Home Landscaping Ideas and the Real Estate Market

Stately trees like this American elm are valuable elements of home landscaping.

David Beaulieu

By definition, home landscaping, means arranging or modifying the features of the grounds around a home to improve the property from the standpoint of aesthetic ideas and/or practical usage. Ideas for practical improvements should not be difficult to arrive at: you yourself have been living and gardening on this property, and no one knows the deficiencies of its landscape design better than you. Perhaps there are garden areas desperately in need of better drainage, for instance. Or there may be large trees near your home that need to be limbed. But it may be difficult to arrive at a firm idea of just how to improve a property aesthetically.

The very first question that you have to ask yourself is this: Do I plan on staying on this property forever, or will I be placing it in a real estate listing at some point? This is no question to scoff at. Answering the question will clarify your priorities and help establish an overarching idea for your home landscaping projects. If you are home landscaping for yourself as a lifelong resident on the property, you need only consult your own tastes. But if your property is fated to be a real estate listing, you need to think in terms of “curb appeal”: You are essentially landscaping for other people’s tastes — namely, the tastes of potential real estate buyers.

But this much can be said right away: as in other aspects of your life, some of the best home landscaping decisions result from learning what not to do. Excited at the prospect of starting with a blank slate, some do it yourselfers commit themselves to the idea that they will begin a home landscaping makeover by removing a large tree from their landscape. The American Nursery & Landscape Association, however, points out how bad an idea this can be:

“In one study, 83% of Realtors believe that mature trees have a ‘strong or moderate impact’ on the salability of homes listed for under $150,000; on homes over $250,000, this perception increases to 98% (Source: ‘American Forests, Arbor National Mortgage’).”

Water fountains are sure to catch the attention of potential buyers.

David Beaulieu

Say a spiffy home landscaping design could add about 15% to the value of your real estate (even if that figure is on the high end, let’s just use it as an example). Putting that into perspective: for real estate valued in the $200,000 – $225,000 range (before considering its home landscaping), an effective home landscaping design could add $30,000 to its value. How often do you get to make a $30,000 decision? Get the idea? The home landscaping issue amounts to a major decision in your life.

It’s important that such decisions not be based on arbitrary ideas, or criteria overly personalized. This is not the time to get in touch with your inner self. In making a $30,000 decision about a stock investment, you’d want hard, objective facts to guide you, right? At the very least, you’d like to explore the ideas of others, wouldn’t you? Well, you need to seek the same kinds of guides in the matter of home landscaping design.

But what might those guides be? And how do you ascertain what kinds of home landscaping represent the current trends for the real estate market? Fortunately, the resources for home landscaping design ideas are so numerous that your challenge will be not in finding the ideas, but in sifting through all of them and prioritizing. In addition to the selling trends, you’ll always want to provide your home landscaping with as much potential as possible for fall color and beautiful winter scenes — because this never goes out of style. Below are just a few tips for mining home landscaping ideas:

  • Observe what other people are doing with their home landscaping designs. When possible, discuss with them the reasons behind their choice of home landscaping elements and the intentions behind them.
  • Magazines, books, television and the Web all provide an abundance of information on what kinds of home landscaping designs are currently “selling.”
  • Consult with a professional in the landscape design field.
  • If you don’t want to pay for a landscape designer’s advice, at least try to mine some ideas from your local nursery.
  • Real estate agents see the reactions of potential buyers to home landscaping day in and day out; consult with them on trends.

Remember, potential buyers may not share your personal tastes — that’s what necessitates all this research on your part, as the seller. For instance, you may not mind spending time puttering around outside, may have no desire for water features on your landscape, and may not care about winter color. But the trend has been for homebuyers to seek:

  • Low maintenance home landscapes. For instance, if there’s a choice between a dwarf version of a tree and a larger version, choose the dwarf — it won’t need to be pruned as much.
  • Artificial ponds, fountains and waterfalls. The most striking landscape designs have a focal point, or accent. A well-executed water feature is a focal point that can set your property apart from the rest.
  • Year-round visual interest. Evergreens and many berry-producing shrubs are excellent antidotes to winter bleakness.
Hardscape elements can create wonderful winter scenes.

David Beaulieu

Visual interest goes beyond color. For instance, fantastic winter scenes can be created through the employment of hardscape design elements such as stone walls, gazeboes and arbors. To soften up such hardscape design features, include tall ornamental grasses or other graceful elements. In fact, even without the hardscape design elements, ornamental grasses can provide you with some wonderful winter scenes.

Incidentally, don’t think that, just because it may be a hot and humid day at the time you happen to read this article, talk of “winter scenes” is out of line. The time to work on furnishing your home landscaping with the potential for winter scenes is not when it’s cold outside and two feet of snow lies on the ground. There’s very little the homeowner can do at that point to improve the landscaping. You must exercise foresight. It is your spring and summer work that will determine how good your landscaping looks in winter. After all, it’s pretty hard to plant ornamental grasses in the winter! Much of your hardscape design work also should be done in good weather.

In addition to providing winter scenes, don’t overlook ways that you can inject maximum color into the spring and fall landscapes, too:

  • If you plant bulbs in the fall, you won’t have to wait until May for spring color.
  • Some perennials, if cut back properly after their first blooming, will produce a second set of blooms later in the summer or in early fall.
  • While trees such as maples receive all the accolades for fall color, don’t neglect to plant some of the shrubs and vines resplendent in fall color, as listed in The Top 10 Shrubs and Vines for Fall Color.
  • Don’t pass up 2-for-1 deals. Euonymus alatus, or “burning bush” doubles as a plant valuable both for fall and winter scenes. In the fall it is valued for its foliage. A deciduous shrub, its potential for winter scenes lies in its bark. Protruding from Euonymus alatus stems is a corky membrane that gives them an oddly squarish shape. This shape traps and holds snow, making for some terrific winter scenes. Because burning bushes are invasive plants, however, make sure you keep in under control or look for alternatives.

By David Beaulieu, About.com Guide