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Need help with exterior and landscaping
tanian
November 10, 2012 in Design Dilemma
Hi there everyone!
We recently purchased a mid century modern home. We are hoping to work on the exterior and the landscaping in the spring. I am looking for any ideas and suggestions. Hopefully we can start planning and saving money to get it done this coming year.

Right now there are ALOT of trees. In fact, you can't even see the house from the street. Which is a shame, I think, because it is a beautiful home! However, we are not sure if we should cut down all the trees (we feel guilty doing this), or leave some. We are not sure which ones we would leave. Thoughts?

Also, looking for suggestions about landscaping once we clear some (or all) of the trees out. We'd like to keep it modern and fairly low maintenance. Suggestions for new fencing appreciated. We live in Ontario, Canada.

Any other suggestions are welcome!
The first two pics are looking at the house from across the street. Then there are a few looking out from our front door.
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tanian
some more pics.
November 10, 2012 at 5:01am   
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Shawn Lagemann
Please don't cut them all down. There is no need to throw the baby out with the bath water. Call a good arborist, with a trimming crew that has climbers. The arborist can identify the great specimen trees and remove any "volunteer junk" they can limb up the trees and aerate them (thin the middle to open up the tree) this is better for the tree too. This will allow you to see the house and let in more sunlight. The trees will help shield your home from wind, and shade the house lowering your utility bills. The arborist will determine the health of the tree too. The small ornamental trees near the house, that's up to you. I'd call a landscaper and get a plan for the beds around the base of the house. Some of those may be salvageable too with some pruning.
November 10, 2012 at 5:26am     
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PRO
Tampa Landscape Design
Before you start chopping trees, make sure your community doesn't have laws against it. Our homeowners are fined quite severely for cutting most trees, even if done by an arborist if they don't get a permit. You will end up paying the fine, not the tree service. You could just "lift" them by thinning out the lower branches. I wouldn't cut any of them. Near your front door, I would have some of the concrete removed to make a bed at least 2' deep for some low greenery. Could be very pretty.
November 10, 2012 at 6:49pm     
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olldcan
You need an Arborist to trim a FEW trees and check the health of others. Why do you wan't to see your house from the street. Why do you wan't others to be able to see your house from the street. It would be such a shame to cut those trees out. Sometimes people don't think this through very well, considering it might take a lifetime to regrow that kind of privacy. I moved to an Acreage 15 years ago and planted a 14 pine trees. The pines were about 4' tall, now there maybe 15' and still not providing a wind block let alone any privacy. I'm sorry but I don't think you realize or appreciate what you actually have. I wan't to say Shame On You, for even considering removing all the trees.
November 10, 2012 at 7:15pm   
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houssaon
I agree that yyou should get an arborist in and select which trees to keep. Many of these are most likely volunteers and should be eliminated. Als the remain tress might need pruning.
November 10, 2012 at 7:40pm   
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yvonnecmartin
I suggest that you also hire a landscape architect to help you plan your garden. It might be that certain healthy trees just don't fit with the house and the use that you might want to make of the yard.
November 10, 2012 at 10:17pm   
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greenthumb2
Agree with most of the posters and here are the reasons: although trees lose their leaves and this produces a bit of a mess, they are vital for your: privacy, soundproofing, and filtration of the smog from that road right outside your door. Unless you plan to fully enclose with a courtyard and high stone walls, do not take out the healthy trees with good structure. Thinning them first will give more light for other plantings of low maintenance. If you have no deer, hostas and grasses are lovely and pretty low maintenance, as are sedum. definitely speak with an expert in the field of botany and a solid arborist (with worker's comp insurance) who knows trees; their lifespan, and growing needs, etc. Seriously, I realize the trees give too much shade but trust me, don't clear cut. The home looks as though you will really appreciate her. I notice an alarm company sign. As for fencing; something you can see through somewhat but also have a gate. Will keep critters of 2 and 4 leg varieties at bay. I like black or green metal. Stone can be cost prohibitive but may look better with your home and design of landscape. Can also combo those two ideas; stone and metal.
November 11, 2012 at 1:25am     
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trinitz
please don't cut down all the trees. Just trim it shorter then have it in different shape like round and triangle. The wood that have been cut from the tree, make a garden bench and table out of it.. Nothing will be wasted if you look on driftwood home ideas. How I love to help you regarding these if only we are neighbors.
November 11, 2012 at 3:00am   
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ritamaru
You will be sorry if you expose your house to the street. It will take years to replace the trees you have to screen noisse and privacy. But needs landscaping for sure. Paved driveway might be nice.
November 11, 2012 at 3:36am   
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Kivi
I absolutely agree that hiring an a good arborist is the first step. They can properly deal with overgrown materials, problems with past pruning etc. I have planted a lot of trees for folks who try to achieve what you already have, so I would suggest you be very careful about just removing trees entirely. There is much to be said for the idea of your guests "discovering" your house once they have entered the more private space created by the trees.
An overgrown jungle in front is probably not desirable, but just proceed mindfully because as others have pointed out it is very difficult to replace that privacy without a very healthy budget.
A good landscape architect could be very helpful in helping you come up with an overall plan.
November 11, 2012 at 4:37am   
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tanian
Thanks everyone for the comments!
I suppose to answer the question as to why we would want to clear some of the trees, there are several reasons 1) the amount of trees really is overwhelming. We are young professionals with young children and the amount of maintenance that is required is beyond what we are capable of and want to put in 2) we find that it makes the house look very unwelcoming. I grew up in Portugal where houses often have high front gates and you can't see the homes at all from the street. One of the things I have come to love about North American home design is the lack of fences and barriers to neighbouring homes creating an open, welcoming feeling 3) The inside of the house is modern, open, bright, airy and the outside doesn't really fit that right now 4) in the spring and summer, the amount of bugs some of the trees attract is incredible

We do love some of the trees in the front. The maple is beautiful and looked absolutely majestic this fall. We also appreciate the sound barrier that the trees along the fence provide from the noisy road.

We agree that we need a good arborist and landscaper. Unfortunately, we live in a pretty small town and there are few choices.

I have a question. Can someone explain 'volunteer trees' for me and why a tree being such would necessitate it being cut down?

Thanks again!
November 11, 2012 at 6:19pm   
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olldcan
Volunteer trees are a tree however not planted by human hands that begins to grow somewhere (usually not where you want a free tree) on your property. Unlike trees that are brought in and planted on your property, volunteer trees usually spring up on their own from seeds placed onto the ground by natural causes or accidental transport by people. They can especially be harmful by foundation walls concrete pads etc. Normally, volunteer trees are considered weeds and removed, but many desirable and attractive specimens have gone on to become permanent residents in gardens everywhere.
November 11, 2012 at 6:33pm   
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cathyjoco
Hi, I bought a home that had a backyard that was similar. I started on one side of the yard with a very good treeman. We went through the yard and kept the best, healthiest trees. We removed the others. However, due to the overgrown nature, some of the trees that you keep with need to be worked on, in order that they grown into good shape. It will take time. Also, because the trees cannot circulate air, some trees are diseased and will need to be removed. The process is time consuming and expensive. So partition an area off and work within that area. Take the advice of others and finish off the beds. Then work the next area. Keep in mind when planning, that you may want to work in one area first and another area last, depending on where you can load and unload your trucks.

Good luck!
November 11, 2012 at 7:19pm   
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greenthumb2
Only want to add this: bugs can be a good thing. find out what they are eating. If the bugs you hate eat mosquitos...well, that helps describe my idea. But, if the bugs are nuisance bugs and bring other critters not healthy for family, that is another story. Sometimes, it is not always just the trees bringing the bugs but other factors you can control without spraying.
Can empathize with yard work dismay. Trees make mess, but compost can be a wonderful corner idea if you plan any kind of food gardening. Not having to buy dirt will save you big money over the course of 5-10 years.
November 12, 2012 at 4:13am   
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pollyannagal
I see what some of the comments are saying as in 'don't rush in' but I must agree with you that your trees are overwhelming! Trees are good but you can have too much of a good thing. We had a similar situation when we bought our home and the main benefit to us was that no one else had even seen that our house existed so we didn't have any competition in buying it.

We hired professionals and although it was a big expense it was an important investment. They cleared out the 'junk' trees and those that were past their prime, giving the good stuff room to grow healthily and to be appreciated. My one big tip is to go slow with cutting back as you can't stick trees back together. Ensure you work with the arborist and be there when they are working so you can keep checking and agreeing what to do. They may be inclined to rush and get on with the work but don't feel shy about this as it will be vital for you to be sure about what is being cut. Once the garden has been thinned and tidied you will love your house and its trees.

A final word about privacy v security. I always want the front of my house to be visible from the street as arriving home and entering a garden where I can't see if there's someone lurking there is not a good feeling. If your home is visible it is less attractive to burglars as there's nowhere for them to hide. If you have a back garden this is the space you want to be private as well as secure.
November 12, 2012 at 4:31am     
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tanian
olldcan - thank-you for clarifying!

pollyanngal- yes, safety is something that is also a concern for me. There have been several times, especially recently with it getting quite dark very early, that I have sat in the car a few extra moments with my children glancing around to see if I see anyone lurking in the trees!
And ours was a very similar situation. The house sat on the market for nearly 6 months. A waterfront home, 10 min from downtown, on a street where the average house sells for well over $700k, and we got it for significantly less. But because of how it appeared from the outside, it was completely passed over by many people. And others, luckily for us, didn't have the vision to see its potential. I am attaching some pics of what our backyard looked like when we bought it and now, just so you get a sense of how overgrown it was.

Again, thanks everyone for your comments. You have certainly given me pause and I will think much more carefully about which trees to have cut.
November 12, 2012 at 7:30pm   
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pollyannagal
Wow! Your house really was lost in the woods and what a fabulous place. You have cleared the right amount from the back so I'm sure you'll get the front right too - if you can stop gazing at the view long enough to do anything. I hope you have a wood burning fire as you must have enough firewood to last a decade or two.
November 13, 2012 at 12:08am     
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dafianti
I love your tree, but they r so wild, just trim them a little, I am sure, your house enterance will have more light, and your house design will look stunning.

I think, you will need stone fences to make a statement about where is your property started, another thing that you have as a plus is a triangle area that can be decorate as small garden with fountain, I hope you like my idea and these 3 fotos can inspire you...
November 13, 2012 at 3:04am   
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Shawn Lagemann
Let me see if I can help you find a resource and some DIY help. If you live in a small town, arborists usually work in a several mile square radius. Good resources are, Arbor Foundation, Your insurance company/agent, extention office, or landscape suppy dealer. Any of these should be able to point you in a direction of a good tree trimming company. If all else fails, call your local John Deere Dealer, they carry Stihl chainsaws and commercial leaf blowers and can supply you with names as well. As far as DIY, from your photos, trees smaller than 4" in caliper (diagonal measurement) are most likely volunteer, except for the pictures of the small ornamental trees. The Maple in pix #3, can be limbed up significantly and 1/3 of the tree can be aerated and should not compromise the tree. Maple trees and other like trees, can be shaped. Ends trimmed and branches thinned, if branches are crossing each other and rubbing against each other, this causes damage and one branch should be removed. Evergreens, can have branches limbed up and removed by cutting the branches at the trunk, do not shorten a branch, cut it out completely. No branches should be touching the roof line, they damage te roof. Areas with a lot of tree coverage let in a small amount of light, growing grass usually doesn't work, but its a great opportunity for a woodland garden, which reduces maintenence. Leaves are always an issue. Invest in a good blower, or blower/vacuum. Blow the leaves out of the beds and onto a tarp or the lawn. A walk behind mower with a bag, set the back wheels higher than the front and vacuum up the leaves. Or move them via tarp to a compost pile. Leaf cover will only hurt lawn areas and some planted flower beds, they are great mulch for everything else.
Do not use a chemical stump killer, trees this compact have roots that are tangled and you could kill another tree 15' away. Have larger stumps ground out if needed.
November 13, 2012 at 4:42am     
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tanian
shawnlagemann - thank-you so much! that is great info!!
November 17, 2012 at 7:48am   
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apple_pie_order
I think you know what you are doing already: the photos of the back of the house show that a lot had to be done and you did it with sensitivity to the landscape, trees, and family life. It has a gorgeous and magical feel with the architecture and the setting on the water.

Consult a landscape architect first, then an arborist. Licensed and insured. In the meantime, I have several suggestions:

1) It's okay to trim back branches that hit your car or your roof. Clear out the piles of dead branches and other detritus.
2) Take a lot of photographs now and when the leaves are gone from the deciduous trees.
3) Get out your lot plan and mark the location of the major trees and their trunk size. Your kids will think it is fun to measure distances from trees to the corners of the house or the stone fence, use string or a long tape measure or both. Just eyeball the trunk sizes... at eye height.
4) Increase the lighting around the house. Some lights can be put on timers, others on remote control, some on motion control. That'll improve your feeling of safety. I'd keep the alarm system, too.


My own opinion is that the front yard area should look the way *you* want it to look. Yes, it takes a long time to grow back trees. Your yard was clearly neglected for many years (see all those volunteer trees) and no longer reflects the original design. It doesn't meet your family's needs. Get the landscape architect in, talk to the arborist. It's money well spent.
November 17, 2012 at 8:37am     
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