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Let’s say your good friend Amy brags to you that she actually “loves” doing yard work and gardening. And you have a yard full o’ this to work with:

Clearly, there’s a chance she’s batty… but I have absolutely no ethical issues with taking advantage of her delusions and letting her stick her bare hands in dirt.

And then, let’s say The Home Depot sees your post about cleaning up your back yard and dangles a magical orange gift card in front of you – one that has the power to give your garden some much-needed fall color and the right tools to get it done.

So, what’s a girl to do?

Put ’em both to work, that’s what.

First, let’s talk about the issues that this little back “garden” area has… if you can even call it that. It’s really just two strips of dirt, about two feet wide, on either side of the cement patio with scalloped brick edging. I don’t like the red brick, but it’s what the builder used throughout the neighborhood for the front, back, and both sides of the house… and I’m not about to replace it just because I don’t like the color. It would be way too expensive for relatively little visual payoff (in my opinion). I can make it work, but it needs a little help.

The area also gets mostly shade, and the amount of mosquitoes make it nearly impossible to enjoy being out here. So even though I really wanted to add color to each spot, I wanted to also incorporate some practical choices – maybe something that would make sitting out here in the evening (you know, when I get home from work and can enjoy the patio) a little more pleasant.

Early last week (before putting up the fence this past weekend), Amy met me over at my house to drop off her two dogs. We figured they could be stuck outside with us while we got a few things done. Good thing, since we had a lot to do!

First, we came up with a game plan for what kind of plants would be best for the yard immediately (again, color would be nice) and also practical long-term (Hydrangeas love shade and protection from the wind, but would they be available to plant now? Are all spring bulbs for sunny areas only? What would be good to fertilize the existing soil and prepare the area for overwintering?)  As much as I enjoy DIY, outdoor projects are not really my area of expertise. Thankfully, The Home Depot had me covered – they’ve just recently added a number of new project guides to their website for picking fertilizer, planting spring bulbs, and pruning for fall.

Amy and I did what people normally do on a trip for supplies for an outdoor project (I can only assume). We stopped for lunch and got rid of some freeloading dirt that came along for the ride:

I hugged pretty plants and made excuses for why I should purchase them, even if they don’t meet the shade requirement (sorry tropical plants – but more on you in a later post):

shopping at Home Depot

We picked out garden soil and mulch, and tested my cart-pushing strength (super-serious face included):

shopping at Home Depot

And finally, we grabbed what we needed for our actual project. I’m pretty sure everyone leaves this task for last when they go the store, right?

shopping at Home Depot

We grabbed hydrangeas, rosemary (for its mosquito-repelling properties), pansies, mums, and a spotted shade-loving plant I didn’t really note the name of. I saw pink spots, green leaves, and a tag that said it was good for shade – so in the cart it went. I keep it simple :)  Update: one savvy reader has identified this as caladium – thanks!

fall backyard makeover

Back at home, I swept away dirt from the brick and gave it a fresh coat of dark brown spray paint.

Then, I placed each plant to visually space out where they would all go:  hydrangeas on the far end, rosemary near the patio door, pansies on the other side, and the pretty spotted plant on the end to the right. I thought that this arrangement, once they grew a little, would cover the downspout area with something more visually interesting.

fall backyard makeover

fall backyard makeover

On the right side, we dug both the holes for planting the pansies as well as the spring bulbs.

planting spring bulbs

Amy mentioned that her mom is a big gardener and loves using Osmocote for plant food – says that it really brings out the color in her flowers. It absolutely reeks, but I’m taking her word for it and sprinkled this around the plants.

use Osmocote for healthy plants

On the left, I wanted to mix in some fresh potting soil with the existing dirt (a shovel works fine here too – I grabbed what was closest!). Thankfully, it was much easier to dig through than the red clay near the fence – confirming that at some point in the past, someone gave this area some TLC but later let it fend for itself.

fall backyard makeover

Once all of the plants were in place, we spread out a few bags of dark brown rubber mulch. I’ve mentioned a preference for the recycled stuff before, but my goal with the back area is to keep it as low-maintenance as possible. Using recycled rubber helps keep some of the weeds under control, looks similar to bark mulch, doesn’t loose its color, and still allows for the spring bulbs to pop up next year (instead of using landscaping fabric). And the most important factor:  my house has cedar siding – keeping bark mulch this close to the house isn’t really advised when you want to keep termites at bay.

rubber mulch

rosemary and rubber mulch

Amy had to leave mid-afternoon, so I thanked her for her help, thanked her dogs for keeping Charlie occupied while I worked, and continued working on a few areas near the patio. I got out my old friend, the caulk gun, and caulked around both of the rear windows, the patio door, and painted the trim. Only problem is:  I’m short, lazy, and had already put the ladder away – so I grabbed my Homer bucket (which The Home Depot folks also sent with the gift card) and made quick work of the trim.

painting exterior trim

I also sprayed down the windows and patio door with some insect killer (hey, as long as I’m out here, I might as well get some fall maintenance chores taken care of as well). After only a day (and a lot of dirt), the back yard essentially went from this (on the left side of the patio):

To this:

fall planting

fall planting - backyard makeover


And from this (on the right side):

To this:

fall planting - backyard makeover

fall planting - backyard makeover

The simple truth is (sponsored post or not, 100% my own opinions here), without The Home Depot’s helping hand on this project (and Amy’s of course), I probably wouldn’t have been able to get to this garden makeover this year. I am thrilled that the backyard is getting cleaned up (and still have more to show you guys later this week, including full shots of the patio area), but sometimes the extra color of flowers simply makes the effort a little more worthwhile. It’s usually not the first thing I think about when it’s budget-allocating time, so the extra push from an outside force has been a welcome change of pace.

And as for that budget, here are the dollars and cents for the fall planting:

  • Fall bulbs (Allium) – $10
  • Rosemary (5 large pots) – $30
  • Rustoleum 2x spray paint in Espresso, 2 cans – $8
  • Cutter insect repellent (2 cans) – $8
  • Osmocote Outdoor & Indoor Plant Food – $12
  • Hydrangeas (4 pots) – $52
  • Vigoro rubber mulch in Mocha Brown (6 bags) – $36
  • Pansies (15 pots) – $18
  • Vigoro select annual (the spotted plant) – $5
  • Miracle Gro gardening soil (1 GIANT bag) – $8
  • Ortho Home Defense Max Insect Killer – $15

Total (incl. tax) – $214

I had some more room on my gift card for yard cleanup (and adding some color to the front), so I picked up a few more bags of mulch, soil, plants, and one great big extension cord (so I can return the one I’ve been borrowing from Dad). More on those projects next week.

Leading up to this project, I used The Home Depot hashtag #LetsDoThis on Instagram and Twitter as part of their campaign (so go back to see some of the other sneak peeks if you’re curious). I’ve noticed that there are a few other bloggers also taking on their own challenges, and it’s not just outdoor projects – so I’m looking forward to see what others come up with!

What are your favorite flowers for fall? Do you have any routines you go through to prep your outdoor spaces when the weather gets colder? Have you had success with using rosemary for mosquitoes? I’d love to hear it.

And now, of course, the legal stuff:

I acknowledge that The Home Depot is partnering with me to participate in this Fall Fertilization, Fall Planting and Fall Cleanup project. As a part of the Fall Fertilization, Fall Planting and Fall Cleanup project, I am receiving compensation in the form of cash and gift cards, for the purpose of promoting Fall Fertilization, Fall Planting and Fall Cleanup project and The Home Depot. All expressed opinions and experiences are my own words. My post complies with the Word Of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) Ethics Code and applicable Federal Trade Commission guidelines.

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  1. It’s looking so great back there!! Hooray for yard cleanup!! I love having rosemary plants around the house- they do so well here in Georgia. I did not know they repelled mosquitoes- I should go by one hundred more of them, right now!! They really love full sun and dry soil- so don’t over water yours back there. Yours may not grow as quickly as they would in full sun, but they should do fine anyway, because they’re really hardy. And make sure you water the heck out of those hydrangeas next summer, because our Georgia heat is hard on them. Unfortunately, your pansies and the Vigoro won’t come back next year, but if you are looking for another annual to put in their place try some impatiens for spring/summer. They do AWESOME and are very low maintenance. You could rotate impatiens (spring/summer) and pansies (fall/winter), if you don’t mind replacing plants every year. Otherwise you can replace with a perennial- while they don’t have a lot of color, hostas are great for shade and filling up a space very quickly! Happy gardening!

    1. I don’t think I’ll plant more annuals in the back, so I will probably consider hostas when these die off or something equally shrubby – I’m not really a fan of hostas for whatever reason but I’ll go with it if it’s the best low-maintenance choice. The sun has a tough time finding itself into the back yard, which will be good for the hydrangeas and will also be protected from wind next to the house. And I think I’ll be happy if the rosemary doesn’t grow as quick (I hear they can take over your garden quickly!). Thanks so much for the advice, I’m always looking for tips (I tend to kill off plants if they aren’t ignore-proof).

    1. Thank you! I even checked my receipt – the label was “annual” and I threw away the tag. I’ll update the post soon with that info.

  2. Hellebores are another option for a shade perennial that are very low maintenance. I’m all about whatever is easiest to keep alive!!

    1. Agreed. Alive and ignore-proof. If it doesn’t need me to look good, it’s the right fit.

      There’s probably a single lady joke in there too, I just can’t think of it ;)

  3. Yay, Rosemary! Just prune it every now and then with big shears and it will be fine. I think you and Amy did a GREAT job! It looks fabulous!

  4. I am so glad the HD was kind enough to help you out. You deserve it! And SO very glad you spray painted the red brick. Hate red mulch as much as those red scalloped edgers! Way to use what you had and make it blend in. Lookin’ so much better…you work your buns off! I am not a fan of gardening but want pretty, so we do little when we can. When we had our first brand new single family (with the standard tiny shrubs) my husband put in a brick walk and he planted all the plants in MD summer heat and humidity. A few houses later we found ourselves in our current home. A tri-level which I love but it had “granny” plantings. We threw a little money on it and had the big guns come in and do the landscaping. (Drainage issues had to be addressed also.) We weed as needed but have Fall and Spring clean-up performed by the landscaping company. We are more DIY on the inside–or just NOT DIY garden I should say. We have built a chicken coop and run, and painted porches and fences. Just NOT into gardening!

    1. Yeah, I can squint and look past the red brick, but me no likey red mulch. I think if I had the funds, I’d love to hire out… but my budget is stretched as tight as Joan Rivers’ face.

  5. Awesome! For someone who prefers not to deal with the backyard, you have done a tremendous job! Like your friend, I love working in my yard, but it can get overwhelming. Love love love hydrangeas! After 7 years, mine got so big I had to really cut it back this August. For whatever reason, mine loves the sun! Weird. I didn’t know rosemary had insect repelling qualities! I have some big hostas that grow about 2 or more feet tall and more than that in diameter – handed down through family and no idea what type they are. One plant that is classified for shade that I want to try is Hakone Grass or Japanese Hakone Grass. Looks like a nice bright lemon-lime color that would brighten up shady spots and create contrast.

  6. You do more in a weekend than I do in a month. :)

    Painting the trim really makes a difference. Was that white paint?

      1. That sounds like a good complementary color.

        I just got to Atlanta and must say the weather has been great so far. When is the open house? :)

          1. LOL, I know what you mean.

            If you are interested in any help with the cabinets, then I might have some free time.

  7. Looks great! I used the same rubber mulch from Home Depot earlier this summer. It had a bit of a rubbery odor for a couple weeks in the sun, but it’s gone now. It’s stayed nice looking through the worst of summer. Some of the commentors on my post made me nervous with warnings of unstoppable tire mulch / napalm fires on the side of the house, but I haven’t found anything trustworthy to be concerned about it.

  8. Hi,
    I have been a lurker for a while reading your blog since one of those pinterest challenges with Katie Bower and Sherry Petersik, and I wanted to alert you to an amazing plant that prevents mosquitos.
    I lived in Malawi as a Peace Corps Volunteer, so I was taking malaria prophylaxis on a daily basis and tried to do as much as I could to prevent getting bitten (including sleeping under a mosquito net). So we grew tons and tons of this long-leafed-y plant called lemongrass. It smells awesome (to me at least) and can be used as natural medicine and can be brewed as tea (just pour hot water over the leafy-frond things). So you may want to consider it! It is pretty low-maintenance and I think it is pretty.
    Just an idea~!

  9. That looks amazing for only one day of work! I’m sure the Rosemary will come in handy when you’re cooking in your new kitchen. If you’re looking for flowering shade loving perennials, you should try primroses. They take some watering, but are otherwise low maintenance. This site has lots of good information on they different kinds and how to grow them: http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/primroses.

  10. Love the peak of the improved little sitting area in that last picture! Definitely better than white plastic lawn chairs. :)

  11. Mums also repel mosquitoes, so another awesome choice! Love your backyard and your plants will look so amazing as they mature!