Small Changes Can Improve
 Your Home's Curb Appeal

Barbara Mrgich
Adams County Master Gardener

They say your home is an expression of who you are, so why wait until you get inside to express your personality? When you pull into your driveway, does your house say, "Welcome home?" Take a critical look at your front entrance. Are you pleased with what you see? What could you change to make it look better?

Start with your front door. Is it clean? Do you like the color? Sometimes a fresh coat of paint can improve things tremendously. Are there still a couple old Christmas swags dangling from a window sill? Or even worse, some rotten pumpkins left from last Halloween?? Are there garbage cans or piles of junk visible? If so, start by cleaning up.

Now take a critical look at your shrubbery. What do you think of it? Do you really like it, or is it just what came with the house so it never occurred to you to change it? If a really ugly couch came with the house, would you live with it for ten years?

The old version of "landscaping" that many homeowners inherit is a strip of old shrubs planted along the front of the house that were purchased because they were cheap when they were young and cute. They are planted way too close to the house in a bed that is way too narrow. Then someone has to spend the next twenty years going out there a couple times a year to whack the poor things into submission trying to make them fit into the bed that was too small from the beginning. With the wonderful variety of plants available today, it is no longer necessary to wrestle with your shrubs. Buy the plant to fit the space, allow it to grow in it's natural shape, and eliminate a huge amount of work.

Healthy Shrubs Can Make an Attractive Backdrop

Let's say your shrubs are actually healthy and nice, and you like them, but you want more color, or a different look. Consider making the planting bed deeper using your mature shrubs as a backdrop, and adding smaller, more colorful plantings in front of them to give your design depth. A more interesting look can often be achieved without adding a lot of extra gardening work.

Attractive Small Shrubs

For instance, think small shrubs instead of flowers. You may consider adding several Caryopteris, sometimes called Blue Mist Shrub. My personal favorite is 'Sunshine Blue'. This is a small, airy shrub with bright yellow leaves which looks great backed by the dark green of your established shrubbery. It will lose it's leaves in the winter, and likes to be cut back real hard in the early spring, but, by mid April, it will fill out with its bright yellow foliage, and sometime in the late summer will cover itself with small blue flowers which will remain well into October.

Another very attractive small shrub, is Abelia 'Rose Creek'. It has a nice glossy small leaf, and will flower from the middle of the summer into fall. It requires no pruning or deadheading, ever, and is considered evergreen. If you like the idea of seeing leaves all winter, you can also try one of the Nandinas. They will stay in leaf all year. They come in a variety of sizes, but some can become invasive. Ask the nursery person before buying. I like the 'flame' variety. It is non-invasive and the leaves remain bright red all winter.

Cosmetic Changes

Small cosmetic changes can also make a big impact. Keeping a sharp line between the planting bed and the lawn makes a tremendous difference. So many times you see neglected beds where the shrubs have grown into the grass, or the grass has grown into the bed. It's not as hard as you think to get out there with a spade and put a nice crisp edge on that bed. I edge my beds with bricks. I like the way it looks, and it helps keeps the grass out of my beds. You can put the lawnmower wheel on the brick when mowing to help keep it neat.

Sometimes people tend to ignore a carpet of young weeds small enough to be easily pulled or hoed out. By the time they begin to notice them, the weeds are large enough to fight back. Keeping weeds pulled when they are still small takes almost no time at all. It keeps your beds looking neater, it prevents your one weed from going to seed and later becoming 10,000 weeds, and it prevents the weeds from competing with your plants for water and nutrients. Add two to four inches of mulch in the spring, and it will greatly cut down on the number of weeds, and help conserve the soil moisture. It will also keep the soil temperatures cooler in the heat of the summer, which will work to improve the health of your plants.

Use Focal Points

Just like decorating your living room, you may want to add a few bright decorative touches as focal points. A birdbath, bird house, a stick-in-the-ground trellis or a bench are useful, fun and attractive, and can be moved around and changed out as the spirit hits you.

For a bright spot of color, try some planted containers. You will need to be prepared to water them almost daily, but if they are right outside your front door, this shouldn't be a big problem.

I love the glazed, clay pots, but they are very heavy, and you have to be careful leaving them outside with soil in them year round as they may crack. This means dumping them every fall which is a lot of work. If you stick with the light polyethylene pots, you can leave them out year round, and you can easily pick them up to move them. Many of them are made to look like their heavier cousins, and it's hard to tell the difference.

Fill your pots with potting soil, or, if you have compost, you can use it, but mix in a little vermiculite and also some potting soil to lighten it. Visit your local nursery in the spring, select a couple six packs of annuals that catch your eye, and add them to your pots. Remember, the larger the pot, the better your plants will be able to accommodate the dry, hot weather of summer. Water them daily, and use a liquid fertilizer once a week. You will be amazed how beautiful they become. Some container favorites like geraniums, begonias, and lantana can be cut back before the freeze, and wintered over in a frost-free environment. They make decent looking houseplants, and you don't have to buy them again in the spring.

I hope these suggestions help you achieve the welcoming appearance for your home that you are hoping for.

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