There’s no better place to build sweat equity than outdoors.
A high-end landscape contractor will charge at least $5,000 to remodel a typical compact suburban front yard. Yet if you can handle a shovel, hose, and wheelbarrow, you have the physical skills to replace overgrown or mundane greenery with fresh plants, boosting curb appeal and possibly property.
The tricky part is getting the design right; it’s not as simple as putting a few plants in the ground. Here’s how to achieve that upscale look on your own.
A single-file row of plants along the foundation and the property lines looks generic atbest.
Widen the beds to four to six feet so there’s room for more flora — and to make the plants really pop, use mulch that’s the color of soil. That means the fine, dark, compost-like material that costs about 25% more than basic wood chips, and that lasts only one year.
Replace oversize or drab plants with new shrubs and perennials arranged two or three deep, with smaller plants placed in front of larger ones (check the mature size listed on the label).
Don’t get hung up on picking the best flowers. That’s because blooms are short-lived; it’s the foliage that you’ll see most of the time.
Look for plants with red, purple, or multicolored leaves, as well as a variety of textures, from fine light-green needles to broad dark-green fronds. Alternate shapes too, with, say, a conical spruce near a chunky hydrangea.
Create a focal point using a dwarf tree or a large shrub. Don’t just plunk it in the middle of the yard. Instead, place it in line with a structural element of the property, such as a corner of the house, garage, or lot. Japanese maples ($100 to $400) and crepe myrtles ($30 to $50) are two good choices that look attractive in all seasons.
When it comes to caring for your plants, ditch the electric clippers, which carve bushes into perfect geometric shapes. Unless you’re trimming a hedge, always cut the branches to slightly varied lengths one by one using a hand tool. You’ll get a more natural, flattering look.