1. Plant A Shade Tree

In addition to being an attractive addition to your front yard, a tree that will eventually grow tall enough to create shade can provide a number of additional environmental benefits to your property. Choosing a deciduous tree provides shade on your house during hotter months, reducing your cooling bill, but lets sunlight in during the cooler months, reducing your heating bill. From a curb appeal perspective, studies show that mature, healthy trees increase property value, and realtors say that a mature tree has a “strong or moderate impact” on the saleability of homes.

A little research into your local native plant community can help you choose a tree species that not only looks good and thrives in your climate, but also provides habitat for local birds, butterflies, and other critters, and perhaps a food source for them – or your family! – as well.

This well-maintained, crisply edged expanse of lawn is just enough, but not too much. From New Landscaping Ideas That Work by Julie Moir Messervy (The Taunton Press, 2018). Design by Jeni Webber, photo by Lee Anne White.

2. Reduce Lawn

Whether you live in arid regions like the southwestern US or more reliably damp regions like New England or the Pacific Northwest, there are many good reasons to reduce your lawn footprint, both from a sustainability standpoint and from an aesthetic standpoint. Traditional front yards are high maintenance, requiring weekly mowing during the growing season, lots of supplemental water when it’s hot out, and a cocktail of fertilizers and pesticides to keep turf looking like a monochromatic green carpet. It’s also boring to see an entire front yard covered in turfgrass!

Many people agree that some amount of healthy, well-cared-for grass increases curb appeal, but it can be a smaller pool of space. Try reducing your lawn to a size that can be managed by a push-mower to reduce dependence on gas-guzzling landscape tools. Don’t rake and bag your clippings; allow them to fall and decompose so your yard feeds itself without the need for fertilizer (clippings break down surprisingly fast!). You’ll still get that recognizable “front lawn” effect, without as much maintenance. 

What to install in place of lawn? Consider replacing areas with new garden beds that feature tough-as-nails native pollinator plants, or if you’re replacing a lot of lawn, perhaps a wildflower meadow. In arid regions, consider a drought-tolerant xeriscape, utilizing different types of stone gravel and boulders interspersed with colorful desert plants that require significantly less water than a traditional lawn. Dry gardens can be astonishingly beautiful.

Who even wants a lawn when you could have a stunning xeriscape like this one? From New Landscaping Ideas That Work by Julie Moir Messervy (The Taunton Press, 2018). Design by Janet Lohman Design; photo by Mark Lohman.

3. Choose the Right Plants for the Right Location in the Right Amount, and Go Native!

Well-maintained ornamental garden beds increase curb appeal, but make sure you don’t bite off more than you can chew: plant a garden that you feel confident you can take care of. Place plants where you know they’ll do their besttrying to force a plant that likes shade to grow in a sunny spot puts stress on you and the plant. Native plants tend to be tough and resilient, which means less maintenance and more curb appeal.

Choosing a variety of native plants for your gardens will increase biodiversity, attracting birds, butterflies, honey bees, and other beneficial critters, but don’t include too many varieties. Masses of a few complementary types of plants (rather than the “polka-dot effect” of one of everything) will create a more cohesive, elegant appearance. And you don’t have to use all native plants; it’s okay to include a few non-invasive exotic favorites if you know they perform well in your area. 

Not sure how to choose plants? Try a Home Outside Ask an Expert consultation, and we’ll help talk you through what plants would look good together and thrive in your specific growing conditions.

The Home Outside design team turned an overwhelming rectangle of grass into a pool of lawn surrounded by lush garden beds and seating areas. From Landscaping Ideas That Work by Julie Moir Messervy (The Taunton Press, 2013). Design by Home Outside; photo by Susan Teare.

4. Water Wisely, Prune & Mulch

Well-maintained gardens enhance your home’s appearance, while poorly maintained gardens can actually reduce curb appeal.  Moreover, plants are happier, healthier, and more productive if you:

  • Choose a high-efficiency way to water gardens (such as drip irrigation) if possible, and water deeply but less frequently to encourage strong root growth and reduce disease-causing moisture on leaves;
  • Conduct seasonal maintenance of garden bedsprune shrubs and perennials and keep beds weeded;
  • Use mulch to reduce weeding and hold moisture in the soil (this can help your garden survive unusually hot and dry spells). Mulch also delivers instant curb appeala fresh layer of well-placed mulch looks neat and well cared-for.

Notes on mulch: Choose a natural mulch, not a dyed materialthe dyed (or colored) mulch is made from recycled wood, which may contain residual chemicals. Remember not to over-mulch; your beds need only about 2” of mulch to suppress weeds. Additionally, avoid the “mulch volcano” around tree trunksthese piles of material invite rot and hungry critters into the root flare of the tree and diminish the tree’s health.  

Seek out natural and local materials for mulching your gardens; in this JMMDS-designed urban yard, pine straw holds moisture in the soil and prevents weeds. From New Landscaping Ideas That Work by Julie Moir Messervy (The Taunton Press, 2018). Design by JMMDS; photo by Susan Teare.

Additional Resources

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