Once you’ve taken care of your lawn and garden tasks, it’s time to plan ahead. What are some of your hardscaping needs or dreams?

Hardscaping is a nonliving part of your landscape – the use of rocks, bricks, pavers, flagstone, concrete and other materials to add function and interest to your lawn. In many climates, fall and winter are the best times of year to work on hardscaping. So start thinking about some fun and functional hardscape projects you can complete before time for spring planting and summer fun.

Put up a paver retaining wall. Having drainage problems? Add a retaining wall. You can go all out with a wall that separates your entire front or back yard into terraces, or simply retain parts of vegetable and flower beds so that water from rain and irrigation flows as it should. You know you need a retaining wall if you’ve got water runoff from plants, pooling of water or certainly flooding of any kind around the house! Pavers are perfect for easy DIY retaining walls.

Build a fire pit. Just in time for chilly winter evenings! Create a place to extend your outdoor season by building a fire pit surrounded by bricks, pavers, concrete or metal. Check out these creative ideas. Match the building material to your lawn’s overall look and be sure to place the fire pit in a convenient, but safe, location. And make it even safer by hardscaping around the seating area.

Create a walkway or path. You can make a classic brick, paver, or concrete path, or get creative. Use fluid lines to complement the lawn or home design. Or put in a framed path. Set paving or stepping stones inside a larger path of gravel or glass. For example, use square stones to mimic a square, and set them in a path of colored, round river rock or recycled glass. Most paths or walkways should be about three feet wide to be useful.

Divert water with a stone “river bed.” Hardscape projects can help you conserve water without converting your entire yard from grass to gravel. By digging a trench about the depth of the largest rock in a collection of purchased or found rocks, you can create a dry river bed effect. Start the bed at the bottom of a gutter downspout and end it just outside the canopy of a favorite nearby tree, slightly welling around the opposite edge of the tree to stop the water flow. Or simply use the rocks for the look of a river bed, adding gray or slate-type rocks in the center to simulate water flow. Here’s some inspiration to get you started.

Think outside the lines. Paths, benches and patios don’t have to be square, or even slightly rounded. Aim for offsetting designs, mosaic patterns, texture, steps or other levels. If you like concrete, consider staining, stamping or texturing the surface.

A few things to remember when hardscaping: One is planning. You really ought to take several measurements and make several sketches before rushing to the home improvement store to buy a truckload of materials. It might even help to draw your idea out with spray paint, chalk or by laying out your garden hose or the kids’ jump ropes. It helps you visualize paths and shapes better.

If you have to excavate or plan a big project that affects your fence line, neighbors, or has height, check building codes and whether you need a permit.

Finally, even though switching from grass and plantings to gravel or other hardscape materials can conserve water, nothing cools like grass and leaves. Consider the effects of a new patio or walkway next to the south side of the house on your home’s cooling efficiency or on comfort when you sit outside. It might affect planning and placement. And many walkways and patios look better with a few plants along the edge. Place a water-wise perennial or a few annuals for border interest or in containers.