Home Improvement

5 Landscape Renovations That Really Pay Off (and 1 That Won't)

planting-tree

planting-tree  ((c) Zing Images)

April showers will soon bring May flowers … or a slushy mud pit if your yard is more untended jungle than Martha Stewart perfection. If you want to get the most out of your outdoor space -- as a lush oasis to relax in all summer, or a valuable amenity if you're hoping to sell your home -- it's time to start thinking about going the whole nine yards on your yard (so to speak).

Most homeowners spend an average of $1,784 to $3,168 per landscaping project, and the good news is that they'll usually make back a good chunk of that cash.

According to landscape economist John Harris, keeping up your grounds can contribute to a whopping 28% of your home's overall value (which makes sense, because a beautiful yard is the very definition of curb appeal). That's why, for this fifth installment in our series Renovations That Really Pay Off, we highlight all the ways you can make your yard more inviting -- and financially rewarding -- than ever.

Freshen up what you have

Chances are your yard is running a little wild already, so cleanup comes first. In addition to pruning trees and trimming shrubs, "the most inexpensive and important way to update your yard is to keep it weed-free," says Stephanie Early of Timberline Landscaping in Colorado Springs, CO. Be sure to whack those weeds before they go to seed, to avoid larger infestations, she says. Early suggests applying a gluten pre-emergent herbicide, which kills weeds before they form roots, in the spring.

Yes, gluten may be exiting many a (human) diet, but it works wonders killing weeds.

Another easy way to spruce up your yard is to flip and fluff your existing mulch using a rake. It's simple, and it gives the area a fresh, earthy look.

Plant plenty of trees

Trees are one of the few things that truly appreciate over time. After all, you can buy a sapling for just $10 at the nursery. Meanwhile, according to the Council of Tree and Landscape Appraisers, a mature tree can add $1,000 to $10,000 to the value of your home. The technical term for this: an "awesome return on investment."

"Planting small trees is a better [investment] over the long term," says Dianna Worthington, vice president of operations for The Grounds Guys, a full-service commercial and residential grounds care franchise. On the other hand, if you're planning to sell in three to five years, plant larger trees. They may be more expensive, but you'll wait less time to see the full effects in your yard.

As for what you should grow, that depends on what will thrive in your area. Do your research.

Carve out an outdoor living room

Fire pits and permeable paving are right after low-maintenance landscaping on the American Society of Landscape Architects' top 10 list of the outdoor elements consumers desire. Adding permeable paving to a 100-square-foot area will cost about $600, and you can make your own fire pit if you're feeling handy. If you're not, prices start at around $70.

Cut your irrigation costs

The ASLA calls drought-tolerant plants a top trend for 2016. "There is a huge demand for xeriscaping" -- yeah, we looked it up, too, to learn it means no water needed -- "and low-water-use renovations," says Early. She points out that these environment-friendly choices cut water bills, since one-third of all household water use typically goes to landscaping. Installation costs range from $1.50 to $2.50 per square foot, but they add up to a savings of 36 cents per square foot annually by lowering water usage and overall maintenance. For these reasons, Early says xeriscaping helps when it comes time to sell, as "buyers often seek homes with less sod and more native plants."

Mix it up

Sure, you want pretty flowers to make your yard pop. But these plants are typically annuals, meaning they live only one year. So unless you want to repeat the process (and payment) each spring, you'll want to mix it up with plenty of perennials, which survive for years.

"Redoing your landscape takes a lot of work," says Worthington. "You don't want to put in this much effort every year, so plant plenty of perennials to act as a backdrop. Then supplement with brightly colored annuals."

Be sure to pick a variety of flowers that not only bloom at different times, but also showcase different textures, heights, colors, and shapes.

"Try adding a couple of bold, beautiful salvia bushes [ around $10] for purple blossoms in the summer and Euonymus alatus [ $40], also known as burning bush, for gorgeous red foliage in the fall," Worthington says.

Don't take the plunge

What's not to love about a cool, refreshing, luxurious backyard pool? Well, there's the dismal return on investment, for one.

According to the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, for every dollar you spend on a pool you will recoup only 39 cents. Still, all that said, if you're dying for a pool, you can't put a price on all that splashy fun, so consider it an investment for your soul rather than your future equity.

-- -- -- -- --

More from realtor.com: The Features That Help a Home Sell the Fastest -- and Those That Don't