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Bump up your curb appeal! Landscaping Q&A with NDSU Extension

Photo by NDAREC/Clarice Kesler

June is a great time to get a little dirt under one’s fingernails. It may even improve the value of your home. According to the National Association of REALTORS®, 99 percent of their members believe curb appeal is important to attracting a buyer.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener and NDSU Extension Horticulturist for Cass County, answered some of our burning landscape questions.

And while some landscaping projects may improve your home’s curb appeal to others, “it’s important that we enjoy them as well,” he says. “Locate a bench among the landscape plantings, and make it a priority to sit frequently, reflecting on the beauty of our surroundings.”

A lifelong gardener, Don Kinzler was born and raised in Lisbon. After graduating with a horticulture degree from North Dakota State University (NDSU), he worked for the university’s horticulture department before operating a garden center in Fargo for 25 years with his wife, Mary. Don is now the NDSU Extension Horticulturist for Cass County, writes weekly gardening columns for Forum Communications and is host of WDAY’s Lawn and Garden Radio, heard Thursday afternoons through the gardening season. The Kinzlers have four children and live in south Fargo.
Courtesy Photo

What is your landscape philosophy?
Any effective residential landscape should complement the home itself. The trees, shrubs, lawn and all plantings should make it appear as though the dwelling is part of the natural surroundings. The lawn is simply the canvas upon which the rest of the landscape is featured.

What is the single most impactful way to improve any landscape? And how is that best done?
Creating a focal point at the home’s front entry is the key to making the entire landscape appear pleasing. The focal point is where the eye is led when viewing the landscape from the street. The eye should naturally be led to the front entry, which creates a welcoming tone to the entire landscape.

A front entry focal point can be created by grouping flowering containers near the front steps, by planting flowering shrubs as an eye-catching feature, or by grouping shrubs in a curving line that guides the eye toward the front door.

Share your top five tips to improve the appearance of any home landscape.
•    Creating a front entry focal point, as previously described, will improve any landscape, even if nothing else is accomplished.
•    Trim overgrown shrubs. Deciduous (leafy) types can be rejuvenated beautifully by pruning to within 6 inches of ground level in April. Shrubs still in pleasant condition can be pruned lightly to maintain shape and size. Selectively shortening branches gives a natural appearance, usually preferred over tightly shearing shrubs.
•    Crisp, neat edges give a well-manicured appearance to the entire setting. String trimmers are effective for removing ragged grass growth along landscape edging. Occasionally using a spade to remove grass that’s creeping inward will maintain the neatness of landscape beds.
•    Gentle curves are naturally pleasing. If landscape plantings currently have rectangular lines, establish gently sweeping curves, remove sod, and re-establish the edge.
•    Many shrub plantings were installed overly close to the house foundations. As shrubs outgrow and lean over the landscape edging, remove the edging, cut out sod and move edging outward, creating a new, wider landscape bed that appears less crowded.

Flowers, shrubs, trees. Perennials or annuals? Where do I even start?
Begin by planting trees, as they take longest to grow. Then concentrate on creating a landscape focal point at the front entry. Next create shrub plantings around the foundation and yard perimeters. Plant perennials as time and budget allows – many take three years to reach full blooming stage. Use annual flowers immediately and frequently during the early years of a landscape. They provide quick color and beauty while long-term trees, shrubs and perennials are being established.

What common mistakes do homeowners make when tackling a landscaping project?
The most commonly encountered mistake is establishing landscape beds too close to the house foundation. Plants look so small when young, but invariably in 10 to 20 years the planting looks crowded tightly against the home. Starting with a planting bed that extends 10 feet from the house foundation might seem wide, but trust me, you’ll be glad you did.
A second mistake is planting front-yard trees, especially low-headed types, squarely in front of the house. They quickly block our view of your home. With all good residential landscapes, the home should be featured, visible and welcoming, not hidden behind a tree.

My landscaping budget is small. What low-cost landscaping improvements can I make?
Concentrate on the front entry focal point. Annual flowers are relatively inexpensive, and when planted in containers of varying heights, create a cost-effective, welcoming landscape highpoint near your front door. Work your way outward from there, adding shrubs, if needed, along the house foundation. Delay installing expensive edging, if necessary, and buy plants first. Edging can be added in the future, so get plants growing, as budget allows.

For planting success, where can I find information on what to plant where I live?
Because winter hardiness varies greatly between geographic regions, it’s important to choose plant types wisely. Each state’s land-grant university, or NDSU Extension in North Dakota, has information about plant material adapted to each state’s climate. Locally owned garden centers are also great resources, because they tend to stock plants well-adapted to their locale. National chain stores might stock material not necessarily best-suited to specific regions.

We spend a lot of time at the lake during the summer, so we’ve got landscaping upkeep on two properties during the growing season. Any low-maintenance landscaping recommendations?
To keep maintenance low, use wood-product mulches, such as shredded bark. They are plant-friendly and can greatly reduce weeding, while conserving moisture. Select shrubs that were developed with neat habits requiring less pruning. Although landscapes can be low-maintenance, none are no-maintenance, and yardwork is pleasant for many of us, if kept manageable. Weed control is a major factor, and other than mulches, there are unfortunately no magical sprays that solve all of our weed problems.

Thinking about timelines, what landscaping things can I be doing now, in June? At the end of summer? Fall? And looking toward next spring, what landscaping activities should we plan for?
Planting trees, shrubs and perennials are very successful in June. Mid-summer is the time to enjoy our landscapes and rest from activities other than weeding. Fertilize lawns around Labor Day. Controlling perennial weeds with herbicide is most effective in September. Fall pruning isn’t recommended, so wait until next spring for major shrub pruning and rejuvenation.

Sometimes, an ugly lawn can ruin the appearance of an otherwise attractive and manicured landscape. What lawncare tips can you share?
Lawn seeding, or repairing bare spots, can be accomplished in June, if the topsoil is kept continually dark-moist until grass is visibly growing. Early September is also great for seeding lawns. September is the time when grass is most able to use added nutrition as it prepares a deep root system and stores energy for winter survival and next spring’s growth, so fertilize around Labor Day and again come Memorial Day. During the summer, mow at a 3-inch height, which conserves moisture, competes better with weeds and encourages deeper rooting. Low mowing adversely affects long-term lawn health. When sprinkling, water deeply and less frequently, to encourage a deep root system. Apply 1 inch of water once per week, in one application. Frequent, light sprinklings cause shallow roots.

I’m looking for some small-space landscaping ideas. Help?
Many new shrubs and small-scale trees have been developed for small-space yards. Shop locally owned garden centers for plant material that is narrow, or columnar, giving height without requiring a wide space. Select neat-growing, mound-shaped shrubs. Use trellises and arbors to give vertical growing space for vines, creating both greenery and privacy. Perennial and annual flowers give high impact in small space landscapes.

• Visit NDSU Extension’s lawn and garden site at
• Contact Don Kinzler, NDSU Extension Agent and Cass County Horticulturist, at
• Browse Don’s blogsite, categorized by topic, at