Kicking This Dirt Patch’s Dirty Ass

backyard-diy-failAll righty, then! This is our first DIY home project and we’re freaking doing it. We need a backyard we can use, and that won’t choke us out with dust. So here’s what went down.

We live in the hills which means 1) we’re super lucky to even have a backyard given the hilliness of everything; and 2) it’s impossible to grow anything that’s normal. I should add that those kids in that picture above are super up in that backyard and we need to make it kid-friendly. Which is why we knew we’d have to install a tether ball and work around that majestic piece of equipment. Besides, who doesn’t love to play tether ball? I’ll be honest, it gets me through the day.

After we put in bamboo flooring in our home to replace the awesome retro shag carpet that kids and a 15-year-old cocker spaniel (RIP, ELI) and a new puppy totally fucking wrecked, the dirt in the backyard started to show up right quick on our wood floors after we were hanging out in the dirt patch. And that’s when we realized we couldn’t hide the dirt patch anymore. We’re gonna’ kill that dirt patch.

diy-landscape-backyardThe first thing we had done (since I’m not much on chainsaws and upper body strength) is to have that giant ficus removed via other people. It cost like $300, which seems like a lot since they didn’t do a great job. Those roots go deep and you’ve got to get them out of your house. Again, I’ll be honest because this is not so much of an aspirational blog, but a cautionary tale—if you don’t trust the people who remove that ficus tree, rip that shit up yourself. We did later, but not happily.

Next I consulted This Old House because I’m from the ’80s. Still, great advice on how to do this biz. The biggest issue at that point was choosing the stone because the hubs and I? We’re not super down with lawn rock information. I mean, how do you find out where you buy it at the best price, and how do you buy stuff that won’t cut your Kindergartener’s adorable feet? I don’t know. But we went with pea pebbles from Lowe’s for $3.72 a bag.

backyard-renovation-gravel-diyWe needed 62 bags of this action for our almost 300 square feet of dirt patch. Actually, we could have used 70 but after carrying 62 bags of pea pebbles up a flight of stairs, my husband was like, “We’ll fill this in later.” But first, the sand tamping.

backyard-renovation-diySince we have a big ol’ dirt patch, we needed to add paving sand to the mix to even things out and to create a barrier to any plants that may feel the need to grow again. Although nothing has been growing there for years, but still, I guess you never know. So first you spread the sand with a rake or shovel as seen above. Then you spray the sand with water, as seen here.

And then, you tamp the sand down so it’s all nicely packed. Hooray!

backyard-renovation-diyNext came the part that I hated the most. You need to cover the packed sand with a tarp designed to keep weeds out. I mean, seriously, we will NOT have any gd weeds in our dirt patch. We will not. It was just the cutting, and the fitting, and the scrunching in under the edging, and the pinning down that took soooo much time and effort. And even though my sassirific daughter looks like she’s working down there, not so much.

backyard-renovation-diyAlso, we ran out of lawn pins and had to go get more. Then, we ran out again. Amateur tip: If you run out of lawn pins/tarp pins, use nails to hold down your tarp and prepare to rush your kids to the hospital for a tetanus shot in about 5 years.

This is where I announced that DIY was “bullshit” and we’d never do it again. My husband just gave me that look like, “This was your idea, wasn’t it? And, I don’t remember passing you on the stairs when I was carrying 62 bags of rocks up a hill.”


Now, you’re ready for the pebbling.

This is very simple. You’re just covering up that tarp and making sure the pebbles are smoothed out evenly. It’s very satisfying, I have to say. Also, you’re almost finished so that feels even better. And this is what it looks like after you’ve poured all those rocks out and smoothed them around. And put a tether ball, a trampoline and a 6-year-old on it.

backyard-renovation-gravel-diyHuzzah! We did it! And now we only have the rest of the yard to renovate. Pray for us.


From start to finish this took us two days, working for about 4-5 hours each day (not including store time). The most labor intensive part of the reno was bringing the sand bags (40) and pea pebbles (62) into the car, and up the hill. We also had to make 3 trips to the store because you cannot put that much weight into a Ford Flex and expect your axel to still be intact. So maybe have it delivered if you want to make it much easier on yourselves. 

Also, we were lucky to already have edging in place, but you will need that if it doesn’t already exist. We were not lucky to have a very shallow dirt patch around the edges where our retaining wall seeps in and causes us to not be able to pin down the tarp. But with enough pebbles covering, that should be okay. We realize we’ll be replacing pea pebbles periodically. Now say that five times fast. 


  1. mrswaterb · June 8, 2015

    You’ve done an amazing job, the garden looks fabulous and well worth the time and effort – Be very proud 🙂


  2. Pingback: Plants Make It All Better: Backyard Renovation Part II | DIY, WTF

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