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5 simple landscaping tips from the experts

by Reid Pierce Armstrong

“Your home is one of your largest and most important investments, says landscape designer Kathy Brooks of Richmond. “The appearance of your landscape is a significant part of the impression your home gives.”

Studies show that a well-designed landscape can add 10 to 20 percent to a home’s market value, Brooks said.

But as people find themselves strapped for cash in a difficult economy, landscaping can fall into disrepair. There are still ways to improve the value of your home and to maintain the look you’ve got, without spending a load of money.

Local experts offer us some of their best landscaping advice:

1. Grow “green” grass

One of the most important things you can do for your landscaping is keep your lawn looking nice. A shabby lawn becomes home to invasive weeds. This can be a challenge here, where summers are too hot for cool-season turf grasses and winters are too cool for warm-season grasses.

Many people fail in their attempts to create a lush lawn because they start it at the wrong time of year and mow it too short, explained Master Gardener Jinny Estell of the Virginia Cooperative Extension in Heathsville.

If you try to fertilize in the spring you might as well be throwing your money into the creek, because that is where all the fertilizer will go. The roots are unable to absorb fertilizer in the spring, Estell explained. Instead, fertilize just once in the fall when the roots are growing.

Also be careful not to mow your grass too short, she said. A taller lawn will help crowd out unwanted weeds, preserve moisture, and will prevent grasses from dying in the summer heat.

2. Know your history

Drive around and look at houses that have been here for a hundred years and see what’s growing in their yards, Estell recommends.

Forsythia, bayberries and hydrangea are just a few of the plants that survive in these older landscapes.

“There are not many with foundation plantings, as is the trend now. Trees or bushes will be planted in the yard. Flowers, rather than bushes, will be planted adjacent to the house or along the walkways,” Estell said.

Too many plants grown directly in front of a house can hold moisture against the foundation and, as the plants grow, can cause the house to look junky.

When choosing what to plant in your yard, consider “going native.”

“Native plants, once established, will require less care than exotic plants,” Estell said.

3. Less is more

“Often when people start landscaping a new house, they plant their young shrubs close together,” said BJ Jett of Boxcroft Nursery in Reedville. “When the plants grow, the beds begin to look overcrowded.”

Jett recommends taking into consideration the mature plant’s size before planting. You want something short in front of your windows.

One of the best things people can do for their gardens is to go out there and clean up, said Jett. “That doesn’t cost anything.”

Jet recommends trimming overgrown bushes and cutting ornamental grasses as short as possible late in the winter. “If something has broken limbs, cut it back and start over,” she said.

4. Play favorites

Start with a few plants you know you want, some old favorites, Jett suggests. “Put those in, then sit back and get a look at them. Everything else may start to look different.”

“If you are on a limited budget, put your money into perennials, bushes and trees. Flowers and annuals are going to die,” Jett said.

Bonnie Williams of Greenpoint Nursery in Lively agrees. “You can go a long way with two evergreens by the door and a big shade tree in the yard.”

But don’t plant too many of one thing, Estell warns. Large groups of similar plants become susceptible to disease and infestation.

Buy shrubs and trees in a three-gallon size, Williams recommends. “It will be instant gratification.”

5. Follow instructions

Local nursery staffs have a wealth of free advice. They know the plants they are selling and they know what grows well in the area. “When you buy something, ask the nursery staff how to take care of it,” Williams said.

Make sure to plant things where they want to be, Jett said.

Check the labels. “With all plants, check the label for mature size and appropriate space,” Estell said.

Also, new plantings will need regular watering for the first 2 years, until they are established,” Estell said.

Most plants require one to two inches of water per week during the warm months.

“Soaker hoses prevent evaporation and deliver the water to the root zone,” Estell added. 

posted 03.27.2009

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