Like many of us, my ideas for backyard projects are much more grandiose than my abilities. It is not until I am mid project that I typically learn I am in way over my head. Perhaps proper planning is the first lesson I have learned in every backyard project. Having said that, I can say my backyard projects have worked out reasonably well.
My small ½ acre plot of land is on a hillside in the back with a depression in the front. It only took our first April month at our new home to find our driveway completely submerged in water. The following summer, I decided to move the earth from the hillside in the back to fill in the depression in the front. It seemed easy enough. My lesson here is to rent a Bobcat dozer. It is worth it for such a project. It takes a lot more earth than you realize to fill in and level off a driveway. To get an idea of how much earth you will need to move takes a bit of doing as well. Hammer down two stakes where your driveway begins and then two near the road. Run string down the length to the level you want to fill in. Remember to also place a barrier on either side to prevent erosion and runoff. This can be easily made with a length of treated railroad ties. These can easily be purchased at a lumber mill or hardware store for relatively cheap. I only needed 4 treated ties which only set me back $40 dollars. The bobcat rental was only $80 and I was able to complete this in a weekend rather than the months it would have taken to do it with a wheel barrel and shovel.
Planting trees is something you should consider carefully as well. This was not so much my lesson learned as it was my mother’s. Many of you would never do this, but she planted three pine trees in our front yard when we first moved there. They grew over the years to lay a carpet of lawn killing pine needles across the lawn as well as leaving droplets of paint ruining pine sap on our vehicles. Needless to say, they had to be cut down. My father remained furious over this for years. Aside from the pines, we also have a huge old growth oak in our front yard. It’s important you clip the lower branches as these trees grow. The branches of large old growth trees should ideally be well off the ground, with no less than 14 feet of trunk. This will secure the tree firmly into the ground and help the roots grow deeper. Also, the branches will be healthier and reduce the chance they will break loose and damage your home or vehicles.
Growing a garden is out of the question for us now. The old growth oak shades the only good planting soil that exists in the depression on our small plot of land. This lesson is to know what you plan to do with your homestead early on while you can still plan. It would cost more than it is worth to cut down the old growth oak and there is always the risk it would fall on our house. If we had it to do all over again, we would have chopped down the oak sapling and absolutely never have planted pines!