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Here's Landscaping Help for First-Time Homeowners

By Robert Cox, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension agent, horticulture

Congratulations! You've closed on the loan and that new home is yours.

If landscaping isn't on top of your to-do list, it will be after the kids and the dog track dirt onto the carpet for the 10th time. That's when the new homeowner will want the information below:

  • A well-designed, attractive landscape can add 10 percent to the value of the home -- good information to keep in mind in these days of professional mobility.
  • Plants grow best in good soil and with moderate environmental conditions. But Front Range soils tend to be poor alkaline clays and our environment is one of low humidity. Newcomers often are surprised at the relatively few plants that thrive under such conditions.
  • After new construction, the "soil" left behind likely is compacted by machinery and foot traffic. You might need to remove chunks of concrete and other construction trash from your lot. Then add organic materials, such as compost, aged manure, leaf mold or sphagnum peat moss. Rototill into existing soil to improve soil texture and promote good root growth.
  • Consider a soil test from Colorado State University's soil lab. It will tell you how much, if any, organic matter to add, or if any plant nutrients are lacking in the soil.
  • Decide what you'll need in your yard: An area for pets? For children to play? A vegetable or a flower garden? A deck, Walkways or benches? Dwarf fruit trees, strawberries or raspberries? Will you want to plant shrubs or hedges to hide an undesirable view or to create a private sitting area?
  • Consider planting trees to shade the south, west and east sides of your house. Evergreen trees planted on the north and west sides of your property will serve as winter windbreaks.
  • Beware of planting fast-growing trees, such as cottonwoods, willows, poplars and silver maples. In the long run, fast-growing trees are less valuable in the landscape because they tend to be weak-wooded and susceptible to storm breakage. They are short-lived and they host a variety of potential insect and disease problems. Besides needing a lot of water, cottonwoods, willow and silver maples often get too large for the average back yard and prevent other gardening activities. (Note the postage-stamp sized yards that come with today's new homes.)
  • If you're considering aspen, be aware they prefer cool, moist, well-drained mountain soils rather than Front Range clay.
  • What about a lawn? Turfgrass has the potential to be the most water-consumptive landscape element. Even if you have the time and money for watering, fertilizing, mowing and controlling weeds, you might want to consider alternatives.
  • Check to see if your municipality offers rebates if you install a water-conserving, low-maintenance landscape. Those moving into older homes may have some options if they retrofit yards to include less lawn and more low-maintenance plants.
  • Turfgrass choices in the Front Range area generally are Kentucky bluegrass, turf-type tall fescue, perennial ryegrass and buffalograss. Each has advantages and disadvantages in respect to shade tolerance, drought resistance, wear tolerance, disease resistance, insect pest problems, fertilizer needs, mowing characteristics, color and growth habit. Based on how the yard will be used, one turfgrass type might be better than another. Talk over these choices with your Colorado State University Cooperative Extension agent or a Master Gardener. Cooperative Extension can send you a variety of fact sheets to help make the choice.
  • Decide if you'll work with a landscape designer and a landscape contractor or if you'll do the work yourself. You might choose to finish the job over a period of several months or years. But, be honest. Do you have the time to plan, install and maintain the landscape? Do you enjoy this type of work?
  • Arm yourselves with graph paper and begin a basic plan. Even if a designer helps with the landscape, it's a good idea to provide input. After all, it's YOUR yard we're talking about.

Photograph courtesy of Larry Lundin.

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010