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Learning to Grow: Curb appeal vs. curb clutter

Published: Friday, Oct. 4, 2013 4:19 p.m. CDT

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Mother Nature has recently bestowed upon us cool and sunny days – days that are just right for outdoor activities. 

One of my favorite fall activities is taking a hike around my neighborhood. I like to see, and enjoy, my neighbors’ landscapes. This is a good time to get ideas for refreshing one’s own garden. 

Perhaps you need to update your landscape, add a new garden bed, plant a tree or remove overgrown plants and shrubs. 

Realtors emphasize curb appeal when we get ready to sell our homes. We really need to be aware of our curb appeal long before we plan to exit the neighborhood. Each season we should take the time to view our home from our neighbors’ yards. How do things look? Are there unsightly weeds? Do your bushes need to be pruned?  Are the branches of your trees infringing on your neighbor’s property? Does your property look it’s best? 

Any of the above questions that might need your attention means that you are suffering from “curb clutter.”  

Fall is a good time to roll up your sleeves and get to work. By tending to your own business, you just may influence your immediate neighbors to do the same!  

Several years ago, I observed that the beautiful tree that once was a showstopper in the corner of my front yard, was no longer thriving. After falling victim to a windstorm, the remainder of the tree was in jeopardy.

Yes, I hated saying goodbye to the beautiful Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) that had graced the corner of the yard for many years.

I chose a Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum) the following spring, as the replacement for the redbud.  First of all, the Paperbark Maple is zone hardy. Height-wise, it fit the spot; this specimen matures at 20 to 30 feet. The Paperbark Maple grows best in full sun to part shade. In a perfect world we would have moist, well-drained, slightly acidic soil in which to plant this tree. 

However, this tree is adaptable to a wide range of pH and really doesn’t mind a clay soil as long as it drains well. This ornamental tree is slow growing: 6 to 12 inches of annual growth.

The leaf shape on this tree is not like the average maple leaf. On the Paperbark Maple, each leaf is comprised of three leaflets (trifoliate). 

Some say that it looks more like poison ivy than a sugar maple! Right now the leaves range in color from red to bronze. This maple is the last of the trifoliate maples to color in the fall.

Now for the bark! The exfoliating bark is what makes this tree so special. The young stems are a dark brown and then begin to exfoliate in their second year. As the cinnamon-colored bark curls away, the darker, reddish brown wood underneath is revealed. The beautiful bark, plus the regular, rounded form, makes this tree outstanding in the winter landscape.

So, if you are suffering from curb clutter, now is a good time to go out, pick up, and plan ahead.  

After tending to garden chores, you might want to locate the snow shovel and check out the engine on the snow blower!

In the Midwest, nothing remains the same ... especially the weather.

• Catherine Harrington is a University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener for Kane County. Call the extension office at 630-584-6166 for more information.

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