Solutions to the 30 Biggest Landscaping Mistakes

Learn how to avoid common landscaping blunders and how to remedy the ones that may already be creeping into your yard.

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August 21, 2019

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Mistake: Not Recycling Your Fall Yard Waste

Fall yard projects tend to produce a good amount of waste; what a shame to let good waste go to waste.

Solution: Compost It

Instead of tossing out those fall leaves, branches, clippings and other debris from your fall clean-up, dispose of them in an eco-friendly way. Rent a shredder and turn them into mulch, and put lawn clippings back on the lawn — they are both great fertilizers. Better yet, create a compost pile or build a compost bin. Layer yard waste with food scraps and in no time you'll have rich fertilzer that didn't cost you a dime.

Get the How-To: Build a Pallet Compost Bin

Mistake: Neglecting Curb Appeal

Never underestimate the power of curb appeal. A lot of homeowners put all of their energy into the backyard, but the front of the house is where first impressions are made.

Solution: Do These Three Things

There are three simple improvements you can make that make a big difference. Paint your door a contrasting color than the base color of your home, keep the grass trim and green and plant colorful flowers.

See More Photos: 40 Before-and-After Curb Appeal Makeovers

Mistake: Excessive Lawn Tchotchkes

People often make the mistake of putting too many decorative items in their yard, which can distract from the beauty of the natural landscape.

Solution: Be Selective

Before filling your yard with a gaggle of garden gnomes, ask yourself why you're putting it there and how it fits the context of your overall design and plant materials. Stick with one choice, even if it is a little silly. One whimsical statement goes a lot further than 10.

Mistake: Planting in the Wrong Place

Improper plant placement is another common mistake. People often do not take into consideration the needed sunlight and exposure for their plants.

Solution: Read the Plant Tag

Be sure to pay attention to the little tag that you get when you buy the plant. When it comes to planting trees, you need to remember how big they could get and how much space they are going to need. Also think about focal points — choose something that's going to look good year-round.

Mistake: Leaving Tools Out in the Elements

Let's be honest: Quality tools cost a pretty penny so leaving them out to ruin in the rain is like throwing money away. Plus, rusty shears will make uneven, dull cuts that can harm even healthy plants.

Solution: a Dedicated Storage Spot

Whether it's an organized corner in your garage or a standalone garden shed, storing expensive garden tools indoors will prolong their usefulness for many years to come.

Mistake: Planting Too Deeply

One of the quickest ways to kill a tree is to plant it too far into the ground. Some folks figure the more soil they can put around it, the better. But doing so can actually choke the tree to death because there is no air allowed to go to the root system. Going too deep can also encourage root rot.

Solution: Match the Depth

Avoid these scenarios by looking at the main stem, where the largest branch is and then where all of the tentacles come out. That's the root ball, and that's what you want to meet, right along the surface. A good rule of thumb with plants is to dig to the actual height of the container in which it came.

Mistake: Not Planning for Pets

Even the most couch-loving indoor pup will want to spend some time outdoors — especially, if that's where you're spending a lot of your time.

Solution: Plant a Pet-Friendly Garden

Pets are family but, unfortunately, some common plants may be harmful or even poisonous to your furbaby. Check out the list, below, of the common landscape plants to avoid.

Learn More: Protect Your Pets From Harmful Plants

Mistake: Over-Using Pesticides

Many newbie gardeners think that a regular dousing of pesticide is necessary to keep bugs at bay and promote healthy plant growth.

Solution: 'Bee' Kind to Pollinators

Pesticides are a case where even a little bit can be a disastrous thing. Pesticides are essentially poison — poison that can not only ultimately end up in the food you eat but also wipe out beneficial bugs, like bees, moths and butterflies, in addition to any leaf-eating 'pests' you're hoping to target.

See More Photos: Attract a Host of Pollinators With a Backyard Pollinator Garden Perfect for Containers

Mistake: Cutting Grass Too Short

It's a common myth that cutting the grass shorter means you have to mow it less. That's actually not the case, and you can do more harm than good. If you scalp the lawn, it could result in a bare patch, which could make it inviting for insects and susceptible to disease.

Solution: Switch It Up

The key is to cut the lawn different lengths throughout the year. During the summer, the lawn needs a little more shade, so let the blades grow just a little bit more. Also, it will help the water not evaporate so quickly. During the winter, cut it a little bit shorter so that the sunlight can actually get into the soil.

Mistake: Neglecting Your View

It may seem like common sense to think about the view from inside the house, but a lot of people forget it. Keep in mind what it looks like from all angles.

Solution: Enhance Your View

Place your containers where you want them, and then go inside and look through every major window to see what they'll look like before you plant. It should be like a painting. When you look out, you should see the glass framed with beautiful trees and foliage.

Mistake: Using the Wrong Size Pots

If you put a plant in a pot that is too large, it can shift, sink down into the soil, get too much water or dry out too fast. On the other hand, a pot that is too small will quickly make the plant become rootbound.

See More Photos: Biggest Container Fails

Solution: Start Small

Remember that you are going to have to re-pot it, eventually. It's easy to tell when that's necessary because little roots begin to stick out at the bottom. A word of caution related to re-potting: Be sure to give a plant plenty of time get acclimated to its new pot before re-potting again.

Mistake: Failing to Fertilize Properly

There are two ways that fertilizing can be a mistake. The first one is not doing it at all. The other is fertilizing too much or fertilizing improperly.

Solution: Fertilize With Caution

Ask someone at your garden center to recommend a proper fertilizer for your yard. It's a good idea to do it at least twice a year, once in the spring and again in the fall. You should never do it in the bright sun, and watering always needs to follow. It's also a good idea to mix in fertilizer when planting new plants. Make sure that, when you dig the hole, you mix in new soil and fertilizer so the plant, over the period of a year, is going to have a nice time release of fertilizer.

Get the How-To: The Fertilizer 411

Mistake: Picking the Wrong Plants

Just because a plant looks pretty doesn't mean it actually belongs in your yard. You have to take into consideration your particular yard, with filtered light or shade, and what's going to work best for you.

Solution: Know Your Yard

Get plants that will work well in your space. Consider native plants, they'll likely be successful. Big box stores may not always have the answers, you may find a nursery or garden center will know what grows best in your area and under what conditions. 

Mistake: Not Accounting for Wildlife

You could be planting a buffet rather than a garden if you don't consider what animals or garden pests might be around.

Solution: Plant Things Critters Hate

Before you decide what to plant in your garden, think about what critters you have in relation to what you'd like to plant. For example, pretty flowering plants can attract deer, so you might want to throw in some bitter-tasting ones among them. Once they taste the wrong one, they are likely to stop coming around. If there are wild rabbits around, you may need to shelter your garden bed by building a small fence. Chicken wire is another option.

See More Photos: 24 Deer-Resistant Plants

Mistake: Being Shortsighted

Being shortsighted is a common problem because many people don't know what the eventual growth of their plants will be. You need to find out how they spread, how they reproduce and what type of maintenance they require.

Solution: Do Your Research

Read the plant tags and ask an expert at the garden center how big and how fast a certain plant will grow.

Mistakes: Improper Pruning

Pruning can be just as much of an art form as it is a technique, but when pruning is not done correctly, you can do more harm than good. In fact, in some cases, it's better not to prune at all than to do it improperly.

Watch the Video: Pruning Basics

Solution: Prune With Caution

Every plant has a different pruning process. Fall and winter are usually are often the best times to prune, but research each plant in your yard to make sure.

Mistake: Forgetting a Focal Point

A lush carpet of grass is great but to really get the most of your landscape, follow the same rule you would for interior design and incorporate a focal point.

Solution: Focus Found

Of course, your landscape's focal point doesn't have to be this elaborate but a view this lovely certainly is inspiring and may encourage you to plant an ornamental tree, add a pergola or plan a garden bed that will be the star of your outdoor design.

Mistake: Scattered Color

Too much color without a sense of harmony can become a distraction.

Solution: Create a Palette

Before making a trip to the nursery, you need to know what palette you'd like as well as which colors work well together. Look at the color of your house and then choose one color that really frames it. Try to stay semi-monochromatic for the most part because if there is too much color and it's too strong, it almost can become a distraction. Repetition and some harmony in the garden goes a long way.

Mistake: Letting Weeds Reign Supreme

It happens to the best of us. You neglect your yard for a short time and, before you know it, weeds have spread to every corner of your formerly lush lawn.

Solution: Reclaim Your Lawn

Hand-digging weeds may be a time-consuming proposition but it's typically the most effective while also not damaging the surrounding plants — as spraying an herbicide might. For weeds with a long taproot, like the ever-evasive dandelion, be sure to dig up the entire root or this willful weed may return.

Mistake: Irrational Irrigation

A lot of homeowners make the mistake of over-watering. Most lawns just need about an inch of a water per week.

Solution: Timely Watering

The best time of day to water the lawn (and usually any plant) is early morning so it has all day to dry. You can buy a sprinkler with an automatic timer to reduce water waste, or even put in an irrigation system.

Mistake: Using the Wrong Tool

Using the wrong tool for the job could be inefficient and maybe even dangerous.

Solution: Get to Know Your Garden Tools

Think about the size of the job and dictate the size of the tool accordingly. Some must-haves are safety goggles, gloves, a solid shovel and a good rake. Keep them organized, and keep them clean. For specialty jobs, you might want to consider renting a tool, and not just power equipment, but hand tools too. Maybe you don't need that tool for the rest of your life, but you need it for that one specific job.

Mistake: Failing to Be Family Friendly

A lot of people get carried away with the theme of their yard. They don't think about how they are going to use the lawn or the area — they just think about how they want it to look. For example, a rock garden is really attractive, but probably not the best thing for a family with small children.

Solution: Think About Functionality

Sit down and make a list of what you want to do in your yard, making sure to look at the needs of everyone in the household including pets. And, make a plan that will allow your landscape to mature as your family does.

Mistake: Impulse Buying

Yes, flowers are pretty and buying a lot of them may seem pretty darn tempting but buying plants without a plan can be disastrous.

Solution: Make a Shopping List

Do a little research before you reach and grab plants at a garden center. Have some sort of a shopping list in mind and then get what you want and leave. It's very hard to return flowers, so this step is imperative.

Mistake: Too Much of the Same Thing

Not having a variety of plants in the garden can invite disease and leech nutrients out of the soil.

Solution: Mix It Up

Intermingle various shapes and sizes of plants to create visual interest and bring in the right kind of insects. Certain plants need certain nutrients. If you plant just one type of plant, they could suck all of those nutrients out of the soil.

Mistake: Not Having a Plan

As the old adage goes, failing to plan is planning to fail.

Solution: Sketch It

Decide on a specific theme or look and then draw it out on paper. Figure out where you want to put your plants and shrubs in relation to the shape and style of your house. Examine ways to bring the inside out so that when you are finished, you have a nice, harmonious design. Don't forget to factor in your budget, and when you hit the nursery, stick to it. If you follow the plan, you (and your landscape) will reap the rewards.

Mistake: Overlooking Maintenance

Not performing routine garden maintenance.

Solution: Make a Schedule

Part of planning a garden is also planning time to maintain it. Make up a maintenance schedule and abide by it. Garden beds need to be weeded at least once or twice a month, minimum. If you don't have the time to take care of your garden, make sure you have enough money to pay somebody to do it.

Mistake: Ignoring the Seasons

Not planning a garden for year-round color or interest.

Solution: Create Year-Round Color

Plan out your garden with regard to the seasons. When homeowners go to a nursery or plant yard, they often just buy what's in season at the time. Various flowers bloom at certain times of the year. If you've got a lot of plants that are blooming in the spring, remember that in the fall you're going to need some other plants, if you want foliage. Also, try to select plants that look good in the winter and in the spring.

See More Photos: 27 Flowering Trees for Year-Round Color

Mistake: Underestimating Budget

There is a lot of sticker shock in the world of plants. People often think "it's just a couple of plants, how expensive could it be?" Landscaping is actually 30 percent more expensive than any other type of home improvement project. Another area that gets underestimated is the budget, and one of the biggest factors in a budget is the labor involved. It always costs more, and people cost the most.

Solution: Create a Cushion

When you're starting a landscape project, make sure you have enough budget, because you want to do the job one time, and you want to do it right.

Mistake: Overlooking Exterior Lighting

The biggest mistake people make when they think about planning out their yard is only visualizing how it will look during the day.

Solution: Make an Outdoor Lighting Plan

Adding some exterior lighting not only helps with vision and movement, but it also really makes the garden pop. It doesn't have to be expensive or entail a lot of effort. For instance, there are a lot of good solar lights that can easily be stuck in the ground. The sun heats them up all day and then at night they give off a soft glow.

See More Photos: Landscape Lighting Ideas

Mistake: Mismatched Style

Not considering your home's architectural style when choosing plants.

Solution: Consider Your Home's Architecture

When selecting plants, you should match the architecture of your home with the theme of your garden. Above, the cottage-style garden goes very well with the style of the home. Besides the plants in your garden, you need to think about your hardscape. If you are putting in a deck, for example, you need to make sure those elements of your garden also reflect positively upon your house.

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