The landscaping leading to your house can make or break a first impression. Passersby, visitors and potential buyers all notice whether or not the landscaping is attractive and welcoming. As you plan landscaping for the sidewalks leading to the front of your home, you're working on the most visible part of your house. Often, small changes in color and style increase curb appeal. The changes might involve removing or relocating plants and hardscape elements as well as adding plants, lighting and fences.
Check your location's codes and rules before landscaping. City codes or homeowner association rules may govern hardscape elements or the type of landscaping permitted around your house.
Working with the Site
Principles of landscape design influence the size and placement of plants and hardscape elements, depending on the yard's location and layout. A walkway leading to the front door already provides a strong visual line in the landscape. So landscaping around that element helps draw the eye to the front of the house. You can reinforce this line by planting along the sidewalk and perhaps adding fencing or landscape lights as well.
Focus on creating a balanced design. If the walkway is straight and centered in the front yard, you can use its placement to create a symmetrical design that achieves balance with similar plants on each side of the walkway. If the walkway is off-center or curved, aim for balancing the total mass of plants on the right and left sides of the house in an informal style.
Another site consideration is the slope of the yard. A yard with a gentle slope is simple to landscape. If you have a steeper slope in your yard, then choose plants that help hold soil in place, or terrace the slope on each side of a walkway to control erosion. Perennial plants with sturdy root systems, including Adam's needle (Yucca filamentosa) and lily turf (Liriope spicata), stop erosion well. Adam's needle's is perennial, or hardy, in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 10, and lily turf is hardy in USDA zones 4 through 10.
Complementing Home Style
The best type of landscaping style depends on the home's style. For example, a symmetrical landscape design complements the formal Colonial home style. Shrubs form the backbone of this type of design. Boxwood shrubs (Buxus spp.) are popular in formal landscapes because they respond well to pruning. The varieties are different sizes and are hardy in USDA zones 4 through 8, depending on the species.
The wide, low design of a ranch house, on the other hand, requires a different approach. Soften a ranch house's square outline by using informal, curved landscaping beds with soft lines. Mass plantings of flowering annuals along the house's front walkway and ornamental grasses with soft outlines, such as maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis), are ways to accomplish that task. Maiden grass is hardy in USDA zones 5 through 9, depending on the cultivar.
If your home has front steps, pay attention to the transition between the walkway and steps when designing landscaping. This is a good place for hardscaping, such as a railing along the steps, lights or a birdbath in one corner. Plant some tall plants near the steps to draw the eye upward. If you have a railing or trellis, then part of the height can include climbing vines, including perennial sweet pea (Lathyrus latifolius). This vine is drought-tolerant and hardy in USDA zones 4 through 7. It grows 9 to 12 feet tall and will drape over railings if it doesn't have enough room to grow straight upward.
When selecting plants for the front yard, and specifically alongside walks, look for a few elements. Although annuals add seasonal color, the core of your plantings should be low-maintenance perennials that are hard to kill and will come back for years. Soil near sidewalks is often of poor quality, and sturdy, drought-tolerant plants are suitable choices. They include:
- Reticulated iris (Iris reticulata), which blooms early in spring then provides foliage interest for the rest of the growing season. It grows in full sun to partial shade and prefers well-drained soil that stays relatively dry in summer. It is hardy in USDA zones 5 through 9.
- Pinks or cheddar pinks (Dianthus gratianopolitanus), a short, mounding plant that works well for the edges of sidewalks. It blooms in late spring or early summer. Well-drained soil in full sun or part shade is ideal for this plant, which is hardy in USDA zones 3 through 9.
- Butterfly flower, bee blossom or wand flower (Gaura lindheimeri). It is grown for its foliage and long bloom time, which lasts from midsummer to fall. It grows best in well-drained soil in a site with full sun or partial shade. It needs supplemental water, especially in hot weather, and is hardy in USDA zones 5 through 11.
- Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), which blooms in midsummer to late summer and has silvery-gray foliage throughout the growing season. It needs full sun and well-drained soil, and is hardy in USDA zones 3 through 9.
Create unity in the landscape by planting clusters of the same type of plant along the walkway. Repeating colors is another way to create unity. Avoid planting just one of each type of plant, which results in a hodgepodge design that is visually confusing. Chose plants with varying heights and textures so the design includes a variety of textures and shapes.