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Whether you've just moved into your new home or you settled in several months ago, the one sure trick to a lived-in look is greenery and flowers. If you have a green thumb, you're way ahead of the game. But if, like me, the powers of proper planting elude you, there's still plenty of hope. Here are just a few tricks for keeping the green going throughout the spring, summer and beyond.

Dig It -- At Least a Little

  • Set the stage. Few houses look good without some "foundation planting" -- plants set around the bottom edge, or foundation, of the home. Ideally, choose a no-fuss evergreen (your local gardening store can help you choose what's best for your part of the country). If it's slow-growing, you won't have to trim it back often, and you won't have to worry about it covering your windows (a safety no-no).
  • Bring on the borders. Use other simple greenery -- we use no-fail hostas here in Illinois -- to accent the dark green foundation plantings or to soften "hard" areas of your landscape, such as the edges of patios, decks or driveways.
  • Spotlight Areas with Color. It's fairly easy to plant annuals -- those once-a-year plants that you pull up in the late fall -- in areas where you want to add just a bit of brightness. Just be sure to leave some space in front of your other plants but inside your brick, plastic or fence-like border. If you're not sure if you'll keep up the annuals, don't leave too much space at first; you don't want it to look barren if you decide to scale back or skip annuals one year.

Fake It with Flowers

My favorite trick. I'm horrible about remembering to water those in-ground plants, so I cheat. I buy potted flowers from the garden center or even the grocery store, and I set them down -- pot and all -- inside lightweight, faux terra-cotta pots. (You can take the plastic hanging parts off these pots.) If necessary, I put a brick or two at the bottom of the faux terra-cotta pots to boost up the inserted flowers (and to help keep the pots in place on windy days). Choose the right kind of plants, and the leaves and flowers will cascade over the top of the pot, and no one will be the wiser that you didn't actually plant them.

It's easy to water these -- just yank the lightweight flower pots out of the larger pots, take to your hose, douse them all at once, then replace them. And it's easy to put them where you want color the most. I have two flanking my front door, two more on the concrete steps at the bottom of my front walkway, and I usually use two to four of them to tuck at intervals along my foundation plantings for a jolt of color. The terra-cotta pots blend right in when everything is in full bloom, and the greenery doesn't have gaping holes if the flowers aren't there.

I've used similar pots at the corners of my patio. If you have big base pots, just buy two, three or four of the flowering pots to tuck inside. A little creative maneuvering of the leaves and flowers will camouflage the trick.

I've even done the same thing with small trees or bushes -- like a rubber plant and a hibiscus that I bring inside during the winter.

While you're in the yard, don't forget to keep the grass watered, the lawn mowed and the edges trimmed. These easy-to-do steps make a yard look so much more attractive than a haphazard placement of perennials and overgrown shrubs -- and for a lot less effort.

Enjoy the coming summer!

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