3 First Steps for Lovely Landscaping around your Newly Built Home

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Anyone out there live in a brand-new house? Around the Des Moines area, new homes are popping up all the time. Since most new neighborhoods are built in former corn fields, the houses look so lonely! This project used the landscaping to help this new build look like it’s been there forever. I’ll walk you through 3 steps to start with so you can get going.

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Red-Fern-Landscape-Design-New-Construction-Landscaping-Front-Yard-Back-Yard-Des-Moines

This house wasn’t in a corn field and was lucky to have some timber around it, but the yard space was just wide open and a complete blank canvas. It’s hard to imagine how to start from bare dirt or new sod and get to lush gardens and sweet outdoor spaces to hang out. It can be overwhelming and confusing to prioritize and get going. Here are the three things I’d do first.

1- START WITH THE FRONT ENTRY.
I have a whole blog post about creating a front entry - so go check that out if you haven’t yet! So many clients come to me because they don't know where to start. My advice is to start with your front - you gain curb appeal, YOU see it every day, and it will be the most valuable change you’ll make if you ever sell. I know- you just got this thing built! The facts are that Americans move an average of every 7 years, so investing now to make your home more sellable later is nothing but wise.

  • If you can, avoid the builder-basic concrete pad and go with a more thoughtful surface for your walkway. Choose flagstone or concrete pavers to set your entry apart from the neighbors’.

  • Plant along the whole walkway. Allow people to walk through a garden to your front door. It doesn’t have to be massive or complicated! Pick your favorite color and find a perennial and a shrub that each have that color in it - leaves, stems and flowers are all options. Then find an evergreen you like. Make sure all the plants work with your sun or shade exposure and don’t get too big or stay too small. Place the evergreen as a marker either at the beginning like we did with this small fir, or at the far corner for something larger. Then use your perennials and shrubs to fill in along the walkway. Boom. Front entry done.

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Red-Fern-Landscape-Design-New-Construction-Landscaping-Front-Yard-Back-Yard-Des-Moines

2- PLANT A TREE.
I know, your builder planted 2 or 3 around the property. Well, I will bet you $100 at least one of two things are true: the trees are planted too deeply, and they’re the same trees that are all down your street. Y’all. This is a systemic problem and we’re in trouble in 30 years - trouble that we caused and that we can fix.

All these new construction neighborhoods are filled with the same trees! Not only maples, but the same EXACT cultivar, most likely. That means that every tree on your street is genetically identical to the rest, and if a disease or insect comes through you have NO genetic diversity to protect them. Ever heard of Dutch elm disease? it wiped out street trees in every town in America. We still haven’t recovered.

I have a great guide to under-used shade trees that you can get here. Take a peek and help change our towns and cities for good! Plant a deciduous tree (that’s one that loses its leaves in winter) along the southwest corner of your house for optimal shade in the summer and sunshine in winter. Follow the most up-to-date guidelines for tree planting - research has changed how we do things over the years! I give every client a copy of Purdue University’s tree planting guide because it’s the best I’ve ever seen. You can grab it here, totally free from Purdue Extension Service.

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3- CREATE A GATHERING SPACE.
Quite often, all I see when “landscaping” is complete is a strip of shrubs slammed along the front foundation of the house, and then a deck or patio tagged on the back door. I want to help people create spaces to spend time in - to gather with friends and family, surrounded by nature. It takes a bit more than a patch of concrete to make that happen. Adding a gathering space will really make a different in your new construction neighborhood. Again, you need things that set your house apart from the neighbors, and I don’t mean for comparison. Your home should be a reflection of YOU- what you and your family love, how you spend your time. Every home in your neighborhood is filled with interesting, unique people that all have wonderful things that set them apart. Your home should celebrate that!

  • If you’re a couple downsizing for retirement, create a small gathering space with a bench tucked in a corner under a tree - maybe in the front yard to visit with neighbors!

  • If you’re parents of tweens, go for broke (ummm… literally?!?) with a pool, patio, and pergola. Create the yard everyone wants to come play in!

  • If your budget is modest, grab a tractor rim and a few bags of pea gravel, and create a fire pit to draw chairs around and hang out with friends.

There are so many different spaces that will encourage you and your loved ones to spend more time outside. Surround these spaces with plantings filled with things you love- maybe it’s prairie flowers, or maybe it’s neat and tidy boxwoods. This last step will help you begin to use your outdoors in this new house of yours, and it will add value and set your home apart. If you’re into prairie-style plantings, I have a prairie-inspired landscape design that you can download and try out in your own yard! Check it out and let me know what you think.

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I love the challenge of creating a landscape for a new home. The blank slate is so fun! If you don’t know where to start - 1) get your front entry taken care of, 2) plant a shade tree, and then 3) create a gathering space somewhere. You’ll be amazed how these three small steps will make a landscape that you love.

Is all of this too overwhelming? If you’re ready for more, I have a few options for you. I offer gardener coaching sessions where you can get my input and ideas for 2 full hours at your house - you can learn more and sign up here. I also provide full service design projects, where I create the plan, organize the installation and see it all through to completion. Let me know if you need it. I’d love to help in whatever way works best for you!

Tree silhouettes - no leaves might be okay, for a while

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While I'm certainly ready for my surroundings to turn green again, I'm also grateful for beautiful springtime days that highlight the outline and structure of the trees around me. 

Form is a powerful element of design.  The shapes we're surrounded by can affect the mood and feel of a space.  Landscape trees come in a variety of shapes, or habits: rounded or ovate trees are welcoming and gentle, columnar forms are formal and strong, and weeping shapes are quiet and contemplative.  Look at how this bald cypress stands at attention at the end of a walkway: 

The upright, pyramidal form of the bald cypress is powerful and energetic - it adds that energy to the landscape around it. 

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This burr oak is gnarly and rough, but its reaching, open habit softens that rugged exterior and makes this giant more welcoming. 

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Take the time this spring to admire and consider the shapes of the trees on your property!  See how their habit contributes to the feel of your space - you might want to add some new dimension this season with other forms.