Three years later than planned, we finally have updated our home’s curb appeal; replacing the front pad, sidewalk, and significantly rejuvenating the landscaping.

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Like many things, the pandemic threw a wrench in our plans. During the summer of 2020, no one was vaccinated, and we were mostly staying home and social isolating. The following spring and fall, we tried to work with contractors and nurseries to even come and bid on the cement and landscape projects.

Last year, the service providers we had “hired” failed to show up — mostly due to a shortage of workers. It was extremely frustrating! We had saved for the home improvements for some time and were ready to go. It didn’t help that there was a cement shortage and costs had risen on everything.

Last January, we were able to secure and schedule a cement contractor to replace our 38-year old home’s original front pad. He also replaced the Omni Stone walk — weed control had become a relentless chore. Happily, the crew showed in April, as planned. It was just days after we returned from nephew’s Charleston wedding, and Netherland’s vacation to see the Tulip Fields.

A few weeks later, I noticed a landscaper at my neighbor’s. I walked across the street and asked for an estimate. We hired him on the spot, and the work was completed in late June. We are delighted with the results, and have been watering ever since lol! Come take a look at our improved front curb appeal.

First Time Homeowners

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For frame of reference, we live in a leafy suburb of Pittsburgh, PA; awarded by the Arbor Day Foundation as a Tree City USA. Also designated a Main Street USA, the town is known for it’s walkability, with beautiful tree and sidewalk-lined streets. Although the USDA says the area is Zone 6B, we frequently experience difficult Zone 5 winters. Like last year, which killed many Boxwoods throughout the community — including three in my backyard.

When we built our home, nearly forty years ago, the plan was one of the community’s last new developments. On the day we signed for the cul-de-sac lot, a bulldozer was only starting to clear the land. We moved in January, so the paved driveway wasn’t installed until warmer weather in the spring.

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Matching black urns flank the front door. This year, they are planted with pairs of Grape Soda Coral Bells, Scopia Gulliver White Bacopa, and Lyscimachia FanciFillers Sunburst. Come fall, the Coral Bell perennials will be transplanted into the landscape.

Hubby and I were still newlyweds when construction of our home began. A brand new home meant we needed everything — from mailbox, to fireplace screen and tools, window treatments, lawn mower, washer/dryer, and furnishings. That left little money for plantings. Landscaping 1.0 was modest and performed by Mr. Buzz.

Landscape 2.0

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Examining plum trees to replace a diseased plant located on a front corner of the house.

About five years later — after the boys were born — we hired a professional from a local nursery to install Landscape 2.0. Since then, hubby has replaced some shrubs that had died or were diseased. But most plants are nearly 35 years old. Many became overgrown, misshaped, or were struggling near the end of their lifespan.

Landscape 3.0

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Two of the three healthy Barberry were kept, along with a Golden Thread Cypress (to the far left).

For Landscape 3.0 we kept several mature trees and bushes, but had most of the other plants removed. Here’s a look of the redone corner, which significantly improved the home’s curb appeal.

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A relatively tall Thundercloud Plum Tree ($270), Blue Globe Spruce ($135), pair of Blanket Flower perennials ($16 each), and one of five rocks (about $150 in total) added to the corner landscape.

Removing the front Barberry and enlarging the bed somewhat, allows room for the new plum tree to grow and mature to about 20 feet— without blocking the upstairs window. An existing Burning Bush was also aggressively pruned for access to the gas meter on the side of the house.

Note: 35 plus years later and the Barberry and Burning Bush are now considered invasive and are being banned for new sales and planting in PA. Is the same true in your area? We tore out about half of the Barbary and trimmed back the Burning Bush. Do you have any in your landscape?

Other than slightly enlarging the one bed, we didn’t change the location or shape of the others. Additionally, we elected to go with black mulch to coordinate with the house’s black shutters and front door.

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Adding interest at the base of the plum tree, is a Snow Queen Oakleaf Hydrangea ($45). Several of our neighbors have them. I love how the bloom for months and brighten the landscape.

In the background, you can see a Bradford Pear Tree hubby planted about 30 years ago. It was his Father’s Day gift! Last year, we had it significantly thinned and pruned — part of a pricey, but necessary tree maintenance project performed by two different companies.

Beware of Falling Trees

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Bradford Pear’s beautiful fall foliage, before it was significantly pruned. In the spring it is loaded with white flowers.

These days, Bradford Pears are discouraged or banned in our community, due to their tendency to damage homes in storms. Because they lose their leaves so late in the fall, heavy wet snow can also cause large sections to split and fall.

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Several years ago, the last of the Wild Cherry Trees in the woods came down. Days of heavy rain caused the root ball to lift out of the ground; leaving an eight-foot round hole in the ground. Hubby used a chainsaw to cut the tree into sections. A neighbor helped to push the root ball back into place. Since it was spring 2020, there were no contractors to do the work.

Last year’s tree project also included the tricky removal of two dead and dying, four-story trees from the “woods” behind our house. Over the decades, most of the trees that made up the wooded area have now either had to be removed, or come down in storms.

Eight contractors came to examine the feasibility of removing the two dead trees, precariously leaning against each other. Two months later, we finally found a company with the staff expertise and equipment to safely bring the trees down, without causing a domino effect with our neighbor’s healthy trees.

Costs for Labor, Materials & Plants

Removing the sunken front pad and Omni Stone walkway, and replacing them with poured cement cost about $4,800. The project was completed in two days. They also sloped the pad to meet the walk. That keeps water from collecting against the house, and meant we didn’t need to add and awkward step.

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After the cement and landscaping projects, I refurbished the weathered and worn Butterfly & Bee Theme Wreath.

Updating the curb appeal included replacing the original contractor-grade lights. Hubby installed the pair of black lantern fixtures (Pottery Barn, about $275 each) with Edison-style bulbs.

For reference, I have tried to name all the plants and what we paid. The landscaper charged another roughly $5,000 for all the labor and materials (rocks, soil, mulch). That included planting a tall Bald Cypress ($250) over the hill. It’s our initial attempt to “reseed” the now decimated woodland area. And, a striking Dappled Willow ($65), to fill the hole left in the back landscape were the fallen cherry tree damaged a mature Hemlock.

In total we spent under $2,500 on new trees, bushes, plants and perennials. The majority came from one local nursery — Woehler’s. They extended a 15% discount to the landscaper, and had a gorgeous collection of larger, more mature specimens that were healthy and vigorous.

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All the Landscape 3.0 curb appeal project was completed in a single day by a hard-working crew of seven. Because the contractor primarily did hardscape work, he had permanent workers available to do the physical labor. We found that local nurseries simply did not have the summer help needed for large landscaping projects, beyond trimming and mulching.

With input from hubby, that left it on me to do most of the landscape design. That included a lot of research into choosing the plantings; based on suitability for the climate, sun/shade requirements, deer and disease resistance, mature size, rate of growth, seasonal blooms, color and texture. You’ll notice a lot of blue and crimson color shades that I love, and pops of greenish yellow for Mr. Buzz.

Heave Ho!

To start, the crew began with the hardest party of the job —removing overgrown shrubs with decades deep root balls. I’m a little embarrassed to show you how shabby our landscaping and curb appeal had become lol!

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Overgrown gold threaded cypress and struggling knockout rose bushes (where once a 20-foot tall blue spruce had stood). They sat along the driveway and retaining wall that Mr. Buzz built shortly after we moved into our home.

On the opposite side of the front yard, they began by cutting down much of the overgrown shrubbery that blocked the living room windows.

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But it took chaining the base of one shrub to the front of a truck to pull out one large root ball.

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Good thing we did finally find a landscaper to do the work. Frustrated by our inability to find a contractor, dear hubby was “threatening” to tackle the project himself. He may be a twice weekly Habitat for Humanity volunteer, but I’m sure glad that didn’t happen! It would have been back-breaking work, especially without all that heavy-duty equipment.

Prepping Beds for New Plantings

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Before adding fresh topsoil, the crew cleaned out the front beds of debris, root balls and branches.

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They also enlarged and edged the bed on the opposite side; to balance the left and right beds for added curb appeal.

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We kept both Japanese Red Leaf Maple Trees. Several landscapers estimated that a plant the size of the one next to the front door would cost about $2,000! Wide-spreading and shallow roots make the trees nearly impossible to transplant safely.

The dimensions and shape of the new cement pad took those roots into consideration. Happily the tree continues to flourish. Although, we did have to cut back several large branches that were overhanging the walk. We may remove a large lower outgrowth in the fall — when it’s cooler.

Boulders on either side of the front walk are banked by pairs of Tricolor Stonecrop Sedum ($16 each). Next spring, I plan to fill more of the landscape with the color and texture of additional ground covers and flowering perennials. While needing to space plants for room to mature, I don’t want the black mulch to dominate the curb appeal for years.

A large Blue Globe Spruce ($350) provides some counterbalance to the Japanese Red Maple on the opposite side of the front pad.

To create some consistency to the newly landscaped beds, the back row of plants on either side mirror each other. Between the lanterns and window on either side is a Dee Runk Boxwood ($175 each). They were a real deal! It’s an upright cultivar that grows up to 10 feet tall. With some pruning, it should maintain a tight conical shape.

Three sets of smaller holly varieties also shouldn’t grow to block the front windows. Holly have done well in that spot, but became enormous and misshapen. Adding year-round color to the curb appeal are Osmanthus Variegated Holly ($45 each) bushes — a unique find.

Between each of the variegated holly is an upright Chesapeake Japanese Holly ($45 each).

New Walkway & Replanted Beds

Prior to the new cement walk being poured, Mr. Buzz moved the lamppost to the opposite side. He also cleaned, rewired and replaced internal electrical hardware. There are many advantages to being married to a retired engineer lol!

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Only a more recently planted Dense Spreading Yew was kept in the area to the right of the walkway.

Because snow shoveled off the walk and driveway tend to pile up in this area, we took that into consideration when choosing plants. Behind the boulder is a Tropical Toucan Ajuga ($16), which will provide year-round, colorful ground cover.

After the landscaping was installed, I had Mr. Buzz add six flowering ground covers; including a pair of Balloon Flower Pop Star Blue ($9 each) perennials.

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Behind the boulder to the right is a Cream Ball Sawara Cypress ($55), a smaller version of a plant that has done well in our landscape for decades — until they grew too large! To the left are two Wine and Roses Weigela ($45 each). They should fill that area in nicely with dark foliage and crimson flowers. Like all the plants we chose, it’s considered deer resistant.

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Providing vertical and sculptural interest to the landscape is a Weeping Blue Spruce ($280). Slow growing, it can reach 20-feet tall — just like the plum on the opposite end.

To the right a Bird’s Nest Norway Spruce ($45) has a lovely yellow green hue. Added along the retaining wall, are a pair of whitish-blue groundcover called, Silver Mound Artemisia ($24 each). I like the feathery texture and color that serves to under light the spruce against the black mulch.

Not Bambi

Deer are always an issue, regularly mowing down my Hosta plants and tulips. Although they mostly habitat the “woods,” the deer drive our Scottie dogs nuts. Although he’d bark like crazy, Fibber McGee was intimidated by them. He’d immediately come running inside if deer left the woods and were in the yard.

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Whiskey had zero fear and would stand his ground; barking like the Russians had invaded! Fortunately, he wouldn’t leave our yard and stayed within the Invisible Fence boundary. Hubby and/or I would have to come outside to coax or herd him in. The barking continued as long as he could see deer out the windows.

About a month and a half ago, a doe gave birth in the ferns under the newly planted cedar. Initially, we were awed by it; witnessing the fawn nursing and taking first steps. That, however, was the last tender Bambi deer moment.

Several days later, we found Whiskey and the deer facing off; only several feet apart in the backyard. Have you ever heard a deer snorting and “screaming?” The large, angry animal certainly intimidated us! Momma was so protective of the newborn living behind our house, she decided Whiskey needed to be eliminated.

While we were trying to get Whiskey to come inside, the deer charged forward and kicked him! He turned and ran towards the street. She pursued, caught up with him, placed her head under his belly and tossed him in the air! I waved my arms and screamed at the deer, scooped up Whiskey, and brought him into the house. He didn’t seem to be physically injured, but was terrified and shaking.

Then he started throwing up bile every morning — always on the new family room carpet! The vet wanted to examine him and make sure the kick didn’t do any internal damage. She decided it was likely anxiety and stress, causing an acid build up whenever Whiskey’s belly was empty for long periods. First we tried Pepcid twice daily. Then we added splitting two daily meals into four. When he continued to throw up, the vet switched him to a prescription diet.

During that time, the deer continued to “patrol” our backyard at all periods of the day. Anytime Whiskey came out to potty, she’d come charging from the woods. Once, she was lying in wait, standing under our deck! He refused to go outside unless we first banged pots to scare her off. Even then, he’d only go out the front door on a leash, quickly do his business, and go running back into the house. We felt under siege!

I also bought the air horn Animal Control recommended and warned all my neighbors. They’ve all been very supportive.

Six weeks later and the deer and her fawn have mostly moved on. Whiskey is back to near normal routines of going out to potty, hanging out on the deck, and playing in the yard — and barking if he sees or smells her. We’ve weaned him off the antacids, and I just started slowly putting him back on his regular kibble. Fingers crossed!

Okay, back to the landscaping and opposite side of the walk. Sorry, I needed to vent lol!

Updated Beds

Many years ago, the existing crimson Tricolor Beech had swallowed up the lamppost! One of my favorite trees, it was looking more like a giant hedge.

After the landscaper trimmed off the lower branches, the tree provides partial shade for new, blue-flowering Silver Heart Brunnera perennials ($16 each), Blue Rug Junipers ($45 each), P.J.M Rhododendron ($45), and crimson-flowering Astilbe perennials ($20).

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The same nursery bed hugs the driveway and continues along the front of the house and public sidewalk.

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Like the front beds, many of the mature shrubs were overgrown. In preparation for new plants, the landscaper removed some scrappy-looking Blue Rug Junipers and two overgrown Golden Thread Cypress that were spilling into the yard, driveway and sidewalk.

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We kept the second mature Japanese Red Leaf Maples in the landscape. In the picture above you can see it and the recently trimmed Tricolor Beech in the background. Also kept (but trimmed) are a Burning Bush and two pink Spiraea.

Replacing the overgrown cypress is another miniature version, which tolerate snow dumped on them for days. Two Georgia Blue Speedwell ($24 each) wide spreading, low- growing perennials are now planted underneath the red maple. Their reddish green spring foliage turns deep green in the summer, and bronze come fall. Tiny round blue flowers bloom in late spring.

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Sorry, but I don’t seem to have a picture of the finished street side bed, and I’m out of time to get this post published lol. Trust me when I tell you it improved our home’s curb appeal from the street!

Because we live on a cul-de-sac, we have a wide yard that gently slopes to the front door. That street side bed helps provide a level of privacy. There’s also a screen and shade provided by crimson-flowering Cherry Tree (Mother’s Day gift hubby planted 35 years ago) in the front lawn. Community-installed, mature Sweet Gum trees line the entire street and center island.

Get Me to the Church on Time!

As you can see, it’s been a busy and hectic spring and summer tackling these large curb appeal projects, taking care of Whiskey, and preparing for eldest son’s destination wedding in Highlands, NC. This morning I picked up my gown with under two weeks to go, whew! It’s been stressful.

I hope you have a wonderful end of summer and Labor Day weekend. See you in September with, Easy DIY Champagne Cork Wedding Party Figures.

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