RE: inexpensive and low maintenance small backyard idea

by Richard
(Tacoma, WA)

low maintenance backyard design

low maintenance backyard design

My name is Richard from Tacoma, WA. We bought a cookie cutter house in a new development 5 yrs ago and it came with a small front and backyard as expected. We have a
approximately 500 sq.feet backyard that we don't have direct access to since we are located in a slope lot (shown in attached pic). My wife and I very rarely go to the back hence it is often neglected, however I do the best I can to mow the lawn there. At the backyard, the builder didn't do a great job putting a good drainage (couple with partial shade and 265 days of rain/year) thus every year moss will overwhelmed my lawn. My plan is to kill the moss including the grass all together and just put couple inches of bark so that I don't have to maintain it that much anymore.
Do you have any suggestion as far as inexpensive way to perhaps beautify our backyard (without adding or growing anymore grass) so that someday it will attract potential buyer? Or, at the very least, just make it as low maintenance as possible every year?.

Thank you for your time,

Richard Chua
Tacoma, WA


Hi Richard,
You might consider creating a garden of shrubs and perennials. You mentioned that the area is partly shady. If you are getting moss it probably is quite shady. Some plants that you could use would be groups of Hydrangea, Hosta, Liriope, Pachysandra (a groundcover), Viburnum, etc. The groundcover could be a large part of the area. I would then create a walkway with stepping stones going through the garden with perhaps a destination point at the end. Here, there could be a bench and a small water feature, such as a bird bath fountain.

The Pachysandra and the shrubs will be low maintenance. Perennials need to be cut back once a year.

Your back yard has now be come a garden. It will take a lot of plants, but you can start small. Many perennials are available in the 1 quart size and they grow quickly. Mass the plants, vary the textures and heights. Cover with three inches of mulch to help keep the weeds out. You can also sprinkle the garden with Preen a few times a year which is a weed preventer. Visit this page which touches upon landscape design:

How to Landscape

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need landscaping ideas

New front porch - landscaping ideas

New front porch - landscaping ideas

Here's a question about a new front porch and some landscaping ideas.

I live in central North Carolina and am in the process of adding a covered front porch onto our home. It is 8 feet deep and 20 feet long, does not go the length of the house. There used to be a "stoop" type porch with steps coming off the left side, leading to the driveway. The new steps lead down to the front yard and I plan to have brick pavers as a walkway to the drive.

The brick mason finished up today. These pictures were taken yesterday, before the steps were completed. It will have a roof and railing once it's all completed. In one of the attached pictures, you can see the old "stoop porch" inside the new porch. We just built over it - no need to tear down what you can't see, right? :)

My home is built on a hill and the front of the house is quite high. As you see from the picture of the porch in progress, there will be 12 steps leading to the porch.

What do you suggest I plant to help break-up the "all brick" look across the front of the house? Anything that would mature quickly so I don't have that "tiny shrubs in front of tons of brick" look?

Thanks for your help!

PS The sun sets on this side of the house.


In the area where the porch wall meets the steps (corner area) I would use some tall shrubs. If it is in your budget, evergreen shrubs would be a good choice since they will retain their green foliage during the winter. You might consider Blue Holly 'China Girl', placing them along the walls of the porch and step side walls.

Take a look at my page on Evergreen Shrubs or even my Designing With Evergreen Shrubs e-book for some more ideas.

Continue with some additional shrubs in other areas. I do like the evergreen shrubs in the background against the brick for winter interest. However, you can add other types of lower shrubs in front of these along with Perennial Flowers for color.

You also have to add at least one ornamental tree for height. I think a River Birch would work well. Also consider a Star Magnolia or a Dogwood Tree. These types of trees can be placed in the corner of the new front porch near the Blue Holly's I mentioned and also at the house corners.

Try to create nice curves for the bed lines.

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What kind of tree will look good next to an olive tree in the front yard?

by Angela

Olive tree and landscape trees

Olive tree and landscape trees

We have two olive trees in our front yard, (see photo). One is dying and we think it will be dead soon because we were told was fungus. Instead replacing it with another olive tree, is any other tree can substitute the olive tree and looks good with the other olive tree? A new olive tree with the same size is expensive also may not survive again with the soil. Please advise. Thanks

Hi Angela,
You didn't mention where you live so I don't know your plant zone. This is necessary to determine which trees will grow in your area.

However, I would try to use a landscape tree that has a different form than the Olive tree. I had an Olive tree once and it was lovely. The form was rather rounded and low branching, although it was young.

See my page on Landscape Trees

A tree that would have a different form, as an example, would be a multi-stemmed Birch tree. This might be a White Birch or a River Birch.

Another example would be a Pear tree, such as "Chanticlear". This would be taller than the Olive tree with a different form for the canopy.

You could also do a group of large shrubs, such as Lilacs, instead of a tree.

Also see my page How To Landscape

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pruning hydrangea

by carol
(farmingdale, ny)

I have six Pink Elf Hydrangea, does this type of Hydrangea bloom on old wood or new wood? I am never sure how and when to prune them.


Hi Carol,
Pink Elf Hydrangea is a macrophylla. This type of Hydrangea blooms on new wood which means you should prune after it blooms or in late winter. I have written an extensive page on pruning Hydrangea that you should visit.
Pruning Hydrangea

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Trying to find the name of a flower.

by Travis Davenport
(Abingdon VA)

What flower is this - Franklinia alatamaha?

What flower is this - Franklinia alatamaha?

The first photo is a flower that has not bloomed for more than 40 years and it finally bloomed this year would you have any idea of what it is? Next I bought this bush at a local greenhouse but I am unsure as to what the name of it is. The owner of the greenhouse was not sure either. Could you shed some light on these? Also do these plants require full or partial sun? Thanks!!!


Hi Travis,
Is the first image of the white flower a tree? If so, I would guess that it is a Franklinia alatamala, which is a lovely tree and blooms in the summer. It's one of the few landscape trees that do so. If it's a shrub or perennial, let me know!

The second photo of the lavender flower looks like Malva alcea (Hollyhock Mallow). This is a less common perennial, but beautiful.

Both of these plants need partial shade to full sun. If anyone else reading this post has other thoughts, just post them here.

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In Texas, how do I landscape a west facing backyard to minimize sun/heat and allow for backyard cookouts?

by A M Brown
(Fort Worth, TX)

In central Texas, how do I landscape a west facing backyard with full sun to minimize sun/heat and allow for backyard cookouts in the late afternoon/evenings?

The backyard is a "normal" size in a housing development with a 6' wood privacy fence. On the south side is the neighbor's yard. On the west side is a drainage easement and pasture, thus the FULL SUN. On the north side is the city sidewalk easement, a through street, and then the next neighbor's home.

There is a small 8' x 10' covered patio on the back of the house off the breakfast nook. However, it does not preclude any sun due to it's small size and the layout of the backyard.

I know there must be an attractive, functional solution to minimize the intense heat and sunrays. Due to our limited budget, a step by step plan that could be added onto each season would help.

Thank you,
A M Brown


You have a few options for creating shade to minimize heat and sun.
1. Install some very large shade trees. For example, if you choose Red Maple (I like October Glory or Red Sunset for fantastic fall color), you could plant one to three, depending on your space. I believe these are hardy in Texas. Start with large ones. They should be purchased by caliper which is the width of the tree trunk at about waist or shoulder height. A three inch caliper Red Maple should be at least 10 feet tall. This will create some shade to start, but even more as the tree matures and time goes on. This creates a nice landscape while using the patio and for backyard cookouts.

2. Install a pergola. This is a structure that has columns and a latticed "roof". The lattice should be dense...not an open pattern.

3. There are some attractive tent-like structures that are available, which would be less expensive than building a pergola.

4. Another option is outdoor awnings. These can be worked by a press of a button!

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Rose bushes

Looking for a dense/shrubby rose bush shrub. Colors purple, yellow and apricot. The purple and yellow bush to 3 ft or less. The apricot color to grow to be any size.


This is the best site for roses!

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Cost of Planting Shrubs

by Candace
(Arden Hills Mn)

What should I expect to pay for someone to plant shrubs?


Hi Candace,
You should pay retail price for the plants if the contractor is providing you with the plant material. Regardless of whether he is getting you the plants or you are getting them yourself, the going rate is anywhere from 40% to 60% of the cost of each plant. Some contractors charge by the hour and typically the cost is between $40 and $60 per hour.

There will also be the cost of the mulch and soil. An average price for mulch or soil is $75/cubic yard installed, although it can vary. To figure out how much mulch you need, take the length and width of the area to get the square footage. Then multiply this figure times .25 - this represents 3" depth of mulch. Then divide by 27 to get the cubic yards.

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Rose Bushes - What Type of Plant Are They

Are rose bushes an annual flower?


A rose bush is classified as a shrub. Depending on the rose type, it might just flower once in June, or it might bloom repeatedly from spring to fall. A shrub retains its branching structure throughout the year. There are deciduous shrubs and evergreen shrubs. Rose bushes are deciduous which mean they lose their leaves in the winter...but most of their stems remain. An evergreen shrub keeps its foliage all the time and is always green.

Pages of Interest:
Easy To Grow Roses - you will find here some roses that are so easy to grow that you can't go wrong (unless you don't water them!) Examples are the Knockout Roses, Carefree Roses and the Fairy.

Perennial Flowers - here are some of my favorite perennial flowers that are beautiful and relatively low maintenance.

Evergreen Shrubs - easy care, leave it alone plants that stay green all year. Good for foundation plantings as the first layer.

Annuals are flowers that live for one season and then they die. The advantage is that they bloom all season long so you have continuous color. Some examples are Begonias, Geraniums, Impatiens and Petunias.

Perennials are plants that produce flowers. The plant "dies down" at the end of the season, but produces new growth (like a new plant) in the spring. Most flower for a period of a few weeks. Some will repeat their flowering through the season or be almost continuous, such as Catmint 'Walker's Low'.

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what to plant

by Kimberly Branan
(waldorf, MD)

Yes we live in Maryland and we need something to look nice against our 60 foot chain link fence. Lots of shade and its back up against the woods. I like more of the manicured look. Please give us some suggestions.

Hemlocks are evergreen and will take the shade. American Holly is another great evergreen. Both of these will do well in shady conditions and hide your fence. However, they get quite wide. You did not mention how much space you have.

You can also fill in with Rhododendron, Mountain Laurel and Japanese Andromeda. These are all flowering, evergreen shrubs, but tall ones.

Whatever you choose, plant them in groups of at least three...even more with the shrubs. Perhaps an evergreen tree, then a mass of seven Rhododendron, then another shrub variety, and another, and then another evergreen tree. Or you could just do a mass of American Holly and plant perennials in front of them for all season color!

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How can I recover my lawn where I once had a 30' round pool?

by Stephanie
(Northern Illinois)

Please help!! I live in Illinois and moved back into a house after 6 years away that had a lovely 30' pool when I left it. After 6 years my ex-husband let the pool go with a ripped liner that allowed water to get underneath it and the lawn is now absolutely destroyed. We removed the pool but now we have a big circle of ugly, dirty sand with all kinds of prairie plants growing up out of it. There is also edging and rocks that were around the perimeter. The thistles are very thick and make clearing the space out very painful. There's also some kind of reed that grows like an alien and has roots that are all connected in a line. When you try to pull one up the rest start pulling up too. It looks like a really, really big green onion and they just keep coming back after you pull them out.
Did I mention that when we had the pool originally installed we had to do quite a bit of digging to even out the lawn? Also we didn't realize that we were placing it on top of 1/2 of our septic field? That has caused unbelievable problems for us too. I think maybe that's the reason why all the weeds and such are growing so out of control. I'm ready to do something about this but I honestly don't know where to begin. There a 6' fence all the way around the side yard where the pool was and I want to take that down as well, open up the space and make it as appealling as possible.
Any advice is greatly appreciated.


You can't place anything on top of a septic field!
I haven't seen any pictures and it's possible to do something with the part that is not over the septic field. So the best advice I can give is bite the bullet and remove ALL the weeds. Add some good soil and re-establish lawn.

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Ornamental Grass - Miscanthus 'Gracillimus'

by gina
(toledo, OH)

Miscanthus Ornamental Grass

Miscanthus Ornamental Grass

This is a question regarding an unplanted Miscanthus Gracillimus ornamental grass.

This is the second winter, the mature/huge root balls have sat in the corner of the yard by the fence; not dug in just sitting there. Could I replant them and will they come back to life?
notation: I have asked 6 people and have 6 different answers. Please help me, I'd love to plant them and have success with them.


The truth of the matter is that perennials can be finicky and you won't know until you try. However, if you have not seen any growth on them during the growing season, it is most likely they are dead.

If you have seen a flicker of life and some growth, I would give it a try.

So rather than looking for even more answers :), just go ahead and do it now. Maybe you will get a pleasant surprise in the spring. If nothing appears, and you really like this type of ornamental grass (which I's one of my favorites), then go out and buy some very small ones. They will be less expensive and Miscanthus grows very quickly.

The above picture shows Miscanthus gracillimus in one of my projects. To see more great perennials, visit my page Perennial Flowers

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Should the palm trees go | Front Landscape Plants and Palm Trees

by Perry
(West Palm Beach, FL, USA)

Front Yard Plantings

Front Yard Plantings

Front Landscape Plants in Florida

When we built our house 8 years ago, the oak tree was small - the trunk was perhaps 10" in diameter. The palm trees against the house looked great.

Now the oak tree, which we love, has spread to cover almost the entire front yard and the palm trees, which are not the most healthy, although not horrible, are virtually invisible from the street.

The photos show the 2 palms from our front walk, then two angles from the driveway and street.

We're thinking of taking out the 2 palms. First, the queen palms are usually the first to go in any hurricane, so we've never been overly attached to them anyway. Secondly, they really don't provide any decorative appeal as far as we can see. So would you agree to take them out?

Note: We are also going to take out the hedge across the front of the house and put in some plumbago, which seems to be very hearty. The hedge the builder put in has slowly been dying off - we've even removed it from in front of the bay window.


I don't see any problem with removing them, especially if you feel insecure about their longevity! However, I do feel you need something tall their in certain least some tall shrubs to vary the height of medium sized plantings.

I was not familiar with Plumbago so I looked it up. It's very pretty! However, it supposedly gets 6 to 10 feet tall. Perhaps you could use that as the accent, taller shrubs and plant something lower than Plumbago to replace the "hedge". From the pictures (very helpful...thanks), it looks like plants anywhere from 2 feet to 3 feet tall would work.


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Plants For Hot and Sunny Areas - Front of Brick

by Robin Fernkopf
(Holton, Kansas USA)

What are some plants for hot and sunny conditions, particularly in front of brick?

I have a ranch house that faces the west with cedar and brick on the front. I am having trouble with the plants in front of the brick wall because the brick gets very hot and the plants tend to grow towards the brick. This makes the plants grow awkwardly. I have cut the plants back and tried to let them grow and they do the same thing over and over again. I now want to try different plants. Can you tell me some names of plants that would grow best in this situation? I appreciate your help.


Hi Robin,
You might consider maker your planting be deeper and placing the plants further away from the brick. Whether you do this or not, here are some plants you might consider. Also see my page on
Xeriscape Plants. Although these were specifically for a slope, they take very sunny and dry conditions.

Juniper - I like Shore or Procumbens Juniper
Catmint - Walkers Low
Geranium - Johnson's Blue
Thyme - an herb, but very nice with purple flowers
Sedum - Autumn Joy or low varieties

Also, Japanese Holly should do well.

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Ground water/dying shrub problem

by Chuck Grantham
(Kansas City, Mo.)

We have a 4 yr old inground pool in Kansas City, Missouri. There is a 4-5 foot retaining wall on the backside of the pool with approximately 20x60 feet of landscaped area between the pool. We have began to experience creases in the pool liner and have been told this is the result of ground water being retained between the pool and the retaining wall, apparently due to improper drainage system design/construction when the pool & wall were built. This is a problem I will resolve over time.

Right now my issue is that I have been losing my Arborvitea's along the distance of the retaining wall and am looking for a vertical shrub or plant that can be more tolerant of the wetter soil. I am looking for something to provide privacy around the perimeter of the pool area.

Thank you,


Hi Chuck,
I'm assuming you have a somewhat narrow area, since Arborvitea are such. But I'm surprised that this area is wet, since it's usually so hot and sunny near a pool. Has your soil been amended so that it drains well? You mentioned some drainage issues.

So you need the plants to be evergreen? Sometimes that's not important since the pool is only used in the summer when deciduous plants have leafed out and provide privacy. Let me know, and I'll make some suggestions.


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Evergreen Trees or Shrubs For a Hedge

by Shirley
(Columbus, OH, USA)

I am looking for a border evergreen or hedge that we can plant in an area that only gets sun in the morning and it must be a plant the deer will not eat. A local nursery advised us to also purchase lilac bushes for color last year. They never had a chance to grow because the deer would eat the leaves as soon as they would grow. We looked at various boxwood hedges and various "yew" evergreens but all required direct sun. We do have boxwood hedges in areas where there is direct sunlight all day. We live in Columbus, Ohio where we have long winters and would like something that stays green all year.


Regarding an evergreen hedge, I am not sure how tall you need or want the plants to be. You might just want a border which remains low or you might desire taller shrubs or trees for privacy. With morning sun, you can use plants that do take sunny long as you have at least four hours or so.

For lower evergreen shrubs that are deer resistant, you might consider Winterberry Holly. These stay evergreen and have a very nice reddish fall color. They are somewhat thorny though.

Boxwood is always a good choice but you mentioned you have some of those and you may want something different. If you think you might like to repeat them, "Green Velvet" is a nice variety.

Japanese Andromeda is another choice. They are evergreen and flower in the Spring. These will get larger than the other two.

For a taller hedge, you can use American Holly. these get large,a re deer resistant, take some shade, and produce beautiful berries. The only thing is that you will have to check your planting Zone to see if these are hardy where you are. They are hardy from Zone 5B to 9A.

Norway Spruce, which get quite large is also another evergreen tree you can use. This is the largest of all that I have mentioned, so it depends on how much room you have.

You can also create a mixed planting. They don't all have to be the same and this creates a more natural appearance. Again, I don't know your space.

See these pages on this site:
Evergreen Trees

Evergreen Shrubs

Deer Resistant Plants

Good luck!

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Landscaping a Driveway Entrance

by Mike
(Ashburn, VA)

Driveway Landscape Entrance

Driveway Landscape Entrance

I want to do some landscaping along the right hand side of my driveway. The area I want to landscape is about 6-8 ft wide (driveway border to property line) and about 20-25 ft long (along the driveway heading towards the house). The shape of the area is what's causing me problems. Being long and thin I just not sure what and where to plant things. The ground is level so that's not a problem. I live in Northern Virginia.


Hi Mike,
Instead of creating a bed, why don't you add an ornamental or shade tree on each side of the driveway to mark the entrance. On the side where the mailbox is, I would place it up a bit further and then add the one on the other side of the driveway opposite it. Or, since you have some utilities there, place the tree on that side first to work around these structures and then match it on the opposite side.

See my page Driveway Landscape.

Thee trees can stand alone in their own beds which would be 4' in diameter. These beds could be filled with either mulch or a ground cover. The balance of your areas could be lawn.You can place the one tree just about on your property line. Consider Dogwood trees, Red Maples (October Glory or Red Sunset), Pear trees, Purple Leaf Plums or Crapemyrtles.

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Front Yard landscape ideas

by Faith
(Metropolis (extreme southern tip), IL)

Do you have any design suggestions for my front flower bed? I am in the process of clearing out an redesigning.I am planning on keeping the Japanese Maple and bright little juniper and considered edging the bed with monkey grass. None of this is set in stone however and you can see the current state of the bed. There are also currently some different types of day lilies but I am looking for a slightly more formal design. Any suggestions would be wonderful.

Generally I like to use evergreen shrubs in the back and perennials in the front of the foundation planting. That's not to say you can't use all perennials. It's just that there will be nothing there in the winter. I see you are from Illinois so you must have long winters.

Keep everything below the window. Group the perennials in masses of at least 3 of a kind together. I would add two ornamental at each house corner (at the ends). Perhaps you should add a flowering shrub or evergreen shrub at the middle corner. Lilacs are nice for this if you get enough sun.

Here are some of my favorite Perennial Flowers

And here are some ideas for Landscape Trees.

Also, take a look at my page How To Landscape


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Arranging Plants in Flower Beds on Each side of Patio

by Betty Jo Price
(Tennille, GA USA)

I already have a few shrubs on each side of the patio near the house. I also have two knockout roses in front of the shrubs on each side planted closer to the outside perimeter of these beds. They are taller than the shrubs. I can move these if I need to. Also, I don’t have so much planted at this time that I can’t move or rearrange. I want to get the layout right before I continue planting.

My question is: Should I plant taller plants around the outside perimeter of the flower bed and shorter plants on the inside of the bed closest to the patio or vice versa? On the outside of one of the flower beds, there is a small circular stone walkway.

At this time, the patio is just a square cement pad, and the flower beds sort of angle or circle around each side, narrowing at the end of the patio.

I appreciate your help and look forward to hearing from you.


Hi Betty Jo,

Typically, I would say to plant the taller plants on the outside perimeter, having the lower plants closer to the patio. This way, when you are enjoying your patio, you can also enjoy the layers of plant material.

You mentioned that there is a stone walkway on the outside area. If you keep roses next to the walkway, that seems to me to be a nice garden effect. It would be nice to have something lower also between the roses and the walk, but I am assuming your space is limited, so just leave the roses.

If your patio is not that large, using all the same lower plants on the sides and changing to a different one towards the rear would probably look nice. I would add more roses of the same variety for great impact and color when in bloom. But roses are so pretty that if you mixed them in groups throughout the design, this would also be effective.


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Small Trees For a Small Space

by Steve

What are some small trees to use in a small space?

I have an arborvitae tree that has become much too big and was damaged by the snow this year. I have a townhouse and it is up against the house. I want to remove this tree and replace it with something smaller,...that won't grow more than six feet tall,....any suggestions.



Hi Steve,

Since you have an Arborvitae, you probably need something narrow too, but I am not sure just how narrow. So here are some suggestions. Look them up and see if their widths would work in your space. I'll assume the area is sunny.

Lilac - beautiful spring blooms, but not evergreen (I don't know if that is important to you).

Nandina - one of the Princess varieties. They get to be about 2 to 3 feet wide and around your height requirement. Great fall and winter berries, and it is evergreen.

Crapemyrtle - most are taller, but there are so many varieties that you could probably find one to fit.


Viburnum - check different varieties for heights and widths. Must have quite a bit of shade.

Another idea is to place an obelisk in that spot. You may not be familiar with the term, but if you saw one you would know what I am referring to. It is a structure anywhere from 6 to 9 feet tall that starts out wider on the bottom and as it gets taller goes to a point.

There are different types, but that's the general explanation. You could then plant a vine on this which would climb all over it and pretty much cover it. If you need some vine suggestions, let me know.

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Front of House Plants in Hot Sun

by Colleen chestnut
(wilmington n.c)

What bushes are the best bushes to plant against the front of a house in hot sun that will stay full and not turn out sparse and become bare around the bottom?


Hi Colleen,
Thanks for the information. Some plants you can use are "Green Velvet' Boxwood, 'Crimson Pygmy' Barberry, 'China Girl' Blue Holly. You can plant them in groups and repeat varieties. Also, if you have the room, add some lower plants in the front, whether they be deciduous, evergreen (such as Juniper) and/or perennials. There are more, but these are just a few recommended plants that I often use in my designs.

Please visit the following pages for more information:

Evergreen Shrubs

Designing With Evergreen Shrubs - this is an ebook that you might find very helpful.

Perennials Flowers

How To Landscape

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Front Landscaping Ideas Needed - Boring Front of House

by Stacey
(Pungo, VA)

Landscaping Ideas for Ranch Style Home

Landscaping Ideas for Ranch Style Home

Here's a question about front landscaping ideas for the front of a ranch house.

We have purchased a "new" home that is 24 years old. We are going to paint the shutters and foundation a deep brown and the front door will be a dark red. But other than that the rest of the house is pretty plain because it is all white. I do want a small tree between the garage & the porch just to cover that blank space. But I can't figure out what to do whether landscaping wise or doing something different to the exterior of the home. You can't see it but there is a wire fence to the backyard to the left of the garage and same on the right side of the house. Those big bushes in front of the 2 windows are coming out. The house faces West...lots of sun! Please help with some ideas for curb appeal!!!!!

Hi Stacey,
Landscaping ideas for ranch style houses need to incorporate some height since the homes are long and low.

I like to frame the house with trees on both ends, at the house corners. These might be ornamental trees rather than shade trees as they are typically smaller. Dogwoods, Birch Trees (River Birch for Virginia as White Birch is not hardy there), and Star Magnolias are all good choices. See my page on ornamental trees.You might use one to the left of your garage and also a smaller one in front of that blank wall.A smaller variety of Crapemyrtle would look nice there.

You'll probably want some evergreen shrubs along the front foundation. You might like to take a look at my page on Evergreen Shrubs. Since your location is sunny, you'll have to be careful as many evergreen shrubs like some shade. However there are some choices.

Then you'll want to layer a bit with lower shrubs and/or perennials for color. (My page on perennials has some beautiful pictures!) Also, add a tree near your front door, perhaps on the other side of the walk. I always find trees near the front door welcoming!

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Grasses and perenials??

by Barbara
(Hicksville, Ny)

I am having a white 6ft fence put up between my neighbors property and mine. What can I plant in front???


Hi Barbara,
After speaking with you on the phone and getting more information, I would recommend some background shrubs behind any perennials. While perennials alone can look nice, they will do nothing to hide the starkness of the fence in the winter.

Some shrubs to consider:
Red Twig Dogwood - great winter red branches
Forsythia - early yellow flowers
Weigela - summer pink flowers

All of these shrubs are deciduous (lose their leaves in the winter) which make them less expensive than evergreen shrubs. They are quite tall which will cover your fence nicely providing branching in the winter time.

In front of these, you can use ornamental grasses and other perennials such as Black-Eyed-Susan, Coneflower, Lavender 'Hidcote', etc. I would stay away from Hosta since you are very sunny there.

Take a look at my page on perennials to get some more ideas.
Perennial Flowers


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by Jennifer

Hello, I live in New York City.I would like to know about pansy flowers. Do they come back every year? Are they easy to grow? And would they work in my area?

Hi Jennifer,
I love pansies. They are such happy little flowers! And yes, they definitely grow in New York City.

They usually come back, but not always. They are a little temperamental that least that has been my experience. The best way to look at them is as annuals, and if they return you are in luck. Pansies are not that expensive so you can try them and see how it goes. They look great in pots. Or you can plant them in a bed.

They do tend to start looking leggy when the weather gets hot. To tell you the truth, what I do is plant them either in beds or pots and then replace them with other annuals as the season moves on. Then I start over again the following year...or in the fall.


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to keep weeds out

by lynn
(lawrenceburg,tn 38464)

I am about to landscape in front of the house. What do I need to do to keep out the weeds?


The best thing to do to keep weeds out is to add a layer of mulch at least 3 inches thick. Try to plant so that eventually the bed will be filled up so they will crown out any weeds that try to surface. I prefer hardwood shredded bark mulch.

I like to sprinkle down Preen a few times during the season. This is used to keep weeds from appearing and it really works! You have to follow the directions as far as how often to apply it.

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Building a Hill Around a Tree | Raising Grades At Landscape Trees

by Bernice Hilllman

Can you raise the grade around a tree?

I saw this beautiful design on the grounds of a wedding Bed & Breakfast. They had a tree with dirt around it to look like a hill with Azaleas planted randomly. I have a tree that I would like to do it with.

How can I do this without killing the tree. I thought that piling dirt high around a tree base would kill it.


Hi Bernice,
You are correct. Raising the height of the soil (adding soil) around the base of a tree will kill it. Maybe not this year or next...but eventually.
Do not raise the grade anywhere under the perimeter of the tree's canopy.

At the one you saw, either they are killing the tree or the grade was naturally at this height.

As an alternative idea, and if this would work in your yard, why not extend the bed to make a long curvilinear one with your existing tree at the end. Then you could have this elongated, curved bed undulate with various heights or berms. Just make sure to start creating the heights outside of the tree's outermost branching.

You can read more about this from Bartlett Tree Company.

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foundation plants

by stacie pasco
(kings mountain n.carolina)

The front foundation of my home has mixture of small evergreen shrubs. I wish to revise the present landscaping. At the corner of the house there is nothing. A tall plant would be in order with several smaller shurbs and some flowering plants. What types of plants would you suggest?

Hi Stacie,
Although I see you live in NC, I don't know much about your conditions.
1. Is the area sunny or shady?
2. Do you have a deer problem?
3. What other shrubs are nearby?

Evergreen shrubs are nice behind a tall shrub or medium sized tree with some perennials in front. As to which varieties might look nice...this depends on the answers to the above questions.

See the following pages:

How to Landscape

Foundation Plantings

Evergreen Shrubs

Perennial Flowers

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Saving the Arborvitae from snow weight

by Great White North
(Minneapolis, MN)

Arborvitae- all lined up for a winter beating!

Arborvitae- all lined up for a winter beating!

We have four dwarf Arborvitae shrubs about 5- 6 foot in the front of our Minnesota home and we got about 6 inches of snow a few weeks back- when I came home from work I thought all my shrubs were stolen! It turns out the snow had bent my shrubs down to the ground and they were buried under the snow. I shook off the snow and they rebounded back to standing position - however the bend was a lot of stress for these shrubs and there is still snow in the center of the shrub separating the shrub into sections.

What can be done to keep these elastic and delicate shrubs from getting their branches ruined by the weight of the snow? The Burlap wrap doesn't look to good as I don't want to have the front of the house look like a construction project all winter.

Thanks! - Great White North


In my experience, the only thing you can do is what you have done, and that is to remove the snow. I would try to remove it in the center portion of the plant also. This is particularly important to do before it freezes when the weight of the snow/ice will be even heavier.

I agree with the look of burlap...pretty bad. Removing the snow quickly is your best bet.

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Why do plants die after one season?

by Mark Gill
(Fayetteville, NC USA)

In my front yard everything that I plant doesn't seem to last for more than a season, and I don't have a clue as to why. I planted a tree in the center of the yard and it lasted for two years. Last September I noticed that the top of the tree was dying, but had some new growth at the bottom. I do have alot of clay in my yard, but I don't think thats the problem. Any suggestions?


Hi Mark,
It's disheartening when you've purchased plants and get attached to them...and then they don't survive.

There are so many reasons that a plant dies. Here are just a few:

1. It was not the right plant for the sun/shade conditions. For example, a plant might prefer a sunny location and you have mostly shade. Be sure to select the right plant for the right place as far as sun and shade goes.

2. The soil is not a good mix and has not been amended. You mentioned you have clay soil. Clay soil should be amended by adding various other materials such as peat moss, compost etc. so that there is adequate drainage. It's hard for water to move down through a clay-like soil and these other materials help to make it more porous. Mix together 1/3 existing soil mixed with some fresh soil, 1/3 peat moss, and 1/3 compost for a good mix.

3. The plant has received too much or too little water. It might need more water in the summertime. On the other hand, over watering can suffocate a tree. Know your plant's water requirements - likes it wetter, likes it drier. Make sure you give it what it wants.

4. The plant succumbs to a disease or insects. Some plants are more susceptible to certain diseases or insect infestations that can cause an early death. Try to select disease and insect resistant varieties. Keep an eye out for any problems in this area.

5. Some plants are very hardy while others are more temperamental. Try to select the hardier varieties.

These are some of the possibilities as to why plants may not last. By paying attention to all of these reasons why plants may not do well, you can reverse this pattern. If I can be of further help, let me know. Good luck in the future!


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Backyard Ideas For a Small Area

by Chad Valanzola
(Old bridge, NJ)

Small Space Backyard

Small Space Backyard

I am at a total loss as to what to do with this little bit of space I have in my backyard. The area I am looking for suggestions are 16' x 22'. Currently, I have landscaping stones covering the area. The area also has a slope to it.

What I'd like to really do is put in a Hot Tub but I'm concerned about leveling out the area and how to properly support the hot tub when it goes in. Also, I'm not sure if I want to do something with the rest of the area because the hot tub will only cover a 6' x 6' area.

I thought about a deck and paver stones, but that would run about 6,000 and I'd rather spend a good amount of money on the hot tub rather than the flooring. Essentially, I am looking for an inexpensive solution. I can remove the stones myself but just as an FYI the soil is very much like clay and growing grass can take awhile.

I was thinking about installing concrete but I wasn't sure how that would turn it and how much that would cost.

Let me know what your thoughts are and the best way I should go if I want to put in a hot tub and still have an area for grilling and entertaining.

Chad Valanzola


Hi Chad,
I think a nice and relatively inexpensive solution for your area would be to get a hot tub and surround the rest of the area with garden. You could have some stepping stones through the garden area leading to it. You could have a smaller area for grilling and entertaining by leaving some of the stone or adding bluestones, drylaid.

I would place the hot tub off to a side and let the main view from your existing patio and room just inside the glass doors be garden. You could consider a lovely ornamental tree, some shrubs, perennials for color and ground cover to fill some of the space. You don't need lawn at all.

If you are interested in me sketching it for you just use my Contact Form. I can provide you with a design, including hot tub location, approximate leveling ideas (I would need some grades from you which I can tell you how to get), grilling area and a planting design. If you want to do the plantings at a later date, you can always just put in mulch in that space for now.

You will have to level out the area for the hot tub.The nice thing about using plants for the remainder of the area rather than hardscape, is that you can slope and re-grade. Basically you select an area and grade/level for the hot tub and all other areas must meet that grade. Sometimes a small retaining wall is needed but you may not need this in your space.The grilling area could be in another spot.

The hot tub will most likely have to be installed on a concrete pad for support.


Another Idea From a Visitor

An easier solution is to have a grid or checkerboard of uniform stepping stones throughout the river rock covered area. That will create uniformity with very little cost.

Susan Says

Great alternative idea...I like that.

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"Susan, what a pleasure it was to work with you. You made me feel like I was your only client - responding late at night and always so quickly! Your design is amazing and we only hope we can do justice to it when we plant . You have such fantastic ideas and you are so open to suggestions and changes. Loved working with you - now if you could only come to Canada and plant it !!! "
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