Put your money where your mulch is. Dress up your landscaping - increase your home's value at the same time

With the dollar tighter than ever, many homeowners put landscaping on a back burner. But there's no real need to delay - you can do much of it yourself.

And anything you do to enhance your home, inside or outside, is like putting money in the bank. A well-landscaped home adds anywhere from $2,500 to $4,500 to its resale value. It also gives prestige to the owners!

Based on our 25 years in the landscape business, here are some basic guidelines for those who feel they can't afford to hire professional help.

1.A common mistake is overplanting - putting too much in too small an area. Space between shrubs is as valuable as space between words in a newspaper. There is no reason to hide every inch of your house foundation.

2.On a piece of paper, sketch the area to be landscaped, and show it to your nurseryman. He will be glad to guide you, free of charge if you buy your shrubs from him. Be sure to tell him which direction your house faces - north, east, south, or west. Take note of the approximate amount of sunshine available during summer. Tell him of any shade caused by buildings or large trees. A lot of money is wasted planting sun-loving plants in the shade, and vice versa. If you are not good at sketching, take some snapshots.

3.You don't need the largest shrubs available. Start with smaller ones. They are less expensive and easier to plant, and fill in fairly quickly.

4.Allow for future growth by leaving about three feet between shrubs, and between shrubs and foundation.

5.Don't try to make your planting a botanical collection; neither should you make it monotonous by using all the same species. Some repetition of species on each side will have a pleasing effect. 6.If you can't afford all the shrubs the first year, make your project with a longer plan, and budget accordingly.

7.If you need both a lawn and shrubs, but can't afford both, concentrate on putting in the lawn first. It will prevent a lot of dirt from being tracked indoors.

8.Make sure shrubs are for your area. For example, southern holly or magnolia may be beautiful in the Carolinas, but will fare badly in subzero zones.

9.Plan for low maintenance. Fast-growing trees and shrubs fill in quickly, but usually need more trimming and pruning. New landscape fabrics, spread on top of the soil, are labor savers. They deter weed growth and retain moisture. Readily available in garden stores, they can be placed after planting is done, then covered with a decorative mulch. 10.If you have access to free wood chips from an arborist who may be working in your area, don't hesitate to take them. If you object to the ``fresh'' look of the free chips, buy a couple of bags of darkened chips and scatter a thin layer over the free mulch.

11.Dress up your foundation planting with a graceful curved border. It spruces up your planting, much as a necktie does for a well-dressed man. You can use your garden hose to outline the pattern, then with a sharp edging tool, cut away the sod and apply the mulch in the defined area.

12.If planting the lawn has used up your budget for the first year, there are annuals and perennials with attractive flowers and foliage that can be started from seeds, or purchased as small, inexpensive plants. Used carefully, they can make a pleasing planting to take away the bare look. Kochia (summer cypress), dusty miller, chrysanthemums, dahlias, impatiens (for semi-shade), and geraniums are easy to grow.

Don't hesitate to question your local nurseryman, and study nursery catalogs. Avoid the catalogs that make outlandish claims, but most are storehouses of information. Above all, plan before you plant.

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