syrup

Retired teacher Dick Henderson of Thunder Bay, Canada, realized all the sap from his huge maple trees was going to waste, so he decided to tap the trees and make maple syrup. Although he uses it for his own purposes and gives the rest away, plenty of others bottle their sap and sell it to tourists and gift shops. Delicious!

Horn in on the antler industry

Estimated earnings: $1 per inch of antler

If you live in an area where elk roam wild (e.g., Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, or Utah) and you come across a nice rack (elk shed their antlers once a year in early spring), they could provide quite the windfall.

“Sheds,” as the antlers are called, are a hot commodity to people who use them to craft furniture and lamps, or want a source for all-natural doggie chews. They can sell at retail for several dollars per inch.

Kevin Foutz, a rancher in Colorado, notes that “hard bone” brokers are easy to find on Craigslist. And by the way, Foutz says if you have a ranch dog, you can train it to find and retrieve antlers.

Get in a jam with fruit

Estimated earnings: Up to $12 per jar

If you’re fortunate enough to have fruit trees, try bottling or canning what grows on your premises. Homemade jams sell at a premium in fancy country stores, and lemon curd happens to be all the rage right now. Tomato sauces and bottled apple pie filling are also popular. You can sell them at farmers markets or in upscale food boutiques.

Get in the swim

Estimated earnings: $10 to $35 per lesson

If you have a pool, you can have a classroom. Take lifeguard, water safety, and swimming instruction classes at the local YMCA or community college, and voila! You can teach those little tadpoles a thing or two about how to behave in the water. Many parents would prefer private lessons in a quiet place with fewer distractions than they’d find at a public pool.

Provide parking space

Estimated earnings: $35 to $100 per month

Here’s an idea that doesn’t require trees, grass, or a green thumb. As a matter of fact, if your backyard is all cement, it’s even better. Offer to store someone’s boat, RV, or extra car. If you have a covered area a vehicle will fit under, you can charge even more.

Grow your own … anything

Estimated earnings: $5 or more per plant

We know what you’re thinking, and at the moment there are 23 states where that is legal, with certain stipulations. But there are plenty of other high-cash crops that you might not have thought of and require little space, including ornamental succulents, catnip, saffron, truffles, and mushrooms. Granted, your yard may need to meet special requirements in terms of sun, shade, and moisture, but there’s essentially a cash crop for any type of land, so be sure to check.

Tips For Getting The Garden You Want This Summer

Not sure where to start in your garden? Follow these basic rules for success and get the garden you love.

 

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If you are like most homeowners, spring is that time of year when you finally get into your yard, take a look around, and immediately feel overwhelmed. A yard can be a great place to feel productive and actually learn new skills, but it can also be a slow-going and expensive project. Fall and winter weather can create a messy, overgrown and un-tended yard. You might have erosion issues, weeds, fallen branches, dead plants, and empty containers to contend with. You might even have repairs that need fixing, like a broken fence, wiggly stair railing, or drainage issues. Here are some great tips to help you make the most out of your yard work this season and help lay a good foundation for your garden.

1. Take care of what’s broken first

Before you launch into planting new flower beds, be sure you repair any structures on your property that are broken or in need of repair. The deck, stairs, fencing, gutters or any concrete work that poses danger to people or could lead to more property damage should be addressed first. If you are unable to do the work yourself, hire a contractor. You’ll also want to make sure your lawn and yard equipment is in good shape. Sharpen your tools so that they work properly, lubricate and clean off the mower, and make sure everything is in working condition and safe to use. You’ll want to assess your trees, shrubs and plants and see what is dead or damaged. Winter can be particularly harsh on even the hardiest of plants, and dead branches can pose a real danger in the yard.  Having a safe and functional yard is the first step towards a healthy and beautiful garden that everyone can enjoy.

2. Get inspiration from your neighborhood

Sometimes the best sources of inspiration are right around you. Your neighbors have the same climate, soil conditions and rainfall that you do, so see what plants are working in their yard how they have designed their garden space. This is an excellent way to get familiar with the types of plant species that are successful in your region and get inspiration for landscaping and curb appeal. Keep in mind that if you see an enviable yard, that person has most likely spent many years cultivating it. So although you may not be able to immediately replicate the landscape of your favorite home, you can certainly learn from their choices and use that as a guide for your own yard.

3. Get expert advice from a master gardener

A master gardener is a person who has gone through a formal training in the field of gardening. Local universities and extension programs provide classes, testing and educational programs for people interested in taking their gardening knowledge to the next level. Master gardeners not only know their local flora and fauna, they are trained in sustainable gardening practices, have studied the environmental impact of gardening including water conservation, are knowledgable of invasive species of plants, and are interested in educating the public about successful gardening techniques. Many nurseries host free master gardener sessions where you can ask specific questions about your yard like how to design a perineal garden, natural pest control methods and general plant selection. This is a great way to get professional-level advice for your own garden. Learn more about your local master gardener program here.

4. Know your soil

Before you run out and purchase soil amendments, plant nutrients or fertilizer, test your soil to see what nutrients it is actually lacking. Soil kit testers are inexpensive and can be an excellent way to understand why certain plants aren’t growing well in your yard. Plants need a particular pH level for optimal growth and health; soil that is too acidic (with a low pH) or too alkaline (with a high pH) may not support your favorite flowers, for example.  In addition to testing the pH levels, you should also have a good understanding of your soil composition. Is your garden sandy, rocky or mostly clay? You may need to amend your soil with good-quality top soil to build a better base for your plants. Or, if this proves to be too expensive, look for plants that adapt well to your type of soil.

5. Start composting

Compost is the result of decomposed organic material that can be used as a soil amendment or plant nutrient. In other words, compost is like a vitamin pill for your plants, and can contribute to healthy soil conditions, moisture retention, weed control, and general good yard condition. Compost can be created a number of different ways: you can add food scraps to a compost bin where it will decompose, place yard waste scraps in an open compost area, or place worms in a compost container (called vermicomposting) which will produce manure for the yard. All of this “black gold” created from these various compost methods can be added to your soil, on your lawn, or in a produce garden to help create robust and healthy plants. The benefits of composting go beyond the garden. Composting can help reduce waste in our landfill and can be a great way to get rid of your eggshells, coffee grounds, grass clippings or dead leaves. Buying compost is expensive, so try it at home for a low-cost method. Read more about how to set up a compost area in your yard here.

6. Save those plant tags

The tags that come with your new plants may not have tons of detailed information, but they may prove useful in the future. Knowing the species name of the plant is important, especially if you want to learn best practices for pruning, fertilizing, watering, spacing, or any other pieces of information that can affect the health of the plant. You can keep these tags in a garden notebook for quick reference, or write the species name of the plant on a plant tag and affix it to the plant. This is a great way to become more of a plant expert and be able to identify plants at the nursery as well.

7. Be mindful of watering

Planning your garden and landscape usually means focusing on plants, colors or design, but how you intend to water everything should also be top of mind during the planning and planting stages. Planting a beautiful flower bed that is too far out of reach of your sprinkler system, or adding plants that require lots of water, will actually become problematic to your budget: dead plants waste money, and too much watering means a higher water bill. Experts agree that water conservation should always be part of your landscape conversation, no matter what region you live in. A great way to plan for watering is to plant by water need, grouping similar water-need plants together to make irrigation more efficient. If you have a sprinkler system, you should have the sprinkler heads checked annually to make sure they aren’t wasting water. Additionally, having a good layer of mulch around your plants is an excellent way to ensure that moisture is being retained and can help prevent water run-off.

8. Create focal points for an expert look

The best landscapes and backyards use a little design trick that works no matter what size your space is: have a focal point. This could be as simple as a bird bath, water feature, tree, a park bench, or a large container filled with flowers. The idea is that this focal point creates a sense of perspective and depth in the yard and grabs the eye’s attention, making your brain think that something interesting is going on. Large yards can have several focal points that lead the eye across the yard or down, let’s say, a path to a bench. Small yards can look larger with clever uses of structure like an arbor, or something directional like a pathway. It does’t matter that this pathway leads to anything, it’s the illusion that there is direction and momentum that makes for an interesting and engaging space. If you don’t know where to begin, start by organizing things you already have like a small sitting area, or a large container or two, and try grouping them in the garden. You can use this a base in which to landscape or garden around, adding plants, flowers or features slowly over time. If you’d like to see a great example of this design trick, check out this amazing before/after landscaping project by Alderwood Landscaping.

9. Use native plants

Native plants are plants that are naturally found in your region or climate conditions. These are “local” plants that should adapt easily to your soil, altitude, temperature and overall climate. Ideally these plants are somewhat low maintenance and won’t need a multitude of expensive soil amendments, toxic fertilizers, or excessive watering. Experts feel that native plants are a more sustainable way to plan your garden, and won’t cause strain on the environment like a non-native plant can. Native plants are also thought to coexist more successfully with native insects, birds and animal life, and can create a better environment for living creatures who may rely upon these plants for food or shelter. Most nurseries should have a native plant section or be able to help you find the plants you are looking for. You may even already have these plants in your yard and can possibly help propagate them or encourage their growth.

10. Know when to hire a professional

Even the greenest of thumbs needs professional landscaping help from time to time. There may be a larger project that needs to be done with professional-grade equipment, labor intensive jobs that require many hands, or structural elements that may be beyond your skill level. You might also want to hire someone to design and create the right type of “foundation” for your yard or simply clean up and clear a huge mess. If you are considering hiring a professional landscaping company, it’s a good idea to know your budget and the ideal scope of the project. Have them visit your yard in person so that they can assess the space, take a look at the overall landscape and point out any issues or work that may affect the budget (like erosion control, permitting, or drainage issues). If you have any must-have elements like specific plants or colors, be sure you have that information for your meeting.

Top image credit: Alderwood Landscaping

Planning Your Planting: Tips for Making a Garden Plan

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The best-laid plans for a garden come after living in your home for a year, watching how the sun moves throughout the day in all the seasons, how much moisture you get and where it goes, and whether one area of your yard is more prone to wind than another.

But if you want to get started right away, keep these things in mind as they’ll help you plot out a successful garden.

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Evaluating and Choosing a Site

Amount of sunlight and access to water are two major factors that go into selecting a good site for your garden. When evaluating the space, ask yourself:

  • How much sun exposure does it receive, and is it mostly morning sun or afternoon sun?
  • Are there any sheds, fences, or other objects that can obstruct the sun, especially in fall and winter?
  • Do you have deciduous trees that will block the sun in summer, flowering trees that will shed all over your garden bed, or small trees that won’t stay small for long?
  • Is the space susceptible to runoff from storms, or does it create a wind tunnel?
  • Where is the nearest water faucet, and is it convenient to run a garden hose, soaker hose, or drip irrigation line from the faucet to the garden? Can you see yourself filling a watering can and carrying it to the garden every day?

If you live in a hot desert climate, you may want to consider how the light hits your garden from midday to afternoon when the sun is harshest and your plants are prone to drying out quicker.

On the flip side, you might realize that your yard is shaded for several hours a day, and this will affect what you’re able to grow in that space. Perhaps you can prune a tree to provide more light, or rearrange the patio furniture to make room for a small sunny bed.

If you have your heart set on growing a vegetable garden, you may want to place it close to the kitchen where you have easy access for cooking, or in a spot where you see it every day so you can keep an eye on pests and weeds.

The amount of foot traffic can also be a pro or con when choosing a space. Will your kids trample all over the flower bed in your backyard? Will guests get to enjoy the fragrant border you plant in your entryway?

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Costs to Consider

Once you’ve settled on a suitable space, consider the costs of starting a garden there. Figure in the expense of any containers or beds you’ll have to buy or build, the amount of soil you’ll need to fill them, and trellises or arbors you may want to add. Decide how you’ll be irrigating your garden and any labor or equipment costs associated with that, whether you hand water all your plants or have drip lines installed along your beds.

And finally, are there any auxiliary expenses you might incur down the line, such as installation of a potting bench, a compost bin, or a shed to store tools? Will you need to build a fence or a flagstone path as your garden grows?

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Protecting Your Garden From Pets and Critters

If you have dogs that freely roam your yard, consider how destructive they could potentially be with a freshly planted garden. Do they like to urinate on greenery? Run through bushes? Eat grass?

Then, there are opossums, raccoons, rabbits, and moles — all of these animals are notorious for wrecking many a garden. Whether it’s a raccoon digging for grubs or a rabbit feasting on cabbage, you have to plan for any possible outcome if your neighborhood is known for these unwanted visitors.

Garden beds that sit at ground level may need protective fencing to deter digging, or you might want to elevate your raised beds even more to keep your furbaby away from your prized berries. Think of all the possible scenarios that could happen with your garden, as they could very well change your mind about the type of garden you want to plant.

(Image credits: Apartment Therapy ; Linda Ly)


Expert Tip: Sketch it out. Take measurements, plan where your containers and beds will go, how all of your plants will be laid out, and even how your irrigation will run through the space. Having this visual on hand will keep you focused on what you actually need when you start shopping.