I am back from my winter hiatus. Be sure to send your gardening questions.
If you are a home seller, the best quick fix is simply to spruce up the front lawn.
But what should you be aware of as a buyer?
Forget the lawn and examine the foundation plantings. Are they too close to the house? This is the mark of a builder who wanted to create an instant effect. All those shrubs will grow larger and have to be replanted farther from the house. What kind of builder does that? Obviously, someone who doesn’t care. I would just walk away. Ideally, no foliage should be touching the house, as it can be a gateway for rot or termites. I like to keep a clearing of a couple of feet around my house. It makes it easier to paint, prune, and make repairs, too.
With broiling 100-degree days in our future, we are all going to treasure trees more, but they should be healthy. If large trees on the property you’re eyeing look sick, call an arborist. They could cost thousands to take down, and if they fall on your neighbor’s house, you could be liable. From a nature-loving perspective, the best kind of tree is an oak, which provides food for many kinds of wildlife. The worst is a Norway maple, whose greedy roots are most apt to damage foundations, lift patios and sidewalks, or clog waste pipes, according to landscape architect Ian Sloane of Gilmore Landscape Architecture in Arlington.
If you see very large trees in front of an old house, hire a licensed plumber to scope inside the main waste pipe for tree roots, suggested Stephen Gaspar, a home inspector with Inspections Plus of Foxborough. These can grow through the cast iron pipes used in pre-1950s residences, though the PVC pipes installed in newer houses are more resistant. Similarly, very large tree roots can invade fieldstone or brick foundations, but do not usually threaten poured-concrete ones. “These are old-house problems,’’ Gaspar said.
A home’s location on a property is also key.
“Drainage is very important for basements and crawl spaces. Your ideal location is on a hilltop rather than on a hillside or in a depression,’’ Gaspar said. “With any house on a hillside, one side takes on the water coming from the hill. You have to redirect the water around the house with drainage pipes and a trench of crushed stone. It can be very expensive.’’ Lake houses built in ravines where water tables are high sometimes have this problem, too, he said.
Speaking of water … Get the lawn irrigation system inspected, especially if it is more than five years old, Sloane said. “It’s a red flag if the sprinkler heads are sticking up a couple of inches. They should retract.’’ (And be pointed away from the house!) A leaky lawn-watering system can cost thousands of dollars in repairs and wasted water. A relatively inexpensive drip-irrigation system is actually a better choice for gardens, Sloane added.
If you plan to spend any time in your new yard, gardening or not, visit during rush hour before you buy. Are commuters using driving apps to turn the street into a cut-through? If so, you may have to install a stockade fence or a tall hedge to reduce the noise and fumes.
While you are there, identify invasive plants, or you may spend years battling them, warned Meredith Hall of Coldwell Banker Realty. Don’t buy land invaded by Japanese knotweed, which is impossible to defeat with its spread, which can reach up to 65 feet underground.
Though shrubs can be low maintenance, flower beds can be a lot of work. Even if you are a gardener, you may prefer to create your own projects rather than be stuck maintaining someone else’s. I suggest homeowners give away their favorite plants before they move (in accordance with the sales agreement) rather than leave them to die of neglect. I think being a plant collector may be a bit like being a horse person; the new buyers may have uses for your empty stable, but they probably are not going to want to take care of your horses.
Grassing over unwanted flower beds is relatively easy, but beware of hardscaping. My neighbors spent a lot to remove a koi pond with seven waterfalls in the center of their circular driveway. They did not want the maintenance challenge. But the trickiest thing was finding homes for the giant goldfish. It turns out there are koi rescue groups. Sterling Animal Center “rehomes’’ unwanted koi, so there was a happy ending.
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