It's January — time for those New Year's resolutions. While you're thinking about getting your body in shape, how about getting your landscape in shape as well?
You don't have to recreate your entire front and back yard — just think about one or two areas that you'd really like to change. A small transformation or two will add up to big results in the long run.
Lawn Gone. If you spend more time than you'd like mowing, consider reducing the amount of turf on your property.
"When we moved into our house, we had all lawn on the property," said Beverly Auvil, of Beverly Auvil Landscape Design. "We spent too much time mowing and I rarely saw a bird or any signs of wildlife. I turned part of the back yard into a wildflower meadow. Although the area isn't that big, it had a huge effect. The birds love it."
Auvil recommends starting small. Try turning one small patch of backyard turf into a more naturalized area filled with native plants that include colorful perennials and a few shrubs.
"If you want to keep the front of the house formal, then work in your back yard. Start small and take it from there," she said.
Suburban lawns and gardens receive more pesticides per acre than agricultural crops, according to the EPA. In order to achieve the "perfect" lawn, more than 201 million pounds of toxic pesticides are applied annually according to Beyond Pesticides. Studies link pesticides with asthma, hyperactivity and behavioral problems in children.
Design Mistakes. "Most builders put the sidewalk too close to the house, then plant shrubs that cover the windows and the sidewalk which sets up the homeowner for a regimen of frequent pruning," Auvil said. "If you don't want to be a slave to your pruners, think about ripping out the overgrown shrubs and planting something more appropriate."
Auvil suggests planting perennials instead of shrubs.
"Think about different design schemes like using window boxes and low perennials," she said.
Or plant smaller shrubs. There are a variety of dwarf cultivars that won't get too tall and will stay within bounds. Read the plant tags carefully. If the tag indicates the shrub will "grow six to eight feet," do not buy it. Choose shrubs that reach three or four feet at maturity.
If you rip out the existing sidewalk, make sure you don't make the same mistake and put the sidewalk too close to the house. This is your chance for a fresh start, so consider your options carefully. "Put in a functional sidewalk — make sure the sidewalk is at least four feet wide," Auvil said.
Embrace Shade. Many homeowners despise the shady part of their yards because they repeatedly try to grow grass that won't grow. It's time to give up trying to grow grass in the shade.
"Even so-called shade-turf does not perform that well," Auvil said. "You'll still struggle with maintaining that patch of grass forever. Try a bed of groundcover such as native pachysandra or some ferns. It takes about a year to grow in, but after that it's low maintenance."
Small is Big. When you're ready to make your annual pilgrimage to the garden center, don't grab the first thing you see which is usually a plant with big, bold blooms. "Select smaller plants and you'll save money," Auvil said. "Smaller perennials will grow to a mature size in a year or two."
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