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Ask The Contractor: 7 Landscaping Insider Tips You Need To Know

Finding the balance between function and beauty is a result of excellent landscaping. But does landscape excellence have to break the bank? Not with a little information, it doesn’t. Here’s what our contractor had to say about things he sees in the field every day, including thoughts on saving time and money.

Q: What kinds of landscaping provide the highest resale value?

A: To answer this question, think in terms of return on investment (ROI). For every $100 spent on building a new deck, resale value jumps by about $80. Newly installed ground-level patios have an average ROI close to or above 100%. Compared to the average bathroom remodel which has an ROI of around 50%, decks and patios are great for increasing resale value.

Rehabbing an existing deck or patio can fetch even higher returns. Housing markets are finicky, though. Talk to a realtor or market expert before investing money in hopes of a return.

Lesser expensive, but effective options include well-organized softscaping. Planting trees, shrubs and plants make your yard look better and can add dollars to your home’s listing price.

Q: What’s the biggest landscaping mistake(s) you see people make?

A: Interfering with water drainage and planting too close to the house aren’t the most common mistakes, but they’re the most costly ones when things go wrong.

Many people love gardening. Shrubs and flowers add beauty to a yard. They can also cause a lot of damage if planted carelessly. Concrete foundations are considered the strongest part of a house. However, that strength can be compromised to the point of failure if roots from a nearby shrub invade. Water leaks and cracked masonry can be the result, and it’s expensive to repair.

The worst situation I’ve had to deal with was a homeowner who, looking to create a flat place for perennials, leveled the ground slope that kept rainwater away from the foundation. Within just a few years, the lack of drainage, and an invasive root system, had degraded that part of the foundation to the point of being dangerous.

Planting near the foundation is usually not a big problem. Just be sure that the roots of what you plant are not overly aggressive, and that excess water has a place to go and a route to get there.

Q: Have you ever worked on interior landscaping, and how does that coincide with a home remodel?

A: Although I haven’t ever been the one to decide which plant goes where, I have been responsible for framing spaces designed to hold indoor water features and planting areas. Creating an interior landscape is often a team effort including the homeowner, a qualified interior designer and a builder.

That said, an architect will need to know any plans for interior landscaping, especially if water is involved. Get them involved early to save time and money.

Q: What are a few landscaping tips and tricks that anyone could do to boost their curb appeal?

A: Anyone can tell you that spending a fortune to hire a designer and landscaper to completely overhaul your yard will boost curb appeal. Here’s some cheaper ideas that can work just as well:

  • Keep your yard mowed and weeded

  • Trim grass edges at walkways

  • Keep your shrubs and hedges trimmed

  • In-ground plants and flower containers are easy and effective

  • Install low-voltage or solar-powered walkway lighting

  • Pressure-wash walkways and retaining walls from time to time

  • Freshen up mulched areas by adding new mulch directly on top of the old

These things don’t just increase curb appeal; they can increase resale value too. It also gives potential buyers a sense that if the outside is maintained well, it’s likely the inside maintenance is up-to-date as well.

Q: What are a few absolutely necessary landscaping tools for homeowners to have?

A: Just the basics are all you need to keep your landscape looking great. A decent lawn mower and weed trimmer go a long way to make yard work enjoyable rather than feeling like a chore. A pole trimmer for tree pruning and shears for shrub pruning are necessities. Other than that, a few gardening hand tools and a shovel or two, are really all that’s needed. Everything else in the shed is mostly for convenience.

Most importantly, you’ll need a lawn chair so you can relax and enjoy the benefits of your hard work.

Q: In your opinion, what’s the most commonly ignored landscaping task?

A: The most commonly ignored task may be lawn aeration. It takes some effort to accomplish, but it’s worth it. Spending half a day once a year aerating your lawn dramatically increases its health. It can save money on unnecessary fertilizer applications by greening up the grass naturally. It also conserves water by allowing it to soak into—rather than run off of—compacted soil. A lawn aerator can be rented from your local home improvement store for about the cost of a bag of grass seed.

Q: How can people save more money on landscaping?

A: Diligent yard maintenance is the best thing you can do to save money on landscaping. Odds are that what’s already in your yard will continue to look great as long as it’s kept clean, trimmed and maintained. Money spent on good tools that make yard work enjoyable, instead of on expensive, exotic plants, will make it much more likely that the maintenance will get done and keep it looking terrific.


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