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How To Avoid the 5 Biggest Mistakes of Home Landscaping

Updated on July 17, 2017
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Catherine is a California certified nursery professional. Her interests are birds, insects, integrated pest management, & organic gardening.

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

If you are a homeowner, you have most likely encountered a landscaping 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 creating. A basic plan and some easy research on plant specimens is usually enough to get started.

Start With a Basic Plan

A home builder wouldn't think to build a house one room at a time even if he didn't have to submit blueprints beforehand. A yard should have a plan also. This might include hardscape like patios, walkways, and water features as well as irrigation and the largest plant selections. The actual planting doesn't have to be completed all at one time. Working in stages is far easier on the budget, and isn't as overwhelming. There are easy to use landscape design programs for the home computer. The important thing is to stick to a plan in order to ensure the continuity of a theme or an existing layout.

Know Your Plant's Growth Potential

It is so important to know both the growth habits and the dimensions of a 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. That same shrub, however, would eventually grow to a height of 15 ft. and obstruct the view completely.

The lovely scented jasmine in its spring glory 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 succulent 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. The same is true for having trees which produce sticky flowers, rain sap, and drop leaf litter and over-ripe fruits as choices for patios, outdoor rooms, driveways, and carports.

Other considerations might be allergies, toxic threats to pets and children, and the pros or cons of attracting wildlife. Do some easy research and ask questions before buying.

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

Beware of 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, they may actually introduce problem pests and diseases. 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. Weak plants will harbor both disease and insects that can spread to the rest of your garden.

Avoid plants that are invasive. These choices go way beyond your own garden and threaten the environment at large. Each state has a published list of "enemy plants" which can easily be found online.

Use Proper Spacing Between Plants,Structures, and Hardscape.

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.Another option is to choose fast growers that are well suited for your landscape .Avoid buying unsuitable plants on sale then jamming several too close together. Proper spacing between plants and structures is very important for specimens of all sizes. All plants need good air circulation for healthy growth. Fungal infections, insect infestation, and burned foliage from radiated heat are common plant problems associated with poor spatial planning. Walls and foundations also need air movement to properly dry out after rain and snow. No one wants mold, rot, and termites.

Large trees near foundations can affect air circulation on roofs and cause premature damage to shingles, eaves, and fascia. Overhanging branches become pathways for roof rats and squirrels while tall ones interfere with power lines and cables. Willows, for instance, are notorious for damaging plumbing and septic systems. Plan ahead.

Overly large shrubs can hide a home's attributes.
Overly large shrubs can hide a home's attributes.

Install Efficient Irrigation

Older homes often come with sprinkler systems designed for large lawn irrigation. Watering methods work best when adapted for the individual needs of drought-tolerant gardens, flower beds, shrubs, and trees. Grouping plants with similar water needs is good planning.

Water applications are only as effective as their percolation through the soil. This is usually achieved with longer, less frequent irrigation. Roots will grow where the water is, so minimal penetration encourages surface rooting of trees and shrubs. This can result in weakened tree stability, cracked foundations, and buckled driveways and sidewalks.

Consider areas where water could collect near foundations and cause seepage and structural damage. French drains may need to be installed to prevent this situation. Also think about run-off from slopes. These areas may benefit from cycle watering to allow better absorption of irrigation. Evaluate the situation before installations.

Final Thoughts

Often houses come with long- established trees and shrubs,so 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 very 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.Group for similar water needs and sun exposure.

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 an enjoyable success.

© 2011 Catherine Tally


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    • Wendy S. Wilmoth profile image

      Wendy S. Wilmoth 6 years ago from Kansas

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

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 6 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

      Catherine Tally 6 years ago from Los Angeles

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

    • cat on a soapbox profile image

      Catherine Tally 6 years ago from Los Angeles

      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 6 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 6 years ago from the short journey

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

    • cat on a soapbox profile image

      Catherine Tally 6 years ago from Los Angeles


      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

      elizabeth 6 years ago from Buncombe County, NC

      This is great advice. You must be a landscaper?

    • cat on a soapbox profile image

      Catherine Tally 6 years ago from Los Angeles


      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!

    • profile image

      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

      Catherine Tally 5 years ago from Los Angeles

      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 5 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

      Catherine Tally 5 years ago from Los Angeles

      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

      Fay 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

      Catherine Tally 2 years ago from Los Angeles

      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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