Planting with a Purpose: Mindful Landscaping
For some people, gardening and landscaping comes naturally. There is a joy to be had in working the soil, being out in the fresh air, and taking the time to plan a beautiful yard, then getting to watch it grow and mature. For others, working out in the yard is more of a chore. But regardless of your motivation, take heart in the knowledge that a well-designed and maintained landscape can add significant value to your home, reduce water usage, regulate the temperature inside your home, reduce noise, shorten the time your property stays on the market when selling, control erosion, improve privacy, reduce your stress levels, and ultimately even reduce the amount of time needed for yard maintenance.
According to a review of scientific literature by Alex X. Nimiera, a horticulturist at Virginia Tech, proper landscaping can increase the value of a home by 5.5 to 12.7 percent compared to a home with just a lawn. Overall, design sophistication increased the value of the home more than plant size did, and plant size increased the value more than plant variety did. In a study in Greenville, NC, even a small improvement in landscaping from average to good increased home values by 4 to 5 percent. An improvement from good to excellent increased a home’s value by 6 to 7 percent.
Develop a plan before you start landscaping. A disorganized yard or garden can turn off potential buyers. Landscape designers can be a tremendous boon, but if you don’t have the money you can still develop a professional-looking yard with a bit of work. Many cities offer free classes in landscaping and garden design, either through your local USDA Extension Service, local community colleges, and gardening clubs.
Generally speaking, there are a variety of basic rules when planning for a comprehensive landscape design. Foundation plantings are adjacent to your home, typically between the sidewalk and the house. Foundation plants need to both complement and enhance the appearance of your home. For instance, formal architectural styles work well with more formal design elements, while cottage styles work best with casual, asymmetrical designs.
A wide bed with multiple layers of plants adds visual interest and provides the opportunity for complementary or contrasting colors and textures. Place shorter plants in front, with taller plants in back. Be careful not to plant tall flowers or shrubs under windows. An empty stretch of wall between two windows is a great place for taller shrubs or a trellis for a climbing vine. Tall plants, such as medium-sized trees, at the corners of houses, help soften the edges and tie the house into the surrounding landscape. They can also make a small house appear larger. Houses with fancy stonework over their foundation might work best with plantings only around the home’s entrance and at the corners, with beds of groundcover or low flowers in between.
A mixture of different trees, including both evergreen and deciduous varieties, is often preferred by buyers. Having more than one type of tree also reduces the risk that all of your trees will develop disease or pests. Staggering the bloom time of trees, shrubs, groundcover, and flowers can provide ornamental value for longer stretches of time.
Keep in mind various ways you can keep the water needs of your home down. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American household uses 320 gallons of water every day, of which about 30 percent is for outdoor use. Over half of water used outdoors is used on lawns and gardens. In drier climates like the American Southwest, as much as 60 percent of a household’s water goes towards the outdoors. It’s estimated that as much as half of water is wasted because of runoff, wind, and evaporation. A properly landscaped yard can actually end up requiring less water than a standard lawn.
Trees can significantly assist in retaining rain runoff, especially from storms, reducing the amount of water needed to keep your lawn fresh and reducing the risk of mild flooding. Depending on size and species, a single tree may store 100 gallons or more after one to two inches of rainfall. Trees also have the benefit of providing shade both for your yard and your house, cooling the area by absorbing direct sunlight. Trees also create a windbreak, helping homes stay warmer in the winter.
When selecting and planting trees take into account their eventual maximum growth, distance from power and phone lines, and potential for roots to damage other structures on your property, including cracking driveways and blocking drains. While most trees near buildings don’t cause any trouble, trees growing in a heavy clay soil are at greater risk for causing damage with their roots.
Native plants are also generally valued more highly by prospective buyers than non-native plants, and they can add charm to the “story” of your home. Native plants also have the advantage of being more hearty and generally better adapted to the climate you live in. Plants native to an area usually require far less water, fertilizer, maintenance, and other care than non-native plants. The National Wildlife Federation helps homeowners turn their lawns and gardens into Certified Wildlife Habitats, aiding local populations of bees, birds, and butterflies.
When planning, take into account the size of plants at maturity. If space is limited, or if you need plants to not grow too tall, aim for dwarf varieties of shrubs and trees. One method of planning your yard is to take photographs of your home, enlarge them, and trace the outline of your house onto paper. Include existing plants that you want to keep, such as mature trees. Indicate where you want everything to be, drawing plants as they will be once mature.
Another strategy you may want to explore in the design phase is using your yard as a garden, growing vegetables, herbs, fruits, and flowers that not only add beauty but also may be harvested for use in your home. Edible landscapes are a growing trend in urban and suburban settings, and may offer your family an opportunity to significantly supplement your access to fresh produce. Consider replacing typical flower beds with decorative borders of herbs, chamomile, zucchini, and colorful peppers. Instead of growing ivy up the side of lattice work, explore planting green beans, peas, or vine tomatoes. Rather than planting azaleas which often flower and fade quickly, try the year-round beauty of blueberries or pear and plum trees, which put on a spring show of flowers, have colorful summer fruits, and produce yellow fall foliage. These plants combine wide aesthetic appeal with the satisfaction of healthy, fresh food. A garden can be a fun project for the whole family to participate in, especially since children are more likely to eat vegetables they helped grow.
If you live in a neighborhood with a Homeowner’s Association, check with their office before implementing any significant work on your yard or the exterior of your home. Some neighborhoods or cities have restrictions on the types of landscaping that are allowed, or the way in which your land is used. Many cities are currently reviewing land-use agreements to expand the way homeowners may use their land (such as planting a garden in the front yard), however restrictions may still exist in your area.
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