Rebuilding Our Yard

When we bought this house in 2012, one of the things that drew us to it was the immaculate backyard. I mean just look at this yard back then! We were sold.

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Four years later, well… it doesn’t look as great. The house was of course on the market so the previous owners no doubt went the extra mile to get it in tip-top shape, but it was clearly well maintained. And here is what it looks like today.


All of the grass has died, those above-ground planters are totally rotted out, and the little island with the rocks surrounding it is overgrown with weeds. It hasn’t been totally our fault though. Last spring’s flood washed all of the grass away and we each spend most of our free time working (me with freelance, Lauren just a continuation of her normal job). We just don’t have time to spend maintaining that yard that requires a lot of maintenance.

It’s not just the backyard either. The front yard is a bit of a mess itself. All those cast iron plants in front of the house got frostbit at some point and look awful. We don’t have time to maintain that huge strip of sidewalk along the side of our house. Think about it, I would have to weed-eat along the curb for half a block, then back along the outside of the sidewalk, and then back again on the inside of the sidewalk. Plus the same on the front of the house three times over.

But we have decided to get off our keisters and get this yard looking nice again.

The first step was knock out the easiest things. Like that giant hole in our front yard from last year when we had that tree removed. For like 8 months it’s been a big patch of wood chips.

BEFORE: This is what our front yard looked like for months and months. How hard would it be to fill that back in?
BEFORE: This is what our front yard looked like for months and months. How hard would it be to fill that back in?

So this morning Johnny and I set out to Home Depot to buy a few squares of St. Augustine sod and some soil and get this hole covered. It literally took about 30 minutes of work. Dig up the wood chips. Lay down some soil. Lay down the sod squares. Pack it down. Water. Done. Hopefully it lives and grows.

Here's what it looks like after I covered the hole with the sod. We saturated it with water and packed it down.
Here’s what it looks like after I covered the hole with the sod. We saturated it with water and packed it down. Mind you, this is like 18 minutes in, so it may all die and look like shit in a week.


Next, it was off to the backyard. I want to build Johnny this sandbox and we decided it should go where those rotted out planters that we don’t use are sitting. Johnny and I set out to buy a crowbar and we came home and tore up those planters. Well, we really didn’t need the crowbar. The wood was so rotted I mostly just picked it apart and threw it in a pile.

I threw all the rotted wood planks and stakes into a pile... TBD what I'll do to dispose of this within city limits.
I threw all the rotted wood planks and stakes into a pile… TBD what I’ll do to dispose of this within city limits.

Next, I guess we’ll take shovels and a wheelbarrow and scatter all that dirt across the rest of the dirt in our yard. And then maybe we’ll rent a tiller and till it all up and see if we can seed that dirt and get some grass growing again, even though the lawn expert I consulted told me there was a 0% chance we could grow grass back there given the extreme heat + heavy tree shade, at least not without running up a shocking water bill.

Those planters were sitting on a concrete slab. That is where the sandbox will go. Johnny, as any 19-month old boy would be, is a big fan of playing in sand/gravel/dirt and right now he’s just picking up fistfuls of dirt near the kitchen door and bringing it inside and tossing it on the floor. Hopefully a dedicated sandbox will provide him with hours of entertainment.

If we can’t get grass growing, I am seriously considering having artificial sports turf installed. We were at a playground recently and were standing on some turf. It looked really nice and was so soft and cushy and I wondered if it would work in a yard. Sure enough, you can buy real used NFL or NCAA football turf and have it installed for as little as 38 cents per foot. It looks fairly real, there’s zero maintenance, zero water bill, and it cleans off easily. The installation would be expensive but would be a one-time fee. Over time it be more economical. I’m not sure what it would mean for resale value though. I like the idea of it, but would most people? Lauren hates the idea of rocks/xeriscaping/mulch so our options for backyard greenery is very limited.

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations. I didn’t intend to write that much about our yard. Despite having been a groundskeeper at a cemetery for a few years in high school, I know very little about lawn maintenance and gardening, so I welcome any tips and advice anyone may have about anything I’ve discussed!


  1. The new front yard grass sure looks good! And you are such a good wood worker, I know the sandbox will be a fun project. I would be willing to try a good turf, the future of watering is going to lead more people to accepting alternatives! shade is a problem for growing grass, but we love trees. good luck!

  2. Go for the turf – why not? Even if you had ideal conditions, getting grass to grow with kids and dogs playing in the yard, would be a challenge! Maintenance free??? You guys don’t have time for maintenance! You certainly don’t want to cut down trees to grow grass! And it is a great backyard !! Good Luck!

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