•Making a low wall of interlocking pavers along the side of the house can be very attractive and add definition. This will also allow plenty of new soil (compost for instance) to be added and worked into soil that is usually mostly hardpan (dry, hard clay, sand and silt). Most soil around the foundation of a home is depleted of nutrients, so adding rich moisture retaining amendments are important to the health of any plants you might add.
•If there is a sidewalk along one side of the house, putting down landscape fabric, newspaper or cardboard between the house and walkway and then adding mulch or decorative stones, river rock, etc., can be an easy fix that will make the area look clean and neat.
•Setting containers along a mulched area such as this can really dress it up and make watering very easy. If it is on the shady side of the house, this could be a good place to give your houseplants a few weeks outdoors.
•I'm not a fan of the black weed barrier — it almost always seems to peek through the mulch sooner or later — so instead recycle your newspaper or cardboard. Both of these materials will work as well under mulch and will compost over time and virtually disappear as a result of rain and watering.
•If you would rather add plants in the ground, first amend the soil, lay down the recycled material and then cut slits for the plants. Add mulch, and you have a professional-looking side yard.
I've been seeing stone mulch of different colors used quite a bit in planting beds this year, and it does look very good. If using stone, it is best to use edging material of some sort or the stones can work their way into the lawn.
Some gardeners use the black plastic edging, but it has been found that plastic on soils can create a perfect environment for many plant diseases because it prevents the organisms in the soil from breathing, and that is essential to soil and plant health.
•When shopping for plants for a small area, make sure they are going to be the right size when they mature. Often we buy small, less-expensive plants to begin with and forget that they will become huge, so read the labels, which should tell you how wide and tall the plant will be when it is full grown.
•If you do not use one side of the house on a regular basis, planting groundcover can be a simple yet attractive way to solve a problem area.
•A note about safety — when planting along the side of your house, make certain none of your flowers, shrubs or trees cover a window or provide a hiding place for critters with two legs or four.
Jane Ford is an Advanced Master Gardener. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.