While winter still casts chill, blankets snow, and layers ice in many parts of the country, it’s a good time for homeowners to study garden catalogs and interior/exterior design websites to find new trends that can work outdoors. Then, when the weather warms, you will already have great new ideas that you can implement for greater enjoyment of your yard, increased home value, and enhanced curb appeal. Before you start installing your new landscape, you should understand your site’s topography, orientation, climate, and economy, as well as decide on a budget.
When considering a design, be aware that what’s popular in your city experiencing growth may not appeal where the economy is stagnant. Here are the most popular trends we’ve spotted around the country:
Low maintenance. Busy homeowners want to enjoy their yards with as little time and effort as possible. This translates into care-free choices throughout the garden: materials for decks, patios, and columns that don’t require repainting or replacing; furnishings that can be left outdoors throughout the year and won’t fade; plant materials that have low water, fertilizing, or pruning needs.
- Use perennials instead of annuals, since the latter require yearly replacement. To compensate for color, a big advantage of annuals over perennials, landscape specialists suggest that color come from accessories such as pillows, placemats, dishes and garden accessories.
- Use wildflowers. They are less labor intensive and less expensive than cottage and cutting garden annuals.
- Use simpler design with plant materials. Gardens that incorporate five to seven varieties rather than dozens require less care but are still pleasing.
- Use container gardens. These can spare maintenance and pots can winter indoors. The only downside is that they need to be watered more often since water will evaporate faster from pots than from the ground. The larger the container the more visual impact and the less water loss.
- Find water features that require less intense care. More homeowners are installing pools with salt water to decrease the need for chlorination; some go with natural pools where rocks and plantings cleanse water. Still others opt for small fountains with low water requirements that still provide the trickling sounds and sight.
- Consider grass alternatives. For example, Grassology’s grass-like product requires less water and feeding since its roots go deeper than ordinary grass. The “grass” also doesn’t grow as high so less mowing is needed. “No mow lawns” of creeping red fescue with their windswept appearance are also becoming more popular
Entertaining outdoors. This trend is spurring more homeowners to add patios, decks, or terraces and ones large enough to accommodate comfortable seating, so the finished result resembles an indoor room. The furnishings selected are also sturdier—sometimes indistinguishable in quality and looks from what homeowners use indoors; upholstery is more fade resistant.
- Bells and whistles make outdoor living even more pleasurable, whether it’s surround sound, weatherproof TVs, or well equipped kitchens. While some homeowners still find a good grill sufficient, especially if their indoor kitchen is close by, others are ramping up their cooking zones with appliances specifically designed for outdoor use—sinks, refrigerators, beer taps, pizza ovens, rotisseries. Storage and countertops are also more frost-proof.
- To shade diners or sitters, pergolas continue to flourish, matched stylistically to a home’s design or favorite vacation paradise—perhaps, Tuscany, or the South Seas. To shade better, many are planted with flowering vines and elaborate mister systems.
- For those who aren’t as focused on saving dollars, water features are ever more lavish and resort-like. Vanishing-edge pools, where water seems to spill over indefinitely, are increasingly popular to mimic five-star hotels.
Sustainably savvy. Native choices have caught on because they don’t require frequent watering or as much feeding, fertilizing, and pruning, and also know how to survive in their region. They also offer the plus of attracting more native wild life, bees, butterflies, and bugs.
- Green gardening also means less lawn for many, and more hardscape that’s permeable such as gravel or decomposed granite, so water can seep through and be reused. But be sure homeowners understand that all hardscape isn’t the goal either, since some greenness is key to a home looking residential and inviting. Some green areas are essential for children and dogs to play. Large trees shade hardscapes and reduce water loss and evaporation.
- If you still want lawn, consider going with a choices that can be left more natural to resemble a meadow or prairie, or they might consider synthetic turf, which now looks much more realistic.
- If you want to plant vegetable and herb gardens to grow more of your food, you can do so by first checking your soil to see if it needs amending, and then picking your favorite edibles, as long as they’ll work in the soil or amount of sun and shade. As an alternative, install raised planters , where you can control the type of soil and drainage.
- Drip irrigation systems can help conserve water better than conventional sprays heads, which often overspray onto existing hardscape. Eager to lower your water use? Consider installing rain barrels underground cisterns and other collection methods.
- Incorporate local, recycled, and renewable materials including nearby quarried stone and reclaimed lumber.
- For illumination, LEDs are replacing halogen bulbs because of their greater energy efficiency, particularly as their prices come down. These lights are being used for eating and sitting areas, but also to accent specimen trees, garden furnishings, and artwork. You should be able to focus on the effect, but not the source.
- Adding a fire pit or fireplace also encourages homeowners to use their outdoors as the weather becomes colder. The decision whether to use a fireplace or a fire pit can come down to cost available space, and portability. Be sure to investigate your community’s regulations about setbacks for fire features before you install them. Fire bowls produce a less intense flame but still provide a beautiful effect when placed around a terrace’s perimeter or by a pool. If you like going barefoot around your patio, consider installing radiant heat.
- Be sure to use elements that are beautiful to your eye. Focal points in a garden can be sculptures, ornamental trees, glorious water features or fire features. Choose a palate of plants that are harmonious.
- Many people enjoy bringing natural sounds to their outdoor spaces. Water features provide that relaxing sound of running water and choosing the right plants can attract songbirds.
- You can add scents to your outdoor room by your choice of plants, for example, star jasmine, daphne or gardenias are popular for their beautiful scents. However, be aware of allergies as some of your friends may have reactions to strong floral smells.
And whatever choices you end up considering in your new landscape design, consider how long you intend to spend in your home. If you anticipate a shorter stay, do not to spend more than 10 to 20 percent of your home’s value, so you don’t over improve. However, if you plan to live at your residence forever, cost matters less than sustainability, durability, easy care and longevity.
Reprinted from Realtor® Magazine with permission of the National Association of Realtors®, February 2014. www.Realtor.org