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Landscaping 101 – Tools & Planting

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Landscaping 101 – Tools & Planting

When we bought our first home 13 years ago, we were lured by the idea of having at least half an acre of land. Little did we know that it would involve LOTS and LOTS of yard work. Over the years we’ve learned several tips and tricks to creating beautiful landscaping that will last for decades. If you’re a new homeowner (or still trying to find your green thumb), here’s the Landscaping 101 course to help you hit the ground running. I’ll be sharing which yard tools are essential, how to pick the right plants, how to plant them, and how to add color to your landscaping. Pull up a stump and lets dig in!

Assess Landscaping Needs:

Do you have a variety of color in your landscaping? Unfortunately a soccer ball, flag and garden ornament don’t really count. Attractive landscaping will have a variety of colors, textures and tones to create variety and interest.

Easy Color in Your Landscaping Beds | Pretty Handy Girl

The great news is that you can remedy this situation in an afternoon (or less time depending on how much planting you need to do.)

Take a good hard look at your existing landscaping. What’s working for you and what is…ummm…dying. It’s okay to give up on shrubs and plants that are dying. If you just can’t stand the thought of killing them, transplant sickly plants in a less visible spot to give them a second chance. But, don’t leave them in your front beds where they aren’t adding any curb appeal.

As an alternative, if a sad looking plant previously thrived in that location but it took a hit from frost (or a well-played soccer ball). You can try to save it by trimming the plant back to green stalks or near the ground. That’s exactly what I did to this Confederate Jasmine. I pruned it back to see if it would come back.

Easy Color in Your Landscaping Beds | Pretty Handy Girl

I also planted a new one right next to the old one for instant color and fragrance. That way the old one can take its time growing back while no one notices its stubbiness.

Easy Color in Your Landscaping Beds | Pretty Handy Girl

Make a list of the holes you have in your landscape. Note the sun and soil conditions there. Take your list with you when you go plant shopping.

How to Choose Appropriate Plants for your Landscape:

Easy Color in Your Landscaping Beds | Pretty Handy Girl

Be sure to shop for your flowering plants at a local reputable plant nursery. Picking up plants at the grocery store or other big box store will result in less than the hardiest plants. Nurseries take care to stock plants that thrive well in your climate. They are also more healthy and disease-free. Finally, the staff at the nursery is more knowledgeable and can help you choose plants that will do well in your garden. The grocery store cashier probably can’t help you with that!

If possible, shop for flowering plants at the time that you want them to bloom in your yard! A successful flower bed will have staggered blooms throughout the Spring – Fall. If you fill your flower bed over time, you’ll be sure to have blooms that appear at different times as opposed to picking all your beautiful blooming plants in one shopping trip. But, if you’re more of the once and done type, ask the nursery staff for a variety of plants that will stagger their blooms.

Sun and Shade Requirements:

Choose plants that will thrive in the existing conditions in your yard. It’s a great idea to map your landscape area and note the sun and shade areas on an hourly basis. Select plants based on those shade/sun requirements.

  • Full sun = At least 6 hours of direct sun
  • Partial Sun = 3-6 hours of sun per day. The plant must receive direct light for at least 3 hours.
  • Partial Shade = 3-6 hours of sun per day. The plant must receive shade to help cool the plant later in the afternoon.
  • Shade = Less than 3 hours of sun per day. But, the plant should receive some additional dappled sun throughout the day. No sun equals no life.

Also pay attention to your soil and drainage. A well drained soil will dry several hours after watering. Damp soil will stay moist and wet for at least a day after watering.

*A good tip is to save your plant tags and receipts. Most reputable nurseries will have a warranty on the plants they sell. Ask them for more information.

How to Choose Yard Tools:

Landscaping 101: Tools, Planting, and Adding Color to your Landscaping | Pretty Handy Girl
Disclosure: True Temper sent me these landscaping tools to try out. I was not told what to say about their tools.

A good starter set of landscaping tools are:

(I’ve included affiliate links for your convenience. I earn a small percentage from a purchase using these links. There is no additional cost to you. You can read more about affiliate links here.)

  • Round Point Shovel – used for digging and transferring plants
  • Bow Rake – used for leveling and loosening soil, spreading mulch, and ground cover
  • Garden Spade Shovel – used for digging trenches, transplanting and edging beds
  • Wheelbarrow  – your best friend when it comes to hauling yard material
  • Garden Trowel  – A small trowel for planting, transplanting, digging up bulbs, moving dirt, potting, and much more!
  • Cultivator  – used for loosening and breaking up tough soil, removing rocks, weeding and aerating
  • Warren Hoe  – used for creating and planting rows of seeds and harvesting underground vegetables
  • Leaf Rake  – if you have deciduous trees, you NEED a leaf rake to remove fallen leaves
  • Pruning Shears  – a sharp pair of pruning shears are used for pruning, cutting blooms and dead limbs from bushes and plants
  • Garden gloves – a good pair of garden gloves will protect your hands from thorns, scratches and dreaded poison ivy (or poison oak.)

If you’re new to landscaping, I’m going to give you some good advice about buying tools. As I recommend with power tools, don’t cheap out when buying landscaping tools. If you buy quality garden and landscape tools, they should last you a lifetime. If you go for the less expensive tools, you’ll likely spend more in the long run when you have to replace a broken or worn out tool.

For example, we have a True Temper shovel that has lasted us for over 10 years now. We’ve put that baby to good use digging in the rocky and clay filled NC soil. Some of the other tools we bought didn’t make it that long. Either the handles snapped or the tines on a rake bent over continued use. Buying two of the same tool means it would have been smarter and more economical to purchase quality from the start. (Live and learn.)

Easy Color in Your Landscaping Beds | Pretty Handy Girl

Good tools should be ergonomic, comfortable and made with quality materials that won’t break or bend over time. Look for strong defect-free handles. True Temper tools are high quality and Made in the USA. They’ve been making agricultural tools for over 200 years! My favorite feature of these True Temper tools are the 10″ cushion grip handles. They are easy to hold and are good shock absorbers.

Easy Color in Your Landscaping Beds | Pretty Handy Girl

How to Plant Shrubs and Flowers that will Thrive:

Assess the health of your plants. Remove any diseased or dying plants. You don’t want them infecting your new greenery. Use a round point shovel to dig a circle around the root ball.  Use your foot to step on the top of the shovel to get further depth and force to cut roots. When the plant is free, remove it and toss it or transplant it to a new location.

Easy Color in Your Landscaping Beds | Pretty Handy Girl

Dig a hole at least two times the size of the new plant’s root ball. And several inches deeper.

Easy Color in Your Landscaping Beds | Pretty Handy Girl

Break up rocky and hard soil with either a Warren hoe or cultivator (or both!) The cultivator works great at getting all the big rocks out of the way.

Easy Color in Your Landscaping Beds | Pretty Handy Girl

Fill the bottom of the hole with good organic compost. This stuff is black gold! A good compost pile will be full of worms working to turn your kitchen scraps into super nutrient rich soil for your plants. I’ll have to write a separate post on how I compost. If you don’t have access to organic compost, purchase a bag of good gardening soil to use. Mix the compost and dirt with the cultivator or hoe. The soil should have good drainage and no large chunks.

Easy Color in Your Landscaping Beds | Pretty Handy Girl

To free your plant from it’s pot, make a fist and pound around the outside of the pot. Gently tip the pot upside down while supporting your plant by its trunk. Gently lay the plant on its side.

Easy Color in Your Landscaping Beds | Pretty Handy Girl

Use the hand trowel to slice into the rootball. This is especially important if your plant is root bound. You need to encourage the plant to expand and grow new roots out into the earth.

Easy Color in Your Landscaping Beds | Pretty Handy Girl

Set the plant upright in the hole you dug.

Easy Color in Your Landscaping Beds | Pretty Handy Girl

Fill around the root ball and cover the top of the root ball slightly with more soil/compost mixture.

Step around the base of your plant to eliminate air holes. It’s important to get good soil contact with the roots of the plant.

Easy Color in Your Landscaping Beds | Pretty Handy Girl

Water your newly planted flowers and plants daily for two weeks or more. Then taper off the watering to help them extend their roots on their own.


Adding mulch around your plants in the beds adds more than an attractive look. It keeps moisture in the soil and controls weeds. To weigh your options on which type of mulch you want to use, you’ll probably find this Mulch Selection Guidelines List helpful.

Landscaping 101: Tools, Planting, and Adding Color to your Landscaping | Pretty Handy Girl

Save your back and energy by filling a wheelbarrow with mulch and bring it to your beds. Make sure the front wheel has plenty of air. Or learn how to replace a wheelbarrow tire that never goes flat!

Easy Color in Your Landscaping Beds | Pretty Handy Girl

Spread the mulch 2 – 3″ deep around your plants with a bow rake. Anything less than 2″ won’t  control weeds and retain moisture as well.

Container Gardening:

Potted plants help you “fake it until you make it!” A few potted plants with annual flowers in them is a great way to add pops of color exactly where you want them. They’ll draw attention to their color and blooms and detract from any landscape beds that are between blooms.

When they stop blooming you can pop in another container of flowers. Container gardening is the perfect activity for fickle gardeners because you can constantly change the look with new colors and plants. Learn all the basics for growing your own container gardens here.

Annuals are great for instant color, but once they are gone they won’t grow back next year. If you prefer to avoid yearly planting,  buy perennials to plant in your pots. They will re-bloom year after year.

Easy Color in Your Landscaping Beds | Pretty Handy Girl

For a more portable arrangements, fill small lightweight pots or containers on wheels. (I had fun turning this old Radio Flyer wagon into a portable planter. Now I can wheel the wagon anywhere I want to add more color.)

Easy Color in Your Landscaping Beds | Pretty Handy Girl

Added Color to the Landscape:

Remember that “artificial colored” landscaping before?

Easy Color in Your Landscaping Beds | Pretty Handy Girl

Within an afternoon it got a makeover worthy of an HGTV curb appeal segment.

Easy Color in Your Landscaping Beds | Pretty Handy Girl

Before the sad little gardenia was barely thriving.

Easy Color in Your Landscaping Beds | Pretty Handy Girl

Presto! Instant color and blooms from a newly planted pink hydrangea.

Easy Color in Your Landscaping Beds | Pretty Handy Girl

New rose bushes bring some fragrance and color to the previously color-lacking front bed. I had no idea that there were yellow knockout roses, but as soon as I saw them I grabbed them. If you don’t know about knock out roses, they are much hardier and disease resistant than their ancestors! Win!

Landscaping 101: Tools, Planting, and Adding Color to your Landscaping | Pretty Handy Girl

A few foxglove plants adds some height and visual interest to the flower bed.

Easy Color in Your Landscaping Beds | Pretty Handy Girl

Much better! In a week those irises around the flag and the big rose bush in the middle will be brimming with color.

Easy Color in Your Landscaping Beds | Pretty Handy Girl

Our front landscaping beds are my new happy place!

Easy Color in Your Landscaping Beds | Pretty Handy Girl

We get compliments from anyone who comes to our house (which is primarily the UPS and FedEx driver lately. Thanks guys!)

Easy Color in Your Landscaping Beds | Pretty Handy Girl

Easy Color in Your Landscaping Beds | Pretty Handy Girl

Do tell me, do you have any landscaping tips or secrets to share? Or maybe you have a favorite plant in your yard. Please tell me more!


74 replies
  1. Joyce T.
    Joyce T. says:

    I would add that once you have planted your plant, it helps to water them in well to get good root contact with the soil and settle out any air pockets. We always do that at the plant nursery where I work.

  2. Amy
    Amy says:

    My favorite tip is: you don’t have to do it all at once. I am not the sort who enjoys making a big project out of landscaping, but after a year and a half of living in my new place, it is slowly coming together. And that works for me.

  3. Jamie
    Jamie says:

    Oh man! I definitely need some new tools. We’ve been working on our outside landscaping for the past three springs and I’m looking forward to moving on to the backyard in a year or two.

  4. Lisa E
    Lisa E says:

    Looks so pretty! I just planted some hyndrangeas for the first time and am hoping they will thrive. I’ve always thought they were so beautiful and we had to replace some bushes that didn’t make our harsh winter. Another fav of mine is the hosta, especially the variegated kind. I agree with Joyce, when freshly planted, watering is key!

  5. Andrea D.
    Andrea D. says:

    I absolutely love hydrangeas! I’ve planted a few in the front of our house but would love a hedge of them in our backyard. Thanks for the chance to win such a great prize.

  6. kelsey n
    kelsey n says:

    we just did a huge amount of yard work to get our front beds up to snuff… mulch is my favorite accessory, so forgiving!

  7. Jen Y
    Jen Y says:

    This is a beautiful garden! My favorite landscaping plant is my houseplants. I have a few that I take cuttings from for fillers or spillers in my summer containers. It saves me money each spring!

  8. Ashley
    Ashley says:

    I just found your website yesterday, and I’ve been going through all your previous posts. I just bought a house last September and my landscaping is a mess. A few weeks ago, I realized that I neglected to clean out the small flower bed between my garage and my neighbor’s fence last fall when I was cleaning out the other flower beds. To my surprise, there was a bleeding heart! I love bleeding hearts; as well as my mom does because they were her father-in-law’s (my grandfather) favorite flower.

  9. Robin C
    Robin C says:

    Keep up with the weed pulling or weed killing w/Round Up. All the beautiful plants and landscaping won’t matter if you let the weeds take over.

  10. Kelly
    Kelly says:

    Looks great – thank you for all the wonderful tips! I already realized things I have done wrong in the past that I will change in the future!

  11. jamie
    jamie says:

    we would LOVE to have a wheel barrel…..we have have 1 1/2 acres… and still don’t have one lol I know….

  12. Shelley
    Shelley says:

    Keep after the weeds when they’re small… it’s much easier than when they’re full grown 🙂 Thank you for the tips!

  13. Laurence Maier
    Laurence Maier says:

    Before taking on major landscaping projects, I always talk to my neighbors first (and they come talk to me). That way, we keep our yards in sync with each other and avoid clashes. We often will also share the cost of materials and rental equipment if needed. Hey…if I’m going to till in my yard, maybe my neighbor can do something in his at the same time! Of course, if you don’t like your neighbors, well…

  14. Nicole
    Nicole says:

    Pine straw as mulch! The plants love the acidity. I’ve added it to all my beds and have noticed a huge improvement in how my roses and other flowers look. Love the stuff.

  15. Kim
    Kim says:

    I’m a complete novice in landscaping and have trouble motivating myself. Also, living in Florida, I’m kind of limited on what works well. The soil stinks, and it’s way too hot for a lot of the prettiest plants. But, I’ve always loved lilies and lilacs.

  16. Tish
    Tish says:

    I really need new tools mine are over fifteen years old and I am retiring on Friday June 13th so I will be working on my landscaping which has been neglected for the last couple of years. They look wonderful specially that shiny wheelbarrow.

  17. Nicole
    Nicole says:

    I love good, sturdy garden tools- with five acres, my stuff takes quite the beating. And a good wheelbarrow is important!

  18. Lora W.
    Lora W. says:

    My favorite plants in my flower beds are my lily-of-the-valleys. There were planted by the previous owner. They are behind the shrubs, next to the house and they smell so good when they are in bloom.

  19. GG Bocchino
    GG Bocchino says:

    I truly enjoy the hydrangea plant.
    I am so glad for this post! I don’t have a landscaped garden & don’t even know where to start.
    I hope to learn about it thru your blog

  20. Mary Stewart
    Mary Stewart says:

    We lost what little landscaping we had a few months ago when we had to have 25 piers placed under our house to level it! So I’m having a series of landscaping party! After the work is done, its Bar-B-Que time!

  21. Susan M.
    Susan M. says:

    I use an upside down plastic water bottle with a pinhole pushed down into the dirt to water my container plants. Keeps the roots moist with no guesswork!

    Thanks so much for the opportunity — man oh man, I sure hope I win!

  22. Diane Richards
    Diane Richards says:

    I finally purchased a soaker hose and it makes deep watering so much easier.
    Hydrangea’s and butterfly bushes are my faves.

  23. Gloria
    Gloria says:

    I don’t have the greatest green thumb so I plant easy plants that need little care like hostas and daylilies. Also hydrangeas! Luv them.

  24. Colleen Taylor
    Colleen Taylor says:

    Even though I live in a big city, it’s still the Arizona desert & boy is that ever a challenge to someone who spent most of their life in the Colorado Rockies! It’s been a real learning process for sure. Our soil has it’s extreme learning curve I’ve found. My favorite has become our beautiful pygmy palms. They require lots of water as palms do, so easy, they don’t get too large & unmanageable & they’re always green & oh so pretty. I’m learning to like cactus plants in their own special prickly beauty. I also love vinca major, abundant flowers all year round!

    I wish I could grow those pretty foxgloves, hydrangeas & gardenias you have. Btw, your yard looks so beautiful. I do have a jasmine though, not sure what type but I love that wonderful fragrant scent when I walk into the courtyard. I need to learn when to prune it since it’s getting a bit leggy. I ==

    Another good tip, is we’ve put all our flower pots on spaghetti lines that tie into the automatic sprinkling system. You don’t want to go outside much in the heat to water if you can help it.

  25. Isaac R
    Isaac R says:

    I good set of files to sharpen the tools that you use is essential for any gardener/landscaper. A properly sharpened shovel at about a 45 degree angle on one side will bite into the ground much better than a squared off head. A minute or two taken to do this on any tool that digs will make your job much easier.

  26. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    That wheelbarrow!!! Be still my heart! It’s beautiful. I love to work in the yard….I grow flowers and vegetables and good quality equipment would sure come in handy.

    Thanks, Brittany!

  27. Queen Mary
    Queen Mary says:

    I loved reading the tips, drawing a blank on something to add; we live in the south/mid-Atlantic and clay soil so our plant choices include gorgeous azaleas, but my favorite, the lilac, is a tougher plant. I hope to add one soon though. My favorite is the hydrangea this year though. Watering a new plant is a must, I totally agree, this year I learned the only/best way to get rid of onion grass is with lime so I’ll through that in! I hope I win!

  28. Tori
    Tori says:

    The tip on buying good tools is a great one. It is tempting when strapped for cash to buy more tools that are cheap instead of a few quality core tools. But live and learn, now I’m not bending my trowel when digging.

  29. Kiera Chambers
    Kiera Chambers says:

    I love bulbs, I have lots of tulips and calla lilly’s in the beds out front, I also love a unique ground cover, we have strawberries as our ground cover, they’re pretty and eatable!

  30. Vickie Rose
    Vickie Rose says:

    Thank you so much for the useful info! I hope to put a lot of it to use starting this year! I would like to also thank everyone for their comments as well. It’s almost like having your own back yard buddies. 🙂

  31. lesley
    lesley says:

    my favorite flowers are gerber daisies and sunflowers…..but, ironically, i can’t seem to get sunflowers to grow and last in the sunshine state

  32. Dorothea
    Dorothea says:

    My favorite plant is the boxwood – there are so many varieties to choose from, they’re easy to grow, and they’re evergreen – which makes for year round color!

  33. Gina
    Gina says:

    Your yard looks great! Thanks for all the tips and the chance to win these great products. My favorite plant is the hydrangea and I would love to add more to my landscape.

  34. CC
    CC says:

    right now my fav plant are lilies. Easy to grow in full sun, drought resistant, leave them alone and work on bringing my problem areas up to eye candy!

  35. Colleen N
    Colleen N says:

    I love hydrangeas, though the Lake Tahoe area isn’t exactly their happy spot. I love the idea of using (for my area) drought-tolerant, perennials that offer a mix of form and color throughout the season. I read a tip about getting plants that flower early, mid and late in the season and planting them in clusters of three around the yard and then filling in with with other plants over time.

  36. Chrissy
    Chrissy says:

    I think it’s fun to mix in herbs and colorful veggies (think chard, tri-color h0t peppers, basils, lavender, thyme) in flower borders.

  37. Tarsha!
    Tarsha! says:

    I do not have a green thumb. Like at all! So I always shop for plants that require the least amount of maintenance but are still beautiful year round. I purchase shrubs/plants that require water, that’s it! LOL We are DIY’ing out backyard so I hope to change all that this year by learning about plants in my zone!

  38. Mary South
    Mary South says:

    I love the verbena bonarians. I am sure I spelled it wrong but it is a pretty purple flower that grows tall and reseeds and attracts butterflies.

  39. Maureen
    Maureen says:

    Black Eyed Susan, come back every year, multiply by them selves. Every few years or so I have to thin them a bit. Love to give them away to new gardeners, always a win plant for rookies!

  40. Linda Southworth
    Linda Southworth says:

    In my few shady spots I love coleus plants which I get to decide which ones I want each year. I love the fact that the beautiful leaves are the glory of this plant. I never tire of them.

  41. paivi
    paivi says:

    Looks great! I wonder though how well those roses will hold up to the hot NC summer? Do you have to continually water them?

  42. Mary Beth
    Mary Beth says:

    I’ve been looking for a good wheelbarrow, and that one looks like just the ticket! Love your landscaping tips!

  43. James Wright
    James Wright says:

    My landscaping “secret weapon” is container gardening for no other reason than I seem to kill lots of different breeds of plants. While partially true, I have learned to really like creating giant pots of a few different plants. The colors and height you can get are really amazing.

  44. Jo
    Jo says:

    If you put down cardboard( with out tape or staples) you dont have to put quite as much mulch.Wet it down after.
    Also I find if I buy cheep mulchwhen it breaks down its full of weed seeds..

  45. Laura Crouse
    Laura Crouse says:

    I haven’t tried cardboard, but I do put several layers of newspaper down as a weed barrier, wet it and cover with mulch. So far so good. Only two pieces of grass popped up but they were rooted in the mulch, not in the ground. Guessing the seeds blew in. Way less expensive than using landscaping fabric. My parents donated their old newspapers.

  46. Laura Crouse
    Laura Crouse says:

    Knockdown roses would stand up to NC summer. I live in Central Florida and my knockdown rose just keeps on flowering and hanging on. I do not have a green thumb but to me, knockdown roses seem easy.


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