How To Add Curb Appeal to Your Yard

Try these tips for transforming your front yard from drab to fabulous.

Spanish Mission Retreat

By: Laura Fisher Kaiser

Curb appeal is all about first impressions, whether you're trying to impress prospective buyers or put a smile on your own face whenever you pull up to your house.

Try to look at your yard objectively and analyze its logic and aesthetics. Where does your eye land first—on your latest horticultural mishap, a spectacular detail or nowhere at all? Is there a focal point such as a colorful herbaceous bed or specimen tree? Do the plantings complement the architecture? Is there a logical flow from sidewalk to door and from front to back? Is it obvious how to get to the main entrance? Do the various plantings and design elements feel balanced and unified? Do they form a bold, uncluttered statement? Is everything just a mess?

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Identify the major problem or missed opportunity you want to address and make that the starting point for your design plan. Try these solutions:

Get a Haircut. Overgrown foundation plantings can block light from entering your house and detract from your architectural details. If you've inherited a mature landscape with your house, start by giving the leggy shrubs a haircut, removing dead or diseased plants, and splitting clumps of perennials and transplanting them to border beds.

Create a Focal Point. Whether it's a traditional lawn with blooming borders, a streamlined contemporary garden, or a formal garden with strong architectural lines, every outdoor space needs a focal point that tells the eye where to look first. This element can be almost anything—specimen tree, sculpture, patterned hardscape, a perfect bench, fountain, you name it—as long as it's bold enough to set the tone for the rest of the design. "One loud exclamation point, like one anchoring tree, helps make sense of everything," says Risa Edelstein, president of the Ecological Landscaping Association.

Mix It Up. The shrubs in your front yard don't have to all hug the house, especially if you have a home with low foundation walls, and they don't have to be traditional evergreens. Try planting a deep border of evergreens interspersed with flowering shrubs. Group plants by height and then layer the groupings for visual interest. If you have an older home with a high foundation, you probably still want to hide that expanse of lower wall with plantings, but make sure they're at least three feet from the foundation to prevent moisture issues with your house.

Show the Way. Are people confused about which door to use or how to get to the main entrance of your house? Create a path that makes it obvious where people should go. In older homes it's not uncommon for the front walk to lead from the front door directly to the road, which might not be a comfortable or safe place for people to park and get out of the car. Create a flare at the bottom so people have room to disembark. If you have a front driveway, redirect the path so it connects with that.

Roll Out the Welcome Mat. Create visual interest and make the main entrance more inviting by gently flaring the front walk where it meets the porch. Make the landing wide enough—5 or 6 feet—to accommodate built-in planters, pedestal urns or a symmetrical element that complements the architecture of your house and landscape.

Soften edges with herbaceous borders in which drifts of flowers are planted so that one group segues into another, either with complementary or contrasting colors and textures. Punctuate with the occasional vertical or flowering shrub.

Tune Up the Hardscape. "Narrow, sinking or cracked walkways and poorly kept entrance steps create a bad first impression," says Robert Schucker, president of R&S Landscaping in Midland Park, N.J. "Uneven or mildewed brick pavers, for example, can be reset and cleaned quickly and at minimal cost."

Replace any rotted wood such as edging battens or raised bed frames. For porches, decks and raised beds, consider composite materials that resist rot. To articulate beds, retain mulch with edging made of cement, plastic or metal or outline the bed with small boulders over mulch.

Beautify a Builder's Landscape. A common problem with newly constructed houses is that the builder-issue landscape is skimpy or non-existent. The good news is that you have a blank slate (or nearly blank) to do what you want. However, it's not enough to simply add a bunch of plants to fill in the blanks. They need to be arranged according to solid design principles of unity, scale, balance and mass for a sophisticated effect.

Hide the Mess. Sometimes the problem isn't your yard, it's the neighbor's. A hedge or fence not only screens a multitude of distractions, but also nicely frames your property. Many towns have height restrictions for fences that are seen from the street, so be sure to check local zoning ordinances and get the proper permits before installing a fence. Also check your property line and understand what the height and width of plantings will be at maturity to make sure they do not eventually encroach on the neighbor's property.

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