While we might enjoy watching the various home improvement shows filling up cable programming, many of us can’t complete the most basic of home improvement projects. The How Do I Fix That? series will show you how to tackle a range of problems that have plagued homeowners for time immemorial. Each installment will provide a walkthrough for the problem at hand so you’ll know what to expect before you get started. Now, get into your old work jeans and roll up your sleeves – we’re going to get messy.
How Do I Landscape My Home?
While sticking a flower bed and a few shrubs in the front yard might increase your home’s curb appeal, landscaping is really not that simple. For example, large expanses of grass get very hot under the Texas sun, trapping heat around your home – and plus, they suck up lots of water. If you’re not careful, you could spend much more money taking care of that greenery than you should.
This installment will cover the most important aspects of any introductory landscaping project. And because there are so many possibilities, we will discuss key examples of how landscaping not only makes your home look attractive, but also how simple planning —and planting — can help you reduce your energy usage.
Your Yard is a Microclimate
Careful landscaping around your home creates a “microclimate.” During summer, paved areas absorb daytime heat and radiate it at night. Trees, shrubs, or vines can make the air around your home cooler at night just by shading patios, driveways, and your yard. Shading your air conditioner can even help it perform better by as much as 10%.
Keeping the hot Texas sun from burning up your roof reduces the amount of heat your home’s air conditioning must cool. Planting a 25-foot tall shade tree on the western and eastern sides of your home can knock off at least 23% from your utility bill. Shade reduces the roof’s surface temperature by 20–45°Fand you’ll wind up spending less on cooling your home.
Ideas for Basic Projects that Provide Tangible Benefits
Adding small garden plots situated near the back door to your kitchen can augment your daily meals. An herb spiral is designed to make the most use of water, so place thirsty plants (such as sage and oregano) at the top with other herbs requiring less and less water (parsley, chamomile, or summer savory) further down the spiral.
Ornamental gardens don’t need to just be pretty. They can be whimsical and also help shade buildings in the summer time. This Goth Garden features black mulch and 12 different plants with black (or deep purple) flowers or very dark, dark green foliage. There’s even a biker gnome.
Trees, shrubs, and other vegetation can absorb water that are prone to rainwater ponding. Some raspberries and blackberries like moist areas and will reward you with mid-summer yumminess if you plant them properly.
Problem run-off areas around your home can be improved with landscaping. Projects such as building simple retaining walls can prevent run off water from getting into a home, causing a host of problems, including mildew and mold, and present places to create wind breaks for winter.
Plan Your Plants
No matter what project you choose to kickstart your landscaping project, the best results will always come from planning.
- Create a diagram of what to plant around your home and develop a realistic timeline for completion.
- Remember to leave enough room for growth and air circulation. While shrubs and bushes planted near your home might help shade and cool your home, they will trap unwanted moisture when overgrown.
- Plant trees, but keep them pruned so branches don’t grown into the side of the house or on to the roof. This will prevent damage and it won’t create a commuting lane for squirrels, raccoons, and other pests.
- Give yourself room to experiment with different plants to keep your home looking new and interesting.
If you don’t know where to start, consult landscaping experts. Local nurseries, landscaping professionals, and county extension agents for advice or planning help. Texas native species tend to thrive best. The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service offers great resources, including an invaluable publication on Texas Shade Trees and a fantastically insightful guide to shade gardening in the Houston area.
Photos courtesy of Judith Trollinger.