It’s a tough housing market out there. If you’ve been trying to sell your home, you know that already. So what can you do to get a leg up on your neighbors, who have their house on the market, too? The answer’s simple: Upgrade your garden!

Cottage garden - cottage house

This cottage-style garden complements the home’s exterior, and the colorful plants are welcoming, as well as attractive.

Photo Credit: Sarah Landicho

Hanging baskets

Add some lush hanging baskets for a quick burst of eye-popping color.

Photo Credit: Sarah Landicho

Attractive backyard seating

Don’t forget your back yard – a cozy place to relax can give potential homebuyers a feel for how they can use the space.

Photo Credit: Sarah Landicho

Townhouse rain garden

A colorful rain garden out front helps set this townhome apart from others for sale in the neighborhood.

Photo Credit: Sarah Landicho

Minimal landscaping

A minimal landscape like this might mean minimal interest in your home.

Photo Credit: Sarah Landicho

House with vertical elements

The woody plants offer structure to this front garden, while the blooming perennials up the walkway add a punch of color and curb appeal.

Photo Credit: Sarah Landicho

No doubt you’re busy – getting your house ready and cleaned (and keeping it that way) to show to potential buyers seems like an endless job. But don’t forget about your home’s exterior. After all, it’s the first impression visitors have. And not only is curb appeal at the top of the list when it comes to what homebuyers look for in a landscape, for many people, a neglected yard implies a neglected home.

So where do you start? First, clean up your existing landscape. You need to streamline your yard the same way you streamline the inside of your home. Make the time to get outside and care for your lawn and manage weeds. Put down new mulch to spruce up your beds. Deadhead old blooms, and trim back and shape shrubs that may have become rangy or overgrown. Pull out any old, unhealthy-looking plants.

Once your yard’s cleaned up, analyze what you’ve already got growing in your landscape. Does your garden offer four-season interest? Depending on when your home is on the market – and for how long – you’ll want something to brighten the outdoor surroundings year-round. Think spring-blooming bulbs (which should be planted in fall); flowering trees and shrubs; vibrant summer annuals or vines; pots of autumn containers; and stands of ornamental grass or other plants that offer winter interest. If you’re lacking any of these beauties, consider investing in them during the planting season.

Next, step back and look at your home as if you were seeing it for the first time. Does your chain-link fence look a little chincy? If you don’t have the budget (or desire) to replace it altogether, consider dressing it up with some quick-growing morning glory vine. Do your window wells stick out like sore thumbs? Cover them a bit with some low-growing evergreens, like a groundcover juniper such as Juniperus horizontalis. (Some of the cultivars are bluish in color or very pretty.) Want to disguise how narrow your home is? To give a wider look to a house, try horizontally branched or fountain-shaped plants like dogwood, viburnum, ornamental grasses or beautyberry (among others). By taking a critical look at your home, you might be able to find some quick, fairly inexpensive – yet still beautiful – ways to fix or disguise the issues.

And don’t forget your grass! If it’s been dry and you’ve been too busy to care for the lawn, get out there and try to correct the problems. Worn-out grass is like worn-out carpeting: It turns people off – especially prospective buyers. Lush, green growth says “welcome home” far better than crispy, suffering turf. So renovate your lawn. If it’s beyond repair, consider installing sod for instant impact. Seeding is also an option, or maybe some good “weed and feed” is what’s called for. If you just don’t know what your lawn needs – or don’t have the time – call in the experts.

Now that you’ve got the basics down, don’t go running off to the nearest garden center just yet. It’s easy to get carried away upgrading your landscape, so take the time to set a budget and determine what’s most important to you for selling your home, keeping the upcoming seasons in mind. Consult your real estate agent for advice, too – he or she can help assess what might be off in your yard and let you know what “look” tells to sell best in your neck of the woods. Yes, it’s definitely more expensive to add structural woody elements to your yard than it is to add a few brightly colored annuals or perennial containers in key spots. So figure out what will have the most impact for reasonable cost – a little can go a long way if you spend it right!

Once your budget is set, take that trip to your local garden center. Check around and see what’s in bloom and what’s appropriate for the season. And don’t be afraid to ask for suggestions. Some garden centers offer free design services as long as you purchase your plants from them, so bring in your garden measurements and pictures, too. Share your ideas, as well as your spending limit.

If you just don’t have the time to upgrade your garden yourself, hire professional help. Yes, it costs more than doing it on your own, but if you want to get your landscape spiffed up in a jiffy, it’s a good way to go – and hopefully you’ll get a good return on your investment.

It’s true: Curb appeal means a lot when it comes to selling your house. It’s a reflection on your home, as well as an easy way to boost property value. And it’s the first thing perspective buyers notice when they pull up the driveway. So make sure you make the right move when selling your home – upgrade your garden!