Tips for Increasing the Curb Appeal of your Yard

"How To" Tips

These "How To" Tips are offered as public service to help GHI members add beauty and aesthetic value to their yards and homes. While every GHI yard is different, these tips should provide some general information that is useful for most members. For some topics, educational fact sheets with more information are available online as indicated.


Hedges are a hallmark of GHI masonry homes and are important additions to the yards of many frame homes. Hedges were originally used in the community instead of fences. Well-maintained hedges are a beautiful community asset; however, hedges can become safety hazards if not properly maintained. 

Hedges should be trimmed away from walkways, access lanes, and court driveways so as not to impede pedestrian or vehicle traffic. Hedge height should not exceed 42 inches (3 1/2') at street and court intersections. Thorny plants are not permitted along common walkways, access lanes or court driveways. Poison Ivy must be removed from hedges. Consult GHI Handbook §V. Plantings for more information about planting and care of hedges.


Trees add wonderful beauty and value to our community. However, improperly sited and maintained trees can damage structures and facilities causing high costs to all GHI members. Members must remove sapling trees shorter than eight (8) feet tall that are growing in hedgerows, within two (2) feet of a fence or sidewalk or ten (10) feet from the foundation of a structure. Members are responsible pruning of tree limbs lower than 8 feet within their yard.

Members should immediately report any potentially dangerous tree issues (i.e., branches touching the unit roof or siding, dead or falling branches, etc.) to the GHI Maintenance Department 301-474-6011. GHI will evaluate the hazard and take steps to correct the problem. Members must obtain permission from GHI before planting any trees in their yard. Consult GHI Handbook §V. Plantings for more information about planting and caring for trees.


Bare Areas
Members must cover all bare areas in yards to prevent erosion. In many cases establishing grass is the suitable option. Reseeding is not considered to be a viable option in cases of heavy pet traffic, children's play areas, or in cases of full-shade. See "Landscaping for Shady Areas" for other choices.

If members are cited for reseeding the bare areas in their yards during the community beautification inspections, they will be allowed until October 1, to reseed their yards with turf grass. This change has been made because cool season grasses that grow in this region are best established after September 1, when the summer heat subsides. This allowance will be made only in those situations where reseeding of bare spots is a viable option. In all other cases, bare areas must be dealt with promptly.

Planting in Sunny Areas
Choosing the right seed type is the best start for a great lawn. For sunny areas, reseeding with tall Fescue grasses that are drought and disease resistant can eliminate bare spots. If the soil is very compact, it should be loosened to a depth of 2"-3". GHI has 4 garden weasels that can be borrowed by members from the warehouse, for one week or less. The garden weasels have sharp times on a wheel that can be rolled several tines over the bare ground to aerate and loosen the soil before grass seed is planted. After preparation of the final grade, seed should be sown within the top ¼" of the soil at a minimum rate of five pounds per 1000 sq.ft. A one-inch thick layer of straw should be applied afterwards to retain moisture and minimize erosion. The seeded areas should be thoroughly sprinkled each day in the morning throughout the germination period. The optimum time for seeding is September 1 to October 1. See "How to Tips Establishing a Great Lawn"  for more details. more>

Grass Options for Shady Yards
If your yard has at least partial sun during the summer months you can probably maintain a healthy grass layer by following these tips. Choose the right seed type. Mixes with Red Fescue, Perennial Rye, and St. Augustine seed tend to do better in shady yards. Make sure to read the label on any seed mix you buy to make sure what type of seed you are buying. Fertilize and aerate your yard in the spring. Don't mow too short. Let the grass grow to 3-3½" in shady areas. Short cutting will overstress the plants. See "How to Tips Establishing a Great Lawn"  for more details. more>

Care for high traffic areas
For areas that are heavily trampled by companion animals or foot traffic, the planting of grass is not an appropriate solution. These areas should be covered with mulch, wood chips, pea gravel, or other durable surface. If using pea gravel, a landscape border will be necessary to prevent the spread of the gravel to other areas. Another option for high traffic areas is be to fence-off a specific area for animals or children's playground and install a durable layer of mulch or stones.

  Mowing and Raking
How a lawn is mowed makes a huge difference in its health and vitality. Many people mow their lawns too short. It's a bad habit that promotes all kinds of problems, from excessive weed growth to pest and disease problems to rapid browning during periods of drought.

Warm-season grasses such as Bermuda and zoysia should be cut to a height of at least two inches; their cool-season cousins such as bluegrass, fescue and rye perform best when cut at around three inches, especially during the summer months. Taller grasses produce healthier root systems and require less water because the longer-leaf blades serve as shade from the sun. A grass's root system grows about as deep as the leaf blades are tall. Members should have the blade on their mowers sharpened seasonly to provide a good clean cut. Mulching mowers are also recommended.

  • NEVER mow more than 1/3 of the grass length at any single cutting.
  • NEVER cut lawn when wet or damp.
  • NEVER cut without checking all four wheels for adjustment.
  • NEVER cut above 4 inches or below 1½ inches.
  • NEVER cut in the same direction twice in a row.

Lawns must be kept free of all debris (leaves, twigs, paper, etc.) throughout the entire season. Excessive leaf litter and other debris will harm your turf and prevent healthy grass growth. Thick leaf litter (2" or more) next to homes and sheds also will harbor pests such as ants, roches, and mice. Members in wooded areas are permitted to leave leaf litter on the ground. Remember it is illegal to dump leaves in the woodland areas.

Lawn Edging and Sidewalks
In an effort to enhance curb appeal, members are reminded of their responsibility to maintain their lawn area up to twelve inches outside their fence/hedge line. Shared member responsibility also includes maintaining a safe passage for others by keeping sidewalks bordering yards (whether yards are fenced or defined by hedges) free of weeds, debris and overgrowth. Please help us keep our walks safe.


Lack of vigor, change of color, thinning, weed invasion, or reduced response to irrigation or fertilization are all signs that turf is under stress and aeration may be needed. Insects, diseases, improper watering and lack of fertilizer are often blamed for a lawn's decline when the real culprit is soil compaction. Lawn aeration (the method of poking holes through the turf into the soil) creates openings that reduce the soil's bulk density and gives root systems the ability to receive adequated amounts of air, water, and fertilizer to create a healthy green lawn. Lawn aearation is considered one of the most effective preventative maintenance tasks you can perform to ensure a healthy green lawn. It is equivalent to changing the oil in your car. Aeration has both long and short-term benefits. GHI has four garden weasels that can be borrowed by members from the warehouse, for one week or less. The garden weasels have sharp tines on a wheel that can be rolled several times over the bare ground to aerate and loosen the soil before grass seed is planted. For more compacted yards, members might consider renting a mechanical aerator. There are also a number of landscaping companies in the yellow pages that offer lawn aeration services. Be sure to choose a reputable company by asking for references.

Over-fertilizing is a common mistake. Nitrogen-based fertilizers should be applied based on the requirements of different grass species. All fertilizer packages have three numbers on them, such as 10-10-10. These numbers represent the percentages of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), in that order by weight. While all three are necessary for proper growth, many soils naturally have enough of certain nutrients. Testing your soil will indicate your yard's needs. Fertilize warm-season grasses in the summer, cool-season in the fall. Never apply fertilizer in the cold winter months when the grass is dormant.


If your yard is full shade in the summer months, grass is probably not an option. Below are a few options of other landscaping alternatives that will help beautify your yard. A helpful fact sheet  for shady yards is also available for download.

Moss as a Ground Cover
Ground moss plants are a low-growing, no-maintenance grass alternative. No weeds grow within moss, no pests persist and, after it is firmly established, little or no watering is required. Some mosses, massed together, give a smooth appearance, including rock cap mosses (Dicranum), fern mosses (Thuidium) and the aptly named "cushion" mosses (Leucobryum). Other moss plants have a relatively spikier appearance, including haircap moss and sphagnum moss. All types can be used in shade gardens, depending on the look you're trying to achieve. Contact your local nursery and consult with their experts to provide you with the information and materials needed. It is against the law to remove moss from the Woodlands.

Most mosses require shady spots, making them ideal constituents of shade gardens. They also like moisture. Many moss species not only tolerate, but require compaction in the soil beneath them -- just the opposite of most specimens sold at nurseries. Moss plants like a soil with a pH that is acidic (5.0 - 5.5). These combined attributes make mosses a perfect choice for many GHI yards.

The planting preparation of moss is quite simple.

  • First find a patch of moss at your nursery that is best suited for your needs and style. The patch does not have to be exactly the same size as the bare spot because moss will grow and spread.
  • Scrape soil with hand tool, hard rake, or garden weasel that you can borrow from GHI.
  • Press moss firmly into soil.
  • Water thoroughly each day for 1 to 2 weeks.

After the final watering, the moss will take 3 to 4 weeks to slowly expand to other areas of uncovered ground. With little or no maintenance involved, moss also provides a great base for any future yard florafication because of the fact that weeds and pests are virtually eliminated.

Mulches & Stone
Adding mulches and stone to your yard can be another attractive way to cover exposed soil in full shade yards. There are many varieties of colored mulches, woodchips, decorative stones and gravel available at local garden centers. Use plastic edging to create decorative designs or to keep landscaping materials in designated areas in your yard. For high traffic areas, such as paths and walkways consider using mulch, woodchips, gravel, or step stones to provide a good walking surface.

If you have active outdoor companion animals, maintaining grass or other growing groundcovers in shady yards will be difficult. Placing mulch or woodchips around the inside perimeter of your fence will provide a good alternative to bare soil.

Do not put mulches or woodchips near downspouts or swale areas. In heavy rains they will wash away. Consider using crushed stone or gravel in these areas if you can't get grass to grow. Remember do NOT obstruct the drainage of the swale in your yard. This will cause water to pond and might lead to water damage in your unit.

Shrubs and Groundcover
To achieve a diverse woodland yard consider planting understory trees and shrubs along with shade tolerant groundcover plants in place of grass. Though prevalent as a shade groundcover, English Ivy, should be avoided at all costs due to its highly invasive nature. Some native and ornamental options are listed below. (Note: * Indicates tolerant of full shade)

Low Shrubs Ornamental Grasses, Ferns, and Ground Vines
Black Huckleberry [Gaylussacia baccata] Canada Mayflower [Maianthemam canadense]*
Box Huckleberry [Gaylussacia brachycera] Christmas Fern [Polystichum acrostichoides]*
Cliff Green [Paxistima spp.] Creeping Blueberry [Vaccinium crassifolium]*
Cranberry [Vaccinium macrocarpon] Green and Gold [Chrysogonum virginianum]*
Creeping Juniper [Juniperus horizontalis] Liriope [Liriope muscari]*
Creeping Mahonia [Mahonia repens]* Mondograss [Ophiopogon japonicus]*
Dwarf Huckleberry [Gaylussacia dumosa] Mountain Stone Crop [Sedum ternatum]*
Longleaf Mahonia [Mahonia nervosa]* Pachysandra*
Low Bush Blueberry [Vaccinium angustifolium] Partridgeberry [Michella repens]*
Small Black Blueberry [Vaccniium tenellum] Round-lobed hepatica [Hepatica mericana]*
Velvetleaf Blueberry [Vaccinium myrtilloides] Sensitive Fern [Onoclea sensibilis]*
Yellowroot [Xanthorhiza simplicissima]* Straw Lilly [Uvularia sessilifolia]*
  Wintergreen [Gaultheria procumbens]*


Replacement of Fences
If replacing an existing fence line, a natural boundary of hedges, trees or shrubs is preferred. Any plan for replacement of an existing fence or erection of a new fence, requires written approval from the GHI Technical Services Department. If replacing or installing a chain link fence, a vinyl-coated fabric in green, black or brown is required. Additional information and permit applications are available from the Technical Services Department. Please consult GHI Handbook §V. Plantings and §VII. Fences in the GHI Handbook for more information.

The GHI Maintenance Department will remove fences free of charge for member at his/her request, provided the member agrees not to re-erect a replacement fence for 3 years. The Fence Removal Request Form  is available online.

  Repair/Painting of Fences
It is the member's responsibility to care for fences in their yard. Fences should be kept in good repair and free of rust, peeling paint and tree branches. Please trim tree branches from your fence. Trees such as White Mulberry, Black Locust, and Tree of Heaven are particularly damaging to fences. Growth of certain vines on fences is permitted. Please consult GHI Handbook §V. Plantings for approved hedge or shrub type.

When repainting an existing chain link fence, all posts, top rails, and fence fabric must be free of rust and uniformly painted with the approved GHI colors (green, black or brown). Metallic or bright colors are not allowed. Please consult GHI Handbook §VII. Fences for more information.


Dumping of leaves, branches, and other debris into common areas, access lanes, or the woodlands is strictly prohibited. Dumping is a safety hazard that require large amounts of staff time to control (increasing coop fees for everyone) and causes significant ecological harm to our woodland areas. Large leaf and brush piles also present a fire risk and prevent safe access between units.

Starting in 2005, members are required to bag their leaves in PAPER BAGS and place them in the service side yard for FRIDAY pick up. Paper bags are a new requirement of the City of Greenbelt to reduce composting costs and protect the environment. PLASTIC BAGS WILL NO LONGER BE ACCEPTED.

Members can purchase PAPER BAGS from the Greenbelt Municipal Building, Co-op, Home Depot, Lowe's, Costco, Greenbelt Giant, Target, and other lawn and garden stores. Members may also place yard waste in PLASTIC BINS for pick up. Bins must weigh less than 50lbs and have a "Yard Waste" sticker. Stickers are available from the City of Greenbelt.

The City of Greenbelt will pick up yard waste on the service side yard of GHI units every Friday. As always, special pickup for yard waste and bulky trash can be arranged free of charge with the City of Greenbelt by calling 301.474.8004.


Keeping the exterior of your home clean and well kept will go a long way to helping keep our community looking great. On block and frame homes with vinyl siding the exterior should be cleaned if they are contaminated with mold, mildew, rust and/or grim.

The GHI warehouse has four (4) pole extension brushes, which members can be borrow free of charge for up to one week to clean their siding. To make the cleaning solution use a five-gallon bucket for mixing 1 part bleach to 4 parts water with a small amount of dishwashing liquid to act as a foaming agent. Immerse the brush into the bucket then stroke with the grain of the siding, from the upper to lower levels of the unit. Do one section of the unit from top to bottom then thoroughly rinse with your garden hose to remove the mildew and the cleaning solution before moving to another section.

Contact GHI's warehouse at 301-474-4161 extension 134 for availabiity of the brushes.  If you are not up to washing your siding yourself, the Greenbelt News Review advertises contractors who provide cleaning services for vinyl siding for moderate fees as well.