Home & Garden

Freshen the front porch

Your front entrance is a great place to say "goodbye" to winter and "hello" to spring.

So sweep away the remnants of snow-removal salt, brush down the cobwebs and hose off the concrete. We have a simple, three-part strategy to welcome the fresh new season.

1. CLEAN AND/OR PAINT THE FRONT DOOR

Wash the grime off your front door with a solution of water and a small amount of mild dishwashing detergent. Rinse off any soap residue.

If you decide the door needs a new coat of paint, sand the door and wash it with trisodium phosphate instead of detergent, says Jason French, a salesman at Gragg's Paint Co. in Kansas City, Kan. The cleaner, commonly called TSP, is strong, so skin and eye protection is recommended.

Apply the TSP solution with a sponge or brush. Rinse, and when the door is dry, it's primer time.

"Always prime a front door," French says, "even if it's pre-primed by the manufacturer."

French recommends using one coat of acrylic primer on metal and wood doors. After the primer dries, brush on an acrylic-based paint, which flexes with temperature changes. An oil-based paint can crack.

Red is currently the most popular color for front doors.

However, this small but important spot on your home creates an opportunity to venture beyond the trend.

"My double front doors are terra cotta orange," says Kristopher Dabner, owner of the Greensman, a Kansas City garden design and installation business. "The whole house is white and kind of plain. The orange makes it a little more interesting. It spices it up."

Dabner also has used bright shades of green on front doors. If you have lots of hostas in a shady front garden, chartreuse adds a nice pop of color to the front door, he says.

The paint should be brushed on, not rolled, vertically in thin coats. You should use at least two coats of color, French says. But a red door often needs four coats.

2. DON'T FORGET CONTAINER PLANTS

Nothing says spring like green, growing plants. But it's important to start with the right container, especially when it comes to your front entrance.

"Bigger is always better," says Reed Dillon, owner of Reed Dillon & Associates, a landscape architecture firm in Lawrence, Kan. "Go twice the size of what you think it should be."

Aged-looking, moss-green containers are all the rage, says Ricki Creamer, owner of Red Cedar Country Gardens in Stilwell, Kan. Iron and rusted looks are still hot, too. Customers are always looking for lighter pots that they can move easily.

Containers at least 28 inches wide are highly prized. But Kristopher Dabner, owner of the Greensman, also is seeing skinny urns (about 4 feet tall and 18 inches wide) that are impressive.

So what should you plant in them? In a big pot, start with a larger plant such as a juniper or white pine and fill in with ivy, potted tulips or masses of pansies, Dillon advises. Or mix flowering quince, alyssum and daffodils in an antique urn. For a more dramatic look, use a scouring rush in a galvanized metal planter. Give the vertical grassy plant a flat-top haircut, and top the soil with black river rocks.

It's fine to use one type of plant or flower per container, Dabner says. For a formal look, put matching containers on each side of the door.

Creamer likes groupings of three near the front door. For example, use a tall iron urn filled with primroses surrounded by pansies and thyme. Then plant Irish moss in a green pot. In a whimsical touch, add a rabbit statue next to the two containers.

"I always think you should put a smile on a guest's face when they knock on the door," she says.

3. ADD A WELCOME MAT

If your mat is in good shape, clean it and keep it. If it's wearing down, it's time for a new one.

A standard 18-by-30-inch mat is easy to find at lots of stores. A standard size is fine if you have a single front door and a small stoop.

But if you have double front doors or a door with sidelight windows, you need a larger mat. Otherwise, the mat will look dinky and make your front entrance look cluttered. Start with at least a 24-by-36-inch mat.

If your front porch is wide, you can upgrade to an outdoor rug. Home-design catalogs are offering more of these rugs, which look like indoor area rugs.

"The outdoor rugs are a great look," says Kristopher Dabner, owner of the Greensman. "They're not only inviting for guests, but they make you want to sit outside and enjoy the weather."

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