You've finally decided to have the backyard of your dreams. Or perhaps you've moved into a brand new house and the backyard is a barren wasteland of nothing but dirt and leftover construction materials. In either case, the yard will have to be prepared for the new landscaping. Time spent now in clean up and preparation will pay off later with thriving plants.
Remove trash, old hardscaping, dead plants, unwanted rocks and bricks. Go through and see what can be recycled in your own yard and what can be recycled through centers. For example, old bricks can be used for edging and broken up concrete makes stepping stones for a garden path. Take what can't be recycled to the dump or have it picked up. Not only is trash unsightly, many unwanted critters may be tempted to make it their home.
Prune back overgrown bushes and trees. Limb up trees--remove lower branches--for more sunlight if necessary. Open up the center of the trees by removing branches that crisscross. At this point don't remove any trees or bushes unless they're in the way of a new patio or swimming pool. Incorporate what you have into the landscaping scheme. Trees take years to grow to the size where they provide shade. If you remove them you may regret it.
Till the area that will be landscaped with a tiller or with a couple of friends and shovels. Rake smooth and remove rocks.
Double dig the areas for beds and borders. Start a trench that is 1 foot deep and wide. Start a second trench right next to the first trench. Use the dirt from the second trench to fill the first trench. Continue until the entire area has been dug. Add compost and other soil amendments and mix in well.
Install the major hose lines for a watering or irrigation system in the ground before planting. Mark with stakes so you know exactly where it is.
Rake the areas for lawn and grass smooth. Run a sprinkler or spray with a hose to see depressions that should be filled in or areas that should be scalped a bit so lawn will be level.
Lay out pathways through the yard with stepping stones or old wood planks. This will keep traffic in one area and avoid compacting your freshly dug soil. After the yard has been landscaped, remove the stepping stones, hoe the area where the stones were and plant.