Are you planning on selling your home in the near future? Do you have a landscape that is decades old with aging, over-grown shrubs? Perhaps those so-called dwarf shrubs are no longer very dwarf and are encroaching on the sidewalk and driveway? If these descriptions resemble your current landscape situation, wouldn’t it be nice if you could update your aging landscape to create a fresh modern look that causes traffic to slow down a bit to admire your nicely tailored front yard?
Maybe your front yard could use a little makeover, giving it more appeal when viewed from the curb. Cable TV shows abound on staging a home prior to selling in order to increase its visual and, ultimately, its monetary value. The same can be done for your front yard whether you are planning on selling your home or just sprucing things up a bit.
Dr. Steve George, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Landscape Specialist, likes to encourage homeowners to envision the front of the home as a painting and its front door as the focal point of the painting. Everything, including plants, statuary or other objects, should help enhance the home and attract viewers’ attention as if they are being invited into the main entrance of that home.
The following are some tips and ideas to bring a fresh look into an older landscape and home. A few of these are not plant-related, but they are easy, relatively inexpensive ways to help with the overall appearance of the front of your home.
It is very common in older neighborhoods to see a row of shrubs planted in a straight line across the front of a home. This is known as a foundation planting. In the past, homes were commonly built on piers and beams, with the floor often several feet above the ground. Rows of evergreen plants were utilized to hide the unsightly gap between ground level and the floor or porch. Newer homes that are built on a concrete slab no longer have such a large gap, and often the bottom of large picture windows begin just a few inches above the ground.
When my family moved from Ohio to Texas, we moved into a relatively new subdivision, and there was no landscaping around our home. My father, who loved to garden, quickly put in a row of waxleaf ligustrum across one side of the front of the house. On the other side of the front door was a nice area bounded by a sidewalk and driveway. The wall was dominated by a large picture window.
Wanting a low-growing shrub, he planted dwarf Burford holly (Ilex cornuta ‘Burfordii’), not realizing that within a couple of years the new growth would rapidly screen the view of the window. Yes, it is a dwarf shrub, but in several years it “only” grows to about 10 feet tall, in contrast to the more typical Ilex cornuta, which can easily grow twice as tall. Dad quickly got tired of annually pruning back the holly bushes and removed them in favor of something else.
This example may describe a similar situation if you have an older home. There is no need these days for a foundation planting of large shrubs across the front of a house to hide a non-existent gap. Also, many plants in these decades-old plantings have been damaged by the freezes of the past two years. Some may be dead, and some may be in survival mode, valiantly trying to push out new growth. Those struggling shrubs really should be removed. Instead of being a slave to constantly shearing back shrubs that naturally grow taller than your target height or even taller than your roof eves, pull out those outdated plants.
Now reimagine that part of the front of the home. For example, an original narrow bed can be enlarged a few more feet into the lawn, and then planted with groupings of low-growing shrubs on either end, leaving room in the center and front of the bed for a pop of color from perennials or annuals. Before planting, do some research on any plants you might potentially want to use. Don’t simply rely on the tag for ultimate height and width.
Instead of removing large, overgrown shrubs at the corners of your home, turn them into small ornamental “trees,” if they are not planted too close to the wall. Think of it as creating a large bonsai. Older, large shrubs will have several large branches, along with much twiggy inner growth. With the goal of exposing the larger branches as a point of interest, remove twiggy growth from the ground up to at least one-third of the overall height of the plant.
If your mailbox is on the same side of the street as your house (mine is not), create a small mailbox garden. Use a low groundcover (such as liriope, juniper or jasmine) together with a spot for color annuals or perennials. And if your mailbox is old, raggedy and rundown, install a new, more attractive one with numbering to highlight your address. The same color scheme used at the street can be repeated closer to the house to visually tie these elements together. Just be sure to maintain this bed, since it will be the first thing that will be noticed when approaching your house.
A simple way to dress up your entrance utilizes potted plants. If your front door has room on either side, use an attractive ceramic container with appropriate plants selected for the amount of sunlight they will receive during the day. Sunny porches are great places for bright, flowering plants or colorful foliage. A door and porch facing north will not get much (if any) sunlight, but there are plenty of plants that would bring a stately look to the entrance. Aspidistra, ferns, begonias and impatiens are just a few that would look good in low-light locations.
A small bed on either side of steps or a sidewalk leading up to the front door can be planted with long-blooming annuals. Visually tie together different parts of your front yard by using color repetition or color echoes. Colors used in a street-side mailbox garden, along the sidewalk leading to the front door and also near the door, should echo or complement one another. They don’t have to all be the same kind of plant. Also, just as the flooring in your home provides visual continuity across various rooms, mulching your landscape beds will do the same. Think of the shrubs and flowers as furniture and the mulch as carpet or tile.
Speaking of sidewalks, older homes often had sidewalks flanked with small shrubs like boxwood or dwarf yaupon holly. Over time these grow much larger than intended and encroach on the sidewalk, resulting in a constricted feeling. You might just eliminate these shrubs altogether to provide a clean approach to your home. When we moved into our current home, it had a very narrow bed between the wall and the walkway leading to the front door. The former owner had planted a Chinese holly and rose bush, both leaning out onto the sidewalk and sticking me with spines and thorns as I approached the door. Of course, these were the first things to come out on the day we closed.
Here’s a couple of ideas to update the front of a house facing the street. Most older homes have faux shutters around their windows. A few years ago, the thin strips of my louvered-style shutters were starting to rot and fall out. And they were painted baby-blue to match the front door. My son-in-law (bless him) and I (mainly him) made our own replacement shutters, stained them dark maroon and then painted the front door the same color. This was an easy DIY that made a gigantic difference in the appearance of the house for a fairly small price. Even the neighbors noticed the improvement.
A dramatic change to the entry can be easily done by replacing older-porch light fixtures with new, attractive ones. Adding attractive sconces is another way to enhance an entry space. Window boxes and flat-sided pots hanging on the wall, both planted with attractive flowers, add a special touch to the home.
Landscaping for curb appeal can add value and attractiveness to your home without a large expense of time, trouble or money. Spend some time looking at your home from across the street and think about how you could simplify and up-date its image. And if you are selling your home, some of these tips might help catch a homebuyer’s eye. In either case, your home will have a fresh and charming look. tg
By Keith Hansen
Smith County Horticulturist, Emeritus
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
Owner, East Texas Gardening