The 5 Biggest Mistakes of Home Landscaping

Giant typewriter eraser sculpture- Claes Oldenburg-1976
Giant typewriter eraser sculpture- Claes Oldenburg-1976

Plan a personal landscape design from your home computer.

If you have been a homeowner, you have most likely encountered a landscaper's mistake. It might be a mature tree or shrub that sits too close to the foundation or plants that overlap walkways and have to be cut in ways that ruin their natural shape. It's an all too common problem that most of us have been guilty of causing, yet it can be easily prevented with a few basic considerations. Here is a list of the top 5 mistakes:

1. Lack of overview in planning

A homebuilder wouldn't think to build a house one room at a time even if he didn't have to submit blueprints beforehand. A landscaper should have a plan also. This might include hardscape like patios, walkways, and water features as well as irrigation and important plant selections. The actual work doesn't have to be completed all at one time. Working in stages is far easier on the budget, and isn't as overwhelming. The important thing is to stick to a plan in order to insure the continuity of a theme or an existing layout. Keep in mind that plants need time to mature and fill in. Immediate gratification is not the best approach. The healthiest specimens should firmly root in their new environs before reaching maximum growth.

2. Improper irrigation systems

A home's largest green area is usually the lawn, so the irrigation most likely consists of sprinklers -often on an automatic timer. This water delivery is both inadequate and inefficient for the deeper rooted flowers, shrubs, and trees- particularly those that have been newly planted and don't have mature root systems. Lawn trees, for instance, will develop shallow roots that often break up foundations and sidewalks because they grab the available moisture near the surface. Shallow-rooted trees often blow over in strong winds and cause structure damage. This can be prevented with deep watering from the time the tree is planted, so that the roots will grow down before spreading outward. Here' s a simple test: run your sprinklers for the normal time duration, then, using a trowel, dig a small area and check to see how deeply the water penetrated. Would the water have reached the roots of your bedding plants? Perhaps you need to add drip lines, bubblers, or soaker hoses. The same can be true in reverse where you might be overwatering drought-tolerant varieties or damaging the bark of trees from sprinkler spray which can cause serious disease. Most California native plants, for instance, will die when overwatered with drip irrigation. They are equipped to survive without fertilizer and little water once established. Deeper and less frequent watering is generally best for both plant vitality and water conservation. Again, planning for the individual needs of the plants selected for your garden and choosing like kinds for a given area is the best approach.

The beautiful New Zealand flax shown here in a great location has had to be hacked back in a poorly chosen spot.

3. Choosing unsuitable plants for your region

As garden lovers, we can't help but admire the unusual variety of plants we see when visiting out of state! We want to bring them home to cultivate in our own gardens. Aside from the fact that some species are invasive to non-native areas and may actually introduce problem pests, plants which are not listed for a particular region will always struggle for survival. If a nursery in your area can't get a plant for you, it's usually a pretty good bet that it's a poor choice for your garden. Choose plants that will flourish, since weak plants will harbor both disease and insects that can spread to the rest of your garden. The same goes for avoiding plants that are invasive. These choices go way beyond your own garden, making angry neighbors and actually threatening our native flora. Each state has a published list of "enemy plants" which can easily be found online.

Poor foundation plantings pose fire, pest, and structure damage. Plants are often trimmed in ways that ruin natural shape, healthy growth, and stability.

4. Poor choices in relation to structures and personal habitat

It is so important to know both the growth habit and the dimensions of the mature plant when making selections. While browsing the grounds of a nursery, you might be drawn to a 2 ft. blooming plant in a 5 gal. container and think it perfect for that bare spot under the bedroom window; however, that same shrub will eventually grow to a height of 15 ft. Yikes!! That lovely scented jasmine in full bloom would be a lovely, fragrant welcome in the entryway, but it is an ugly tangled mess when the short-lived blooms are gone. Take special care when choosing palms, cycads, phormiums, ornamental grasses, and spiny agaves. These specimens can grow quite large, and it is difficult to trim these without ruining the shape and integrity of the plant. There is the added problem of a passerby beng injured on a deadly thorn, irritated by itchy fibers, or scratched by stiff fronds. Attracting pollinators is wonderful, but choosing a shrub full of bees in the entryway, by the pool, or near a child's play area would be poor planning. Trees which produce sticky flowers, rain sap, and drop leaf litter and over-ripe fruits would be undesirable choices for patios, outdoor rooms, and carports. Lastly, consider your pets and their habits. If chewing is a problem, be very careful to avoid toxic selections like hellebores and sago palms.

Learn simple plant combinations with the WOW factor.

Overly large trees and shrubs crack planters and foundations and often hide a home's attributes.

5. Poor spacing between plants

It is understandable to want to fulfill that vision of a thick green privacy screen, but don't expect instant gratification on a shoestring budget. If you want a tall, tight hedge to keep out a nosy neighbor, be willing to pay more for mature shrubs, or choose fast growers that are well suited for the job like Ligustrum (privet), hopseed, or brush cherry. Take care not to choose an unsuitable specimen on sale then jam several too close together. Proper spacing between plants and structures is very important for specimens of all sizes. Plants need good air circulation to prevent fungal diseases, insect infestation, and heat damage from radiation off of reflecting walls.

Since most houses come with long- established trees and shrubs, not everyone will have the luxury of starting with a blank slate. Removal of all plants is both expensive and shocking to the creatures that depend on them for food and shelter. It is still really rewarding to work on customizing your garden areas, but it takes time to narrow down the vast number of choices. Think about whether you want a formal look with neatly clipped shrubs and roses, a minimalist contemporary look with flowing grasses and succulents, or something in between. Be creative! Work with the design elements of your home, but combine and vary shapes for more interest: tall and straight, tight and round, open and branching, loose and feathery, for example. Consider layering for seasonal color and bloom. Choose for similar water needs and sun exposure. Keep your natve wildlife in mind as well as your own lifestyle.

Have a vision but be patient since it will take a few years for your garden to really reach its full potential. If you remember these guidelines on how to avoid the most common mistakes, you can feel confident that your landscape design will be a success.

© 2011 Catherine Tally

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Comments 15 comments

Wendy S. Wilmoth profile image

Wendy S. Wilmoth 5 years ago from Kansas

Great article- very helpful to those of us with a brown thumb !

WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

I'm a major offender! I'm preparing to take three citrus trees out of the backyard before their roots can damage our pool!

Great Hub!

cat on a soapbox profile image

cat on a soapbox 5 years ago from Los Angeles Author

Thank you, Wendy. I'm glad my hub was helpful.

cat on a soapbox profile image

cat on a soapbox 5 years ago from Los Angeles Author

I wouldn't worry about your citrus trees, Will. Since they are grown for a Mediterranean climate, it's unlikely the roots will be invasive near your pool. Have a nice swim and enjoy your lemonade!

Genna East profile image

Genna East 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

That is quite a lawn sculpture. Wow! Loved the info and intelligent words of advice in this great hub. Thank you!

RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 5 years ago from the short journey

This is great info to keep in mind this spring. Thanks.

cat on a soapbox profile image

cat on a soapbox 5 years ago from Los Angeles Author


Claes Oldenburg is my favorite Pop artist with his whimsical sculptures- couldn't resist the eraser for this hub! I'm glad you found the advice helpful.

RTalloni: I appreciate your nice comment. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoy your Spring garden :>)

mslizzee profile image

mslizzee 5 years ago from Buncombe County, NC

This is great advice. You must be a landscaper?

cat on a soapbox profile image

cat on a soapbox 5 years ago from Los Angeles Author


I'm glad you've found the advice helpful. I am not a landscaper in the true sense. I work part-time in a garden center and have gathered my info over the years from observation, research, and practice. I guess you could say I am a problem-solver with a great love of nature!

twodawgs 5 years ago

70's pop sculpture - gotta love it! My college campus was full of those, they were so trippy.

As for the mistakes, been there done that. All your points are right on.

cat on a soapbox profile image

cat on a soapbox 5 years ago from Los Angeles Author

Hi twodawgs, I couldn't resist the giant eraser for this hub! Claes Oldenburg pop sculptures did appear everywhere. You must have been on a large campus. Thanks for the thumbs up!

Janis Goad profile image

Janis Goad 4 years ago

I enjoyed reading your hub. I garden in Canada, where we have hot, short summers with 20 hours of light, and long cold (-20 C) winters with 20 hours of night. It is so interesting to learn about the plants that grow in gardens in other parts of the world!! Queen Palms? New Zealand Flax? I am sour they don't grow here--I have to look them up to see what they are!

So happy to meet another hubber who loves to garden.

voted up.

cat on a soapbox profile image

cat on a soapbox 4 years ago from Los Angeles Author

Hi Janis.

I'm so glad you stopped by to read and comment. Thank you!

Here in So. Cal. we often use many plants from New Zealand, Australia , So. Africa, and the Mediterannean because they suit our drought tolerant landscape. Sometimes I forget how foreign they must seem to those in different climate zones! Where late Spring is probably your optimum time to plant, our best is Fall when the air cools but the soil is still warm. Plants can root well and grow strong before the stresssors of intense summer heat. The important thing is having a garden that brings you pleasure and one that supports your native wildlife. I'm sure your lovely perennial garden does that well!

All of the best:)

favored profile image

favored 2 years ago from USA

Your examples are right on when it comes to planning the landscape. I have made the mistake of wrong plants for your region and planting plants that need a lot of water with those that don't need watering that much. Another issue I learned about was planting shade with full sun plants. Really good things to consider in landscaping.

cat on a soapbox profile image

cat on a soapbox 2 years ago from Los Angeles Author

Hello Fay,

I think we all have made mistakes with our landscapes. My main one was putting large things in bad places like walkways! I'm glad that you found this helpful. I like to share the lessons I've learned. Thank you for the thoughtful comments!


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