Discover quick fixes and easy, manageable projects to transform your garden.
Scatter the seeds evenly
Sow seeds in the garden
Some annuals and vegetables grow best if the seeds are sowed where the plants will be grown in the garden.
Sow seeds in rows. Use a trowel or the corner of a hoe to dig a furrow to the correct depth (check seed packets for depth and spacing recommendations). Sow the seeds evenly, and pat the soil gently over them. To make straight rows, stretch a string between two stakes, and plant beneath it. Or lay a board on the soil's surface and then plant along its edge.
Make a mound. Group plants in a cluster on a low mound of soil, rather than in rows. This is a traditional way to grow sprawling plants such as squash and melons. Sow five or six seeds in a circle, and pat soil over them.
Set outdoors to get them acclimated
Start seeds indoors
For most annual flowers and vegetables, sow seeds indoors four to eight weeks before it's time to transplant the seedlings outdoors.
Fill, sow, and label. Use small pots or cell-packs, and fill to just below the rim with a light, porous seed-starting mix. Moisten the mix; let drain. Follow the guidelines on the seed packet, and cover seeds with the recommended amount of mix. Moisten lightly, and label your containers, since many seedlings look alike.
Care. When the soil surface feels dry, spray with a fine mist. Once seeds germinate, move the container to a warm area with bright light. As the seedlings grow, thin out the weakest ones. About 10 days before planting out, harden off the seedlings by setting them outdoors for a few hours each day to get them acclimated.
Make your own compost
Composting is a natural process that converts raw organic materials into valuable soil conditioner. A pile of leaves, branches, and other garden trimmings will eventually decompose. You can speed up the process by creating optimum conditions for the organisms responsible for decay.
You will need "browns" (such as dry leaves, twigs, sawdust, wood chips, or shredded newspaper) and "greens" (like fresh grass clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, crushed eggshells, or aged steer or chicken manure). Shred or chop all materials into small pieces.
The whole area looks softer
Carve out planting space
Create a planter down the center of the driveway, and place in it creeping thyme, sedums, star creeper--anything short enough that cars can pass over it will work. Immediately the whole area looks softer. Now squeeze in some taller plants along both sides. If you're really short on space, espalier-train plants to grow sideways. You're greening up vertically as well as horizontally.
There is something about a curve that makes you want to follow it, especially when it ends in an inviting place to sit. Big drifts of chartreuse-flowered euphorbia brighten both sides of the path, and blue and white flowers and silvery foliage add contrast. Aromatic herbs release their scent along the way, inviting you to linger.
Make living art
A miniature succulent garden has an irresistible appeal. It's easy to assemble and care for. As a bonus, it can be moved from place to place. Ready-made succulent frames in various materials are available online from Succulent Gardens (sgplants.com) and other sources.
More on decorating with succulents
Set your table
Insert a box with drainage holes into an old table. Fill your new planter with easy-care succulents. Now you have a centerpiece that will last the entire outdoor dining season. Don't have an old table to sacrifice to the project? Build one out of shipping pallets. Use the pallets for the top and the sunken planter, and add legs--the more worn, the better. Coat the table with some natural wax stain for a bit of weather protection.
With a few easy-care flowers, you can turn a forgotten corner of the garden into a pollinator bar for all kinds of winged creatures. Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds will eagerly, if unknowingly, take on the task of transferring pollen from one flower to another as they forage for nectar or pollen, ensuring better crops for your fruit and vegetable plants. Flitting among the brightly colored summer flowers such as yellow yarrow (Achillea) and pink coneflower (Echinacea), they'll also bring beauty and motion to your garden.
More on attracting pollinators
Tiny pocket gardens
Put down eye candy
Insert tiny pocket gardens here and there. This arrangement of Echeveria rosettes and Senecio mandraliscae is a good example of what to aim for. Several plants, several foliage colors, several shapes. Everything you'd do in a regular garden but in miniature. How can you not pause to admire the composition?
Add easy accessories
This inviting backyard feels mature, but the plantings are actually quite young. Clever camouflaging and colorful distractions simply create the illusion that it is well established.
Pop in plants. Set in potted plants straight from the nursery to hide bare spots in the garden. The ferns in the foreground, for instance, are all new arrivals.
Set a green table. Make the garden feel lusher by bringing in other shades of green in furniture and accessories, as was done here with the bistro chairs, chartreuse tablecloth, and emerald minibar.
Steal from the indoors. Use your good china, glasses, and flatware. Fill some vases. Maybe even borrow an indoor rug for the evening. Make the table--and by extension the guests--the focal point.
Illuminate with footlights. Candles in clear vessels clustered in corners serve dual purposes. They make the space safer--no one tumbling over hedges or stumbling on stairs. But they also make it look more theatrical, and your guests will feel like stars.
Make comfort chic
Deck out a patio in a crisp, contemporary motif with these techniques.
Use big containers. A few large pots create a lot of drama; a dozen small ones go unnoticed.
Select one primary color. Go with one hue--say, orange--and use variations of it for variety.
Go vertical. Line up a row of imposing tall, narrow pots along a bare wall.
Keep it simple. Use just a few plants with strong textures--the restios in orange pots along the fence, for instance--to accent in streamlined style.
Dress your patio
Go for a tropical island vibe with these easy design tips.
Use big pieces. It may sound counter-intuitive, but petite furniture makes a small space seem tinier. A few oversize pieces, especially chairs, on the other hand, make it feel more generous than it actually is.
Keep the color range narrow. Use analogous colors--ones next to each other on the color wheel, such as yellow and yellow-green. Too many competing hues in a tight space are jarring.
Take advantage of vertical space. Hide it with a row of clumping bamboo. Then stick a bouquet of Balinese umbrellas in a pot to show off against the green background.
Reinforce your theme. Go for a lush look--giant leaves (elephant's ear), bright plants (croton), and glamorous tropical flowers (orchids, bromeliads, ginger).
Deck it out
Furnishing your deck in an unconventional way that requires less furniture will surprise your guests for sure. Doesn't that sound like a good way to start a party?
More backyard projects
Forget chairs. Provide lots of cushions on a soft rug instead. The change of perspective will amuse your guests and put them in a festive mood--after all, it's hard to be uptight when you're sitting on the floor.
Improvise a low table. The one used here is actually the base of an ottoman. Its white cushion top is used on the rug for sitting. Or saw the legs off a garage sale find and give it a quick spray-painting.
Pick the right rug. Since it will be the first thing your guests notice, its pattern should be strong and striking. A simple graphic design, like this blue, yellow, and white stripe, is ideal. The sunny yellow pot below echoes the similar color in the rug.
Provide portable shade. Umbrellas cost a lot less than permanent structures and are more flexible. Take them down at night to gaze at the stars, or move them away completely for dance space.
Improvise a planter
A laundry tub is large enough to hold lots of plants and costs much less than a ceramic one of comparable size. A coat of bright paint hides its origins.
Plant a backdrop
No garden walls to train ivy on? Plant between the slats of salvaged shutters. Staple weed cloth together to form pockets for soil, and attach the pockets to the back of the shutters. Plant with easy-care succulents.
Wondering what plants grow best in your climate zone? Find out here. And if you don't know what zone you live in, you can look it up.