9 Curb Appeal Problems, Solved

Sometimes it’s what’s outside that counts. Landscaping pros give you a curb-appeal consult.


Deer Have Eaten My Hosta Plants and Pear and Apple Trees. What Can I Grow That They Won’t Go After? —J.H.

Photo by KenWiedemann/Getty Images

The bad news: Fully deer-proof plants don’t exist. But there are some they’re less likely to eat, including fuzzy plants, like lamb’s ears; prickly ones (Echinops, juniper); and those with a scent, like lavender and rosemary. Since deer are able to jump most fences, “you’ll need a rotating arsenal of deterrents so they never get a chance to catch on and adapt,” says Mark Tessier, a landscape architect in Santa Monica, CA. Some tried-and-true options: a motion sensor attached to a garden hose (ScareCrow Motion Activated Water Repellent, $70; amazon.com); a wind chime; a scented repellent spray (Deer Out, $16; deerout.com); and a solar-powered laser device that spooks deer by “blinking” every few seconds (Nite Guard, $25; amazon.com). Swap these in and out every month or so and deer will probably hang out elsewhere.


Our Azaleas All Died, and Our Peonies Never Flowered. Help! —C.R.

A common mistake with peonies is planting them too deep, says P. Allen Smith, a garden designer in Little Rock, Arkansas, and host of Garden Home and Garden Style. “There should be only about a half inch of soil over the top of the tuber, or it can affect blooming,” he says. It’s the opposite with azaleas, notes Daryl Beyers, a landscape designer and gardening instructor in New York City. When they’re planted too shallow, their roots are exposed, and they can’t survive. Also key: a properly prepared garden bed. Says Beyers, “That means the soil is filled with organic matter, and in early spring you’ve added a fertilizer with high phosphorus levels, like Miracle-Gro Bloom Booster.”


Our Front Yard Is Open to Our Neighbor’s. We Want a Border But Not a Fence. Any Ideas? —L.V.B.

“A screen of ornamental grasses, like Pennisetum or Miscanthus, gives a sense of separation without the in-your-face divisiveness of a fence,” says Los Angeles landscape designer Kathleen Ferguson. Another, more colorful idea: “Try a low-growing hedge, like Westringia Blue Gem. It’s especially beautiful with a mix of flowering echinacea, penstemons, and sages planted in front.”


What’s the Best Type of Grass for a Shady Area? I’ve Had No Luck Getting Mine to Grow. I’m Ready to Put in Pavers Instead. —L.V.N.

Instead of giving up on grass, choose a shade-tolerant blend, which often includes perennial ryegrass, supina bluegrass, or creeping red fescue, says Beyers. If you won’t need to walk on the area and just want it to look green, you can also consider a fast-growing ground cover or spreader. “The small-leaf dwarf mondo is ideal for warm climates,” says Smith. “In cooler areas, I like creeping Jenny, a low mat of chartreuse leaves.” Still set on pavers? Soften the look with oversize pots filled with flowers.


We Live in a Townhome Without Much Out-Door Space. How Can We Boost Its Curb Appeal on a Block Of Sameness? —E.H.

When space is tight, homeowners tend to play it safe with basic shrubs and grass, says Beyers. “To break the mold, mix in flowers or small trees that have interesting shapes,” he says. His go-to formula: one ornamental tree (like a dwarf Japanese maple), two different evergreens (spruce, juniper), and two deciduous shrubs—an early bloomer (say, azalea or lilac) and a later bloomer, like rose of Sharon. With this combo, your yard will have some color all year long.


Half of Our Garden Gets a Lot of Sun, and the Other Half Is Very Shady. What Can I Plant to Make It Look Uniform? —K.L.

Some plants, like SunPatiens and boxwood shrubs, can thrive in the sun or shade, so Beyers recommends achieving a cohesive look by repeating at least one of these dual-exposure types in both areas alongside the other flowers. Another option: Use color as a link—say, feature a variety of all-white flowers. “On the shady side, you could plant Incrediball and oakleaf hydrangeas, for example,” suggests Smith. “Then, on the sunny side, try white roses, cosmos, and dahlias.”


Our Neighbor’s Lawn Is Greener Than Ours. What Are They Doing Right? —W.S.

Lawns are demanding, requiring a lot of water and fertilizer, so it’s possible your neighbors are using more of both. Some good guidelines, says Beyers: Give the lawn an inch of water per week (about a half hour of sprinkler time three days a week). Improve the soil by applying a high-nitrogen fertilizer (at garden-supply stores) in April or early May. In September, use a high-phosphorus fertilizer to promote root growth. Every few years, rent a machine or hire a pro to aerate. Poking holes in the ground loosens the soil, enabling the roots of the grass to spread out and grab more nutrients.


My Dogs Have Destroyed My Backyard. What Are Some Hardy Bushes That Can Survive All the Trampling? —J.P.

Pups and plants are a tricky pairing, says Ferguson. Generally, greenery with a grassy texture or feathery foliage tends to hold up best. “Ornamental grasses are my favorite because they rebound when brushed up against—and they’re lush, so they disguise gaps from trampling,” she says. Not only are they sturdy, but some are striking, too. “Fountain grass has tall, arching leaves, and fortnight lily is a perennial bush with pretty white flowers,” says Ferguson.


My House Is Red Brick, With a Black Door and White Shutters. What’s A Fresher Color Palette? —D.G.

Look closely at the brick facade, suggests New York City interior designer Elaine Griffin: “It’s actually made of a gazillion hues—many reds, plus some brown, black, gray, ivory, and maybe even blue. Choosing one of these for the shutters always works. Then, for the door, try a brighter color for contrast.” Some favorite combos: charcoal shutters with a coral door, navy shutters with a crimson door, and black shutters with a robin’s-egg blue door. “Why not have fun with your front door?” says Griffin. “If you get tired of it, a redo is a quick weekend project.”