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Turning the Backyard into a Desert Oasis

One of the things we loved about our house when we moved in was the little backyard that our dog and son could play in. What we didn't love the "grass" which was really just a bunch of weeds growing together. We also didn't love weed eating (still don't). So I came up with the brilliant idea of getting rid of all the "grass" and putting in pea gravel to create a desert oasis right in our backyard. I also wanted to install a sandbox for our son to have to play in since I was getting rid of the grass and dirt.

Here is what it looked like before we began.

The game plan was to till up all the "grass", spray weed killer, add weed seed suppressant, lay landscape fabric, and then just pile on the pea gravel and spread....EASY PEEZY!

So first things first I went on Amazon and bought a small tiller I could handle because I was going to be doing most of the work myself. (I would link it but it is no longer available).

Once the tiller arrived I got to work! I think it took about three days to conquer the whole backyard by myself and man was it a great work out.

See after tilling pictures below. I placed large rocks we had around the rose bush below as well to create a border for the gravel.

The next step was to spray weed killer to get any stragglers that maybe had some bright ideas about growing in my now weedless backyard and apply weed seed suppressant after that. We didn't use anything fancy just whatever was cheapest at Lowe's. We let that sit for a few days before I started laying the landscaping fabric. (Be sure to keep animals and kids out of the yard at this point and for as long as the packaging on your products recommends).

When it comes to landscaping fabric, you do not want to skimp on the fabric itself OR the staples you will use to hold said fabric in place (especially if a year later you decide to get a golden retriever-more on that later).

Before laying the landscaping fabric down I put red scalloped bricks along the fence and in one section of the yard to create a boxed off area for flowers (see after photos at the bottom). Once that was complete I just rolled the fabric out and stuck it in the ground with landscape staples. (sorry no photos of this process).

Once the landscape fabric was in place it was time to place (ahem build) the sandbox and stepping stones. My dad came over in the middle of this project and helped me build the sandbox (just 2- 2" x 12" 8' pieces of wood cut in half creating a 4' x 4' sandbox).

The ground in our backyard is pretty uneven so I used sand to level the stepping stones, with the help of T of course.

I only used the play sand because it is what we had on hand for T's sandbox, but I am sure there are cheaper options if you are just using it for leveling.

Now that everything was in place it was time to add the pea gravel. Since we didn't have a truck we had 4 yards of pea gravel delivered from a local rock place, unfortunately the cost for delivery was more than cost of the gravel but watcha gunna do. Also super unfortunate and one of the reasons my husband objected to this backyard project.....our backyard is fully fenced with only a small gate so we had no easy way of getting mass amounts of gravel in the backyard. So I grabbed a bucket and began scooping, walking, and dumping buckets full of gravel. When my husband got home from work he did help me finish it off because I was pooped!

Some wonderful helpers
Me "crying" on the giant pile of gravel

When the gentleman dropped off the gravel he asked what I was doing with it all, and I pointed to the yard that was covered in fresh landscape fabric and said I am putting it there, he looks at it and says, "oh, does that get direct sun in the afternoon," YES IT DOES BUT THAT IS OKAY! To answer his question now, YES it does get hot, BUT we wear shoes and generally aren't outside in the heat of the day anyways.

After a long day of transporting gravel IT WAS DONE! BUT still needed to fill the sandbox up with sand (pro tip, wait until Lowe's is having a sale on play sand before you buy 50 bags for a sand box, saved us a ton of money). Also I planted some hydrangeas in the box I separated from the yard to add a finishing touch, and put our hammock in its new home.

Hydrangea box in background with sandbox

hammock in its home

Note the scalloped border around the flowers and fence

IT WAS FINALLY DONE! Not to toot my own horn, but I think it turned out great! So does my little man.

"Awesome new backyard mama"

Just an FYI, I am writing this post a year after I did this backyard transformation and wanted to share my thoughts on it now. When I did this I had a toddler and a 4 year old terrier dog who was not very active. Since then we have added a golden retriever puppy to our family and she is is SO ACTIVE I CANNOT EVEN BEGIN TO EXPLAIN. The backyard held up wonderfully until she got to be around 4 months. I had to put a temporary fence around the hydrangeas because she has wanted to eat them from the second we brought her home as well as dig them up. It was honestly the first thing she did when we brought her home. She also wants to pull up the landscape fabric, so I put in ONE HUNDRED, yes ONE HUNDRED more landscape fabric staples and she is having a much harder time pulling it up now. Last dog caveat, when she runs she kicks the rocks EVERYWHERE! Nothing I can do to prevent this because I want her to run and play and have all the fun she can, I just rake the rocks around every few weeks and sweep them off the patio, a task I enjoy much more than weed eating.

Slightly unrelated but the precious pup has also kicked all of the sand out of the sand box now so if you are thinking of getting a sand box and have a dog GET A COVER.

My toddler LOVES the rocks, it is like he has a giant sensory bin in his backyard he scoops them and throws them (safely) and just thinks they are the best. He has never been big on putting things in his mouth so we have not had to worry about them being choking hazard, but some might.

So before you go CRAZY like me and turn your backyard into a desert oasis think about if it is the right move for you and your family safety and convenience wise.

I will end this post on a photo of my sweet golden, Honey, eating the hydrangea on her first day home. (I did not let her eat it, and know they are poisonous to dogs, another reason for the fence).


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