The right way to invest in your garden

May 10, 2011: 10:43 AM ET

(Money Magazine) -- Spending money on your outdoor space can have a sweet payoff. One survey done before the housing bust showed that beautiful landscaping adds 5% to 11% to a property's value.

While you certainly won't get that big of a price boost today, a great yard still helps sell a house faster, especially in this market, says Brookline, Mass., realtor Chobee Hoy.

And if you're staying put, it'll make your life a lot prettier too.

Don't worry if you can't tell a rhododendron from a cactus. Just follow the same rules of thumb that you already use to manage your investment portfolio.

Start with a plan

You wouldn't put money in a mutual fund without first figuring out your time horizon and risk tolerance.

Sink cash into your yard without similar long-term thinking and you might plant that lovely dogwood right where a patio, vegetable garden, or swimming pool will someday want to go -- so you'll wind up paying to rip the plant out later.

Most local nurseries will give free advice not only on which plantings are suited to your area but also on where they're best placed.

Bring photos of your property and a plot map with compass markings (which you can typically get at your town hall).

Buy low, sell high

Cut your initial costs dramatically -- without compromising the quality or sophistication of the landscaping -- by buying small specimens.

For example, a one-foot-tall Japanese boxwood costs $5 to $9, vs. $60 for a four-footer. Plus, you can transport and plant smaller shrubs yourself; large ones often need a pro (which typically costs again as much as the plant).

"Be patient," says Salinas, Calif., nurseryman Steve McShane. The plants will fill out in a few years, and become just as valuable.


You know that a mix of investment types helps your portfolio weather market ups and downs.

Similarly, a mix of species resists problems such as disease and insects far better than a garden with the same plants repeating over and over again, says Grand Rapids landscape designer Paul Burd.

So think variety -- year-round. Many gardens erupt with color in spring but otherwise display mostly uniform greenery. Instead choose a variety of bloom dates, shapes, and leaf types, including showy fall foliage and winter berries.

Rebalance regularly

Twice-a-year rebalancing of your investments gets rid of dogs that may be dying and ensures that overgrown sectors don't wind up dominating your holdings. Your yard requires the same regular attention.

A couple of times a year prune, fertilize, and mulch the entire landscape, and replace any problem plants. If you're not motivated to do it yourself, hire a pro; you'll pay around $200 to $300 a visit for the typical quarter-acre lot. It's a small price to keep your outdoor "portfolio" healthy and looking good.  To top of page

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