With spring's first kiss, the itch to get outside and whip your yard into a creative work of art can be almost irresistible. (Plus, there's that friendly little competition you've got going on with your next-door neighbor for yard of the month, which you really do deserve to win.) To give you a head start, we developed this handy guide of tools and tips to turn your yard into the eighth wonder of the world. You should probably rip out these pages and take them with you - you know, to keep your neighbor from getting the same edge.

By  Becca Hensley

The Tipping Point
A few useful bits of knowledge …

- Save the rain. Does global warming have you worried that a drought is coming? Learn the ancient art of collecting rain in barrels. Naturally soft and relatively free of contamination and chlorine (and other chemicals), rainwater could save you oodles of money. Try erecting roof barrels like the Bermudians do, or siphon it from the gutters before it runs into the storm drain.

- Turn off the sprinkler. Don't drench your lawn to turn it emerald green. Water less frequently and allow hydration to penetrate more deeply. Plan on giving your lawn an inch of water once a week, depending on the climate and the soil condition. One way to measure? Just wait until your grass is dry to the touch.

- Go organic. Toss the pesticides and all other concoctions marked with a skull and crossbones and watch your garden grow - the natural way. Lots of independent garden centers have moved to organic fertilizers, weed killers, and insect controls. Try horticultural vinegar for weeds; orange oil, neem oil, and diatomaceous earth for insects and ants; and blends of compost and agricultural by-products like cornmeal and alfalfa meal for fertilizing lawns, trees, and shrubs.

- Dirt matters. Plants thrive in healthy soil, so invest in your dirt. Rich soil is a gardener's best friend. Enrich it with compost, and never assume it's healthy enough. In other words, don't put a $10 plant in a 10-cent hole.

- Dirt really matters. Even better than conventional compost are the superstrength liquid versions created by garden stores like the Great Outdoors in Austin (www.gonursery.com). Their compost tea - active compost distilled from concentrated nutrients, dense compost, and water - is what your vegetables crave.