If you’ve got patchy spots in the lawn, trees with broken branches and an overall “blah” look to your landscape, spring is the best time to spruce up your yard and garden. The right landscaping can enhance your property value and make the area more enticing to prospective homebuyers and residents — not to mention bring you greater joy on a daily basis. Here are some important considerations to keep in mind when choosing what to plant, when to plant and how to maintain your new landscape.
Getting Started: Know Your Limits
If you’re a homeowner who does not live in a managed community, the sky’s the limit for your landscaping plans — in theory. It still pays to check local ordinances restricting what you can plant or limits on the size and type of any structures you wish to add. There may be setbacks or other rules for fences, and it’s definitely better to know them ahead of time.
If you share your property with others, check with your HOA about what you can do with landscaping. Some communities have guidelines for landscaping and require approval before making any modifications. You may be able to lobby for changes with other property owners, or you may have the right to start your own vegetable patch or flower bed — you never know until you check!
In addition to legal and contractual limits to your landscaping plans, be honest with yourself about the level of work you’re willing to put into the maintenance. Do you love to mow the lawn? Does pulling weeds make you sneeze? How will you keep tall trees trimmed? In general, you can either spend time or money to maintain your landscape. If you love gardening, go for it! If not, choose low-maintenance plants and budget for a local landscaping company to clean up the property several times per year to keep things looking good.
Preparing the Plan: Understand Your Climate
If you pop into a local nursery and ask for advice about what to plant in your landscape, the first question you’ll be asked is about your microclimate. There are three big factors to consider when you’re seeking to understand the features of the climate in your own backyard:
- Growing Zone: This is a basic measurement of how hot and cold your area is. Growing zones are based on how cold it’s likely to get in the winter, since that low temperature is what will kill off a plant that’s not suited for your area. It also gives you a general sense of how long your growing season might be: the lower the number of your zone, the shorter your growing season. One key to landscaping success is to choose plants labeled for your growing zone so they won’t struggle in your conditions.
- Daily Hours of Sunlight: Different areas of your property will experience varying amounts of direct sunlight throughout the day. It’s important to watch to see when parts of your yard are in sun or shade, as this will also determine where you can grow certain plants. Plants labeled for full sun need over six hours of sunlight per day; partial sun requires about four to six hours; shade means that plants can tolerate less than four hours of sun. Some plants are further labeled as thriving in “dappled sunlight” or “afternoon shade,” so it pays to watch your yard for a few days to get a sense.
- Amount of Water: Some plants thrive in arid locations while others need swampy settings. Sure, you can turn on the sprinklers every day, but it’s easier — and more sustainable — to plant something that’s already well adapted to the amount of rainfall you usually receive. Soil type can influence this aspect of climate as well. In general, clay soils hold more water, while sandy soils drain quickly. Likewise, low-lying areas may remain wetter that the top of a hill or knoll.
Choosing Plants: The Must-Haves
At a minimum, residential landscaping should be lush and inviting. You don’t have to add complex flower beds that require daily maintenance to improve your curb appeal. Instead, focus on these basics to provide the backbone of your landscaping plan:
- The Lawn: Nothing looks better than a swath of green grass, and almost every residential property has at least a small lawn. Choose a grass variety that’s designed to perform well with the amount of sunlight you have and the amount of foot traffic you expect. Turf grasses need a good deal of water to look their best, so plan ahead for irrigation during dry periods.
- The Mulch: If you’re having trouble getting grass to grow — or if you live in a very dry climate that makes maintaining a lawn unsustainable — consider mulched or hardscaped areas instead. Adding a brick patio, a tidy, mulched flower bed or a border of gravel will cut down on the need to plant and make weeding a snap.
- The Shrubs: Foundation plantings help connect buildings to the landscape, so consider adding some shrubs near the house to soften the look around your home. You can choose from a wide range of flowering shrubs or evergreens — just be sure that they are well suited to your local growing conditions. It’s also important to know how big they’ll get so you can space them appropriately.
- The Trees: If you have mature trees already, these are a huge asset. It’s worth calling an arborist for a trim and a check-up once a year to keep these plants in good health. If you don’t have trees, consider planting some — they’re a wonderful investment in the future, and well placed trees can provide cooling shade that lowers your summer energy bills.
Ongoing Care: Seasonal Changes
If you live in an area that experiences all four seasons, it’s smart to prepare for each season ahead of time to give your plants the best possible care. Whether you plan to do the work yourself or call in a landscaping professional, here’s what you need to work on during each season:
- Spring:Remove any dead leaves or fallen branches from planting beds and lawns before things begin to bloom and grow. This will allow your plants to get their full dose of sunlight and make your property look great just when you start to spend more time outdoors.
- Summer: Make sure flower beds, trees and shrubs have a good layer of mulch to keep roots cool and hold in moisture. Summer is also high season for weeds, so be sure to stay on top of them.
- Fall: Rake up fallen leaves promptly, and provide delicate shrubs with sturdy covers to protect them from heavy snows. Fall is usually a good time to prune shrubs and small trees, as long as you wait for them to drop all of their leaves.
- Winter: Keep paths shoveled, and use plant-friendly ice melt when needed.
When you take care of seasonal maintenance and choose plants that will thrive in your landscape, your property is sure to look its best all year around.