Totally clean slate - I need landscape help for our new build!

June 23, 2018


We are just finishing building our home in Michigan (zone 5) and are really struggling to come up with a landscape design that will give curb appeal and won't be underwhelming for the scale of the yard and house. The house sits up on a bit of a hill and has an ENORMOUS yard.

The front yard, by the road, will have a lamp post with a hanging address plaque. We also will need a retaining wall on the left front of the house, but other than that, this is a fresh canvas and I'm overwhelmed about what we should do with it. We've had a few landscape designers come out to give us ideas, but most of them want to over-plant and turn the place into a forest. I'm not at all opposed to some well-placed trees, but prefer it to look balanced, clean, and manicured.

I would like something that's fairly low maintenance. I tend to like plants that look well-kept and maintained (i.e., not too wild/jungly looking). There's also a patio off the back of the house that we'd like to use for a table and portable fire pit. It would be nice to have a little privacy around with our landscaping. Any advice would be very appreciated! Thank you!

Comments (10)

  • PRO
    Dig Doug's Designs

    some ideas:

  • kellymou77

    OH MY GOSH, Dig Doug! That is so beautiful! Thank you for the idea. I just don't have the vision for something like this. I really appreciate your time, help and talent! WOW!

  • 4bubbies

    Hey zone 5 neighbor.

    just a note, if that is a colorado blue spruce..they grow up to 60 feet tall and 20 wide so mind how close to driveways or houses you put them. When they start to decline because of clay soil or too humid weather..they loose that full bodied look. (We just had to pay a bunch to remove one) google colorado blue spruce decline.

    There are some pretty and unique pines and other confiers that have this shape though, if you check out the confier thread they gave me some great suggestions.

  • kellymou77

    Thank you so much for the thought. Yes, blue spruces around us are dying off in droves, too. I was thinking about some Black Hills Spruces or even Concolor Firs. What did you end up using, 4bubbies?

  • 4bubbies

    We will not be replacing the spruce with another ever green. I'm sure that one looked cute when it was first planted there, but a tree of that size had no business being planted so close to a foundation/house/walkway.

    We will be replacing it with a much smaller tree, going to give a fringe tree a try that Doug Designs suggested.

    BUT in the back we had another spruce or something that fell over in a storm because it was so sick that it was eaten by carpenter ants on the inside. We might replace that one. We also have a black walnut tree. Those emits a chemical killing certain trees around it, so we have to work around that along with the clay soil. tsugajunkie z5 is in the same situation and suggested Austrian pine, Picea abies & orientalis on the confier board. I might check out those and some native selections.

    Concolor Firs are native to the west if I recall correctly. Dry, acidic conditions and are not for clay soil and humidity. Not sure about Black Hills spruce. All I remember about them is I read they grow to be 60-80ft. I think they don't love humidity but not sure. I'd ask the Confier thread. [[( I'm sure you can find something. Even if it's not blue, you can add the color in other ways.

    also something to consider while you plan.. wildlife/bird wishes, pet or children needs, do you have deer..etc.

    Beautiful home and land by the way. Congrats on the finish!

  • kellymou77

    Thank you so much! This is very helpful. I'll ask the conifer board about those two trees I mentioned. I just Googled the fringe tree you mentioned, as I had never heard of them. What a pretty tree! I love the blossoms and the multi-stems. Thanks also for the reminder about birds/wildlife/kids. Those are good things to keep in mind. :-)

  • 4bubbies

    If I could give you my personal recommendations that come from starting over myself over 2 years ago.

    in no particular order:

    1. highly recommend this thread. It's super useful and I wish I would of read it before I started


    2. I can't stress enough how glad I am to have this book: Invasive Plants of the Upper Midwest. I have referenced my copy SO many times and I imagine I will be doing so for years to come.

    3.. Dont be afraid to ask for design help from a design pro too. It really is a combination of art and science and can pay off by saving you time in the long run. Some nurseries even have services.

    side point. my city has a nature center where the garden club meets. I sign up for updates and go to the swap meets. It's been an easy way to learn more.

    4. if you like to bird watch..bird baths in the summer is used, but also in the winter the heated bird bath attracts birds I had never seen any other time. It makes their day.

  • kellymou77

    Thank you, 4bubbies. I read the whole thread you suggested and found it really helpful. I really appreciate all of your insight. I'm all for taking the advice of others who have been through this. Please keep the wisdom coming! Thanks again!

  • PRO

    "We've had a few landscape designers come out to give us ideas, but most of them want to over-plant and turn the place into a forest." There is pressure in the industry to go in this direction and it comes from everywhere: the client, the boss, the contractors. Everybody wants to squeeze more plants in if they can. Part of this is impatience. Everyone wants quick or instant results. Part of it comes from the urge to sell product. And part of it comes from peer pressure; a designer may not feel like they're "doing enough" professionally if they aren't providing the fullest look. I felt this in my early days of work and it took a long time to resist.

    It's a nice looking, good sized house, but the walk to the front porch is seriously undersized relative to everything else. Unfortunately, it cheapens the look of everything else. The walk and the step should be the width (or nearly) of the opening between the porch posts. Due to the grade, it would probably require installing a small retaining wall. (There really ought to be a retaining wall there now. I can picture maintenance difficulty and erosion problems on the way.) If you ever decide to fix it, I would explore the idea of eliminating one step, by tilting the walk slightly upward as it approaches the porch. (The picture doesn't indicate if this is feasible.)

    IMO, there is not enough shown in the pictures to give much feedback on planting. From the overall front, it looks like you could use some large trees off the corner of the house, but neither of these areas can be seen well. Nor can the complete foundation planting area be seen. (We only see the central part from a hard angle.) My picture is not a comprehensive look, but is only addressing the walk issue.

  • kellymou77

    Couldn't agree more. In fact, the sidewalk and steps were one of the things that bugged me the most when they poured the driveway last week. It looked too narrow. I appreciate your insight on this!

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