Now is the time for the greening of your home

THE saying has been around for some time: Money doesn't grow on trees. But a majority of American realtors aren't so sure it holds true any longer. You may not be able to pick silver coins from your favorite shrub out front, they say, but a few well-placed trees, shrubs, and a nice thick lawn will add significantly to the resale value of your home -- up to $6,400, according to a recent survey of American realtors, or from 7 to 9 percent on the average $70,000 to $90,000 American home. Location is said to be all-important in real estate values, and good landscaping effectively improves the site in the immediate vicinity of the house, realtors point out.

Of the realtors surveyed by the O. M. Scott & Sons Co. of Marysville, Ohio, 94 percent said good landscaping was ``an important to very important factor'' in the final decision to buy. This contrasts with only 76 percent of realtors in the previous survey, 10 years ago.

Even among those who didn't see landscaping affecting price significantly, a majority agreed it would shorten a home's time on the market.

Many realtors contend that if potential buyers drive past a property and like the look of the lawn and landscaping, an inquiry is likely to follow.

Would-be buyers tend to feel that a neat and attractive landscaping reflects the condition of the home's interior, according to many of the realtors polled.

The significance of these latest findings won't be lost on homeowners or any property owner with the opportunity to landscape; the timing of their release is important, too, because the next several weeks of fall provide the optimum conditions in which new plantings of hardy perennials, shrubs, or trees, can become established.

At one time it was believed that the optimum time to plant trees and shrubs, at least in the North, was in the spring. But a new understanding of what goes on beneath the soil in recent years has changed all this. Studies have found that optimum root growth on all perennials takes place in the fall.

With no competition from new top growth, all a tree's energy is chanelled into the roots in this period. In contrast, spring-planted perennials are required to produce new top growth and new roots at the same time. In spring, too, stressful warmer air temperatures can arrive while soil temperatures remain too low for the roots to work effectively. In the fall, exactly the opposite situation is at work.

The critical cut off point for root development is a soil temperature of 40 degrees F., and it can take several weeks of consistently cold air temperatures before that happens. Under these conditions, a vigorous root system is readily established before the onset of bitter winter weather.

For this reason a 2- to 3-inch mulch placed around a newly planted tree is particularly beneficial, because it provides an insulating blanket of protection over the root area, maintaining acceptable soil temperatures for a week or more after bare soil has dropped too low for continued growth.

This is the period of the year, too, when new lawns are best established or old ones upgraded. Just as trees benefit from the special conditions of fall, so grass seedlings or newly laid sod establish a sound root system at this time of year. Established lawns use this period to store energy that enables them to put on a spurt of early spring growth.

If you plan to fertilize your lawn, do so now. Allow the grass to grow somewhat longer than you did throughout the season, since the more leaf area is exposed to the sun, the more energy the lawn will capture through photosynthesis for storage in the roots.

Finally, when the ground has begun to freeze over, cut the lawn to about 1 inch high, sweep up the clippings, and leave it alone until the spring.

A healthy lawn, as well as trees and shrubs, represent a major investment in a homeowner's time and money, but a small one compared to the several thousand dollars' worth of increased equity that can come out of that investment.

Then there is the best reward of all: The joy of living in more attractive surroundings.

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