Backyard Garden Landscaping Advice

When I bought my house (in Northern CA) the backyard was neglected due to multiple broken sprinkler pipes and it was a playground for previous owner's dog. The lawn area had no grass, and it has a raised brick flower bed about built 1 feet high. Some kind of fir (?) scrub is in it, but nothing else.
I have repaired the sprinkler circuits to the flower beds and the soon-to-be lawn area.
I am going to work on adding some plants now. I have a few questions.. No particular goals, I'm not an avid gardener (maybe not yet), just going for easy maintainence and a better looking yard for now.
1) I plan on installing the landscape fabric (those weed blocker cloth) over the flower bed soil, and then put some bark over it for easy maintenance. Is that a good idea?
2) In the past when I have done the above (weed block + bark), I cut slits or hole in the cloth for the plant installation, the grass would always find it's way up and is hard to remove, especially around roses.. is there a trick to it? Infact, as of now after the rainy winter, there are some grass on the flower bed already.
3) regarding the lawn, from the patio to flower bed is probably only about 10'x20' area I guess it's not completely dead, after the winter some spots now have grass on it, but the grass is thick bladed, sparse and not good looking, I'm going to try to break up the soil and apply seed. Any tips here? There are also plastic nets as I break up the ground, I assume it was from previous sods, do I try to remove as much of this as possible? I figure this is the best time to seed while it's not too hot yet.
4) I have installed a 8x8 vinyl shed on one corner of the lawn area, just on top of the dirt. I layed the weed block fabric before I installed the structure, the fabric overlay the floor of the shed about 1 ft in each side. I have no idea whether to trim it flush around the shed and just let grass grow, or do I establish some kind of parameter? There are 2 sides of the shed that are adjacent to the flower bed and fence respectively, creating a small "alley" on each side, and I really do not want anything to grow there. In those two sides, I was thinking of putting some gravel or bark there on top of the fabric, what do you think?
5) Finally what kind of small plants do you recommend for the flower bed? I'm going to remove the existing shrub, weeds and moss and start over. Due to over hanging trees and fence, it does not get a whole lot of sun. I'm thinking a variety of short plants and some roses would do for now.
6) I also need recommendation for scrub head sprinkler. I want both side of it to be wet, the problem with the orbit head I got is that I have to turn it way down, and it is a trickle stream of water, if it was strong enough to be a spray, it shoots about 10 ft in each direction which is getting the house and fence wet.
Thanks for any advice!
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jj3000 wrote:

I usually use just newspaper. At least 8 layers, and overlapping sheets. Make sure you're using bark mulch, and not just the big nuggets. The nuggets are for looks only. The idea is to choak-out the weeds, prevent light from getting to annual weeds and grasses waiting to germinate, and, if possible, heat the soil under the matting enough to make it inhospitable. Some manuer with bloodmeal under the newspaper will help with that.

The trick is to not plant it the same season you cover it. Cover it now, it'll be ready for spring bulb and perenial planting in fall. Need something this summer? Put it in containers, and put the containers on top of the mulch. But I wouldn't if I didn't have to, as the container may compact the soil too much.

Plastic nets? Never saw that before.
The best time to seed the lawn would be early fall: Right after the heat of summer is done, and just as the fall rains are starting. The second best time would be in spring so you can take advantage of the spring rains before the heat of summer comes.
Ask at your local extension service what the best seed mix for your region, soil, light and intended use (will it be walked or played upon?), and follow those recomondations. This may be a different mix than you'll find on the shelves of big box stores - or it might be something they do stock. So ask where you can get the recommended mix, too.
If the soil is wet, you don't want to till it. If the surface is hard, core aeration would be good to do. The trick is to add a lot of organic material -- compost.
Make sure the surface and the new seed doesn't dry before germination. If it's not raining, that means you may need to water more than once a day. Once you start getting a full lawn, cut back the watering. By summer, you should be putting down an inch of water a week, all at one time if possible. (If you get run-off before a whole inch, then that's a sign that you still need more orgainic material.)

On the sides facing the beds, just use the same mulch you use to top the rest of the bed with. On the sides facing the lawn, you can choose to let the grass grow right up to it (which would mean you'd need to use a trimmer when you mow), or you could put in a suitable surface treatment. There's not a problem with stuff growing next to vinyl.

Roses need sun. My advice would be to not plant anything this season, and get a better handle on what you want. Look around the neighborhood at different times of the year, and ask around.

In most cases, you want to water the soil, not the foliage of plants. If you only have overhead watering, and no soaker or drip irrigation, then that's also something to consider when selecting what to plant there. When you want a drink, do you want your water in a glass you can drink from, or do you want it sprayed on you? Occasionally most plants can benefit from a bath (rain), but I'd guess that most of the stuff you'd really like in your beds would prefer water in the soil than on their leaves. It's also cheaper to water the soil. With overhead watering, there is always evaporation, overspray, and perhaps even run-off. All that's just money down the drain.
Warren H.

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