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Outdoor Living Design: 6 Modern Outdoor Elements to Set Your Next Project Apart

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Andy Rooney once said that time can feel like a roll of toilet paper. It unrolls faster and faster, the closer you get to the end.

We agree. Sometimes it feels like a house project that we “just” completed already needs updating.

The same is true for outdated landscaping. Whether you or a previous owner of your home installed certain landscaping elements, you might already feel as though it requires updating.

In this article, we’ll dive into some of the outdated landscaping elements that we see and how you can go about updating landscaping.

Before we get into the specifics, outdated landscaping features that you might want to consider replacing include:

  1. Plants that Overwhelm Their Spaces
  2. High-Maintenance Plants
  3. White Gravel Like “Grandma’s House”
  4. Groundcover That Completely Takes Over
  5. Cheap Scallop Edging
  6. An Imbalance of Hardscaping to Softscaping
  7. Unnatural Mulch Colors

Since landscaping is directly tied to home value, it’s important to keep up with modern landscape design ideas. You’ll also feel better about a landscape that you’re proud to show off!

Let’s look at some of these examples.

Examples of Outdated Landscaping

As we jump into these outdated elements, keep in mind that we certainly aren’t trying to offend. We understand that with any design style, there’s always some personal preference involved.

However, if you do have one or more of these features, you might be ready for an update.

1. Plants that Overwhelm Their Spaces

As we said at the start of this article, time really does feel like it flies by. But when you’ve got an empty space in a plant bed that needs to be filled, you might want to speed time up. For that reason, you may have chosen a plant that would grow quickly.

large shrub in a landscape planting bed

The trouble is, as our Senior Landscape Designer Alan Macbeth says, many quick-growing plants can be like the Gremlins from the movie. They were cute to start until they got some water and morphed into something much crazier than expected.

Now you might have a monster on your hands! That is a plant that is way too big for the space you installed it.

Some typical offenders of this include the Leyland Cypress and the “Emerald Green” Arborvitae.

While we love these two plants and we do often use them ourselves (particularly for privacy screening), they can overwhelm a space. These two species are generally chosen because of their quick growth but may grow beyond ladder-reaching height. That can also make their maintenance and upkeep dangerous, expensive, or just not possible.

Sometimes this results in drastic and ill-advised “cut in half” pruning from homeowners.

2. High-Maintenance Plants

Plants that outgrow their spaces quickly are examples of high-maintenance plants. But it’s not just fast-growing plants. It’s also those that require lots of upkeep and care that perhaps you didn’t anticipate.

These might include plants that are prone to disease or just problems in general. All of that would constitute good reasons for updating landscaping with lower-maintenance plant choices.

Some examples of plants that either overwhelm their spaces or end up being more work than homeowners want include:

  • Laurel (Typically the 'Otto Luyken' Laurel)
  • Holly (Like the “Nellie Stevens” Holly)
  • River Birch Trees
  • Red Maple
  • Gold Euonymus
  • Bradford Pear (Particularly the 'Pyrus Calleryana' variety)
  • Some varieties of Boxwood which are prone to blight or just end up looking tired due to poor care and pruning

Boxwood Blight on a boxwood shrub row

Again, some of the plants on this list are plants that we might install. But it all depends on the goals and the location. Any plant that is not properly cared for can become a high-maintenance plant so it’s important that your expectations align with the care that you’ll actually be providing.

3. White Gravel Like “Grandma’s House”

White gravel in the front yard is a retro trend that may or may not be making a comeback (depending on who you talk to). We’re seeing some homeowners interested in a Mediterranean-style look in their backyard, and white gravel can fit into that.

But as far as white gravel in the front yard, we think that trend has mostly gone to the wayside. A lot of people say it reminds them of “Grandma’s house.”

Instead, consider updating landscaping with modern plant beds and some new shrubbery or some pops of color.

Colorful plants can make a huge difference in “wow factor” and curb appeal in the front yard. Homeowners love having seasonal color that adds aesthetic beauty to their homes.

4. Groundcover That Completely Takes Over

Again, we are not completely opposed to groundcover as there are circumstances where it makes sense. On a steep slope or a hillside, it’s one of the only things that might grow. Groundcover can also reduce the amount of maintenance in certain areas of your landscape.

However, groundcover can also completely take over.

groundcover landscaping planting 1

Remember when you thought it might be nice to “have a little Mint growing in your yard.” You might have quickly learned there’s really no such thing as now you have A LOT of Mint and it’s growing everywhere.

Therefore, updating landscaping might be a matter of ripping out groundcover and starting over with something new and fresh in the area.

For instance, for a sloped area where you don’t like the mountain of groundcover that’s taken over, maybe you want to level things out and create terraces. This would allow you to grow plants in each of the terraced areas.

That’s just one of many modern landscape design ideas that we can talk through and consider for your specific property.

5. Cheap Scallop Edging

Another outdated landscaping look is cheap plastic edging…that stuff you can buy at the local hardware store. It often comes in colors like red and white and it ends up really sticking out. In most cases, it also ends up breaking. Inevitably, it’s going to work its way out of the ground and get hit by a mower or someone kicking a ball.

Today, there are so many more options for edging.

Some modern landscape design ideas for edging include:

  • Steel edging
  • Edging stone
  • A natural-cut edge

When you have edging completed by a professional it goes a long way in updating landscaping. It can truly make a world of difference when a plant bed is professionally mulched and edged.

6. An Imbalance of Hardscaping to Softscaping

We love installing hardscaping and we love installing softscaping (landscaping), but when there is an imbalance of the two, it can impact the aesthetics. Ultimately, you want just the right mix so that they complement one another.

When you have way too much hardscaping, it can really come to look too utilitarian. That’s where the right landscaping plants will soften things up.

But on the flip side, you don’t want a jungle growing and you need some hardscaping for increased functionality. One of the ways that we go about updating landscaping is by helping to create just the right balance of these two elements.

7. Unnatural Mulch Colors

This might fall into a personal preference category, but we think that unnatural mulch colors like red or blue tend to look very outdated.

Red mulch was a big trend in the early 2000s and sometimes we still see it being installed. But these days, the mulch color trends really lean heavily toward more “natural” colors. Darker brown and black colors look fresh and new.

Again, a fresh coat of mulch can go a long way in updating landscaping. But you want to make sure that it’s installed well. When a bed is over-mulched or under-mulched, you don’t gain all the benefits and you risk affecting the aesthetics.

Best New Landscaping Ideas

If you have any of these outdated ideas or you just feel like your landscape needs a refresh, you might be looking for the latest landscape design trends.

We think the modern landscape design ideas are all about timeless looks that aren’t going to quickly go out of style.

landscape installation technicians installing new shrubs in a border planting bed

Some landscaping ideas that we’d suggest for a refresh include:

  • Freshening up plant beds with new plants, mulch, and edging
  • Replacing old shrubs, particularly those that outgrew their space or weren’t suited for the space to begin with
  • Updating or incorporating new walkways for functionality and aesthetic appeal and/or adding a patio
  • Adding landscape lighting
  • Considering a focal point feature like a fireplace, a fire pit, or a water feature. Some of these features weren’t available when your landscaping might have been done
  • Replacing high-maintenance landscape materials (like plants…but also poorly installed hardscaping elements)

These are just some ideas. The ones that will be right for your property should be decided based on your specific wants and needs as well as the property itself.

With the right updated landscaping, you can refresh your property’s look and appeal.

Get Back to Enjoying Your Property by Getting Rid of Outdated Landscaping

At the end of the day, updating your landscaping is all about enjoying your property more fully. You’ll give your property value a boost, but you’ll also be a lot more proud of a property with updated landscaping.

Sometimes a small change can go a long way. Exactly which modern landscape design ideas are right for your property should be customized to your wants and needs.

It all boils down to being able to spend more time outside enjoying your space.

You should not have to feel frustrated or worry that things look out of date.

Choosing Landscape Design in Northern VA

The key to getting the most out of updating landscaping is working with the right landscape design professional. You’ll want to choose a pro who listens to your wants and needs but who is also well-versed in the best new landscaping ideas.

At Kingstowne Lawn & Landscape, we are here to help. We can update your property in a way that allows you to reap the benefits.

Once your landscape is updated and you’re proud to show it off, you’ll find yourself spending more time outside than ever before.

If you’re looking for confidence that your landscape design will have everything it needs, request a landscape consultation, get your customized plan, and relax as you get the royal treatment.


Request a Landscape Consultation

Krisjan Berzins - Owner, CEO

Since 1997, Krisjan has led the Kingstowne team with one simple philosophy, treat every customer like the “only” customer. His passionate pursuit of impeccable customer service has resulted in 24 successful years and a thriving company with over 85 employees, helping thousands of homeowners in the Alexandria, Arlington, and Springfield, VA area get what they want -- a worry-free property they can be proud of.