There's a reason so many landscape painters seem to focus on rolling, emerald-hued hillsides: That lush, green look can seem magical. Which is probably why homeowners, try to re-create the magic in their own yards. But for first time home buyers, going from "Hey, I have a yard" to "I have a yard that will knock your socks off" takes some hard work. It goes beyond mere maintenance and mowing. It requires a bit of landscape and garden design know-how and a heavy dose of patience. It even requires some science.

Luckily, we have some insider secrets to get it done. These six landscaping and lawn care tips promise to transform your own personal patch of dirt into a lush, verdant lawn that every first time home buyers will love and that'll make your neighbors green with envy.

1. Scratch the thatch

Over time, your yard accumulates a layer of dead or decomposing stems, roots, and other detritus near the surface. This is called "thatch." If you care about having your neighborhood's No. 1 lawn, it needs to go. "Removing this allows the grass to grow better by allowing nutrients and water to more easily get to the grass roots," says Susan Brandt, who runs gardening service Blooming Secrets.

To remove the thatch, first mow your lawn to half its usual height, then use either a dethatching rake or a dethatcher (both available to buy or rent at home improvement stores) to clear out the dead layer. This is best done in spring or fall. Once you've finished, fertilize and water your yard to help your grass recover.

2. Feed your grass

"Fertilization is a cornerstone of having a great lawn," says Mike Ricke, the owner of AAA Lawn Service, in Burnsville, MN. "A great fertilizer should supply your lawn with a series of micronutrients that help it to grow and get green." But what makes a great fertilizer? It depends (surprise!) on your specific lawn. Get your soil tested to determine its levels of the three major nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

Tests can also show if your soil needs lime. Talk to a garden store specialist to determine the best fertilizer for your particular soil. Then, make sure to fertilize your lawn when it's growing. For cool-season grasses (e.g., Kentucky bluegrass), that's early spring and early fall. Warm-season grasses (e.g., Bermuda or St. Augustine) need fertilizer regularly throughout the summer.

3. Maintain year-round gardens

Create curb appeal with a year-round garden.
Create curb appeal with a year-round garden.

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Think about the yards you most envy: They always seem to have color, even in the dead of winter. Jealous? You don't have to be. Creating the same look doesn't have to be difficult. "Add living curb appeal with an evergreen garden space to ensure that it looks like there is life year-round," says Kevin Guzior, a vice president of Pioneer Landscape Centers.

For spring and summer, flowers and seasonal shrubs provide a bright burst of unmistakable color to offset your lawn. For fall and winter, plant evergreen trees and foliage, along with some hardy pops of color—such as the red flowering quincehellebore (sometimes referred to as Christmas roses), or winter jasmine. Or for a beautiful, low-maintenance yard that will last year-round, consider xeriscaping.

4. Trim your trimming

No, you can't skip the lawnmower. But you should carefully consider the height of your blades. Trimming your grass too close to the soil hinders lawn growth and makes your yard look less lush. "Be sure you're not taking off more than one-third of the grass blade when you mow." Here's another pro tip: Leave those clippings in the yard. Not only do they smell wonderful (unless you're allergic to grass), they also serve as cheap lawn food.

5. Create a path

Garden path
Garden path

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Imagine how much the yellow brick road pops out against the wide emerald fields. That could be your yard. Minus the poisonous poppies. "Use gravel or other smaller decorative rocks for a pop of color," Guzior suggests. 

Want to add some extra oomph? Guzior recommends bordering pathways with landscape edging, pavers, or riprap—large, decorative rocks such as those found on lakeshores—"for a more stunning appearance." Bonus: Pathways encourage visitors to stay off your growing baby grass. Become a regional expert by doing a bit of research on your own. Enjoy!

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