Window boxes, flower pots and widened foundation gardens
Window boxes, flower pots and widened foundation gardens add colorful curb appeal to this small Buffalo, NY, city garden.

You don’t have to spend a fortune completely making over that untidy front yard of yours. A combination of some strategic maintenance and a few “surgical improvements” is often enough to make a big difference with just a small expense.

Overgrowth is by far the number one landscape affliction, so a great place to start is by “de-jungling”. Plants can quickly outgrow their space if they’re not regularly maintained. That’s especially common because most people plant too closely in the first place and lean toward fast-growers. A majority of plants will bounce back from even harsh pruning. Better to give that a try first than to just level everything – including plants that could’ve been salvaged with a haircut.

For species that have hopelessly outgrown the space, consider selectively removing them and replacing them with something more compact. Also consider yanking plants you just don’t like or that are bug- or disease-infested. You may even be able to divide or transplant some plants that you do like – just not in that spot (ornamental grasses and perennial flowers, for example).

Once you can see through the thicket, give the beds a cleanup. Pull those weeds. Rake left-over leaves. Give the lawn a fall weed-and-feed treatment once daytime temperatures have cooled. Cut a sharp, fresh edge around the bed perimeters, and put down a fresh coat of mulch sprinkled with Preen Garden Weed Preventer. Those are some of the highest-impact, least-expensive things you can do – the landscape equivalent of a manicure.

Beautifully manicured bushes intermixed with flowers
Beautifully manicured bushes intermixed with flowers are a winning combination that creates strong curb appeal.

At this point, you’re ready to shift from recovery mode to improvement mode. Some quick tips:

1. Expand the foundation beds. Why hug the house with 3- or 4-foot-wide beds when the bulk of the front yard is a sea of grass? Widen those beds to 6 feet or more, and use more plants in different height layers, giving you added color, variety and interest.

2. Add an island bed or two. There’s no law that says plants can only go around the house and along property borders. It’s OK to plant gardens out front or to surround a few front-yard trees with shrubs, evergreens, groundcovers and flowers. Be creative.

3. Plant more flowers – especially perennials. Fall is a great time to find deals on leftover perennials at your local garden store. Drop them in where you want a bit of color, and get ready for the magic next spring!

4. Improve the color. Do your plants color-coordinate with the house or clash with it? A house with red brick, for example, looks better with yellow, gold, red and white plants than pastel blue or lavender ones. On the other hand, a house with white siding and blue trim looks better planted with blue hydrangeas, pink petunias and lavender lilacs than red marigolds and orange tiger lilies. A good way to pick coordinating plants is to match paint chips from the home center with your house colors. Then take the matching chips to the garden center and hold them up next to plant candidates.

5. Add a few non-plant finishing touches. These include “hardscaping” or ornamental features that add outdoor interest the way furniture and accessories do inside. Ideas: a knee-high retaining wall to elevate a slope; a vine-covered arbor between the driveway and front walk; a fountain feature centered in front of a front bay window, or a favorite antique or found object placed as a focal point along the front walk.