Front Yard Ideas for Colonial

aunj629September 3, 2011

We have been our home in SE Michigan for 2 years. I hate how the front yard is landscaped... so many bushes and not enough color. Any suggestions? Oh and yes, I whacked the arbor vitae in half and trimmed the bottom... I think it just needs to go--not sure what to put there.



Here is a link that might be useful:

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I'm putting picture here so it's easier for everyone. Is the tree on the left a crab? Is shrub on r of window var. dogwood? What are the groundcovers? I can tell you now the arborvitae and hedge, front and center should go away. It would be better if you could post a picture taken from a little farther back (20' farther back) so it includes the complete bed next to drive and more of the bed on left side of house.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2011 at 11:57PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

What Yardviser said.

You deserve a medal for whacking the arborvitae -- tearing out the rest of it will get you a second medal!

Which direction does the house face?

What is the shrub to the left of the window?

How far from the ground is the bottom of the window?

Southeast MI would be USDA hardiness zone 5b or 6a.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2011 at 12:46AM
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Hello... not sure what the tree is. The bushes in front of the window are boxwood. The left "shrub" is actually some vine runner. There is a Japanese maple to the right. Not sure what the groundcover is... thanks!

    Bookmark   September 4, 2011 at 11:32AM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

Thanks for the photos.

It would be a good idea for you to identify the tree at the left corner and also the (flowering?) one between the window and the door.

If you need something identified (tree, shrub, herbaceous plant, weed), a close-up photo showing a few leaves, their attachment to and arrangement on the stem (opposite, alternate, etc.) can be posted to the Name That Plant! forum (which is also linked at the top of GW's main page):
Any additional info you can tell them about flowers, fruit, fall color, etc. will help. In some cases a photo of the bark on the trunk will be helpful. If you post more than one plant in a thread, be sure to make it clear which text and photos go together. If you post multiple threads within a day or two, be sure to give the threads different titles, or people will assume you posted twice by accident.

The JM is a cascading type (that just means that rather than grow upright, it flops over the way yours does). It will continue to impinge on the driveway, but since it probably grows very slowly, you can keep it for years. The JM forum unfortunately is quite slow; if you ever need advice about pruning it, it's probably best to post on the Trees forum instead.

It looks to me as if you have about 2' below the window.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2011 at 12:37PM
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I know people will gripe about my drawing, but I'm just showing an overall scheme. You have to work out the little details on site.

The tree on L (which looks like crab so that's good) needs to grow taller to do its job. Early spring, late winter (BEFORE new growth) remove bottom branches to at least 50% of total height with the goal, as the tree grows, of at least 8' clear trunk. Later, even higher. As you remove bottom branches you will promote new growth at top. If you delay this, you'll only produce more shade below and make it more difficult to grow groundcover well beneath the tree. And maintenance of anything below will be more difficult with the tree branches in your way.

The groundcover beneath the tree is Euonymus fortunei which comes in a jillion cultivars. If it turns purplish in the winter, it's probably 'Coloratus' which is popular. It looks ragged. Set your lawnmover on high (highest) and make a hidden test cut. You don't want to scalp to earth, but just trim it all shorter (3-4" is good) to let it regrow and smooth out. You might have to put 2" x 4"s down as a runner for the mower if you can't set the mower high enough. That would gain you an extra 1 1/2". If you can't do with mower, do with hedge trimmers. Define the bed by making the edge circular and distinct...not fading into the grass.

I'm showing the bed backed up with 'Annabelle' hydrangea which comes from the end of the house to an extent which is off the I don't know where it ends. With it's white very long lasting blooms, it really livens up a yard. There are new cultivars of this with color, but I don't have any experience with them. Investigate if you like.

To L of big window I can't tell what you have but looks like maybe globe shaped yew. It so, that's fine. Keep trimmed as globe and don't let it grow too high...3-4'. Though I'm showing on other side of window, too, that might not be possible....a detail to work out on site. If it won't fly, extend the Euonymus in its place.

Below window could be just Euonymus. Or you could deepen the bed and the back of it would make a good place for flowering perennials...which I'm showing an outline in bright pink. It's saying more Siberian Iris to me. Another possibility, Daylilies. There are umpteen possibilites...whatever suits your fancy...but not more than 18" or 2' tall.

You already have the variegated dogwood. The foliage mass needs to not be in your face or in front of you have the "vacant" spot above it on the house. I would turn this into a small "tree" by leaving the upright trunks. Hopefully there are at least 10 or 12 of them so it looks like a full bouquet. Remove side branches to 50% of it's height and let new growth come at the top. As it begins to exceed 8' you can pollard it there (chop off the head--straight across--and all side branches) every year just before the new growth begins. The prize feature of this plant (aside from the variegated foliage are the red twigs. But these are shiny red only on the new growth. Older growth is dull bark. Pollarding is the best way to create a full "brush" of new growth, which looks awesome in the winter. Search Google images for "red twig dogwood" to see the possibilities. For some reason people only know to pollard these at the ground level, but in your case, the tree form will work much better. Wherever it (or any tree form) contacts the house, you chop off the back for clearance. It is not noticeable from the front and makes no difference to the plant. I'm sure some others on this forum will rail against this suggestion of this plant, pollarding and the tree form, but I stand behind it with with knowledge and experience. With pollarding you'll have the fullest head of brilliant twigs (so to speak) and never have to worry about the plant getting too big for it's space.

The yellow is annuals...about 15-18" ht.

Your walk is screaming to be widened so I did it. The porch needed cleaning, too. :)

In the bed next to drive, match annuals other side of walk, Siberian Iris at back of bed next to wall would look good and add more color (and nice foliage when color is finished).

The rest of bed is Dianthus 'Firewitch' for spring color and then nice light grayish teal foliage a lawn. Maybe something you already have will work for that, but I can't tell what it is. It should be very low, though, and only one thing, for this spot.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2011 at 2:45PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

Also--your weeping Japanese Maple looks as if it is suckering from the rootstock. That big branch with the fat leaves? If it is coming from below the graft then you need to take it off. (And its little brother on the other side of the tree.) Sharp pair of felcos. Don't do too much digging around that maple's root system...they HATE that. Hard to tell what cultivar of weeping maple that is from the picture provided...but it's certainly a low-graft. PROBABLY Crimson Queen. If you want help with ID/pruning advice, the UBC botanical garden JM board used to be quite active. You could join there and post. I'll provide a link below.

Yardviser--I think your quick sketch provides a good visual/bare bones suggestion for the OP.

Here is a link that might be useful: UBC Botanical Gardens Forum

    Bookmark   September 13, 2011 at 8:24AM
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I took out the bush in front of the porch and trimmed the other bushes. Here is my "paint" landscaping ideas....

    Bookmark   September 15, 2011 at 8:30PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

Very colorful! I guess you're going in for annuals.

Be sure to choose a tree that won't end up cracking the driveway and front walk. (I don't know enough to recommend the correct varieties for such a location.)

    Bookmark   September 15, 2011 at 9:09PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Your landscape installation had definitely outgrown its life expectancy, with the plants markedly too big for their spaces. But by way of replacing that installation, it's such a shame to stay within the same standard layout when you have so much flexibility with respect to what to do. No constraints of slope or anything, just room for creative layout and plant selection. Do you use the lawn much?

If colour is your major driver, and you don't want to alter the layout, then it's not really design you're after but plant selection. Design would be fun though :-)

Karin L

    Bookmark   September 15, 2011 at 9:30PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

I don't think the front landscape is the disaster that you feel it to be. The arborvitae which you whacked probably had gotten too big for this spot, but the rest of the shrubs and small trees nicely balance the house. The boxwood is quite receptive of shearing to keep at this size or slightly lower to just clear the windows, and can provide a nice deep green foil for an extended planting bed for either shorter flowering shrubs or more colorful foliage accents or perennials. Your climate zone isn't one I am so familiar with, but something like Sedum spectabile or Anemone hybrida set in front of the boxwood could give a nice effect. Replacing that Arborvitae with a single colorful accent foliage or flowering shrub about 2/3rds the size of the existing may be all you need. You could always add mass plantings of spring bulbs such as daffodils or Dutch Iris within the area of groundcover for spring effects. If you really feel the need for more color in summer, massed color from annuals such as either impatiens of one color block with another long blooming selection of cosmos in a complementary tone placed within an enlarged/widened planting bed fronting the boxwood could also do it, without having to rip out all the existing nicely matured shrubs and small trees.

If this were a California garden I could suggest much more in the way of interesting low colorful foliage accents as a foreground border to the boxwood, or you could use them as annuals and plant dwarf variegated foliage cannas. It would be a good setting for chartreuse foliage accents such as Acorus gramineus 'Ogon', or Hakenochloe grass or something similar in habit to Coleonema pulchrum 'Sunset Gold' (perhaps a dwarf spirea?)

If you would prefer to expand your planting bed out and retain more of the existing stuff, look around your neighborhood or local nurseries for more colorful flowering or foliage low growers to place against the existing backdrop. Perhaps a smaller sized climbing vine trained up that porch post could be a nice touch also, perhaps using a tender annual such as a morning glory or a summer tropical such as Mandevilla or a honeysuckle for fragrance as you enter the house.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2011 at 10:54PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

bahia, how do you feel about how close the boxwood is to the house? Take a look at the 7th photo. I don't know if the boxwood is contributing to the paint loss, but it does look like the wood needs to be repainted, and to my (non-painter's) eye, the boxwood looks in the way.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2011 at 12:44AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Yeah if this were going in new, it probably would be better to move those boxwoods a bit further away from the house. On the otherhand boxwood is very tolerant of heavy shearing and even if all foliage is removed, it will regrow fully in a year's time. Boxwood is also fairly easy to dig and move, and for repainting purposes, a simple tarp and rope will allow access for painting.

It just seems a shame to me to recommend such a drastic makeover of this front garden when it actually frames the house nicely.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2011 at 1:27AM
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