Articles by Jim Gainan

As published in the Billings Gazette

Growing Up: Curb appeal: your home's first impression

How's your home's curb appeal? It's worth serious consideration for several reasons. First, our homes are a huge investment. Second, deferring the maintenance of our homes is a tempting proposition, but what if we need to sell our home quickly? I think of  the expense of curb appeal the same way I view a savings account; if you put nothing in, you'll get nothing out. However, if you put money in to the "right things", you'll get it back and then some -- just like a savings account.

We have all driven by that one special house in the neighborhood that has that "Wow" factor. That is called "Curb Appeal" --essentially the appeal of the house and its landscape as you approach it from the street. Think of it as your home's first impression.

The term "curb appeal" was actually coined in the mid-70s during the housing boom. In today's world with TV shows and entire networks designed for the Do-It-Yourselfers, it has become a popular industry buzzword.

We can hardly watch a show on HGTV without hearing it and dream that a team of landscape designers, carpenters and experts choose our home to descend upon and give it an extreme makeover.

However, we don't necessarily need that team. Increasing your home's curb appeal can be easily accomplished, whether your home has an established yard or you are starting with a blank canvas.

For instant color and a welcoming feel, add some container gardens. Place them along a walkway, on a porch, on either side of your door or down your steps. Planters and pots should be treated as smaller versions of the flower border with the same design principles applying. Use up to 3 colors together with the taller plants in the center or rear.

Plants that trail over the edge, such as vinca, lotus vine, sprengeri or lobelia, will help give the planter unity with the surroundings.

A general rule of thumb to follow when selecting plants for your planter is that the eventual height of the tallest plants would be as tall as, or up to 2/3 the height of the planter. Dracaena (spikes) are often added to the center of the planting to achieve this extra height. Tall flowering annuals such as cosmos, pentas, dahlia, canna or salvia look great in large whiskey barrel sized planters.

You might also want to consider using a short trellis in a large pot. Vining plants such as morning glory, sweet peas and black-eyed susans can create an impressive planter in a short time.

Planters and pots must have drainage holes. Use only packaged potting soils to fill your planters. Garden soil is not recommended, since it usually does not drain fast enough. During the hottest days of summer, you will probably have to water your planters daily.

Mixing root watering crystals, such as "Soilmoist" into the soil can decrease the time you spend watering by 50%. The crystals absorb many times their weight in water and release it slowly to the roots. Your plants benefit by having a constant water supply to draw on, instead of a wide fluctuation of moisture.

Take the time to refresh any existing landscape and garden beds by pruning and shaping shrubs, pulling weeds, planting new plants and adding new compost and mulch.

You may find an area that would benefit from a new bed. Use a discriminating eye and look at the front corners of your yard, along your driveway or walkway. Would your yard benefit from a little softening in those areas with either annuals or perennials?

Annuals perform all season, while perennials will flower for a shorter time and then become mainly a foliage plant until next year.

However, the foliage of perennials can be as striking and eye-catching as the brightest blooms. Graceful arches of grasses, delicate serrated fronds of ferns, the silvery-gray of artemesias, the metallic or burgundy foliage of coral bells -- all can take a starring role in your garden.

As you are driving around town or walking in your neighborhood, pay attention to what appeals to you and see if it would translate to your yard. If you still dream of a team of workers transforming your yard in a day, recruit some family and friends to help and then reward them with a relaxing barbecue at the end of the day.