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Renovating aging landscape is a gift to the neighbors

FNS Photo by Carrie Snyder Evergreens that are planted too close to the foundation become quickly overgrown.

FARGO — If yards could communicate, the question would not be “Does this landscape make me look fat?” but rather “Do these shrubs make me look old and overgrown?”

The grounds at Windsor Castle may look great, but the queen’s legion of gardeners meticulously pampers and primps the centuries-old landscaping. Aging yards aren’t always so pretty.

A slow drive through older neighborhoods provides a good example of the expected longevity of an average home landscape. Plantings installed during the 1950s through the 1980s show that after 30 or more years, action is usually needed.

It’s important to address front yard landscapes that have outlived their expiration date so they don’t detract from interesting homes in established neighborhoods.

If an aging front yard landscape needs a redo, try a 12-step process.

* Take a hard, objective look at the landscape.

Photos as viewed from the street help us see our front yard as it appears to passersby. Look especially for evergreens, both pyramidal and spreading, that are sparse, bare at the base and unsightly by most standards.

Were shrubs or trees planted too closely to the home or to each other? Is the home still the focal point of the yard, or are overgrown plants the first impression given to viewers? Give an honest self-evaluation.

* Decide what can stay and what should go.

Deciduous (leafy) shrubs that are leggy can be rejuvenated by pruning. Cut back branches to 6 inches above ground level in spring before the shrubs leaf out. New growth sprouts below the cuts, so don’t go half-way with the pruning. Grit your teeth, and cut back all the way.

Evergreens cannot be rejuvenated the same way. If they look ragged and bare, remove them. 

* Don’t be timid with removal.

Clinging to plants is a downfall of gardeners, me included. Euthanasia in the plant world is not only legal but encouraged to remove eyesores. Aging landscapes are often best rejuvenated by a fresh start.

If you can’t dig or pull the stumps completely, cut below soil level, and they will eventually decay – except types that produce “sucker” shoots. 

* Widen planting beds and shrub borders so they extend naturally out into the lawn.

Older landscapes often appear to be crammed next to the house foundation. 

* Add new shrubs.

Combine deciduous and evergreen types. Modern evergreen varieties are more compact and exhibit a variety of hues. Pyramidal evergreens, which were once fashionable on the front house corners, are better used in groupings at the rear or side of the yard.

Use different colors and textures for interest. Avoid symmetrical plantings because most homes appear more natural in an asymmetrical setting. 

* Plant flowers in the front yard.

Perennials and annuals add color and create a transition between shrubbery and lawn. Flowers make a happy landscape.

Containers can be used by the front door, and similar-colored flowers can be repeated among shrub plantings.

* Redefine landscape beds by forming crisp edges.

Materials vary from plastic to brick edging. Gently sweeping curves look pleasantly natural instead of linear rectangular lines. Neat, well-defined edges are a key to tidy rejuvenation. 

* Add fresh mulch to landscape beds.

New fabric probably needs to be installed first. Numerous available kinds make this more enjoyable than the days of only black plastic and limited rock choices.

Consider the use of Preen weed preventative granules in flower beds.

* Create a focal point.

The home is the centerpiece of the landscape, and plantings should guide your eye to the home, especially the front door.

A welcoming entry becomes a focal point when surrounded by specimen blooming or colorful shrubs. Flowers in containers are a natural attention-getter. 

* Cut a neat grass edge along the sidewalk.

If the lawn has thinned, April/May is a great time to overseed. Disturb lawn with a bow-type garden rake, then sprinkle high-quality grass seed. Cheap seed isn’t worth using.

If large trees have created a shaded lawn, choose a shade-tolerant blend. 

* Don’t become discouraged.

It isn’t easy to redo an old landscape, especially if trees or shrubs must be removed. It’s heavy labor for do-it-yourselfers, and understandably expensive to hire done. It is easier to critique than to accomplish.

* Take time to enjoy your renewed landscape.

Neatly landscaped homes in established neighborhoods are a gift to the city for which we are all grateful.

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Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as a North Dakota State University Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler’s Greenhouse in Fargo.