Happier times, when you maintained your landscape together.

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­Sometimes, you have to ask yourself if you're putting in too much time and effort to improve your yard. Sure, you have plenty of friends who come over for backyard parties, but it's not like any of them ever mention how nice it looks. You planted this yard to create something for you and your wife to do together, but she soon lost interest. Now, you just spend all of your time knee-deep in soil and mulch, digging and pruning and watering.­ Let's not get even started on your water bill -- holy cow, can the water department really charge that much?

It's time to stop wasting your effort. You can still have a garden that you can enjoy without having to kill yourself. All you have to do is a little planning, some hard work on the front end and a little upkeep to have a yard you're proud of. As it turns out, the easiest landscape to maintain is one that's planned properly.

­Unfortunately, there's no such thing as a no-maintenance landscape. Even if you replaced your entire yard with rock, weeds would still manage to grow and dead leaves would still accumulate. Working with your yard's natural demeanor and t­he various microclimates -- areas that differ by factors like amount of light, rain and temperature -- found around it will make life exponentially easier for you. The highest maintenance yards are the one that fly in the face of the area's natural state. Non-native plants installed in a landscape will require the most work. Naturally speaking, they don't belong there and will require the most attention to stay alive.

We're getting ahead of ourselves. First, let's discuss planning.