Fortunately, creating a great-looking front yard doesn’t cost a fortune

by Ryan Starr Special to the Star

Whether you’re planning on putting your home on the market this summer or simply sprucing things up after winter, it’s essential your house has curb appeal.

Fortunately, creating curb appeal doesn’t have to cost a fortune. A few simple tweaks and some ongoing maintenance can make a world of difference.

We asked Greater Toronto Area landscaping experts for their advice:

Tidy up

Clean plant beds up by removing weeds and pruning overgrown shrubs, or getting rid of them if they’re beyond salvation. Make sure all the edges are clean and straight. “That automatically defines the bed and tidies it up, ” says Barry McCague, owner of McCague Landscape Construction in Schomberg, Ont.

Then cultivate the beds and add some mulch. “Good quality mulch, ” McCague notes, “not chunked up wood chips. A pine mulch or something that has some colour in it that looks fresh.”

Keep it simple

When it comes to plant selection, “you’ve got to simplify things, ” says Rita Novorolsky at Great Garden Revival in Markham. “A hedge of boxwoods will do a better job of cleaning up the front of your house than going out and buying 15 different perennials.”

Kate Seaver, owner of Kate’s Garden in Unionville has a simple rule to keep in mind: “Less is more, and buy more of less.”

Love your lawn

A little TLC goes a long way. You should water the lawn on a regular basis to keep it looking green. “The greener the lawn, the better, ” Novorolsky says.

If it needs a bit of help, add some fertilizer. And consider topdressing: a layer of compost, soil or sand scattered over the surface of your lawn to improve the quality.

Where the grass meets walkways, curbs or the driveway, take a spade and remove at least an inch of grass, McCague says. “It gives it a nice maintained look.”

Create a focal point

To help your home stand out from the crowd, create a focal point, Novorolsky advises. She recommends planting a large tree at the side of your home.

She notes three simple elements that can go a long way toward adding curb appeal: a “greeting urn” that displays plants in the colours of the season. Next, have some kind of “greeting seating” (a chair or a bench, for instance).

Finally, have a wreath on the front door, she says. “It’s the universal symbol of welcome.”

A walkway that winds

If you have the means, Novorolsky highly recommends installing a walkway that cuts into the driveway or front lawn. “If you pull the walkway out from the house, ” she says, “it makes it feel more open.”

But “it’s not as easy as it looks when you watch pros do it, ” McCague says. Better to get an experienced contractor to do the job than to showcase your shoddy workmanship, he says.

Light it up

Most homes already have lights on the garage or in the front door area, so you might consider “up-lighting” a tree or whatever focal point you’ve chosen.

You could also install path lighting to identify walkways or parking areas. Just be sure you install low-voltage lights specifically designed for outdoor use.

Finishing touches

You also have to examine how your doors, fixtures and facade appear from the street.

If the front of your home looks dreary and run down, it might be a wise idea to add a fresh coat of paint or replace weathered elements altogether.

First published in the Toronto Star on May 5, 2011

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