Ideas that won’t deplete the wallet

Story and Photos by Norman Winter

“Plant flowers” was the answer given when the mayor asked a friend of mine in the nursery industry how best to improve the image of the small but growing city. Your first thought might be that this would be an obvious answer from someone in the greenhouse industry, as they would stand to benefit from this beautification endeavor.

However, if you’re researching ways to improve curb appeal, the consensus seems to be planting flowers, regardless of the source: magazine, television, internet, or industry professionals. It is not only one of the most economical solutions, but one that most can nearly instantly increase the home’s perceived value.

Several years ago, Mississippi State University participated in a multi-state project about quantifying the value of a landscape, which included a survey of homeowners. Survey responders were shown an image of a home with a base value of $192,000 and the viewers were asked to evaluate several landscape additions. 

In nearly every scenario, landscapes with 20 percent annual color added an additional $1,000. Homes with sophisticated landscapes combining evergreen, deciduous, color, and hardscape brought the homes perceived value to $215,147, an increase of 12.7 percent. This reveals how spending a few dollars on flowers can have a large return. Consider the cost/value ratio over the years if a large portion of the flowers chosen were perennials.

How do you define curb appeal? A quick internet search relates curb appeal to getting ready to sell a home. There is certainly a good reason for that, as it wasn’t long ago that one statistic said that the average family moved every five years. But Merriam-Webster gives the real definition: “The visual attractiveness of a house from the street.”

In reality, whether we want to sell or not, we want to strive for curb appeal that simply makes life more enjoyable, and should you ever decide to sell your house, you will be ready. Every weekend on television, you can watch shows where the pros improve someone’s curb appeal, usually a complete front yard makeover – and usually using heavy machinery, such as backhoes, front-end loaders, and skid steers – all under the watchful eye of a landscape architect. 

If you are like most folks, your pocketbook will not allow such extravagance and before taking on that kind of expense, you certainly want to know the home’s value and consider the return on the money spent. If you want something simple and easy on the budget, I have a few suggestions for enhancing your curb appeal.

1. Blank slate – buy larger shrubs and smaller trees
I have purchased a new home and it is quite apparent the builder followed the minimum FHA landscape requirements. If you find yourself with a new home and a nearly bare lot, buy larger shrubs and smaller trees. Buying large shrubs makes a lot of sense, not only from the standpoint of the perceived value, but it also requires less money. 

When starting with a blank slate, buy larger shrubs and smaller trees. Check to see what the latest variety recommendations are, such as this ‘Chantilly Lace’ hydrangea (H. paniculata), which not only blooms in the summer but also attracts pollinators, such as this palamedes swallowtail.

When you buy larger shrubs, you will not need as many, and will probably plant them at the correct spacing. Choosing smaller shrubs lead to buying more than needed to fill space. And planting too close together leads to a poor environment for the health of the plant. Smaller trees establish quickly and reach a suitable size faster than most people realize.

2. Prune, Prune, Prune
Recently I watched one of the television programs where the homeowner had a real estate professional helping her search for a larger house while the pro’s brother was back at the current house getting it ready to sell. Her yard, which she called her secret garden, was so grown up it was really more of a secret house than garden. It looked like maybe some cartel with weapons had set up shop behind those shrubs.

Tears flowed like rain as the shrubs were first cut and then removed, but in doing so, a picturesque cottage and garden was revealed. Pruning and shaping can be the most rewarding work in the garden, not only getting things back in scale, but also allowing your home’s beauty to be seen by all who pass by.

3. Apply new mulch every year
You will be amazed by the transformation to a landscape after the shrubs have been pruned and a fresh layer of mulch has been added. Almost nothing else can perk up a landscape as quickly as a load of fresh pine bark mulch.

Maintaining a layer of mulch keeps beds looking fresh. These giant leopard plants (Farfugium japonicum ‘Giganteum’) give a lush look to the filtered light garden.

Pine bark will do the trick, but fresh longleaf pine straw is like magic. This is normally my first choice as I am always working with a budget. Pine straw goes so much further in the garden and what I really like is that it almost never washes away in heavy rains. 

4. Mow and edge regularly
Keep the lawn mowed and debris off the sidewalks and driveways. This says that you care about your home’s appearance. If you find yourself with dead patches of turf, replace with sod or seed where possible. Consider where lawn areas can or should be replaced with ground covers. 

5. Landscape the backyard too!
The past few years I lived in three homes on golf courses and one on a corner lot. With all of these, instances view of the backyard was just as important as the front. Whether you live on a golf course or not, landscape the backyard. The backyard is your private retreat the landscaping should incorporate sitting areas that look inviting. A landscaped backyard will be a strong selling feature of your home should you ever need to put it up for sale. 

I am planting trees and shrubs known for attracting either birds or pollinators. Oh sure, if you visit you’ll see beautiful Camellia and Hydrangea blooms, but my experience has shown their ability to lure honeybees, as well as a host of butterflies, such as hairstreaks and swallowtails. 

6. Create pockets of color in the landscape
Remember, in the above survey it was just 20 percent color that increased the home’s value by $1,000 in the mind of the consumer. This may represent the best return for the money. Not only does it add value in the mind of the buyer, but you just might have a better outlook on life too!

Whether at the front entrance or by the back door, just a little color is all that is needed to add that pizzazz that will catch visitors’ eyes.

The most obvious place for pockets of color are near the front door, porch, patio, or deck and in areas where friends and relatives might gather to visit. Can you imagine the feeling of excitement a prospective buyer would have as they walk to your front door with blooms nearby, all seemingly attracting butterflies?

7. Window boxes, baskets and mixed containers make it easy
The window box is back! It is so easy to put up a coconut coir lined window box actually under a window or on a deck railing. These, along with planter boxes, mixed containers, and hanging baskets, can turn the brownest thumb green in just a few hours. You won’t have to dig in compacted soil to have beautiful flowers – you just have to fill your containers with rich fertile planting mixes.

Hanging baskets allow the gardener to go vertical with color and have an easy, resort feeling, welcoming friends or family.

8. Let there be light
If you’re looking to add the perfect low-cost touch to increase curb appeal and the party atmosphere, the answer is lighting. I remember watching the television series Parenthood and how the family was always eating outside with lights strung up, creating a festive atmosphere. When I did that at my house years later, I realized how easy it was and what those lights were all about. Lighting really has a dramatic impact in the landscape, especially when the perfect specimen tree, water feature, or flower garden is featured. It accents what we consider the most important features in the landscape, and on the flip side, we can keep things we wish weren’t there in the dark.

Lighting can be all you need to create a festive atmosphere. If you can decorate a Christmas tree you can string up lights on a porch or patio. If you have a pergola, deck, or gazebo, “Let there be Light.”

Lighting is also for the safety of visitors and the security of those who live there. By illuminating your landscape, you deter prowlers and other undesirable visitors. Nearly everyone is capable of installing low-voltage landscape lighting. 

Whether you are selling your home or just turning over a new leaf and you’re not sure where to start, take a walk through your yard and look at it as prospective homebuyers would. Be as objective as possible. You will see what assets you have and what needs immediate attention. You will find it is fun for the family to be outdoors again and a wallet with some green too!

Scroll to Top