April 25, 2022

I Need Landscaping and Exterior House Ideas!

Okay, I've been complaining for probably at least two years now about our "landscaping". I put that in quotes because, well, we have nothing planted right now! A few years ago, we tore out what we had. Our annual "spider sprayer guy" said that the things we had planted were like spider magnets). I would rather have no landscaping at all than have spiders, but the outside of our house looks embarrassing. Truly. I hate even showing these pictures.

I've said lots of times that our "house" is a manufactured home/trailer/double wide/call it what you will. It's not in a trailer park (not that I think there is anything wrong with trailer parks!) but that may help with figuring out what to do with the exterior of the house. We don't plan on selling it (we really like the location) so I'm not worried about resale value.

Anyway, I *finally* decided to work on the landscaping area today!

We let it go for so long that it grew over with tons of weeds and grass and just looked terrible. We killed the grass and weeds several times, but they kept coming back. After reading about it online, I decided that we needed to remove the top couple of inches of dirt along with the weeds and grass. This is what it looked like most recently:

After the new roof, but before the new gutters

Weeds/grass/dirt that needs to be removed. And the landscaping bricks.

I've been wanting to get this done for a couple of years, but I developed severe chronic pain that was eventually diagnosed as fibromyalgia (a kind of blanket diagnosis when everything else is ruled out). I will write an update about that soon, because it could take up a whole post of itself. But for now, let me just say that I was able to do this very tough manual labor today!

I don't know what got into me, but I got really tired of looking at it and thinking about it and talking about it that I just decided today was the day I would at least attempt to dig out the dirt/weeds/grass. It's been raining a lot here lately so the ground is soft and I figured it would be easier than waiting until it dried.

There sod cutters you can rent where you push it along and it cuts for you, but the area isn't huge and I figured I'd try it myself first with a shovel. I grabbed a shovel (the kind with the flat edge and not the pointed one) and started digging into the dirt. It was hard work! I was pouring sweat pretty quickly and even changed into a t-shirt.

We have a huge wheelbarrow so I just started dumping the clumps of dirt/weeds/grass in there. The reason for taking the couple of inches of dirt with each scoop is to get the roots with it; the roots make the whole piece stick together in a shovel-sized clump.

When the wheelbarrow was full, I asked Noah if he could help me dump it over the dike across the street. Well, it was about 1,000 pounds too heavy for that. I could barely push it! I eventually got it across the street and tried shoveling the dirt out and throwing it over the dike. Unfortunately, because it was in clumps, the shovel wasn't working well. So, I just had to use my hands to pick it up, piece by piece, and throw it over the dike.

My second trip across the street didn't go so well. I turned the wheelbarrow around and before I could push it very far, the whole thing tipped over! It was too heavy to stop once it started tipping. I almost cried. After a few obscenities, I realized I just had to laugh it off. I was in the pouring rain, shoveling mud and weeds, and the heaviest load of it just dumped into my yard. I picked up all that I could.

Meanwhile, it starts raining and everything is muddy. My shoes were caked with mud and I was soaked. But I kept going--wheelbarrow full after wheelbarrow full, I shoveled scoops and then threw them over the dike. It took me about five hours, but I got most of it done! There is a pile of landscaping bricks on one end that my parents gave us, so we plan to use those along the sidewalk. I think? We'll definitely clean them first. But I couldn't dig underneath those, obviously.

Yes, this looks like a total mud pit right now, but I'm happy with how it's going. When it's dry, we can level it out and do whatever else we need to do.

This is where I need some ideas/advice! I know NOTHING about landscaping or plants or flowers or mulch or gravel or any of that stuff. And I hate it! I hate thinking about it, talking about it, reading about it, all of it.

Here is what the exterior looked like most recently (this is the only picture I could find that shows the trees in the front yard--hard to see them, but it's the best I had):

I had plans of extending the porch farther to the right, where the stakes are, but wood is so expensive now! Maybe someday.

And then after the new roof (but before the gutters):

First, we do plan to power wash the house soon. We need to power wash it before the spider guy comes to spray. But here is what I need help with:

1) What do we fill that space against the house with? Should we use the landscaping bricks or no? Also, should we use mulch, stones, or whatever else people use? And what about a weed barrier underneath?

2) What are the most low-maintenance plants we can possibly use? That side of the house is shaded for half the day and sunny for half the day. I promise that I won't take the time to plant things each year (I wish I could say that I would, but I won't) so I need stuff that requires the littlest maintenance possible. 

3) The exterior of the house: we can't get new siding for a while (the new roof was expensive). Should I paint the shutters a different color? I would love to remove them, but the sun would have bleached the siding and it would be obvious that the shutters were removed.

4) Do I paint the foundation blocks? Most houses around here do not have them painted, but I figured I'd ask anyway.

5) I know I need to replace the doors--for sure the storm door ASAP. We can't do the windows until we do the siding, even though we need new windows as well.

6) Should I put anything around the base of the trees in the front yard? Or just leave them as they are? Or should I remove them? I really want my Asian pear tree to grow fruit, but I guess I need another one so they can cross-pollinate. The other tree is an apple tree. I could cut that one down and replace it with another Asian pear tree. These aren't a priority, but I figured I'd ask. 

Okay, I realize that's a tall order of questions! But if you happen to know about this stuff, please give me some advice. I love the interior of our house now that I've redone the whole thing but the curb appeal is definitely not appealing. 

I'm proud of myself for doing what I did today! Even though it looks like a muddy mess right now, I'm so glad I'm getting it ready to plant stuff. I've been putting this off for so long and I assumed it would take days to finish. I got it about 75% done today (I just have to move the bricks, but I'll make the kids do that).

Thanks in advance! xo


  1. Hi Katie, maybe you should go to a local garden centre. Plants can be expensive, so you'll want to get advice for things that will survive in your area. If you bring some pictures in, they can let you know how many plants to buy to fill the space, etc. Good luck!

  2. Small bushes will block weeds and grow for many years. Wood chippings block weeds and you can spread them round anything. Weeds will come back eventually no matter what you use. Are there plants you see nearby that you like that grow well but not too big. Photo them and ask at a garden centre?

    1. The internet says Lavender or Rosemary repel spinders if that's the main thing.

  3. Please don't get another asian pear! They are super-invasive and taking over the woods in many places. The last article I read was called "Worse than murder hornets."

    1. Yeah, and the likelihood of it ever bearing fruit is slim to none, even if there's a second tree to cross-pollinate. Definitely consult with someone at a garden center for local, native plants that are low-maintenance. Invasive plants are obviously not good for the environment, but non-native plants can also take up space where native plants would flourish, and support wildlife. I vote for keeping the apple tree!

  4. I wouldn't bother painting the foundation, as it will be covered if you put plants in the planter!

  5. Dang girl you were busy! I too loathe and hate landscaping. My yard is a disaster, I was actually just talking to my husband that we desperately need to do something with it this year. In the past I've just done weed barrier fabric and dumped white landscaping rocks on top of it and called it a day. But I know the fabric is getting old since last year weeds kept popping up between it. Ugh lol. I can't wait to see what you get done, maybe it'll inspire me!

  6. One of my favorite groundcover plants is myrtle (some call it periwinkle). I think it would be perfect for that narrow space, since you don't want large bushes that will attract spiders. It likes shade, but tolerates sun. My mom had it growing behind our house, in these sunken steps under our second-story patio. https://home.howstuffworks.com/periwinkle-myrtle.htm The leaves are evergreen, and it's very pretty, IMHO. I love it when we move to a new place and I see myrtle growing around. I agree that you'll deal with weeds pretty much no matter what you do; I prefer mulching over using the black cloth, because eventually it breaks anyway and pokes out and looks awful. Just do a good mulching every year or every other year, and get weeds when they're small.

    I would suggest planting tulips or other bulbs in the fall, when they come up in spring they're so pretty and take care of themselves--but you encourage squirrels, and squirrels will just dig up the bulbs and eat them, so don't bother! :)

    If you have dandelions in your yard, mow using a bag to catch all the buds and seeds, and bag them for the trash so they don't blow around and reseed. You'll be less likely to get dandelions in the flower bed that way.

    Trees do benefit from having a mulched area around them, to keep moisture in-also you're less likely to get near their trunk while trimming or mowing and accidentally injure the bark. You don't have to mulch around them, but my parents did, and they grew some nice trees.

  7. Those "landscaping bricks" you have are Genest blocks. We have only ever used them in new construction to build retaining walls. They can also be used for raised beds. You can't raise the grade in front of your house as more loam will cover those vents in what I'm assuming is a crawl space? Boxwoods look good and will eventually grow into a solid hedge, so you don't have to look at your foundation blocks. They're expensive, but little to no maintenance except running a power pruner down them 1x year. Don't make the mistake that every homeowner does, and plant too close to the house. You need room between the house and shrubs, nothing should grow so close that it touches your siding, it just leads to mold and makes it hard to pressure wash. There is no way to stop weeds from growing, you just have to deal with it - Roundup works great. Removing that hideous front stoop and replacing it with Trex and Trex railings will greatly improve the street view. Prices have been pretty static for a few months, the color selection is just limited. And good luck with that storm door, my husband has been building for 35 years and still always has problems with replacement storm doors, they never fit right.

  8. I'm exhausted reading this and looking at you and those piles of dirt. That's all. No help here in the landscape area.

  9. Hi, Katie! My husband did what you did - digging out a layer of sod - in a lot of different parts of our yard in order to get rid of bad grass and weeds so he could put in better grass. I've helped with that, and as you've discovered, it is super hard! But it's one of the best ways to make sure everything is out.

    We've done a lot of landscaping around our yard and house. I wouldn't suggest the landscaping bricks against your house. I would just suggest a deep layer of mulch. Like 4 inches thick - you will be surprised how much it decays. But it adds good stuff to the soil.

    We've never bothered with a fabric weed-layer type of thing - I think they are annoying and eventually tend to heave up out of the ground and just look bad. A lot of weeds get started from the top down, anyway - the seeds land on top of the mulch and grow from there. You can get something like Preen to sprinkle on top of the mulch layer to help keep weeds from starting. But, yes, you'll have to weed a bit. If you keep up with it weekly or bi-weekly, it shouldn't be too bad or take too long.

    I second the suggestion of going to a local garden center - preferably a locally-owned one and not something like Home Depot. Ask about shrubs that are low-maintenance and tell them about the light level. You may have different light levels around your house depending on how your house is oriented, so you may need a variety of shrubs - that's more interesting anyway. I can't suggest shrubs that work in our area (Maryland) because we are definitely in a different climate zone. You can also Google your local University of Michigan agricultural extension because they may have helpful info - or even call them.

    Plant the shrubs in the spacing that is recommended - they will look bare and small for a couple of years, but they will fill in. Also, make sure to plant them 3 - 4 feet away from your house. Again, they will look sad and tiny, but they will fill in. Ideally, branches shouldn't be pushing against your house too much as the shrubs grow. In the early spring every year, put in another 3 inches of mulch. This will help with keeping out the weeds year round and as the mulch decays, it's sort of a fertilizer. As the shrubs grow, you'll need less mulch.

    I always use shredded hardwood mulch. I wouldn't recommended the colored/dyed stuff because I don't think it's as good for the soil when it decays away.

  10. Oh! I say no to the edging blocks. Sell them on marketplace and I bet that covers the cost of the pea gravel. Since you'd need so much gravel I bet you can have them dump it and then you just have to rake it smooth.

  11. Long time reader, pretty much never commenter. I *love* to think about diy-ing gardens/landscapes.

    My first low maintenance plant advice is to use a lot of ornamental grasses, mixed with perennial plants. However, specifics much depend on the circumstances of your garden (for example, light/soil/water) and what you want to get out of your garden (e.g., do you want space to zen, entertain, to work out, stimulate wildlife, grow your own food...). Anyway, if you want to chat about these things let me know, I'd love to help/think along. DIY garden design is super fun!

    Here is my (unregularly updated) gardening blog, showing some of my own diy transformations (and embarassing starting points): https://www.numisumi.net/gardening.html.

  12. I would paint that brick at the bottom to match the house color….I would dig out a few more inches of dirt 3-4” below sidewalk level or else water …mulch…will run over the side walk when it rains….I have this problem at my house…I would use weed cloth…I’d skip the landscape bricks …I have the same ones and they eventually move on you and change color (dimmer)

  13. I am not big on landscaping either, and wanted plants that required no maintenance. We redid our landscaping 13 years ago, and I pretty much do nothing. I do hire a landscaper to trim the shrubs once a year.

    Anyways, we planted a Japanese lace leaf maple, golden globe bushes, a few arborvitae, and juniper. All very low maintenance.

  14. If your budget allows you might want to hire a landscaper. But otherwise keep your shrubs low. Under 5 feet. You want evergreens like pjm rhododendrons or girard azaleas or boxwood. Maybe some low growing hydrangeas for summer color. A real simple idea would be a row of little lime hydrangeas and boxwood hedge.


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