Here are some steps to get started growing more and mowing less:
Step 1: Plan
The first step is to plan. It doesn't have to be fancy to get a basic idea of where you stand and what you want. (We did this with Microsoft PowerPoint; you could also draw it by hand.) The point is to lay out your yard--the grass, the deck, the tree, the garden, the sun, the shade, the roof. Mark areas that are wet and areas that are dry, areas that are sloped and areas that are flat.
Step 2: Test Your Soil
There are two main reasons to get your soil tested:
1) you should know if it has any dangerous contaminants (this is especially important for growing edible plants); and 2) it will help you know what kind of soil you have, what plants will thrive in it, and how you might want to amend it.
The following agricultural extensions will do soil testing:
Jefferson County (nutrients and PH only)
UMASS-Amherst (nutrients, PH, lead, and other heavy metals).
Step 3: Kill Your Weeds
There are three basic ways to kill your weeds: 1) pull them out (by hand, shovel, or claw); 2) grind them up (with a tiller or disc); 3) smother them (with a piece of dark cloth, plastic, or cardboard); or 4) spray them (with herbicide, making sure to take proper caution and follow the directions on the label).
Consider your own yard and landscaping needs to see which approach is best for you.
Step 4: Prepare Your Beds
Shape the loose dirt into the shape you want for your landscaping. Edges can give definition to the beds and help prevent weeds from encroaching.
Step 5: Plant!
Follow the planting instructions to give your plants the best start in life.
Step 6: Maintain
Even low-mow landscaping will require some maintenance. Early on, new plants must be regularly watered in order to allow their roots time to establish. Many must also be mulched in order to keep weeds from crowding them out. Over time, low-mow landscaping usually requires only occasional maintenance (unlike traditional turfgrass, which often has to be mowed every week).