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How to Design a Yard in Phases

Ask This Old House landscape contractor Jenn Nawada returns to her home state of Florida to help a homeowner design a tropical landscape for his backyard.

Steps for Designing a Yard in Phases

  1. Break down the landscape into rooms that all have different purposes and functions but that flow together. This will make each section more manageable and, with a master plan, it will be easier to implement each room as time and budget allows.
  2. Some common landscape area functions include a dining area, an entertainment area, garden areas, relaxation areas, and entry/exit areas.
  3. Work with the existing footprint to keep the budget down. If there are already established plants in key areas, keep those and underplant with other native plants to accentuate them.
  4. Remember that plants don’t need to just line the perimeter of the yard. Put plants in areas around the landscape that allow the landscape to be experienced, rather than just looked at.
  5. Establish paths to connect different rooms together.


Jenn suggests breaking a landscape down into separate sections and coming up with a game plan for each section, regardless of whether you plan to work on that section immediately or not. That way, as you add more to the landscape as time and budget allows, everything will connect nicely and not feel disjointed. Also, by breaking the landscape down into sections, it’s easier to give each section a specific purpose or function.

In Room 1, Jenn called for artistic concrete to be poured to give the patio a more finished look. The artistic concrete was Pacific Tile in Siberian Haze, with Sandstone grout lines, which is manufactured by Creative Resurfacing. The shade sail they installed to cool off the patio was manufactured by Creative Shade Solutions.

In Room 2, Jacque brought a wide variety of Florida-friendly plants, including coontie palm, nandina, smooth cordgrass, and an andonidia palm, which can be found at Zone 9 nurseries and garden centers. For mulch, Jenn and Jacque used pine straw, and for the walkways, they used pine bark mulch. Both of these materials can also be found at nurseries.

Expert assistance with this project was provided by Power Lawn Care in Winter Haven, FL, and Playground Services by David Bloom.