When the sunshine starts to warm the air (and melt the snow, depending on where you live), many of us homeowners start to think about making some outdoor improvements. That can be a very good decision especially if selling is in the near future.

According to Angie's List, a Web site where thousands of consumers share their ratings and reviews on local service providers in more than 425 different categories, well-designed landscaping can increase the value of your home by 7 percent to 14 percent.

I've written a lot about the importance of curb appeal and, well, let's face it, curb appeal is similar to meeting someone for the first time -- a good first impression is likely to increase the chances of a second meeting -- so, too, for a home on the market.

With still so much inventory for sale, buyers simply can't be bothered with homes that don't dazzle them from the get-go. Buyers will look at many homes online; only the ones that entice, invite, and attract with curb appeal are likely to get a second look -- this time in person.

Ken Andersen, VP of Walter Andersen Nursery says improving landscape makes the home not only more aesthetically appealing but it also can help save you money. "One of the things that you can do to help save money on your landscaping is making sure that you're watering efficiently. One of the ways that you can save water in a landscape is by mulching the landscape."

He says placing a two-inch layer of mulch in your yard helps keep the soil from drying out and therefore it needs less water. "It also adds organic material to the soil as the mulch breaks down and gets incorporated into the soil. So that's always a benefit to the plants," says Andersen.

Andersen says mulch has improved over the years. "There are a lot of decorative [mulches] that will turn what would have been a bare patch of dirt into a nice manicured area of your landscape—just a little bit of mulch or bark down in an area like that can really make a dramatic difference in the look of the landscape and it's very cost effective," says Andersen.

Rubber mulch is another alternative that some homeowners like to use in playground areas. You can learn more about mulch and other landscaping tips by reading my article .

If you're going to add mulch to your landscape, Angie's List suggests this money-saving tip: get a couple of neighbors on the block to purchase it with you so that you can buy it in bulk to save money. Here are a few more things Angie's List says to consider:

  • Think about how much work you actually want to do. You may want to hire someone only to deliver the mulch, or you may want to hire someone to spread the mulch.
  • Does the company deliver the mulch or are you responsible for pick-up? How is the delivery charge calculated? Is it by material, weight, or location distance? Request a delivery quote in writing.
  • If you want it delivered, it's a good idea to be present during delivery of the materials. If you can't be there, be clear and detailed on the place in your yard where you would like the mulch dumped.
  • Compare prices. Call around to three other mulch companies to compare rates.

Of course, landscaping involves more than just laying down mulch and that means the cost of sprucing up your yard can vary greatly. Andersen recommends having 10 percent of the cost of the home reserved for spending on landscape—that doesn't include any hardscape such as a patio floor, walkways, or a pool. But for existing homes, depending on the current condition of the landscape, improving it can be done very cost effectively.

Whether it's new or existing landscape, Andersen recommends seeking professional help. While do-it-yourself homeowners may be eager to pick out the plants they like and then promptly put them in soil, Andersen says check with the pros first or you could end up with plants not surviving due to outgrowing the space or being placed in poor locations such as next to the wrong plants with different sun and water needs.

"Don't be afraid to ask for help. Go into a local nursery or garden center and ask for local advice as to what you can put into your yard so that you'll be successful. If you put something in and it dies and you have to take it out and go get another one -- even if it's under a warranty -- it's not an efficient use of your time," says Andersen.

He adds, "You really want to make sure that what you put in your yard is going to give you the most value for your investment because landscaping really is an investment in your home."

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