8 outdoor projects to start this summer

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Whether it’s a raised bed for growing herbs and veggies, a shed for organizing garden tools or a living wall in a courtyard, we all have a few big-ticket items on our dream garden list. Here’s your cheat sheet on what to know and how to make it happen.

1. Build a Raised Bed

Increase the ease of growing herbs, vegetables, flowers and berries by installing a raised bed. These large-scale planting boxes improve soil drainage, save your back as you plant and tend the garden, and expand growing options in areas with poor soil. All in all, raised beds can really boost your gardening potential.

Need a permit? Many county building departments require permits for raised beds, as they consider them “retaining walls” for soil. Low beds under a certain height are often an exception and would not require a permit. Check with your local building department for permitting requirements.

DIY or hire a pro? If you’re confident using basic building tools such as drills and levels, you can build a raised bed on your own. If you do not have access to a hacksaw, ask the home improvement store where you purchase the boards to cut them to your specifications. (Arrive with specific lengths needed.) Not experienced with construction? Hire an installer.

Range of cost: Cost depends on materials selected for your raised bed and the overall design. Materials for a 4-foot-wide, 8-foot-long and 1-foot-tall raised bed, including redwood or cedar boards, screws and bulk soil to fill the bed, will run $200 to $300. Hiring a pro to design, build and install a raised bed can cost $350 to $800 and more depending on the height of the bed, the design and where you live.

2. Add a Deck

Expand your outdoor living space and outdoor entertaining potential with a deck. Decks can help solve issues with slopes or soggy ground by creating a dry, flat area for outdoor eating and relaxing.

Need a permit? In general, yes. If your deck is more than 200 square feet, is higher than 30 inches off the ground or includes retaining walls more than 3 feet high, you’ll likely need a permit. Check with your local building department for permitting requirements.

DIY or hire a pro? Unless you’re experienced in construction, hire a contractor. For decks more than 6 feet off the ground, hire an engineer. If you’re confident in your construction skills and planning on building it yourself, be sure to check your local building codes and find out what permits are required.

Range of cost: Price depends on design, materials, size and geographic location. A small to medium deck (12 by 18 feet) can range from $10,000 to $15,000, while a larger deck (between 300 and 500 square feet) can cost $20,000 to $30,000 in the Washington, D.C., area. According to Houzz’s Real Cost Finder, an average deck costs about $14,000 in San Francisco; $6,848 in Austin, Texas; and $4,392 in Little Rock, Arkansas.

3. Update Your Garden Walkways

Elevate the design of your garden or front walkway by replacing simple dirt and mulch paths with those made of pavers, such as flagstone, cut stone or concrete, set into gravel. The new walkways will help keep mud down, aid in drainage and give your garden a finished look.

Need a permit? In general, the need for a permit depends on whether you’re installing a new pathway or replacing an old one, and on the size of the proposed design. Check with your local building department for permitting requirements.

DIY or hire a pro? For large-scale or complicated designs, hire a contractor. You can tackle a simple flagstone or cut stone pathway if you’re experienced using tools such as a tamper and a level, and comfortable with installing pathway edging and leveling pavers.

Range of cost: Cost varies widely depending on materials and the size and design of the pathway. Budget $25 to $50 per square foot for a professionally installed path (including design, materials and labor). If you’re planning on doing the design and installation yourself, you can easily pay less than half that per square foot, depending on materials selected.

4. Add a Garden Shed

Organize garden tools, empty pots, bags of soil, fertilizers and amendments, seeds, stakes and other supplies — and keep them all out of the elements — in your very own garden shed.

Need a permit? Generally, for sheds under 120 square feet, no permit is needed; larger ones require a permit. Check with your local building department regarding county-specific permit and zoning codes. Even if you don’t need a permit, keep in mind that zoning often requires structures to be sited 3 to 5 feet from the property line.

DIY or hire a pro? Unless you’re a skilled builder, it’s best to purchase an off-the-shelf shed or prefab kit, or to hire a pro. If you’re purchasing an off-the-shelf shed, big-box stores often will offer installation services. For prefab sheds purchased online, there may be an option to hire a crew to help with assembly.

Range of cost: Off-the-shelf sheds made from plastic and resin range from $600 for a 7-by-7-foot shed to $1,500 for a 15-by-8-foot structure. Prefab sheds from companies that use materials such as cement board and corrugated metal will start around $7,000 for an 8-by-10-foot shed. Custom-designed and custom-built sheds will cost $50 to $200 per square foot, depending on design, materials and geographic location.

5. Make a Recirculating Fountain

Fountains of any kind are wonderful additions to the garden and help bring the landscape to life. They add a soothing sound to the garden, attract birds to come take a drink and act as a striking focal point in planting beds or on patios. A simple recirculating fountain is the easiest type to add yourself, and you can make one with a container you probably already have on hand.

Need a permit? In general, no. For larger fountains and those in the front yard, it’s best to ask your local building department.

DIY or hire a pro? DIY. Recirculating fountains are easy to make on your own, particularly with a fountain kit (available from garden and home improvement stores or online).

Range of cost: Expect a fountain kit to cost about $30; more for ones with larger water basins. For the fountain itself, repurpose an empty glazed ceramic container you already have on hand, or plan on purchasing one ($40 to $200 or more) for the project.

6. Install a Rain Garden

Turn your landscape into an environmentally friendly habitat and cut down on your water bill by converting a section of your garden into a spot designed to catch and drain rain. Rain gardens are effectively dipped areas in the landscape designed to drain rainwater on site rather than having it run into the storm drain. In doing so, rain gardens deeply irrigate landscape trees and shrubs and also provide a temporary water source for visiting birds, frogs and insects.

Need a permit? Not usually. It’s best to check with your local building department — particularly if your property has a slope greater than a 10 percent grade or an overflow drain connected to a city storm drain.

DIY or hire a pro? Designing and installing a rain garden is a project you can tackle on your own in a weekend or two if you are willing to educate yourself on the necessary design components and moisture-loving plants for your region. Otherwise, hire a landscape professional that specializes in sustainable landscapes.

Range of cost: Cost depends on the size and scale of the rain garden and whether you’re hiring a pro or doing the work yourself. In general, expect to pay $3 to $5 per square foot to install one yourself or $7 to $12 per square foot for the help of a professional.

7. Add an Outdoor Kitchen

If it’s in the budget and you frequently use your backyard for outdoor cooking and entertaining, this may be the year to splurge on an outdoor kitchen.

Need a permit? Permit requirements for outdoor kitchens vary, so it’s best to check with your local building department. At minimum, you will probably be required to site the kitchen a certain distance away from property lines.

DIY or hire a pro? Hire a pro. You’re dealing with gas, water and electrical lines, plus appliances with a hefty price tag, so it’s best to leave it to an expert.

Range of cost: Cost varies drastically depending on the materials and design elements — grill, sink, oven, mini fridge and more — and on whether the kitchen is prefab or custom built. Prefab outdoor kitchens are available for about $5,000 from big-box stores. Simple custom designs, such as a 10-foot-long kitchen island with a spot for a grill, cost around $10,000. More elaborate designs can range from $30,000 to $100,000, depending on where you live and the number of design elements you decide to add.

8. Plant a Living Wall

Transform the blank wall of a courtyard into a vibrant, eye-catching garden with the addition of a living wall.

Need a permit? Not usually. If you’re considering a really large-scale project, it’s best to consult your local building department.

DIY or hire a pro? For smaller living walls, you can purchase a living-wall kit (such as Woolly Pockets) and easily mount the elements on the wall and do the planting yourself. For more complicated designs or installations, hire a landscape designer or living-wall specialist.

Range of cost: Woolly Pockets range from $19 for an 8-inch-wide-by-1-foot-long planting pocket to $100 for a 15-inch-wide-by-5½-foot-long vertical system, not including the cost for soil and plants to fill them. Custom-designed living walls can be pricey — easily over $1,000 for small installations and up to $10,000 for large-scale living walls.

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