32 Little Things to Do, Ask, and Buy If It’s Your First Time Having a Yard

published Sep 25, 2023
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Backyard photo with silo flowers and hose
Credit: Photos: Minette Hand, Shutterstock; Design: Apartment Therapy

Congratulations! You’ve just moved into your first home with a yard. Visions of backyard cookouts, fire pit-warmed fall evenings, and weekends spent working on your green thumb have likely taken over your brain — and your Pinterest board. 

But having a yard is a commitment, and it doesn’t come without its fair share of surprises and challenges in that first year (and beyond). As you make your way through the seasons, you’ll learn more and more about how to take care of a yard, how to manage expectations, and which improvements are at the top of your list.

To make first-time yard ownership a little bit easier, we’ve pulled together a list of all of the things you might not think of but should do, according to real estate agents, landscaping experts, and yard owners. Here are all the things you need to do, ask, and buy as soon as you have a little bit of land to call your own. 

Things to Do

Okay, yes, there are more than 10 things to do in your yard. From planting, to pruning, to preparing for the season ahead, there’s plenty out there to keep you occupied all year long. But these tasks are a starting point to set your yard up for success and help you make informed yard-owning decisions down the road.

1. Find out what type of soil you have.

The type of soil you have can dramatically impact the types of plants and grass that will thrive in your yard. The three main types are sandy, which feels gritty; clay, which feels like clay; and loamy, which is a more balanced soil, somewhere in the middle. 

2. Figure out what type of grass you have.

Newsflash for anyone who’s never had to deal with a grass lawn: There’s not just one type of grass. There’s dense Bermuda grass, soft Bluegrass, short Centipede grass, and dozens, if not hundreds, of other varieties. “Different types of grass have different needs, and your local climate plays a significant role. Identify the grass type you have and learn about its care requirements,” says Ward Dilmore, founder and CEO of Petrus Landscaping

3. Make a list of the type of plants you have and the care involved.

If part of your dream of having a yard includes getting into gardening, then start with organization. Make a list of the plants you have and how each needs to be cared for. This will help you get on a schedule of fertilizing, watering, and pruning.

4. Look into native and pollinator plants.

Pollinator plants help bees, butterflies, and other insects by providing the best local pollen and nectar possible to keep them working. Focusing on these native plants helps the circle of life continue.

5. Determine where your hose and watering systems are located.

You might assume there’s already a hose hooked up, but there’s a decent chance there isn’t. Locate where your water spigot is, whether you have a watering system already installed, and how you can make these work for your yard needs.

6. Make sure all fencing and structures are up to code.

Not everyone pulls permits, so if you have any concerns about the safety of your fence or the structures on your property, particularly decks, it’s worth having them inspected to make sure they’re up to code. Ideally, do this before closing so you can request credits from the seller to fix them.

7. Ensure there are no drainage issues or areas where water pools.

Drainage is a word you probably didn’t use often before buying a home with a yard. But good drainage is key — particularly right around your house. You’ll want to make sure there aren’t any areas with pooling water that could indicate a drainage issue. Choose the rainiest day to walk through your yard and identify problem spots. 

8. Set up storage for yard tools.

New home ownership comes with new yard toys. And those things don’t come cheap, so it’s important to take care of them. Set up proper, waterproof storage in your yard for any of the tools that you plan on using in your new yard. “Regular maintenance and proper storage will extend the life of your tools,” adds Dilmore.

9. Create a plan for fertilizing your lawn and long-term maintenance.

Ideally, your yard is a long-term commitment that will reap rewards year after year. Once you know the type of soil, grass, and the plants that are in your yard, create a plan for fertilizing, pruning, and taking care of your yard to keep it thriving through every season.

Brittany Zalkin, an agent with MZB Properties, suggests creating a lawn schedule. “This should include mowing, watering, fertilizing, aeration, and weed control. Investing proper time in this area will pay off in the long run,” says Zalkin.

10. Consider how you’ll prep for the season ahead.

If you’re approaching autumn, what’s your plan for leaves? Ahead of winter, do you need to winterize your garden by pulling in plants or outdoor furniture? What’s your drought plan for summer? Your yard’s needs will change throughout the season, so think about your preparation.

Credit: Artazum | Shutterstock

Things to Ask

If this is your first time having a yard to take care of, you probably have a lot of questions. The best thing to do? Ask them! Here are 11 starting-out questions to ask your real estate agent, your neighbor, your landscaper, and yourself. 

11. Will the previous homeowner leave a list of plants in the yard?

While there are great apps available that can identify a plant from a quick photo, the foolproof way to know what’s in your yard is to ask the person who planted it. Before you close, ask your agent if a list of plants in the yard — or even landscaping plans — can be made available.

12. Are there seasonal perennials planted? Should I expect bulbs to come up?

If the lines of communication with the previous owner seem open, you should also ask if there are seasonal plants that you should expect to see in the future. This helps you decide how you’ll make landscaping decisions and ensures you don’t dig up colorful bulbs that are just waiting for their spring debut.

13. What modifications require a permit?

In some cities and counties, structures like a deck or driveway will require a permit from the planning department to make sure that new construction is up to code. Additionally, if you’re in a historic district, there could also be a board that has to approve any plans.

14. What type of structures require HOA approval?

Want to build a darling A-frame shed? Not so fast. If you live in an HOA community, they’ll have the final word on what type of structures you can build in your yard. This could even include playsets, hot tubs, and more.

15. Can you plant anything you want? Or does an HOA have restricted plants?

You’ll also want to make sure you plant in a timely manner, rather than letting the yard overgrow. “Consult your HOA about any time restrictions for lawn maintenance to steer clear of fines,” adds Erin Hybart, an agent with Clients First Realty LLC. 

16. Where’s the property line? When was the last time a survey was done?

Even if you think you’re going to be best friends with your neighbors, it’s helpful to know where the property lines stand. If a survey hasn’t been done in decades, it could be worth investing a few hundred dollars, just in case anything like a downed tree or a driveway comes up.

17. Does your neighbor want to go in on a fence together? 

Fences are one of those tricky legal nuances, where, in many cities and counties, you can require that your neighbor goes in 50-50 on a fence along the property line. But it’s easier to open the conversation as a friendly discussion between neighbors than to pull out the rule book.

18. How much maintenance do I want to do? Do I want to hire someone to do yard work?

Before you had a yard, you probably didn’t give much thought to how much yard work can take over your weekends. It’s worth asking yourself whether you enjoy yard work, if you’d prefer to hire it out, or whether you want to invest in xeriscaping

19. Do I want a grassy lawn? Or do I want to look into grass alternatives?

The debate over grassy lawns is increasing, and there are strong arguments to be made for looking into pollinator-alternatives, like a pretty wildflower lawn. Ask yourself and anyone in your household what you want to prioritize when it comes to the lawn.

20. Ask your local nursery for help.

You’re not going to be a yard expert on day one — and that’s OK. “Your local nursery or landscaping professional is your best friend. They can provide insights into local conditions, suggest the right fertilizers, and guide you through common lawn issues,” explains Dilmore. “Don’t hesitate to ask questions and seek advice. They’ve got a wealth of knowledge that can save you time, money, and headaches.”

21. Ask your neighbors for intel!

Those who already live in the neighborhood can give you the scoop on everything from whether mosquitos are terrible in the summer, to how to keep the deer out of your garden, to if there’s an occasional black bear that shows up in front yards. While you’re at it, go here for more information about questions to ask your neighbors

Things to Buy

Being a new yard owner often means being a new homeowner, which comes with plenty of costs of its own. Don’t worry, though — you don’t need 100 new, expensive gadgets to keep your yard in tip-top shape. You probably know you need a lawnmower (if you have a grassy lawn), but here are 11 tools you might not think of right away — which you can find affordable options for online, at your local hardware store, or even source secondhand (it never hurts to ask friends or neighbors if they’re clearing out their tool shed!). 

22. Fertilizer

Whether you have a vegetable garden or a lawn, fertilizer will be a must-buy at some point. Refer back to the plan you made to know the best time to fertilize for your specific plants.

23. Edger

Get that perfect walkway-to-lawn edge with an edger that will perfectly cut any pesky weeds or grass that are overflowing.

24. Trimmer

A hedge trimmer is one of those tools that makes you feel powerful as you wield it. But with great power comes … potentially over-trimmed shrubbery. Exercise restraint as you trim your hedges, bushes, and small trees.

25. Seed Spreader

If you decide to go with grass, then a seed spreader will come in handy when you sow grass seed in the fall. This ensures an even application.

26. Rake

Leaves will become the bane of your existence when you realize they do have to be raked up to salvage the plants and grass beneath them. A solid rake is a life saver.

27. Leaf Blower

It’s not long before you turn into that neighbor — the one who can’t help themselves with the leaf blower. You’ll be out there until every last leaf is gone.

28. Soil Rake

Prepping your garden is one of the most important steps you can take when you start spending more time in the yard. A soil rake will get your beds ready for flowers, vegetables, or whatever you decide to plant.

29. Shovel

A good shovel will come in handy when you realize that you want to rearrange plants in your yard or plant a tree that caught your eye at the nursery (yes, these things happen when you become a homeowner!).

30. Hose

Go for a longer hose than you think you need. You’ll be surprised how often you’ll reach for it, whether it’s for watering your plants, hosing off the dog, or trying to wash away the remnants of a spilled pitcher of al fresco cocktails.

31. Shears

Simple pruning shears will have you deadheading flowers and keeping the flowers in your yard looking their best. You may even find it’s a relaxing activity!

32. Automated Sprinkler 

“Invest in automated sprinklers for easy and effective flowerbed care,” says Hybart. This could be something you use when you go out of town or you could install simple delayed watering systems that don’t require technology.