Landscape Purposefully: Trees

We’ve all seen “those” homes … you know, the ones which have a giant maple tree or some such arboreal entity looming about 2” from the house.

These trees are far too close to the house.

It may have looked cute when it was a sapling, but in full size, it’s far too close for comfort. And that’s just the part you can see. The part you can’t see, below ground, poses a huge threat to your home’s structural integrity. Let’s learn how to landscape purposefully to avoid such issues as your home ages.

These trees are planted well away from the home's foundation.

Space, the Final Frontier

When you plant trees, you must know exactly how far their roots will spread. Some species, such as willow, maple and aspen, send out roots very aggressively and invasively. These roots, seeking water, can infiltrate your underground pipes, break up your sidewalks and driveway or even damage your home’s foundation. It is wise to be proactive and to allow a great deal of space between your house and your tree plantings. A good rule of thumb is to gauge that the roots will extend to 3 times the tree’s crown’s circumference. So if a mature tree has a 10 foot crown, plant it 30 feet away from any structure it could damage. For willow, maple and aspen, add extra feet onto that. Another factor to consider is the location of power lines and overhead wires. Again, think about the mature size of the tree’s crown in relationship to those things as well. Space is the key. One more extremely important caution: before you dig, ALWAYS check to know where underground pipelines and conduits run. From any US state, call 811 and the local One Call System will mark where such underground hazards cross your property.


No, we’re not talking about how much your tree weighs. Rather, consider the mature scale of the tree compared to your home and other structures. Too large a tree can make a small house feel miniature. In the same way, a shorter-growing tree can make a two-story home loom and tower. Think proportionally, and always remember that when you first plant, while the distance between your new plantings might look huge, once those trees mature, they will appear much closer to each other.

Keep it Native

While the exotic tree from South America might seem like a cool idea, it’s best to choose trees and shrubs that are native to your area. Not only will they have a better chance of thriving, but also they will be more resistant to local pests and diseases. Another factor is that some non-native species can be invasive when planted where there are no inhibitions to growth. While not technically a tree, bamboo is an example of such a species.

Plant with Purpose

After considering all the above factors, finally, decide what purpose the tree will serve. Is it a shade tree? A fruit tree? A climbing tree for kids? An ornamental tree? The purpose will help determine further which tree to use in a particular place. For example, a shade tree near a patio area would need to only be about 10 feet tall when mature to provide sufficient shade, but a shade tree near a house would need greater height and crown spread to shade the home well. For an ornamental tree, consider growth shape, fall foliage color and maintenance, such as pruning needed.

With careful consideration, you will be able to landscape purposefully and create a stunning, safe and effective yard which compliments your beautiful, new home.

Planting Wisely: Toxic Landscaping Plants

Shared from our main American eBuilder website blog.

Many homeowners, who purchase a new home, opt to have basic landscaping done as part of their home package, but then later fill in the flower beds and garden areas with more lush plantings gradually. But before you start digging, you should know that if you have young children or pets, a number of lovely posies can be toxic landscaping plants, and even fatal if ingested. Knowing these dangerous plants and avoiding them in your landscape will keep your loved ones safe.

Plant non-toxic landscaping!

The Most Toxic Landscaping Plants:

Whether it’s the foliage, the flowers or the berries, all of the following toxic landscaping plants should be avoided if you have children or pets: English Yew, Rhododendron, Lily of the Valley, Hydrangea, Narcissus, Daffodils, Foxglove, Larkspur, Oleander, Poinsettia, Purple Nightshade, Mountain Laurel, Mistletoe, Water Hemlock, Ficus, Wisteria, Sago Palm, Azalea, Bleeding Heart and Castor Bean. While this is not a complete list, these plants are some of the most commonly used in landscapes.

What They Do:

English Yew:
A very deadly evergreen tree. While majestic and lush in appearance, any part of this tree will cause rapid heart failure. There is no antidote to the poison.

Rhodedendron is Toxic

Produces drooling, tears, violent vomiting, slow pulse, low blood pressure, coma, seizure and finally death. Any part of the plant will do this when eaten.

Lillies are Poisonous

The entire lily family, including Lily of the Valley, Daylilies, and Easter Lilies, are toxic to both humans and pets. In humans, any part of the plant, when eaten, causes headache, hallucination, red blotchy skin, possibly coma and sometimes death. In pets, even pollen or water from a vase, will cause acute kidney failure and heart rhythm issues. If you see your pet eat a lily, rush them to the vet for detox immediately.

Hydrangeas are Toxic

While this gloriously colorful shrub was a staple in most Victorian gardens, you might want to avoid planting it, at least while your children are young. The hydrangea contains a form of cyanide and will cause shortness of breath, fainting, dizziness, rapid pulse, low blood pressure, convulsions and death. The flower buds are the most poisonous part.

Narcissus, Daffodil and Foxglove:
Narcissus is Toxic

These plants are related, and cause varying degrees of both skin sensitivity when touched and toxicity when eaten. Narcissus is entirely poisonous. If you have a cut on your finger when you touch the bulb, you can experience staggering, numbness and heart paralysis. Eating it will make you vomit, convulse, faint, become paralyzed and die. Daffodils may also cause skin irritation. If eaten, a daffodil will give you stomachache, nausea, dizziness, diarrhea and pain. Eating Foxglove causes blurred vision, hallucinations, irregular or slow heartbeat, low blood pressure, vomiting and fainting. If a child even sucks on part of the plant, they may die. Seek medical help immediately if any of these are ingested.

New growth and seeds are the most poisonous part of this plant. Eating it will cause weakness, staggering, drooling, muscle twitches, nausea, vomiting, irregular and rapid pulse and death. You have about a six-hour window to seek help before death will occur. This plant is a great danger to both pets and humans.

Oleander is toxic

This decorative shrub contains multiple toxins. A single leaf may kill an adult. All parts – wood, flowers, berries, roots – are dangerous. It will attack the heart, the digestive tract and the nervous system simultaneously. Death may result.

Toxic Poinsettia

This Christmastime lovely has poisonous sap. While death in humans is rare, it is more dangerous to pets, causing vomiting and diarrhea.

Purple Nightshade:
While the berries on this plant look lovely, when eaten, they paralyze your vocal chords and breathing and then cause severe intestinal contractions, full-body convulsions and finally death. The most dangerous parts of the purple nightshade are the berries, roots and leaves.

Mountain Laurel:
The state flower of PA and CT, mountain laurel shrubs are akin to rhododendrons and azaleas. Parts of the plant which are toxic include the plant itself, flowers, pollen and twigs. In fact, honey derived from mountain laurel is also poisonous. Symptoms manifest as drooling, rough breathing, eyes and nose watering, heart complications, convulsions, paralysis and finally death.

Mistletoe is poisonous

Although at Christmastime, people display the mistletoe plant inside their homes, all parts of it are poisonous if you eat them. Different varieties of mistletoe have varying degrees of toxicity. Symptoms include vision blurring, stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, low blood pressure and sometimes death.

Water Hemlock:
This plant is the most toxic in North America. When eaten, it causes violent convulsions which turn into grand mal seizures. Death follows. All parts of the water hemlock, including the roots and seeds, are poisonous. By the way, water hemlock flowers closely resemble Queen Anne’s Lace flowers. Both are related to the carrot family of plants, but Queen Anne’s Lace is not toxic. The way to tell the difference is to look for a purple-red dot in the center of the flower cluster – that is Queen Anne’s Lace. Water Hemlock does not have the reddish dot in the center.

Ficus trees are only mildly poisonous. The main part which causes issues is the sap. If a child touches the sap, they may experience a skin rash which itches. In pets, the ficus tree sap produces both tummy troubles and skin irritation.

Wisteria is Poisonous

These cascading lovelies can be quite attractive to children and pets. The toxin is in the seeds, seed pods and bark, and it causes stomach upset, vomiting, diarrhea, shortness of breath and even death, if the child or pet eats a large quantity.

Sago Palm:
Toxic Sago Palm

The sago palm attracts both cats and dogs to chew on the leaves. If this happens, seek help immediately. The toxin begins by causing stomach upset and progresses to nervous system problems, liver failure and death, if untreated. The palm is also very poisonous to people.

Azalea is toxic

A close relative of the rhododendron, eating the azalea produces slow heart rate, very low blood pressure, coma, seizure and finally death. Even honey which bees make from Azalea pollen is toxic. In the springtime, children may mistake the azalea flower for honeysuckle and suck on the flower. Usually, this only creates an irritated mouth, nausea and vomiting. However, if a child or pet actually eats the flower, it can be fatal.

Bleeding Heart:
Bleeding Heart is toxic

All parts of the bleeding heart plant are toxic, both when eaten and when touched. A touch causes skin irritation. Eating the plant induces vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions and breathing difficulty.

Castor Bean:
toxic castor bean plant

The castor bean plant contains ricin, an extremely toxic substance. The ricin creates extreme gastroenteritis and eye damage. If the amount eaten is small, recovery is possible. While the seeds contain ricin, when they are processed commercially into castor oil, the ricin is removed. If a person or animal ingests castor beans or the foliage, seek treatment immediately.

If you are careful in your landscaping, your yard will be a safe haven for your children and pets. It’s far easier to avoid planting toxic landscaping plants than to try to get medical help when a poisonous calamity happens.  Here’s to happy (and healthy) gardening this summer!

If you’re currently building a new home, be sure to ask your builder to provide an American eWarranty new home, 10-year warranty. We’re HUD-approved!

M2=H2: X is for Xeriscaping

Yes, Xeriscaping is a real word! It comes from the root words, xeros (dry) and scape (picture) and refers to a landscaping method which uses plant types and placement to create an oasis-like design in your yard while minimizing water use. The concept originated in Colorado, but is being embraced throughout the United States by indigenous plant choices which suit the particular climate of your region. Xeriscaping conserves water usage, yet looks attractive and beautiful. Read on to learn specifics.


PRINCIPLES: Remember that grass and turf areas require the most water. Therefore, a Xeriscape uses grass, but carefully and intentionally in the whole plan. If you think of your house as the center of your personal oasis, the areas of highest water use will be nearest your home. As you move away from the house, plant water use should decrease.

A final consideration is placement and space. Although plantings may look quite small and sparse when you plant them, as they mature they will fill in that space. To avoid the mature plants’ looking cluttered, be sure to leave plenty of space for growth. You also will need to avoid planting trees and bushes too close to the house and over underground lines.

PLAN: To Xeriscape well, you must start with a plan. Many professional landscape services can help you with this. Keep in mind that if you have a plan, you don’t need to implement it all at once. Ask your landscape professional which plants use minimal water yet have colorful and lush foliage. Also plan your irrigation system before you begin. Irrigation which releases water near the ground is more efficient than water systems which spray high into the air. Drip emitters and bubblers are irrigation systems which work well for slow and deep watering. You will also need separate lines for the grassy areas, as grass need a much higher volume of water.

HOW TO: The first step is to improve your soil. Most unmodified soil is not ideal for a water-conserving landscape. The best soil should drain well but also store water efficiently. Adding compost to your soil will increase its organic content and aerate it. Your local extension office also has soil test kits so you can determine if your soil is acidic or alkaline. For alkaline soil, add bone-meal and phosphate. For acidic soil, add powdered limestone. Begin in moderation with the pH balancing additives and re-test to check.

The next step is to mark your area divisions – what will be turf, what will be bed plantings, what will be trees. Take care to not mix plants with different watering needs in the same area. Now, install the irrigation system. It’s important that this is in place before you begin to plant. That way, your new plants will receive correct watering right from the start, and you will not disturb their new roots.

Step three is the planting! Don’t fret that everything looks so diminutive. With time and care, your Xeriscape will fill in and become your personal oasis.

Finally, add a layer of mulch to any exposed soil. Mulch may be leaves, compost, pine needles, wood chips, bark, cocoa shells, rubber or gravel. The mulch is necessary to preserve moisture, to prevent erosion and to inhibit weed growth. Organic mulch substances are better than inorganic, because they break down and blend with the soil. Gravel and rocks should be used cautiously, as they increase and retain heat. Your mulch layer must be several inches thick to work well.

MAINTENANCE: Xeriscapes are relatively low-maintenance. The most necessary component is irrigation. Remember that the purpose of the Xeriscape is to conserve water, so irrigate deeply and infrequently. Also note that different times of year may change your plants’ water needs, so you will need to adjust irrigation accordingly.

Second, mow the turf areas, but not too short. Taller grass protects the roots and retains moisture.

Third, weed. If your mulch is thick, weeds tend to not sprout well. But if one makes it through, be proactive about pulling it from the base to get the roots.

SUGGESTIONS: The following perennials are drought resist yet lush and lovely: Artemisia, Aster, Baby’s Breath, Black-Eyed Susan, Columbine, Coreopsis, Crocus, Delphinium, Echinacea, Gaillardia, Iris, Lamb’s Ear, Lavender, Pansies, Purple Coneflower, Red Valerian, Safe, Sedum, Statice, Sweet William, Tulip and Yarrow

The following annuals are also great for low water: Cosmos, Marigold, Phlox, Portulacca Sundial, Red Plume Blanket, Rose Campion, Santolina, Vinca Passion and Zinnia.

M2=H2: L is for Lawn and Landscaping

Your lawn and landscaping add a finished look to your home, and they also protect your foundation if properly graded. Let’s take a look at both facets to review what your maintenance options are.


LAWN: Unless you had sod installed, your new lawn requires a bit of TLC at its inception. Water it with a fine spray in the morning and at noon, but do not oversaturate. If the weather is hot, you will need to water more frequently. To establish the root system well, you should plan to water your lawn twice per week in hot weather for the first two years. In this initial stage, you should avoid walking on the new grass for at least three weeks to give it a chance to get established.

When mowing your new lawn, keep the blade fairly high and overlap your mowing paths by several inches. Cutting your lawn too short, called scalping, damages the root system, allows weeds to take over and may even kill your grass. Keep the mower blade sharp and alternate direction each time you mow. Finally, never mow wet grass.

When fall arrives, you might notice bare spots where the seed did not take well. To fix this, first rake the lawn to remove grass clippings and leaf debris. Next, fertilize the entire lawn. Finally, spread grass seed in the bare areas. The cool fall temperatures are perfect for germinating grass before it enters its dormant state.

LANDSCAPING: Your landscaping is a long-range process. With a new home, it’s probable that your trees and shrubs are just small seedlings. Keep in mind that as they grow, they will occupy more space. It’s better to start with plantings spaced well apart until you can see their mature size. Over time, you can fill in the empty space with size-appropriate flowers and shrubs.

Remember that your builder graded your property to facilitate water runoff and to protect your foundation. Take care not to disturb the slope and drainage channels as you expand your landscaping. In addition, be cautious about planting large trees or shrubs too close to the foundation, as root growth could damage it.