Front Yard Makeover: Turn a Lawn Into a Flower Garden

Spruce up your entry with flowers. Learn how with a before-and-after front yard garden design.

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Curb Appeal Garden

A sweeping mixed border rolls out a colorful welcome mat for guests. The blend of perennials, shrubs and ornamental grasses ensures season-long flowers and year-round interest. Edible ornamentals, including white alpine strawberry, herbs and seasonal greens, elevate the border from simply beautiful to a functional garden space.

Before The Border

The before look features lots of lawn skirting a narrow, 18-inch-wide planting strip along the entry paver area. Original plantings include five small azalea bushes interspersed with variegated liriope.

Define Bed Edges

The first step in converting lawn to planting beds is defining bed edges. Create an outline with a rope or garden hose, and consider the shape from many vantage points for several days. Outline the final shape with marking spray paint. Cut bed edges using a spade or half-moon edger for small beds, and a gas-powered bed edger for larger planting areas.

Remove Turf

One way to transform turf to planting beds is to remove grass and roots. A front end loader on a tractor makes quick work of clearing lawn in large planting beds. With small planting areas, hand dig sod or rent a sod cutter (usually available at rental or home centers). After removing sod, if soil is poor, consider excavating an additional 6 to 18 inches. In this lawn transformation, removed sod was placed upside down (so it would self-compost) on what would later become a vegetable and fruit garden area.

Rake Cleared Area

After turf is removed, rake the planting area to clear out grass clumps or large stones. This front yard border measures roughly 36 feet long by 21 feet deep. The curving bed edges foster a sense of movement and easily accommodate the lawn mower.

Add Soil

Fill in the new planting bed with a mix of compost and screened topsoil. Aim for a soil depth of 6 to 10 (or more) inches. Deeper is better, especially if native soil is rocky or otherwise challenging. Gently taper soil along bed edges to create a strong edge between bed and lawn. If you can’t plant within a week of adding soil, top it with a mulch layer to prevent erosion and weed seed sprouting.

Arrange Plants In Bed

Position plants in a new planting bed prior to digging any holes. Stand back and assess plant arrangement and spacing over a few hours to several days. When you’re satisfied with the display, start planting. If some plants aren’t immediately available, use inverted pots to stand in as placeholders. Bury the edges of these pots to keep them from blowing away. This bed sports a straw path along the front edge to provide easy access to plantings in this deep part of the bed.

Add Bulbs In Fall

Late summer is a great time to add a new flower border because it leads into an ideal planting season: fall. After perennials die back, use marking flags to designate spots for adding spring bulbs. Chop fall leaves to use as mulch on a new planting bed. Leaves add organic matter to soil as they decompose and also foster a rich soil-food web of microorganisms, insects and worms.

Perennial Flower Garden First Year

This perennial flower garden shows lush color in midsummer the first year after planting. Bed edges aren’t well maintained at this point, and volunteer Queen Anne’s lace (likely from seed in the topsoil) gives the border a meadow feel.

Perennial Flower Garden Second Year

In the second year after planting, perennials have filled out to create a lush patchwork of color and texture. Well maintained bed edges accent curves. Plantings showcase repetition of color and plant type. This design trick unifies diverse plantings and introduces a rhythm that gently draws the eye along the bed.