Landscaping is simple. Go to your local home and garden store, pick out some attractive plants, grab a couple bags of mulch and a few garden tools, and you’re ready to go, right? Oh, and don’t forget to mow the grass a few times a month.
If only it were that easy.
Whether you’re a first-year landscaper or you’ve been doing it for decades, there’s always more to learn—and discovering new ways to keep your landscape efficient, sustainable, and beautiful is much of the fun. But part of that means knowing how to recognize and avoid common mistakes. Here are five of the most frequent landscaping mistakes we see:
1. Putting plants in the wrong spots. You shouldn’t put a plant somewhere just because it looks nice. While that’s part of the equation, you also have to consider its needs: How much sunlight does it require? How much water? Will it be healthier in dirt beds, rocky beds, or with mulch? Does it have any companion plants? If you don’t consider its needs, the plant might not reach its full potential—worse, it might quickly die. Plants including irises and daylilies do best with lots of light and water; they don’t do great in mulch. Others, like purple coneflowers, can do just fine with lower light in a more arid environment. Understand the plants you’re using and give them what they need—they’ll thank you.
2. Cutting your grass too low. While it looks great at the golf course, cutting your grass like a putting green (or even a fairway) is looking for trouble. When grass is too short, too much of the leaf surface is removed, hurting its ability to perform photosynthesis. While that’s bad enough, short grass also produces weak, unhealthy roots that have difficulty absorbing nutrients. For best results, keep your grass more like the rough and less like the putting green—about two-and-a-half to three inches high is ideal.
3. Not planning. Creating a sustainable, healthy landscape doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a carefully considered plan that accounts for the climate, available space, threats from insects and wildlife, color patterns, water needs, functionality, and much more. The right plan will come from a deep familiarity with your landscape, and deliberate choices about plants and hardscaping features that work together. A great plan takes time: Start with a few beds and continue adding to your landscape over weeks and months rather than trying to do everything at once. And remember that most landscapes look best in spring—you’ll want to choose plants that’ll look great during other seasons, too.
4. Bad pruning habits. Correct pruning encourages and controls strong new growth, and it’s a necessary part of landscape maintenance. But it’s easy to do incorrectly, which can damage the plant and give your landscape an unhealthy look. In most cases you shouldn’t prune more than about 10-15% of a plant at one time, as any more than that can cause traumatic harm and inhibit growth. It’s usually best to do pruning in winter months while the plant is dormant, but spring and summer pruning can be fine when done sparingly. Avoid pruning during the fall as plants might not have time to recover before winter. Make sure you’re pruning with a sharp pair of gardening shears and making clean cuts through stems and branches, as these will heal quickly and help prevent disease and infection. Finally, don’t cut the tops off of trees. It weakens them and leads to irregular growth.
5. Overwatering. All plants have different watering needs, but the good news is that you can usually rely on Mother Nature to handle most of the work. People have a tendency to overwater their landscape, and they underestimate the hardiness of trees and plants. Unless they’re exhibiting symptoms of dehydration—yellow/brown colors, wilted leaves, slow growth, etc.—plants probably need little or no extra water. This is just a general rule: Many plants like annuals and tropical plants can require constant watering. Another tip is to take a look at your soil. If it’s mostly clay, water retention shouldn’t be an issue. If it’s sandy, you’ll need to water your plants more often.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a landscaping rookie or a seasoned veteran: You can get big benefits from avoiding these common mistakes. The key to long-term success is carefully managing your property, working on it regularly, and having a good understanding of what your plants need—and what they don’t.