Newbie Needs help with front yard landscaping :)

EricWwwDecember 11, 2011

Greetings- I found this site not long ago and I really like what I see! I've been referred here from the Home Decorating section. I'm looking for some advice on what to do with my landscaping. From the pictures, it's a small, 1950's brick ranch. I plan on changing the trim color to a cream instead of the yellow and removing the enclosed entry. This is my first house and I'm a late 20s male who lives alone so design is not my forte :)

I'm in Maryland so it's winter time now, I have to plan for the spring time. I had just removed a bunch of overgrown bushes and started demolishing the sidewalk (it's being heaved up by the tree roots).

A few questions-

1) What do you think of that huge maple tree in the middle? Is it too big for the house? Or does it add character. On the other forum seems like most say to keep it, while a few say it's outlived its usefulness and to remove it. It is on the south side of the house and in the summer it does provide a generous amount of shade. There are 2 other trees about the same age and size in the left of that picture in the side yard.

2) Any suggestions on a curving path around the tree? I have a picture below of what I think I may do.

3) Any suggestions on what to plant in front of the house? Also, what species would work best to hide that air conditioning unit without growing into this enormous bush.

All suggestions are welcome :)

A few shots:

Currently with no bushes (yes I know I have to wash the brick and hide the trash cans)

Started demolishing sidewalk- heaved by roots.

Before shot- with overgrown bushes and an idea of a curved path:

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I'm generally for keeping trees but I think that one may have outgrown its spot. You could keep it for a few years while a replacement grows. You may want to ask in the tree forum whether it has a sustainable trunk structure.

Does the sidewalk go from the road to the house? Who uses it? If you're replacing it just because there was a path there but no one uses it, I would think about getting rid of it.

I like the setting of your house, it looks like you got a nice big lot near some nature areas. You should think about moving your landscaping away from the house and into the yard.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2011 at 12:46PM
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Good stuff, I have a feeling I'll be taking more shots and asking more advice in the future lol. One thing at a time though- as for the path- well, the house is at the end of a dead end street. So, whomever is visiting usually parks on the street and then walks in. The UPS and mail man would also use it- although the mail man cuts through my yard as it is anyway. I may even use it myself as the driveway is to the right of the shots- though I usually walk to the from driveway to door from between the smaller right tree and the house.

Here's a photoshop of what someone else (user suero in the decor forum) came up with, while leaving in the tree. I like it so far!

    Bookmark   December 12, 2011 at 1:17AM
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Gardening revolution think a nice clear frame is more important.I agree to add some shrubs or small trees,such as Japanese willow,dogwood,crabapple...

    Bookmark   December 12, 2011 at 6:32AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I see the experts on the tree forum have weighed in on the side of tree removal, which I agree with. (Do check Ken's link. With respect to falling, so many people think the thing to talk about is what the chances are that a tree will fall. I think the real issue is, how big is it and how strong is your house? Strictly a mechanical and structural question. If it will crush your house, and this one will, then you need to eliminate the risk of it falling; this is not the place for playing the odds).

But enough about falling, there is also the work and the appearance and the impact of the roots. We lived with oversize trees and their sundry impacts of this nature for too long after we moved into our house and I encourage you not to do that. Learn from the mistakes of others rather than repeating them! Pick a nicer tree and grow it well from the start. The smaller you start, the better the tree often does, ironically. All the more reason to get going on the new tree soon, so you can enjoy some of its benefits.

For the shade, you are well-placed in that you will continue to have shade from the side trees until a new tree in this approximate location grows in. Holding on to this tree longer will not spare you the exposed years when a new one grows in. It will just delay them.

And just because that tree survived one hurricane doesn't mean it will stay up through the next one. All the trees that went down in Irene had probably stayed up through several previous hurricanes too!

Karin L

Here is a link that might be useful: Tree forum thread

    Bookmark   December 12, 2011 at 1:34PM
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This will give some idea how tall this tree is in relation to the house...

    Bookmark   December 13, 2011 at 5:48PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

That's the thing - people keep saying you should get an arborist to assess the tree. Me, I think you should get a structural engineer in a situation like this, and ask him or her what would happen if this tree (add 5 years of growth) fell on this house.

Anyway, your tree, your decision! If it were mine, it would be gone as of, like, yesterday :-)

Karin L

    Bookmark   December 13, 2011 at 6:22PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

Judging from the photos alone, the tree over powers the architectural presence of the house and lot size. It would be the second thing that I would address after working on the front portico ( which I would love to get my hands on )

If you removed the tree you would have greater freedom in the design and layout of a front entry path. You will probably face less potential damage from falling branches , struggling with root competition with other plants and hard surface/ path construction.
If you decide to keep the tree I would suggest a dry laid stone path due to the roots continual growth and up lifting.

In regards to what type of plants to plant, well there are so many wonderful plants that do well in your area . Instead of chosing individual plants, try seeing the landscape as a whole composition.

I believe that if you found a well respected landscape designer in your area that an on site consultation would be a great investment to start you down the right path.

BTW, I can easily see how a minor/ modest architectural change in the facade of the portico could greatly enhance the value of your home .

    Bookmark   December 13, 2011 at 6:31PM
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Some folks always think nice garden only equal to flower herb,evergreen.but frame,tree horticulture,bush shape are important.this is a gardening revolution.
Beautiful these big prehistory trees!They give you horticulture space enough.Don't worry potential damage from falling branches and struggling with root competition with other plants after you cut out 90% branches with leafs.
How do you prune your big trees?here is my design,you prune these branches without leafs:

    Bookmark   December 13, 2011 at 10:21PM
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The first question..."has the tree outlived its usefulness?" begs another, HOW is the tree useful? Like a giant parasol, it provides protection from strong summer sun. It even provides a little protection from beginning rains. Visually, it adds interest as a sculptural object. And it frames and enhances (or obliterates depending on how it's controlled) the view of the house/property. I cannot see that it has outlived these functions. But I can see that it could be controlled a little differently so it does a better job of framing the view. Here's a little sketch that illustrates my point. I offer it not to convince you, but in order to let you know what to look for as you observe trees in others' front yards. As you travel about during the day, notice the difference in effect between trees that have been limbed up and those with low-hanging limbs. In general, large older trees that are limbed up present a cleaner, more stately appearance. If they have been limbed up properly (with balance and without protruding stubs) the character of the trunk may be much more impressive than one which has the competition of low limbs and foliage. The tree on the left competes and obstructs; the one on the right frames and shelters.
Take this suggestion with a grain of salt as it's based solely on the view shown in the next photo. I've marked red Xs to show which limbs I'd probably remove, but this is something that would really depend on what the tree looks like from all angles of view. The goal would be to have the tree be balanced from all views and get the limbs high enough to visually clear the house. Remember that limbs left on the tree will get LOWER in the future as they grow longer and heavier. (It is hardly ideal to "organize" the branching structure of a tree after trees have grown for many years without guidance. It's far preferable to prune frequently along the way. But we're working with what we have.) Keep in mind that limbing up the tree also has the benefit of allowing more light to enter below while still retaining the tree's ability to shade from the high sun. This means that one's ability to grow other landscape plants below it is improved.

"Is the tree too big for the house?" Imagine a little log cabin at the base of giant redwoods. Could there not be a more charming picture? In my view there's no problem whatsoever with a tree towering over a house. But they need to work together, not be in competition. The tree should shelter the house, not obliterate it visually. The tree roots should not interfere with the house foundation. One must desire the shade. When those requirements are met, a tree can be welcome. Though big old trees sometimes do fall over in severe storms, the likelihood of this happening is small enough that one can find thousands of danger-causing conditions that can be worried about before it. I just measured the trunk diameter of an oak tree that stands 14' from my house. It's 62". But before I would cut it down (It's benefits to me are tremendous even though it can also be a PITA,) I'd quit driving or riding with others as that's far more dangerous and likely to cause me injury.

Keep the new walkway WELL clear of the tree trunk. I think you must pay much more attention to the geometry (shape and layout) of the new path than what is shown in either of the proposed schemes. It is a built object that is an extension of the architecture. It should demonstrate this. Because of the tree, it would almost certainly have a curving component to it. You might need professional assistance here to come up with the right scheme. (Though it MIGHT work out that way, in my mind, it is not a "given" that best location for the porch steps is at the center of the porch. Design is often a balancing act and you'd be considering more than just the porch and the steps.)

Regarding "what to plant in front of the house"...the first thing to do here is work out the shape & form of the plant masses before thinking about the species of anything. You have to do this before you can figure out what plants are capable of making these forms.

Consider that a very attractive custom built section of decorative fence could be the basis of screening the AC unit. It could be an opportunity to further enhance the architecture of the house and work in unison with plants. For some brainstorming ideas, Google images for: air conditioner screen.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2011 at 1:30PM
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I think I would start with new steps in an extended and widened entry. Maybe something like this:

    Bookmark   December 14, 2011 at 2:31PM
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Following up a little more on my earlier post, here's a brainstorm about possible shapes that you could use to create a landscape. (Sorry about the scratchy look. I was stuck using the less favorable MS Paint.) I would ditch most of the siding on the porch in favor of painted wood posts and railings.

Uploaded with

    Bookmark   December 14, 2011 at 5:41PM
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@ yard - Those are the best suggestions yet. Well done.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2011 at 12:23AM
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pinusresinosa(MN Z4)

I love yardviser's work.

Except the tree ring.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2011 at 3:17PM
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Really nice house and lot. You'd lose nothing but your time limbing up the tree. I agree it would improve its look considerably.

Hope you're planning to leave the roof portion at the entry. The railings yard drew would be a required element by code but choosing a really great looking rail system would be a great enhancement.

Hope you'll keep us posted.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2011 at 10:42AM
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