That’s why homeowners associations often have exacting rules about landscaping.

And it’s not just HOAs that care. Most home buyers seek landscaping that adds “functionality and resale value,” rather than “frills and lifestyle,” according to the National Association of Home Builders recent “What Home Buyers Really Want” report.

Good landscaping can add up to 28% to the overall value of a house, says landscape economist John Harris, and cut its time on the market 10% to 15%. Even taking your landscaping to the next level, upgrading from “good” to “excellent,” in terms of design, condition, and placement, can add 6% to 7% to a home’s value, according to a Clemson University study.

But don’t landscape merely to flip a house. You won’t get your money back, Sandy MacCuish, a California appraiser, tells us. Instead landscape for your enjoyment (Did you know trees reduce stress in just 5 minutes?), knowing that you’re making a good investment.

Don't landscape to flip a house.

We’re here to share the essential elements (trees, native plants, and outdoor lighting) — and a few nice-to-haves (fencing, walkways, retaining walls and terracing) — for value-adding and beautiful landscaping. After all, potential buyers come to your door once; you come home every day.

Essential #1: Trees

Maybe only Mother Nature can make a tree, but the National Tree Benefit Calculator can tell you what it’s worth.

The calculator examines how a tree species in a particular ZIP code affects:

  • Property values.
  • Storm water runoff. Trees block and suck up water running off your property, preventing pollutants from entering community waterways.
  • Carbon dioxide reduction. CO2 contributes to climate change.
  • Energy savings: Shade trees cool homes in summer; windbreaks help warm them in winter.

Take a 24-in. diameter red maple, the country’s most popular tree. Here’s its overall annual benefit, combining the factors above, in a handful of cities, according to the tree benefit calculator:

  • McLean, Va.: $244
  • Scarsdale, N.Y.: $181
  • Beverly Hills, Calif.: $207

Multiply those benefits by the number of trees on a property, and the value and savings can climb.

To calculate the dollar value of an individual tree, the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service in Indiana uses a formula that includes the tree’s size, cost, health, and position in a yard. By its calculations, a 15.75-in. silver maple in good health could be worth $2,562.

Value of Neighboring Trees

Your trees can even add value to your neighbor’s property. A Portland, Ore., study found that trees with a sizable canopy growing within 100 feet of other houses added about $9,000 to their sale price and shaved two days off its time on the market.

Of course, to add value, the trees must be healthy, mature but not elderly, native to the area (more on the importance of native plants later), and appropriate to the neighborhood.

If you’re growing a forest and the rest of the neighborhood looks like a prairie, you’ll have a hard time recovering the trees’ value at sale. Conversely, if your neighbors manicure their lawns and yours is a jumble of weeds or worse, their great landscaping will make yours look even shabbier and hurt the value of your home, says Domenich Neglia of Neglia Appraisals in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Related: Avoid these troublesome trees

More Fun Facts About Trees

  • Just three properly placed trees could save you between $100 and $250 a year in energy costs, says the U.S. Department of Energy.
  • Planting windbreaks and shade trees can reduce winter heating bills by 15% and air conditioning needs by 75%.
  • Just looking at trees produces “significant recovery from stress” within five minutes, according to a Texas A&M University study.

trees help you de-stress

Essential #2: Native Plants

If you introduce trees, plants, or shrubs, go native. Indigenous plantings thrive without the extra TLC (read: time and money) you’ll devote to anything that’s forced to live outside its natural habitat.

A study by Applied Ecological Services Inc., a Wisconsin ecological consultancy, shows that maintaining an acre of native plants over 20 years costs $3,000, compared with the whopping $20,000 price tag of maintaining a lawn of non-native turf grass.

Related: The Plants That’ll Hijack Your Yard!

Not only can native plantings save money, they can make you money, too. In Mesa, Arizona, a generous assortment of lovely Saguaro and other native cacti can boost a home’s value by $500 to $5,000, depending on size, says REALTOR® Cathy Joyce.

Native plantings help wildlife, too. The National Wildlife Federation awards a special certification to homeowners who create natural backyard habitats for birds, butterflies, and other animals looking for places to roost or feed.

There’s a slow but steady increase in buyers seeking these wildlife certified properties; a recent listing for a West Virginia property trumpeted its wildlife certification, restored meadow, and organic garden.

Rain gardens with native plants and trees also are becoming a plus for properties increasingly plagued by extreme weather. These gardens filter and distribute runoff underground, preventing storm water from seeping into basements and overwhelming municipal sewers.

native plant savings


In the Chicago area, now frequently drenched by huge storms, rain gardens can make properties more marketable and can reduce flood insurance rates, says Laura Reedy-Stukel, a REALTOR® in Elmhurst, Ill., who specializes in green building strategies.

Essential #3: Outdoor Lighting

Outdoor lighting consistently tops the NAHB’s list of most wanted outdoor features in its annual What Home Buyers Really Want survey: 41% rate it “essential;” 49% say it’s “desirable.”

But that’s not the only reason it’s one of our landscape essentials.

  • Tasteful lighting paints your home at night, highlighting your other great landscaping choices and directing guests to your home’s focal point — the front door. 
  • It protects against slips and falls.
  • It makes a property a more difficult target for intruders. That added security can reduce burglaries, and therefore claims. Some insurance companies give 5% to 15% discounts to homeowners with reduced or zero claims.
  • It makes your home feel homier. Soft lighting on a wrap-around porch or just a front stoop feels warm and inviting.

Related: Tips for great outdoor lighting

Nice-to-Have #1: Fencing

outdoor lighting essential

Fencing has many indisputable qualities: It keeps pets in and intruders out; it creates privacy and sets boundaries.

But when it comes to boosting property values, the value of fencing becomes murky.

Since most privacy fencing is installed in backyards, it doesn’t pack the curb appeal punch of, say, a spreading chestnut tree shading your house. And if everyone in the neighborhood has the same nice fence, yours won’t earn any extra points on an appraisal sheet.

But nice fences (not chain link) do have value. Douglas Emde, a Stillwater, Okla., appraiser, says cedar picket fences set the standard in his market just north of Oklahoma City, and can boost home value by $1,500 to $2,000. In Meza, Arizona, where chain link fences are typical of older properties, an upgraded cement block privacy wall can boost selling prices by $2,000 to $5,000 more, says REALTOR® Joyce.

Related: What’s your fence style?

Nice-to-Have #2: Retaining Walls and Terracing

Retaining walls and terracing reclaim heavily sloped yards that are only good for grass (hard to mow) or ground covers (hard to tame).

Retaining walls and terracing:

  • Control erosion and surface runoff by slowing the flow of water down a slope.
  • Add color and texture to wide stretches of green.
  • Turn useless slopes into flat areas for garden beds and walkways.

Done correctly, walls and terracing look beautiful and boost curb appeal. But walls can be pricey, running $15-$40 per sq. ft. (including labor), depending on materials used. A 20-ft.-long, 30-in.-high stone wall can cost between $1,250 and $2,000.

Related: Retaining wall ideas

Nice-to-Have #3: Walkways

Walkways welcome guests to your home. So, you can let visitors trudge through wet grass to your front door, or you can lay down an attractive path. We vote for the attractive path.

You can go whole hog and install a solid stone walkway, which ranges from $11 to $17 per sq. ft.; or use pavers, $9.50-$17 per sq. ft. To save money, lay stepping stones with grass between, $1-$3 per piece.

Walkways are another keep-up-with-the-Joneses upgrade. If you get too fancy, you won’t see a return on your investment; if you don’t meet the standards of the neighborhood, appraisers will punish you.

Related: Walkways that lead to great curb appeal

Other fab curb appeal projects that typically offer a good ROI, according to Remodeling Magazine’s annual Cost vs. Value Report:

  • Exterior door replacements. On average nationally, a steel entry door replacement recouped more than 107% of its cost in the 2014 survey.