Before you start planting, make an investment in soil improvement for the long-term success of your whole landscape. Put a 3- or 4-inch layer of organic matter such as bark dust or compost over the whole landscape and rototill it into the soil. If you are ambitious and have more time than money, go to a neighborhood with lots of mature trees and volunteer to pick up their leaves. Run a rotary lawn mower over them to chop them into small pieces and then till them into your soil.
The easiest things to plant without professional help are trees and lawns. Look around for where to locate trees so they provide privacy or shade for windows, patios and decks. Check on the mature size of trees so you can provide the proper amount of space. Large trees should not be planted any closer to a home than 20 feet. Avoid planting large trees under power lines.
There is no better time to plant a lawn than in the fall. The warm soil and cool temperatures are ideal. Sodding gives you an instant lawn so you can cut way down on dirt coming into the home, especially if you have children. However, seeding is much cheaper and seeded lawns are most successful this time of year. The most important thing for success of seeded lawns is keeping the top of the soil moist for the first three to four weeks. You may have to water a few times, but the fall rains will do most of the work for you.
A 100 percent ryegrass lawn is the most attractive in our climate. Most sod is 100 percent ryegrass. Seed mixtures may contain more than one variety of ryegrass. I recommend applying 5 pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet for rapid establishment. Apply lawn fertilizer at the recommended rate. Then, after spreading seed, rake so that two-thirds is covered and one-third of seed is still showing on top. Sprinkle with water as soon as soil begins drying on top.