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Landscaping Dos and Don’ts

The perfect complement to any new home is a well-manicured yard that is visually interesting and reflects your personal tastes. Big or small, a neatly landscaped yard adds the finishing touches to your home and increases property value. While some have a green thumb and are eager to tackle this landscaping project themselves, others lack gardening and landscaping skills and will turn to professionals for help. No matter which method you choose to cultivate the idyllic lawn and garden, these helpful tips will assist you along the way.


Do have a plan. Live with your yard for a while, especially if you plan to stay for a long time. Learn about all its physical features. Does the soil wash away on a steep slope? Is there poor drainage in another area? Are there overhead power lines to be aware of? What space gets the best morning sun for your garden? Do you want a flower garden and a vegetable garden? Think about your long-term goals. Do you hope to install a pool in the future? Add a water feature near the patio? Think about what you have to work with. What kind of soil do you have? Rocky? Sandy? Nutrient-rich? Determine what plants grow well in your geographic location. Develop a plan and incorporate your long-term goals. Work around obstacles in your yard such as utility poles and other permanent structures. Correct problem spots such as that hillside where the soil erodes. Perhaps landscaping boulders or a retaining wall will work best in that part of the yard. Leave plenty of open space for the pool or deck you plan to add in the future.

Do take a phased approach. Landscaping your yard will take time and most likely, you won’t finish it in a single growing season much less the first year. Begin with your yard’s “meat and potatoes” like improving the soil, adding a sprinkler system, improving drainage and selecting a few well-chosen trees and other plants to anchor your yard. Once these things have been achieved, you can go for your garden’s “dessert” – the fun stuff. Garden ornaments, statues and this year’s trendy annuals are nice additions to a landscape, but don’t over do it.

Do remember the family. Each family member will use the landscape differently because each person has different needs. Do the kids need room to play ball? Is it necessary to have defined pathways? Should there be a fenced area for pets? You might not be able to satisfy every need and wish, but knowing what is important to each member of the family will help you prioritize what needs to be done.

Do consider your house. Think about the size and shape of your house when planning your yard. The landscaping should complement your home rather than hide, overwhelm or contradict it. Use repeating details and smooth transitions to connect your home and yard. Aim to capture beautiful views of your yard. Walk through your home being sure to notice what areas of the yard are most visible from inside the home and bring those spaces to life.

Do picture your landscape at maturity. Spend time researching the full-grown sizes of plants before buying and planting them. A small tree may grow to be taller than you imagined shading the sunny part of your yard preventing other sun loving plants from growing in the future. Or, that beautiful tree might bare fruit leaving a sticky mess in your yard and on the bottoms of your shoes for you to clean up every spring.

Do use balance and proportion. Use a variety of different sized trees, shrubs and flowers. Evenly spread the various sized plants throughout your planting beds and yard. (Remember to avoid planting trees that will grow to be very tall under power lines and keep them a good distance from the house.) A combination of varied heights offers visual interest as opposed to a garden that has 6-inch flowers on one side of the garden and 6-foot shrubs on the other. Also, incorporate plants that offer color and ornamental flavor year round by using a combination of deciduous and evergreen varieties. Use a balance of flowering shrubs, leafy ground covers and plants with sturdy stems or trunks.

Do take advantage of the free stuff. It has been suggested that a new homeowner should spend 5%-15% of the home’s value on landscaping. That will make for a pretty pricey yard in a hurry. Use a little resourcefulness and go for the free or less expensive plants and garden accessories. Check with your local municipality. Often the city will give away free trees, other native plants, compost and mulch for personal use. Find a local gardening club or even a neighbor and exchange plant cuttings. Pay attention to churches, schools and botanical societies. These places often hold plant sales as fundraisers allowing you to purchase plants for a fraction of the cost. For hard-scape features, visit demolition sites. Often you can find bricks and stones that are perfect for pathways and boarders. Be sure to ask permission from the landowner before taking anything.


Don’t forget to consider maintenance. While you may envision the yard of your dreams, don’t forget to think about practicality. Your yard must remain functional and you must be able to maintain it. Do not block access to utility poles and boxes. You may choose to “hide” these things with a garden trellis perhaps, but be sure utility workers still have access to them. Also think about your schedule. Do you have enough time to trim trees and shrubs to properly maintain them. Even though they are beautiful now, overgrown and untrimmed trees, plants and shrubs will detract from your yard’s overall appearance in the years to come. In a similar manner, if you don’t have time to mow the yard or hate doing it, think about all the open grassy areas you have, especially if you don’t want to hire a lawn crew either. Consider planting easy-to-maintain ground cover in areas that are hard to mow like a tight corner or a steep hill. Think about these things as well. Do you want to clean out that garden pond on a regular basis? Will you want to repaint the picket fence every couple of years? Will the rose bushes be more of a hassle than a pleasure? Remember, if you take on too much, your yard will become a burden rather than an asset.

Don’t design a yard based on straight lines. If you want a landscape that is visually stimulating, stay away from straight lines. This means no row planting - remember it is your yard, not a cornfield. This means avoid planting shrubs across the front of the house and stopping exactly at the corner. This means you should eliminate straight-edged borders whenever possible. Wavy lines, clusters of plants and curved borders generate visual interest instead of a shock to the eye where a line or row suddenly ends. The curved aspect adds depth and creates a more natural looking yard, plus curved borders are easier to mow and trim around. It is OK to use lines sometimes, such as when creating a direct path to the garage or garden shed. On the other hand, a few turns in the path through the flower garden offers a casual meandering feel.

Don’t create a generic landscape. Your front and back yards are an extension of your home. Just as the interior decorating reflects your personality, so should the exterior. Add a few personal touches to your landscape. If you are an avid birdwatcher, add a few bird feeders, a birdbath or even a few birdhouses. Maybe you love hummingbirds. Create a hummingbird garden. Do your research and plant the bright red color flowers that attract hummingbirds in your geographic location. Maybe you like boating and have a frog collection. Find a statue of a frog in a sailboat and place it near your backyard pond. Another way to add personal touches is to make something yourself. Homemade mosaic stepping-stones are quite popular, and kits are available at most craft stores. This is something fun you can make with your kids or grandkids adding color and a personal touch to your landscape that will last a lifetime.

Don’t rely completely on annuals. It is easy to walk through a nursery or lawn and garden store in the spring and get caught up in all the beautiful flowers buying everything you like along the way. Be aware, however, that many of these plants are annuals, growing and blooming for only the current season. If you plant your garden full of annuals this year, you’ll have to spend just as much money and time to do it all over again next year. Instead, take the time to choose perennials, either flowering or leafy, and enjoy them year after year. The base or your landscaping project should be a combination of trees, shrubs, and perennials accented with a few annuals. Annuals help fill in empty spots adding color and character to create a thick and lush landscape.

Don’t waste water. It is no secret that wasting our resources is a growing global concern. Be a good citizen and do your part. If you install a sprinkler system, put it on a timer watering only as much as you need to, and do not use it after a period of rain just because you always water your planting beds and yard at 6:00 am on Saturday. Also, choose plants that are drought tolerant cutting down on your watering consumption and time. Maybe you’ll only need to water every couple of days instead of every day. Finally, consider using much wherever possible. Mulch helps keep the water in the ground preventing it from evaporating before your plants reap the benefits. Not only will these couple strategies save water, but it they will also help save money when it comes time to pay the water bill.

If done properly, a nicely landscaped yard can offer just as much enjoyment and reflect your personal tastes just as much as your new home. With these helpful hints, your neatly designed front and back yards will proudly complement your new home.

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