University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science

News Article


By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont

No matter how well-landscaped your yard is, if it's not functional, you've wasted time and money. When landscaping, you must take your family's needs into account.

For example, do you have young children? If so, you'll probably need an open, grassy play area for games. If you like to entertain, you may want an outdoor entertainment area such as a patio. Do you need an area for pets or outdoor storage for firewood, a boat, or camper? All this must be considered before you put in a single tree or plant.

Landscapes can be divided into areas according to their use. The public area is the part of your property that will be seen by passers-by and guests. This area is usually where cars are parked and guests enter the property.

When planning the public part of your landscape, keep in mind that walks should not be obstructed by spreading or low-branched trees or shrubs. Plantings should not interfere with outdoor lighting or obscure the house and number.

The foundation planting needs to accent the space next to the main entrance but not contain several elements that compete for attention. The planting should help attain a visual balance by complementing the architectural style of the house.

Avoid a congested and overgrown look by using plants that are in proper scale with the house. The use of low-maintenance plants will cut down on the amount of work necessary to keep the planting looking good.

The main entrance can be accented by using plants with interesting and eye-catching color, shape, or foliage texture in the planting space next to the main entrance. The same eye-catching plants, used elsewhere in the landscape, will draw attention away from the main entrance.

The plants used in the foundation planting need to be in scale with the house. One-story homes with long, low roof lines look best with dwarf evergreens or other small plants. Two-story homes can accommodate larger plants.

The foundation plants should be one-third to one-half the height from the ground to the bottom of the roof. Remember, a continuous planting provides a more unifying effect than individual plants scattered along the foundation.

The use of pest-resistant plants will reduce the amount of maintenance required. Using dwarf or slow-growing shrubs reduces the amount of pruning needed.

The private area provides privacy, pleasant views, and small garden spaces. These can be achieved through the use of screens, hedges, or fences.

You can use medium or large shrubs to create privacy. If a hedge is to be installed, the plants used must be tolerant of shearing. Screens usually are not sheared.

The private space often includes an open lawn or play area. Select the ornamental plants surrounding this area with care. Most lawn grasses will not grow in dense shade, for example. Planting large shade trees where they will eventually shade the lawn completely will make growing grass difficult. And be sure not to plant any plants that cause an allergic reaction in any family member!

You also can conceal the service area with its trash cans and clothes lines with shrub plantings. However, make sure plantings, when fully mature, won't obstruct access to the area.

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