Mulch makeover: Fresh mulch will liven up your flowerbeds and areas around trees. Landscapers and garden centers sell mulch in bulk or by the bag. The most standard bag size is 2 cubic feet. Bulk mulch sells by the cubic yard, which is equal to 13.5 standard-sized bags.
If your yard is like most American lawns, you have about one-third of an acre, most of it grass. Making your planting beds pop can cost as little as $2 a bag ($19 per cubic yard) or as much as $7 per bag ($47 per cubic yard) depending on the quality and type of mulch.
Most landscapers say buying in bulk is cheaper in the long run, even with delivery fees of about $50. Many landscapers will also install it. If you're going to spread it yourself, have the load dumped onto a tarp for easier cleanup.
Cut corners (and curves): Edging a flowerbed, tree or other landscaping element can boost its aesthetic appeal. Following the shape of the bed, cut into the surrounding lawn about 6 inches with a shovel or other sharp tool. The edge can stand alone, or you can fill it with brick, stone or other material, at a cost ranging from $4 to $15 per square foot. For a clean look, create some separation between the soil or mulch and the edging material. Or keep a stand-alone edge sharp by going over it with a shovel or other tool every few months.
Green up your grass: For every inch of grass above the ground, say top-rated lawn pros, there's an inch of roots below. If you cut too close to the ground, roots may die. Set your mower height so your lawn is trimmed to a minimum of 3 inches. That will encourage thicker turf that resists crabgrass, among other benefits.
If your dreams are more expansive than these relatively easy do-it-yourself spruce-ups, here are terms to help match the right pro to your project:
Lawn service: Mows, trims, and administers fertilizer and weed killer.
Gardener: Often performs routine chores.
Landscaper: Plants trees and shrubbery; modifies and replaces existing plants and materials; establishes new beds; installs sod or seeds a lawn; and does routine maintenance. Some landscapers offer design services.
Landscape architect: Often works on large, custom projects, providing site plans for drainage and landscaping. Can also do smaller complex projects.
Landscape designer: Provides a blueprint showing placement for each plant and feature.
Certified arborist/tree service: Prunes trees and diagnoses and treats disease and pest problems.
Horticulturist: Diagnoses plant diseases and advises on watering and feeding schedules.
Before you hire a company, make sure it has a good reputation on a trusted online review site and is appropriately licensed, certified and insured. Get a written contract covering all pertinent details, including payment amount and schedule.
Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie's List, www.angieslist.com, a resource for consumer reviews.
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