Improve home curb appeal while saving water with landscaping tips

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The front yard and entrance to your home is the first impression you make on visitors. It’s also the first thing you see when you come home from a long day. We all want our front yard to be inviting and attractive; we want it to be attractive.

And, as responsible gardeners, we want our landscaping to be Florida-friendly, using eco-friendly design and maintenance techniques and principles.

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Here are some tips to improve the curb appeal of your home while conserving water, reducing maintenance needs, and reducing the chances of overusing pesticides and fertilizers:

Create a foyer for the entrance

Visitors should be able to easily find your front door, so use plants to guide the gaze in that direction. Around the walkway, use slow-growing, compact plants, which maintain their shape throughout the year and have minimal pruning requirements. Avoid plants that attract biting insects.

Don’t hide your house

Unless you are hiding from the law, there is no reason for shrubs and trees to obscure the front of your house, including your windows. Create privacy indoors by using blinds, curtains or shades. Keep the size of the plants proportional to the house and the spaces in the yard. You want to focus on making your home welcoming, and it’s hard if it’s overshadowed or hidden by vegetation.

Plant shrubs that don’t need to be continually pruned to stay at desirable heights. Many shrubs you might like come in the form of dwarf varieties that are more suitable for the front of your home. For example, a dwarf variety of loropetalum is a better choice than a tall growing variety if you want a three foot hedge. Some plants are naturally low-growing, including Carissa’s holly and several cultivars of Distylium. Always take the mature size of plants into account when selecting them.

Foundation plantings do not need to include hedges

Your home can be of a style where the formal look of closely trimmed hedges is appropriate. But many of us live in homes where a more casual style is desirable and certainly more interesting. Driving around some older neighborhoods provides a graphic demonstration of how landscaping tastes change over time.

Homes built in the 1950s and before may have hedges of tall Formosa azaleas and boxwoods and nothing else, reflecting not only the prevailing taste of the time, but also the lack of variety available in nurseries when the landscapes were established.

Today our local nurseries have an incredible variety of plant material, so take advantage of this bonus and use a variety of plants in your foundation plantings.

Plant for variety or for cohesion

Repetition is a hallmark of good landscaping, so consider repeating plant materials for a unified and cohesive look. Cohesion can also be provided by using an associated color palette. But also consider adding interest by using plants of different sizes and heights, with varied textures, or particularly interesting shapes.

You can add variety with color as well, but avoid jarring color contrasts between your plants. A plant with bright yellow leaves like the golden euonymus right next to a purple-leaved loropetalum may not be the look you’re looking for. Also consider the color of your home’s exterior as a background for your plantings.

Give access to your landscaping

Your landscaping should be both beautiful and functional, so incorporate pavers and areas of mulch to provide trails and define your flower beds.

Workers entering your yard may need to access utility meters or clean your gutters. And consider the health of your home when placing plants around it. There should be at least one foot of space between plants and the walls in your home to increase air circulation, reduce water retention and rot, and discourage pests from using plants as entry inside your house.

Composition is the key

Group and arrange the plants into overlapping masses based on size, shape, color, and growing requirements. Use “anchor plants” that provide uniform shape and color throughout the year; conifers are ideal for this function.

Create focal points in your front yard with interesting and beautiful plant specimens such as a Taiwanese cherry tree for dramatic spring interest or a colorful Japanese maple to brighten up fall.

Think about the ecology of your garden

Match the plants to the type of soil you have, the humidity level in your planting areas, and the sun / shade characteristics of your garden. A soil test can tell you the pH of your soil and what amendments may be needed for better plant growth.

Plant native plants when possible, but determining the right plants for your soil, humidity, and lighting conditions is critical. There is nothing wrong with using our popular exotic Azaleas and Camellias if they are compatible with your garden conditions.

Check out the sources that focus on Florida-friendly landscaping

The suggestions provided in that limited space are just beginning to deal with what will make your sidewalk the best it can be. These three publications from the UF Florida Friendly Landscaping Program office are great places to find additional information and can be viewed and downloaded from their websites:

Florida Yards & Neighborhoods Handbook

Florida’s Adapted Landscaping Guide for Plant Selection and Landscaping

The Florida Fit Pattern Book for Zones 8a and 8b

Susan Barnes is a volunteer Master Gardener with UF / IFAS Extension Leon County, an equal opportunities institution. For any gardening questions, email the Extension Office at [email protected]

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