5 Steps to Transforming Out-of-Date Landscapes into Utopias


An out-of-date landscape may send a message that you’re in the land of the lost.

A landscape installed 20 or 30 years ago usually shows its age – certain types of plants and rock date a property. For residents and prospects, living in surroundings that don’t appear to be current can be difficult. Yet curb appeal can make or break the decision for a prospective resident to turn into the property and take a closer look at living space and amenities.

New additions to landscapes make senses come alive

Scholars have said for years there is a direct connection to human behavior based on surrounding landscapes and designs. Some surroundings agitate the senses, others offer calm. A cluster of enveloping trees may cause a claustrophobic sensation in some, while a flowing stream of water, on the other hand, can soothe the soul.

New developments with more urban landscapes feature sparse plantings that offer a softer, less structured look. Designs are based around plants that can develop and grow naturally. Also, turf is used only where necessary, which helps minimize irrigation while preserving natural resources and making an earth-friendly statement.

landscaping outside

Rejuvenating an older landscape doesn’t have to be a massive undertaking. Certainly, the shape of the buildings can’t be changed. What can be transformed is how the landscape flows throughout the property, how it takes the eyes of residents on a pleasing journey.

Here are five things you can do to help transform an older property or outdated landscape into a current, aesthetically pleasing look that keeps pace with today’s senses:

1. Eliminate structured hedge rows and reduce taller shrubs.

Things like horsetail reeds that are planted in small groups offer a softer look. Shorten those six-foot-tall shrubs or remove them in favor of native plants. Also, consider taking out trees that are killing surrounding grass. Too many trees may confine the senses and restrict light and openness.

2. Turn wear-and-tear areas into amenities.

Add rock, design fake river beds around drainage areas that hold water and create natural walking paths. Instead of pouring concrete, use crushed granite or flagstone for walkways.

Flagstone landscaping

3. Mulch with rock or gravel.

Using permanent mulch materials requires less maintenance while providing the same benefits of soil and erosion. Also, dyed mulches that are dark brown or black add a natural effect. Brighter colored mulches are on the way out.

4. Use modern plant material instead of dated plant material.

Burford holley hedgerows, wax leaf ligustrums and photinias are no longer très chic. Native plants, grasses and ground covers give a softer, calming look.

Mulch landscaping

5. Avoid planting in masses.

Space out plantings and use small groupings. Avoid making plants square or round. A short, waving line of horsetail reeds is far less rigid than shrubs trimmed to a hard edge. Introduce new plantings and use rock to reduce water requirements.

Consult with your landscape professional about how to further transform older landscapes and create a more modern, vibrant look that will not only offer curb appeal but provide residents with a much more gratifying experience in apartment communities.


President, Earthworks

author photo two

Chris Lee is President of Dallas, Texas-based Earthworks, which specializes in multifamily housing landscaping. He is a contributing author to Landscape Management magazine, licensed irrigation specialist and a Toro Intellisense certified technician. Chris studied business at the University of Arkansas from 1990-94 and horticulture and landscape design at Tarrant County College from 1999-01. He has been employed at Earthworks since 1998.

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