3 Tips for Landscaping your Newly Built House

Design School


So you just invested half a million dollars or more into a new home – a brand new home. You’re in a nice housing development near a school and close to major roads, so you can get downtown super easily. You picked out all the details- the light fixtures, flooring, counters… it all feels like a lovely reflection of you and your family. But… your house is surrounded by sod on all four sides, with a couple of obligatory trees and a too-small deck or patio that the builder tacked on. You don’t spend much time out there and it’s not pretty.


You’ve got the inside figured out, but the outside needs help. How do you get your house to feel like YOURS on the outside? So often I see million dollar homes with 5-cent landscaping. How can you increase curb appeal and create awesome areas to be outside? How can we make sure your home looks like it’s been there forever? Let’s take a tour of a recent project and talk about 3 fundamentals to get your landscaping to work WITH your home, not against it.


Many new homes have a skinny little front foundation planting – maybe a line of shrubs shoved under the front windows. The front yard may not be big, but if you want to increase curb appeal, stand out in your neighborhood, and generally like what you see, we’ll need to make some changes.

First, make those foundation beds bigger. Make sure your plantings are off the house enough that when they’re full grown they won’t be smushed up against your siding. Practically, this helps in a few ways.

  • Leaves space for plants to get full grown.

  • Allows for air flow, reducing risk of mold.

  • Facilitates access for maintenance.

  • Lowers energy costs – I’ve written TWO blog posts about that: one for summer and one for winter. Click those links to read all about it!

Aesthetically, this begins to create proper scale and balance. The beds work with the size, height, and shape of your house  – complimenting it rather than feeling awkward.


Second, get another planting bed out in that front yard. In this project we added beds at each corner; one to fill in the triangle made by the driveway, eventually screening the electrical boxes, and one opposite, with an evergreen to anchor it. This taller planting will balance off the height of the house and frame the house perfectly.

PRO TIP: a conifer out by the sidewalk or street makes a super fun spot for holiday lights, so have your contractor add an outdoor outlet in the bed!

Using the fundamental design elements of balance and scale will work for you and help your house look and feel like it’s supposed to be there, not just plunked down from outer space.

Whether you want a smaller yard to live large, or a bigger yard to get fully used, your secret weapon is to break things up. Yes, you can leave space to throw a football if you need it and have the room. In this project we are serving a darling doodle-mix pup who needs room to run in the small back yard, and we made sure to leave space. We ALSO are serving a couple who wants fresh air and outdoor seating and al fresco dining and fresh hot pizza and a cozy fire and PING PONG and… the list goes on and on!  So sure leave some lawn. I love lawn and it’s important. But then make a list of what you want to do outside, and carve out spaces. Think living room, dining room, den – you just did this inside! It’s time to think about this for the outside, too.




In this project we added a petite fire pit patio with a seat wall to allow for larger groups. We added a large patio under the deck to serve many jobs – a transition zone, a quick-to-reach spot for a cup of coffee, and a hangout spot while the pizzas are cooking. We added a large pergola to house a dining table, lounging chairs, and sometimes the ping pong table. That’s a party zone, y’all.  AND over in the corner, there’s space for a small bench for a tucked away sitting nook. That is a LOT of outdoor living in a small back yard!  The fun trick is that breaking up outdoor spaces can make them feel much larger when it’s done right.

As with everything, you get what you pay for with landscaping. It’s an investment. Quality landscaping will increase your home’s value and help you sell should you ever need to move. In this project, the property is valued between $500k-$750K, and the other homes in the neighborhood have virtually no landscaping. Looking at the before and the after photos, you can see how the space has been elevated.






While it isn’t cheap, choosing quality materials and installers is the only way to go if you want your landscaping to last.

  • Well-made concrete pavers resist fading, hold up to sand and salt, and have durability and strength better than poured concrete.

  • Natural, shredded mulch holds in moisture, blocks weeds, cools plants, and breaks down to improve your soil. (Likely all your native topsoil was stripped during building, and you’ve got some rough clay subsoil left. We have to rebuild!)

  • Nothing beats natural stone for durability, upscale and elegance and quality. Using stone found in our area (limestone, sandstone, and some granites) creates a sense of connection and belonging to the space.

  • Quality plant material will thrive in your landscape, not limp along. Specifying the right type of plant, selecting healthy specimens, and planting them properly is the only way to end up with a lush, gorgeous landscape.

  • Your landscaper may deal with drainage, excavation, setting a patio, planting, building retaining walls, and so many other things. Find someone who is qualified! I can recommend great contractors, or you can check with Iowa’s Nursery and Landscape Association to see certified installers in your area. Check out the four questions I think you should ask a contractor! 

Living near Des Moines is so fun, and people are flocking here. New developments and lovely homes are going up all the time. My job gets to be that I take these properties with no outside personality and put the owner’s mark on them, so that when you come home, it looks like YOU. And when you grab the pack of marshmallows and head outside, the outside is ready for you. Take these three tips and see what you can do outside your own house!  Give me a shout with all your questions!


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