Do-It-Yourself Landscaping – Seven Steps to Sexier Sidewalks

Most investors know that one of the most important aspects of selling a home is curb appeal, and yet many of us are lost on exactly what that entails.  Of course, a nice mailbox, painted the front door, and a freshly mowed yard fits the bill, but today’s buyers expect much more when they purchase a new home. For the last few years, my good friend Paul Mattutat from Avalon Landscaping has been in charge of giving my renovation projects some extra “wow” factor in the form of landscape design. I recently asked him to share with the Professional Investors Guild, (especially those weekend warrior rehabbers out there) some of his professional landscaping tips.  He came up with these 7 ideas to help give your renovation project some front-yard sparkle:

STEP #1 – Come up with a Landscaping Plan: You know the old saying, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” and the same is true about landscaping.  You have to assess the situation and make some decisions about how to proceed.  Is the current landscaping salvageable or should you completely start over? Is it enough to simply pull the weeds and prune the shrubs, or has the landscaping been neglected long enough that it’s time to start from scratch?  The simple truth is that the cost of new plants is relatively inexpensive, so the better option is usually to start anew.

STEP #2 – Landscape DEMO: If the landscaping is salvageable it’s time to pull the weeds, and prune the shrubs. If you’re starting over, you’ll want to dig up all plants, weeds, and anything else that doesn’t add to the cosmetic value of the new plan. Measure the distance along the house for approximately how wide you want the new bed.  (***Somewhere between six to eight feet is usually a good rule of thumb***). If you have a small front yard, you’ll want to decrease the width proportionately, so the bed doesn’t take up too much of the available space. You’ll also want to know how long the house is, so you can have the right amount of plants to fully cover the landscape area.

STEP #3 – Time to Go Shopping: After you know how long the house is, it’s time to go to the nursery and purchase your new plants. When selecting plants for your landscape project, you want to increase the plant height as you move from the front door to the far corner of the home. I usually use small colorful grass (Flax Lilly) by the front door, foundation shrubs (Azaleas, Holly, etc.) along the house and a small tree (Crepe Myrtle or “Little Gem” Magnolia) on the far corner as a focal point. The grasses by the front door should take up 5 to 6 feet along the house, and the focal point on the corner of the home should be approximately 8 feet from the corner to the front door. The distance in between that is used for what we call foundation shrubs.  While at the nursery, make sure you ask how big the shrubs will get when they are mature.  Just because the nursery has it in a small pot, doesn’t mean it will always stay small…which could mean a jungle in your front yard in a few short months if you’re not careful.

BONUS *** Landscaping Golden Rule***: Always purchase an odd number of plants for your project, so they can be staggered in two rows along the house. This absorbs the bare space better and gives the bed a greater deal of character. A straight row along the house usually looks boring and plain, which is the last thing we want when trying to “wow” potential buyers.

STEP #4 – Lay the plants out BEFORE planting:  It’s always a good idea to lay everything out on the ground before you start digging holes and planting.  As you lay out your new plants, make sure you keep an equal amount of space between each plant type, with around 8 to 12 inches between colorful grasses, 3 to 4 feet between foundation shrubs, and as mentioned before…your focal point should be about 6 to 8 feet away from the house, foundation shrubs, and the edge of the bed line. Once you are happy with the spacing and overall look, now its time to plant! When digging the holes, you want to make them approximately 4 to 6 inches wider than the root ball, but around the same depth. There should be enough room to pack the dirt around the root ball with your hands and the top of the root ball should be level with the ground. *** IMPORTANT – Don’t pack dirt on top of the root ball! This will suffocate the plant and kill it, ruining your master plan, and costing you a bunch of money!

STEP #5 – Preliminary Clean up After the plants are installed, or the existing shrubs are pruned, it is time for the major clean up. Rake up the debris (sticks, leaves, roots, etc) from the grass along the edge of the bed and from inside the bed. Clean up all the dirt and debris on the front porch, walkway and driveway…and use a blower to get the last little bit of dirt of these areas.

STEP #6 – Install mulch or pine straw: Starting from the edge of the house and working your way to the end of the bed, you’ll want to install some decorative mulch or pine straw.  By starting near the house, it keeps dirt on the bottom of your shoes from getting on your mulch and prevents footprints from ruining your fresh new look. Install mulch all the way up to the trunk of your plants and all over the ground. There shouldn’t be any bare spots of dirt showing, so make sure you purchase plenty of mulch for a sufficient cover. It’s ok to cover the top of the root ball with mulch (but not dirt!) but keep it thin to prevent suffocation. After your mulch is installed, take the bottom of your shovel and tuck the mulch along the edge of the sidewalk and along the base of the house. This gives it and nice finished look, and makes sure that none of the mulch is spilling onto the sidewalk. Success is all in the “details” and this is one of those final touches that can make a big difference.

STEP #7 – Final Clean Up: This should be the easiest part of the job and consists simply of blowing off the bits of mulch that got on the sidewalk and knocking off the pieces that got onto the plants.   Don’t ruin a great new landscape design project by being sloppy, and leaving it a mess.

OK, now you’re done…and it’s time to celebrate! Step back and smile at what a great job you just did!  Then be sure and take a selfie with your new landscape project.

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